I have a friend who is very dissatisfied with parts of her life. She is filled with disappointment, dissatisfaction, resentment and frustration. Some of her struggles are the same as mine and so I have shared with her how I have learned to be happy, despite the fact that life and people can be disappointing. Recently she said, “Well, you are just settling.” I thought about that and here is what is actually true – I am choosing to let go of suffering. I am choosing to be happy by choosing how I will respond to my circumstances.
I love the Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr. It hung in my childhood home for many years and I read it often. I didn’t understand it then but I do now.
The philosopher W.W. Bartley juxtaposes Niebuhr’s prayer with a Mother Goose rhyme (1695) expressing a similar sentiment:
For every ailment under the sun
There is a remedy, or there is none;
If there be one, try to find it;
If there be none, never mind it.
Serenity is the state of being calm, peaceful, and untroubled. How often have you longed for that state of mind? Did you know it is a choice and not the result of your circumstances?
Making the Choice to Let Go of Suffering!
My marriage has been a good one. I love my husband and he loves me. But there were things that caused me to feel resentment, frustration, dissatisfaction and disappointment. Sometimes I really suffered. I would hold on to those moments of suffering and bring them out whenever I needed to remind myself why I wasn’t as happy as I wanted to be.
As I got older and wiser I wanted to “see” what was happening or had happened, differently. One day while driving to an appointment I had this thought come into my mind – “You have suffered by choice”. I was stunned. What in the Heck did that mean?
So I asked, out loud. “Heavenly Father, I don’t get that at all. Show me what that looks like”; and He did. I had a memory come clearly into my mind. I could see my husband’s actions and mine and I saw that I was choosing to suffer. Yikes. I began from that moment to go back into my memory bank, to all the places where I had felt hurt, disappointed, etc. and examine them through this new lens. It became clear to me that I had chosen to suffer when I could have chosen happiness instead. My response to what was happening made all the difference.
Not long ago I read an amazing book, This Is Not the Story You Think It Is…: A Season of Unlikely Happiness by Laura Munson She went on a journey in letting go of resentment, frustration, and disappointment. She chose a path of happiness, in the most difficult time of her life. It confirmed what I had learned for myself, that we can choose happiness even when we are sure we are being wronged. (WARNING: This book does use the F word, a lot)
What Does Letting Go of Suffering Look Like?
Let me share some mundane examples of choosing to let go of suffering.
All my life I have wanted a bed with beautiful bed pillows. It wasn’t possible for me to have this in my family of origin for many reasons. When I was newly married it wasn’t a real option either. However, I did come to a place where I could have them. But, my husband doesn’t want to move a big pillow to take a nap, rest after work or when he goes to bed. He just can’t see the point. Mostly, he isn’t aware whether they are on the bed or not. He doesn’t see them. They aren’t even part of his thinking.
It has been a huge irritation to me for quite a few years. I always get up earlier than Don. He will make the bed but never puts the bed pillows on. When I come into the room I put them on and when I come in next his has been removed so that he can rest or nap. As I look at the gap where the bed pillow should be I feel resentment and frustration build up. It is disappointing!!! If he loved me he would put those pillows on the bed, right! Grrrr. You all know exactly how this feels!
So here is what I decided to do. I decided to stop suffering. When I get up in the morning, while Don is still sleeping, I make my side of the bed and I put my wonderfully beautiful bed pillow in place. When Don gets up he makes his side of the bed and his bed pillow stays propped against the wall. Every time I walk into the bedroom now I feel happy. There is the bed pillow I always wanted right where I want it, on my side of the bed. I know that some of you are saying to yourselves, “How tacky is that. She is settling!” I get it, but I have decided not to suffer. I am in control of my response. I am happy with my bed pillow and it feels great!
I have also always wanted beautiful towels in the bathroom that never get used. They just hang there and look beautiful. Raising 7 children and growing up the oldest of nine, you know that there were NEVER unused towels in the bathroom. So when all our children left home I thought “Now is the time”. Wrong! My husband just can’t understand the idea of unused towels in the bathroom or taking the extra steps to use the hook on the bathroom door. Here is how our one bathroom towel rack looks, one used towel, unfolded, drying. Very convenient and very “not decorative”! I have to say this caused no small amount of disappointment and frustration for a long time. I resented the fact that I couldn’t have what I wanted because my husband stood in my way! When I went into the bathroom I would see that towel rack with its unfolded towel and remember that I never got nice decorative towels and then I would feel disappointment and frustration. I wasn’t happy!
When I decided to stop suffering this is what I did. I bought a small shelf which I put in my bathroom. I tri-fold the towels and keep them color coordinated and it looks terrific. When I am in the bathroom doing whatever, I look at the towel rack and it feels so nice. It is perfect. I don’t mind Don’s unfolded towel or the fact that my color coordinated towels aren’t hanging up. What I see when I go into the bathroom is that I have this orderly, beautiful rack of towels. It feels satisfying to me.
Will You Let The Thieves of Joy Into Your Home?
Bed pillows and bath towels are not very important. But this principle of choosing happiness, of choosing to let go of suffering, of changing what you can and accepting with grace what you can’t, works in things that do matter. It comes up over and over in my mentoring. Disappointment, resentment, dissatisfaction, and frustration are the thieves of joy! You can let these thieves into your home or not. It is your choice.
I have given you some examples of the mundane. But I have used this knowledge in the vitally important. I have healed my feelings about old wrongs, embarrassing moments, out and out rudeness and unkindness, out of sorts relationships, and even abuse. One of my favorite books, as a 16 year old, was by Victor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning. It has multiple lessons in its pages but one of the biggest is that you have a choice in every circumstance. It all comes down to your response. There are two quotes that I can still remember now, almost 50 years later -
“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” and “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Taking responsibility for our own happiness is wonderfully empowering. When we know that we are in control of our own happiness then we are able to choose our response. We can act and not be acted upon! I can fight with my husband over bed pillows and towels or not. I can feel resentment and disappointment every time I go into the bedroom/bathroom or not. It is up to me. And frankly, I choose to take responsibility for my response, I choose to let go of suffering!
What is your experience with this principle? I’d really like to know.
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