The Oxford Dictionary defines the word “wish” as “feel or express a strong desire or hope for something that is not easily attainable; want something that cannot or probably will not happen.” It’s human nature to sometimes wish for things we don’t have. Maybe it’s because wishing can be motivational, prompting us to do what we need to in order to obtain what we want. This can lead to some positives: learning difficult skills, breaking records, conquering challenging personal growth issues — even scientific discoveries. However, when we wish for or, even worse, demand things that are impossible to attain, it can lead to conflict, anxiety, depression and general misery that can last a lifetime. Dean, for example, is an attractive young man. He is also very unhappy. As Dean puts it, the reason his life isn’t going right is because “I am not 6 feet tall. I can’t be happy unless I’m at least 6 feet tall.” He refuses to let go of the demand that his adult body be taller than it is. Because it is impossible for Dean, who’s 5 feet 9, to be any taller, he finds it impossible to be happy.
Marley is an active, healthy young woman. She eats well and exercises consistently. She is lean, muscular and strong. Still, she thinks her thighs are much too big. They aren’t fat, just too large for her liking. In reality, all the women in Marley’s family have the same build regardless of whether they take care of themselves. It’s in the family genetics. Marley tries plastic surgery to correct what she views as “fat and ugly” thighs only to be left with scars and thighs that still displease her, leaving her feeling ashamed and miserable.
Although Dean and Marley are extreme examples, far too many of us let something that can’t be changed determine the amount of happiness in our lives. When it comes to things about ourselves or our lives that we can’t change, particularly physical things, we have choices. Are we going to accept what we can’t change and go on enjoying our lives, or are we going to feel unfulfilled for the rest of our lives? It pays to take a wide-angled view when it comes to unchangeable things you may be dwelling on. If you take a narrow focus each time you’re upset about something that can’t be changed, you can quickly end up looking back at a life filled with wasted time and regret. By not taking a step back to get a better view, you won’t get a feel for how the seemingly important and upsetting thing on which you’re focusing compares to the bigger picture. When Dean was asked if he’d rather be 5 feet 9 with a body that was strong and could move around at will or 6 feet 4 and confined to a bed due to a chronic illness, which do you think he chose? When Marley was asked if she would rather have her large, muscular legs or no legs at all, which do you think she chose? Most of the time when people are overly focused on a body part in a negative way they are distorting how their body actually looks. To demonstrate to my patients the effect that such preoccupations can have on the quality of their lives, I present the following question, as it was put to Marley: Which mistake would you rather make? No. 1 or No. 2? 1. You assume for your entire life that you’re fat and ugly only to find out on your deathbed that you had made a mistake and had actually been attractive all your life. 2. You assume for your entire life that you’re attractive only to find out on your deathbed that you had made a mistake and had actually been fat and ugly all your life. When presented with this type of question people choose mistake No. 2. When asked why, they say, “Because, in the first case, I would be unhappy all my life and, in the second, I’d be happy all my life despite the mistake.” After looking at the bigger picture, people become more logical. So, why not accept the things that can’t be changed and assume that they are just fine? You can take care of yourself and help your body be the best that it can be while enjoying life, rather than feeling incomplete and inadequate for years and years. Even if your assumption was wrong, what would it matter? You’ve had a great life. Previously published in the Tampa Bay Times