Joyous summer. After trudging through months of snow and enduring the rain, we finally arrive at the time of year so many of us (ok, maybe a little less so the Mom’s) look forward to. It’s a time to enjoy longer evenings, time spent outdoors and that much needed vacation break.
Despite being a cherished time of year, many of us continue to find our hearts and minds at least a little constricted by our troubles, worries or perceived inadequacies. How sad it is that we can be robbed of so many of life’s blessings due to the nature of our minds. Fortunately, it does not have to be this way. With a little focus and practice, we can experience the joy of summer without feeling things need to be different in any way.
First, it is helpful to heighten your awareness of the ways you block your own happiness. Yes, it is true that in many ways we are our own worst enemies when it comes to finding peace and contentment. Sometimes, the way we are blocked is disguised, and we do not immediately recognize the problem. For example, you might have in your mind a goal of owning a sailboat. The goal helps you to organize your spending and other habits in a certain way, which is the helpful element. However, this same goal may contain less helpful elements, such as a belief that summer will be much more enjoyable when you possess this wonderful toy. The fantasies of how nice it will be like to be out on the water might translate into how miserable it is to be stuck in the city, breathing in the muggy air, and feeling like a hot sweaty mess. Had you not had the goal of owning a sailboat, you might actually be focused less on your perspiration levels and more on enjoying the sites and festivals surrounding you.
To take it a step further, our comparing mind might then look around and notice those who do have a sailboat, many much nicer than we could ever aspire to. For those with any self-critical tendencies (that’s all of us), our minds might then start to look for what is wrong with us that we do not yet have our sailboat. Perhaps we have been too lazy, or do not have the right job, are getting too old, or have not been playing the right lotteries. The problem with this type of thinking is that it demotivates us. Rather than organizing ourselves to obtain our desires, we focus on correcting our perceived flaws (thinking, for example, “perhaps I should look for a new job, switch to a more lucrative career, or become an Uber driver on the side”). We can get so wrapped up in this type of thinking that we miss the moment entirely, always waiting for a future self or situation wherein we find complete happiness.
Once we become aware of the ways we keep contentment at bay, (I mean once we really, really realize the impact), it follows quite naturally that there is a desire to be more accepting of things just as they are. You might want to take a few moments to close your eyes and feel what it’s like in your body to be in the “if only” mind. Really notice what it’s like to believe you can only be happy when you have achieved X, Y and Z. Maybe you’re waiting until next summer (when you can rock a string bikini of course) to relax and enjoy a pool party with friends. Perhaps you’re waiting for retirement, when you sell your home and buy a cottage to retreat to. Whatever it is, we all have ways we miss out on joy and we all have an inner desire to live fully.
In addition to just generally making our lives more enjoyable and fulfilling, becoming more aware of the judging and comparing mind, can be a strong antidote to states like anxiety and depression, that can plague us at any time of year. In Cognitive-Behavioural theory, one of the causes of depression is a perceived discrepancy between our “real” or actual selves and our ideal self. One of the treatments for depression is creating a more realistic ideal and becoming more accepting of our actual selves. We might also notice, when we become less critical of our current selves, we become less critical of others.
Many of us struggle with the idea of self-acceptance, due to a forceful inner drive to achieve, obtain or perfect. These again, are states of the human condition, often perpetuated by certain environments and personality types. However, even those with the strongest of drives might want to experiment for this summer, or even for a week or two, with dropping the expectations for things to be any different than they are. This summer, when taking a vacation from work, household chores of from the children, why not take a much needed break from the tyranny of “if only” mind. You never know, you just might experience the joy of being just as you are.