Why You Should Give Up Perfection for Gratitude

The very thoughtful and insightful relationship coach Barbara Waxman writes about living your life for today — and not waiting until everything is “just perfect.” Read on for her tips about how to experience a rich and fulfilling life.

I’m a huge believer in the power of gratitude. I’ve worked with cancer survivors whose gratitude for life’s little and big gifts astounds me. And I’ve worked with people blessed with so much, yet stymied because everything isn’t just right. It’s proven that regularly focusing on gratitude makes everyone happier. And happier people are most often those living lives of love, meaning and purpose.  Brené Brown, one of my all-time favorite storyteller/researchers has worked on this very subject and has found that the happiest people (not necessarily the richest or thinnest or married) actively think about things they are grateful for. They don’t wait for everything to be just right.

So what stops us? Why do most of us stay on the quest for perfect before we give ourselves credit for any small achievement? Perfectionism is actually an overzealous defense mechanism. Like rules, perfectionism is there to protect us. If things are perfect, then we aren’t vulnerable and if we avoid the enormous risk of making ourselves vulnerable, then we can’t fail.  The problem is that is stops us from feeling happy.

How did we get stuck in this rut? Most of us grew up with subconscious messages about how to live so that we would not be vulnerable to failure: “Do well in school and you’ll go to a good college; go to a good college and you’ll meet the right people; meet the right person and things will go on like it did for the Cleavers in ‘Leave it to Beaver’, and on and on.” We’ve seen how well that works. Making all of those right choices on paper and protecting ourselves from going for anything less than perfect was supposed to mean that we’d avoid pain, humiliation, or loneliness. 

But life experience tells us that it just doesn’t work out that way. Life is like a perpetual whitewater rafting ride. Sometimes you are in the whitewater and excitement turns to fear or regret for even going on the ride. Then the whitewater passes and it’s calm — but we know that will change so we must be alert to what keeps up safe while also enjoying the thrill of the ride to come. Will we get knocked out of the boat? Will we be able to get ourselves out of the freezing cold and back to safety? We won’t know until we try and if we don’t try, then life isn’t all that thrilling. 

Stop waiting to lose those ten pounds, to find the perfect partner or to perfect the one you have, don’t wait until you always present yourself in the best light. It’s just not going to happen.  If you are reading this, you’ve probably lived long enough to know that sooner or later you will gain some more weight than you’d like, you’ll realize that your quest for the perfect partner isn’t working, and doing something incredibly embarrassing is bound to happen. In her book, The How of Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky explains that changing those circumstances (to the extent we can) accounts for only about 10 percent of our feelings of well-being and happiness. That 10 percent really isn’t enough to tip the charts. So how about having gratitude for the things that exist in your life  — and take some risks to make others better? 

Here are my three rules for living a rich life:

Create a ritual of giving thanks daily. This can be for big things and should absolutely include those other things we often take for granted. One of my favorite times is the early morning when I go through the ritual of making my tea. Choose the cup, steep the tea until the color is just right, take in the aroma and warm my hands. I am thankful and I haven’t even taken a sip yet!

You are what you think. It is your beliefs, thoughts and intentions that form the basis for everything you do and how you show up at home and at work. The actions you take and decisions you make are based upon how you think of yourself. Make a choice to view things realistically, but on the positive side of the equation. If your thinking hasn’t served you, shift your thoughts. It’s difficult, but it’s effective. Give it a try.

Grab those opportunities when they present themselves. Some have called this ‘The Secret.’ But there is really no secret to it at all. What you put forth into the world will come back to you. And this only happens when you take the risk of being vulnerable and maybe even failing. What is something you have avoided for fear of failure? Block out your critics, follow your intuition and go for it.

“There is no passion to be found playing small — in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”

Nelson Mandela

Learn more about Barbara Waxman, America’s Favorite Coach for Adults Midlife and Better.

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