I had a drink with my closest friend on Friday night.
Judith is the happiest person I know. I don’t mean she’s bouncy and perky in an annoying way. She’s just deeply, firmly, contented. And she radiates that contentment in a way that always makes you feel better for just being with her.
She told me that, a few days earlier, she had experienced an epiphany . She realized that the reason she is so happy is that she doesn’t want anything that she doesn’t already have.
She has kids who have turned out OK, a husband she loves, good friends, and a nice house.
None of it is perfect, she was quick to say. Her kids aren’t top of their class, her husband is grumpy sometimes and doesn’t do enough around the house, and her home is nothing fancy. But she is content with it all anyway and that, she believes, is the key.
I think she’s right.
My lovely therapist Mandy is making me aware of the stories I tell myself, and – more important – she’s making me understand how those stories affect everything about my life.
Take Judith as an example. She just rolls her eyes at her husband’s laziness around the house and his grumpy temperament, focuses on the things she does love about him, and gets on with being happy.
But what if she couldn’t just let it go? What if she interpreted his grumpiness and his laziness as a reflection of how much he loved her? And what if she told herself that it was her fault (if only she was better, prettier, funnier, or sexier, he would act differently)?
If she did that, she’d start to feel sad. And the sadness would feed itself – because each time he was grumpy, she would take it personally and then she would tell herself it was her fault because she wasn’t better, prettier etc. etc. So my happy friend would become sad. And yet the circumstances of her life wouldn’t be any different than they are now. She would just be telling herself a different story.
My situation is nothing like Judith’s. My problems are different problems. But the model is the same: we are the stories we tell ourselves.
Having realized this, I’m trying to figure out how to tell myself a different story. The one I’ve been telling is so deeply ingrained that I think this may take some time.