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A new year’s observation

If we can let go of striving for something which constantly eludes us, then we can be so much freer of angst than we are now

10 February 2020, at 9:00am

It is both human nature and culturally instilled behaviour to seek lasting security, happiness and transcendent meaning amidst the roller coaster ride of fleeting conditions: lots of beer followed by the mother of all hangovers, financial gains followed by losses, approval one day, criticism the next, four great fracture repairs followed by one depressing wound breakdown. In hunting down and latching on to what feels great, we inevitably experience the disappointment that arises when something is only just about good enough.

We work, we earn, we spend. And yet, we are left feeling empty. Despite the retail therapy we think, "I'm still not everlastingly happy. Am I missing something here?"

What about all of those people out there living in their airy, open-plan, tidy homes with vast glass doors and well-behaved children? How do they never experience sadness, depression or fear? If only we could find the perfect job to buy a large new house with spectacular river views, wardrobes wedged with fabulous clothes – our dinner parties would attract all the right people. And then, as sophisticated friends laughed at our jokes and never tired of offering admiration, we’d finally be inoculated from pain and everything would turn out just perfect.

And so, the relaxation and satisfaction we seek is always somewhere down the line, and this very moment now we believe is incapable of providing us with anything worthwhile. If we can get through this moment, then that moment, surely some moment sometime will be a suitable one in which to stop striving and to enjoy life.

One doesn’t need to be a psychologist to know that constant busyness is a symptom of avoidance, for when we run out of fuel and idle to a full stop, what do we experience? The voidness of meaning that is simply surviving in this world.

Meanwhile, until that elusive moment arrives, we keep ourselves busy with Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp, frantically keeping in contact with as many friends as possible. I could do so much more if only my phone didn't keep hopping, reminding me that I am in contact with my friends. And when we are actually physically with a friend, how many of us interrupt our conversation with that person to glance at our home screen checking in on who has just connected with us? So, friendship's value is measured in numbers and not in the quality of the face–to–face time with one.

Maybe, if our friends can't fulfil our emotional needs, we can book a hike in the Himalayas, traverse the Andes or go spelunking Mexico's caves. And maybe, just maybe we will find the life satisfaction we crave.

While new experiences have their place, they don’t provide much lasting inner peace. Thrills are a lot of fun, they add spice to life, but we’re in for a big let-down if this is where we are hoping serenity is hiding.

And that is where the secret lies. If we can be with this moment and really present, maybe, just maybe it can be “good enough”. Otherwise we are just chasing ends of rainbows which move farther and farther away the closer we get to them.

The key to these refuges lies in understanding one simple but profound truth: what really matters in life is how we react to situations and circumstances, rather than the situations and circumstances in and of themselves. Our present attitudes produce our future perspectives.

So, we can be happy on our own Ikea sofa without the river view. It's a choice.

We can meet up with one friend and immerse ourselves in their company, savouring the conversation with our phone elsewhere and at another time.

And if you are lucky enough to be backpacking in Thailand, camping in the wilderness or hiking to the top of Kilimanjaro, you can be totally and completely present in the moment while not taking selfies, updating your status on Facebook or filming for your YouTube channel.

Only by being truly present in the moment can we choose to be satisfied with it. We can literally choose to be satisfied. What better way to foster an unflappable psyche, and what could be more worthwhile for the New Year?

Laura Woodward Counselling

Laura Woodward has been the surgeon at Village Vet Hampstead for over 10 years. Laura is also a qualified therapeutic counsellor and is affiliated with the ACPNL and the ISPC. She runs Laurawoodward.co.uk – a counselling service for vets and nurses.

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