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The Simple Secret to a Happier Life


WebMD Feature from "Redbook" Magazine

By Charlotte Latvala

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In the immortal words of the Rolling Stones, you can't always get what you want. And you know what? That's really okay. Discover how letting go of impossible (and draining) dreams puts you on the path to peace.

In the 37th week of my third pregnancy, I was cruising right along with no major health problems until — bam — I developed Bell's palsy, a partial paralysis of the left side of my face. I couldn't close my eye, I drooled when I ate, and, worst of all, I couldn't smile normally. Doctors assured me that the condition was temporary, and that my muscle function would return within months. But my progress was slower than expected, and I spent the next year feeling self-conscious and sad. I just longed to look normal again.

Eventually, I went to specialists, did countless hours of physical therapy, and received therapeutic Botox injections (at times, I felt like a human pincushion). It all helped, but my smile was still somewhat crooked. I felt depressed, defeated.

Then, on a visit to my mom's house, I happened to glance at the framed copy of the Serenity Prayer she keeps in her bedroom. You know the one: "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference." Reading those words made it crystal clear: It was time to put my disappointment behind me and focus on the positive parts of my life — my family, my work, the simple pleasures of my day-to-day existence. I had lost something, to be sure, but feeling bitter and shortchanged wasn't the way I wanted to live.

So I quit mourning the loss of the "old me." I finally allowed myself to accept my less-than-perfect grin, and in the process, to make peace with the fact that life rarely turns out the way you expect. And that's true whether it comes to physical setbacks, relationships with people you care about, or even your hopes and dreams for your kids. It's tough to let go of something you want badly, but if you release yourself from the relentless pull of your If only... thinking, a sense of peace, and even joy, will rush into that mental space instead, says C. Leslie Charles, author of Why Is Everyone So Cranky? "When you can just 'be' with a situation," she says, "things usually begin to relax, turn, and reshape — for the better."

Giving up long-cherished dreams doesn't mean you need to deny or disown them. "Your dreams will always be part of you," says Charles. "But getting too focused or obsessed with a goal or yearning can leave you feeling cheated." Letting go, by contrast, means making a choice — you decide not to give in to thoughts and actions that waste your time, not to dwell on what you don't have.

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