Amanda, author of I’ve started telling my daughters I’m beautiful is back again today!
People are always saying marriage is hard, parenting is hard, getting healthy is hard, meditation is hard, following your dreams is hard work. Everything that you commit yourself to is hard. Its being hard is kind of the way you know that you’ve committed yourself to it.
Marriages fail, fathers run away, it’s uncomfortably cold for running, your first manuscript doesn’t get published, so you stop trying, or whatever… because, at some point the thing that felt good stops feeling good to you. It stops feeling exciting and hopeful and fresh and new. We perceive that since it’s not actively providing us with pleasure, it’s actually causing us pain and we want to get away. We want to commit ourselves to things that feel good, and it feels good when things are easy and new.
It’s like we only have two settings: active pleasure vs. active pain. There is nothing in-between. When newness starts to subside, we start to resist. We say to ourselves, “This used to make me feel so good, and now it’s boring and irritating and mundane. If I can’t get back to the way I felt before, I’m finished with this thing.”
Our habitual pleasure-seeking keeps us from being able to be truly and deeply committed to our endeavors in life. Our idea that we deserve to feel good all the time, and that anything that isn’t actively making us feel good is bad and wrong and scary, makes it so we inevitably begin to resist the things we have committed to.
When we’re resisting, we handle our relationships and responsibilities halfheartedly, purposefully pointing out to ourselves how awful things are. Every moment that doesn’t feel explicitly good becomes evidence that this thing is WRONG and BAD and not worth it. We’re so attached to the way things were — everything was new at one point, and newness feels exciting and fills us with hope so it is obviously good.
When something isn’t new anymore is when we find out what we’re really made of.
We see articles all the time about how statistics show that people who choose not to have kids are happier than people who do, and we, as parents, feel a little confused… because we can understand this statistic. It’s true that parenting doesn’t always feel good. It often feels really bad, in fact. Even at the best of times, it’s scary and we worry and doubt ourselves and feel afraid of the world. So, why then, when asked what the best choice we’ve ever made was do we always say, “My children are the best thing that has ever happened to me”?
It happens where you’ve released your children or your partner or your practices and missions and dreams from the responsibility of making you happy, and have allowed them to become a part of you in the way that they are able.
It’s because we’ve committed to them so that they are a part of who we are, and we understand that feeling good isn’t the point of life. The meat of life happens in the places beyond novelty and fun and excitement. It happens when you choose staying instead of fleeing. It happens when you choose to open yourself where you have the impulse to close. It happens where your commitment becomes like a part of your body. It becomes as vital to you as your organs and your skin. It happens where you’ve released your children or your partner or your practices and missions and dreams from the responsibility of making you happy, and have allowed them to become a part of you in the way that they are able.
I don’t mean to alienate people who don’t have children. This same thing applies to all kinds of commitments: whether you’re a marathon runner, or have been married for 25 years, or are sober, or are meditating through the pain, or whatever it is that you love but isn’t new. New love is beautiful, it’s true. The first day of a baby’s life is like a dream. Beginning something and believing in it is a wonderful feeling.
Perhaps those moments are special things and should be allowed to exist with space and freedom inside the timeline of our lives. Perhaps clinging to them strangles them, stunts them and turns them into something other than what they could have been, if they were allowed to exist freely for their moment in the sun.
Maybe, every time we say to our partner, “We need to get back to the way we were,” we aren’t at all honoring the way we were, which was new and shining. When we feel resentment and resistance because things don’t feel that way anymore, we’re robbing those special things of their sweetness. We turn them into something negative, something that must not have been real and can be used as evidence that everything is wrong.
New love is beautiful, but it isn’t the point of life. Honoring it and allowing it to be, to flare and flourish and light up the sky and then to fade in its own time, like everything does… and staying with it, consuming it, taking it into ourselves, letting it become us, to become as vital to us as our lungs and heart and tongue, might be the point of life. Finding the deeper meaning and beauty beyond the flashier, temporary kind that comes with newness, might be the point.
And most of all, acknowledging that maybe happiness doesn’t mean what we’ve always thought it did. Maybe happiness doesn’t mean feeling good.
That’s what I think it means to grow up.