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The Simple Secret to a Happier Life

continued...

And that can be the first step to a more blissed-out, less stressed-out existence. Read on to learn how to let go of those unrealistic longings — ones that you believe hold the keys to your happiness, but actually hold you back — so you can love the life you have right now.

If you long to be closer to a family member...

For years, Nanci Schwartz hoped for a tighter bond with her brother. "He never saw eye-to-eye with my dad, and is now somewhat estranged from the whole family," she explains. Every time Schwartz tried to reach out and was rebuffed, she was hurt. "The final straw came recently, when my husband and I planned a birthday get-together for our parents," says the 41-year-old from Fruitland Park, FL. "My brother never even bothered to respond to the invitation, and once again I felt completely let down."

Perhaps you, too, have a family bond that's coming apart at the seams. Or maybe you just have a sneaking sense that something is missing in your relationship with your parents or siblings. "No matter what has gone on before, we all have expectations about what our family relationships are supposed to be like," says Lynn Robinson, author of Divine Intuition. "Deep down, we believe that our family should always be there for us through thick and thin." Plus, it's normal to want to draw closer as we start to get older and realize how quickly time is passing, adds Robinson — since the family members you bicker with today may not be there tomorrow.

How to Let Go

Slowly, Schwartz has begun to accept her distant relationship with her brother. "I finally realize that it's not my fault we're not closer," she says. "It's his choice — and looking at it that way has lifted a huge burden from me. Now I can stop spinning my wheels, trying to make the impossible happen. I'm not thrilled with the situation, but it's not going to consume me, either, because there's nothing I can do about it." The (very liberating) bottom line here: You can't ever control someone else's behavior — you can only control your own.

You'll be happier, not to mention more sane, if you focus on the relationships in your life that are reciprocal — the friends and loved ones you can rely on, says Robinson. "Your peace of mind ultimately doesn't depend on the closeness or distance of one person," she explains. "The more healthy relationships you have in your life, the better."

If you've had a long standoff with a relative and you're aching for some closure, consider writing that person a heartfelt and compassionate note, she adds. "Make it simple, not a rehash of past events," Robinson suggests. "Tell them what you appreciate about them and that you look forward to hearing from them on their time and terms." Mail it and let it go, telling yourself that you've given it your best shot. Or write the letter and don't mail it — instead simply use it as a way to release and sort through your feelings. That process alone will make it easier for you to find peace.

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