Every weekend I say to myself, “I wish I had one more day.” When I meet someone interesting on an airplane I think, “I’d like to hang out with this person again.” Every time I taste something delicious, I want one more bite. On days when I look and feel my best, I desire to look and feel that way every day.
I want to hold onto what is pleasing and multiply it. I want more.
This is a dangerous way of thinking, however. When we get caught in the self-perpetuating spiral of wanting and craving, we reliably end up disappointed, empty, and incomplete.
We must learn to let our experiences be enough – even the good ones.
We tell ourselves not to dwell on our mistakes and to let go of past resentment and present feelings of embarrassment. We encourage our friends to intercept negative self-talk and set their insecurities aside. We convince ourselves that uncomfortable feelings are just temporary and will pass with time.
This way of thinking is necessary to get over the bad stuff, and it is also necessary to prevent useless dwelling on the good stuff.
Why should we not hold onto good experiences?
It’s strange to think that holding onto happy memories can cause us discomfort. We are socially conditioned to remember the good times and channel our warm-fuzzy feelings as motivation.
But holding onto good experiences is the exact same thing as holding onto bad experiences. It’s the same thought process and the same attachment.
Therefore, in order to truly release negative thoughts and feelings from our beings, we must learn to release positive thoughts and feelings, too.
So, we shouldn’t aim for happiness?
Happiness is the opposite of sadness. Sadness is associated with negative thoughts and feelings. Happiness is then associated with positive thoughts and feelings.
Since we are human beings that interact with each other and do things in the world, we are bound to experience both happiness and sadness. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with either.
But when we attach ourselves to happiness or sadness, we surrender our sovereignty to circumstance and are no longer able to live in peace exactly where we are. We get stuck wanting things to remain the same or wanting them to be dramatically different.
Gratitude is the key to releasing attachment
I find that when I feel grateful for an experience (good or bad), I’m able to let it be enough without wanting more or less.
I focus on how wonderful it was to learn something new, undergo a challenge, or reveal a side of myself that I didn’t know existed. I recognize that I grew and changed slightly because of the experience and am better equipped to face similar experiences in the future.
Then, I continue on with my day.
I try not to dwell or entertain my inner need to reflect on every single detail. If I learned something worth sharing, I write about it. Then, I get to the laundry and dishes and go for a run or whatever I planned for the day.
But of course, I’m not always successful.
There will still be days of dwelling
Let’s work on letting our experiences be enough, but let’s also give ourselves some slack.
Being human means that we will mess up sometimes. And that’s totally okay.
Again, let’s not dwell on the times when we couldn’t detach ourselves and still craved more and more. Let’s just let those feelings of wanting run their course, intercepting our thoughts when we can, and once we gain control over our minds again, let’s set that whole dwelling thing aside and get back to the laundry and the rest of our lives in the present.
There’s no sense in aiming for perfection – it doesn’t exist.
So not only must we let our experiences be enough, we must also let our efforts in “letting it be enough” be enough in order to continue our way through life in the present.
REFLECT (but not too long)
Think about something that lingers in your mind. It may be an event, a friendship, a first-place trophy, or a vacation.
How much mental energy do you spend wanting that experience to happen again? How much do you define yourself based on that experience?
Practice mentally setting that experience aside. Picture it vividly in your mind, and then imagine yourself holding the experience in your hands and setting it down on the ground beside you. Then look away from it.
Be grateful that you had that experience and regain focus on the present moment so that you can live the experience you are currently in.