“Until a few years ago I had spent the greater part of my time in a more or less covert struggle with life. However well things were going, I often felt that something was not quite right. Either I didn’t want what turned up in quite the form it appeared, or I wanted something else that never quite materialized in the way I would have hoped. Always there was the pervasive feeling that something was missing, something I couldn’t quite put my finger on.”
In penning the above, poet and author Roger Housden names a reality by which many of us are haunted, the vague sense that something is missing, or wrong, or could be better. It’s important to acknowledge what we feel. It’s healthy to name the emotions that well up within us. Being honest with ourselves when we are displeased is certainly better than pretending all is well. But whether we can put our finger on the cause of our discontent or not, when we choose to focus only on the feeling that something is missing or not quite right, we fail to appreciate and enjoy the life we have.
To spend time and energy wishing and wanting life to be other than it is, is a recipe for unhappiness. True, there are situations that invite us to put forth effort in order to make them better – a relationship that needs healing, for instance, or an injustice that cannot be tolerated – but the struggle Housden refers to is internal; it is the self-defeating inclination to give power to discontent, to rain on our own parade.
There is no way to prevent feeling disappointed, angry, resentful, and the like, when in fact we are not happy about some aspect of life. However, there is a way to respond to how we feel; we can “drop the struggle.” We can let life be life for better or worse. We can accept reality like it or not. We can love ourselves despite our imperfections. We can let go of our need to control what happens and, instead, go with the flow. We can, in short, learn to amor fati, a Latin phrase meaning “love your fate.” This is not a matter of resignation, but the radical, courageous willingness to embrace our circumstances painful though they may be. If we drop the struggle, we preserve the energy necessary to make changes.
I had a fantasy recently that I died and was standing at the “Pearly Gates” where St Peter said to me “You know, Tom, it didn’t have to be that hard!” There is no escaping the fact that life can be difficult, but by failing to accept what is, we sometimes make it harder than it has to be.