Looking For True Happiness? Take Care of Your Shortcomings

I have found that one of the best and most keep-able New Year’s resolutions, or any other sort of resolution, is to promise myself that I will identify and deal with all my shortcomings. It was a little less than 20 years ago that someone suggested I do just that so that I could be happier and feel freer. But he suggested I use the “seven deadly sins” (wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony, I had to look these up) as the basis for this discovery. I have to admit that once I saw what those sins are, I was skeptical, to say the least.  I thought some were actually desirable or that I was just not willing to relieve myself of them; they were comfortable and seemed necessary. But then it came to me, those “sins” are meant to be a starting point and to consider them only in their excess. That is, if I were lazy, sloth, was I being so lazy that it was detrimental to me in one way or another. Or if I over ate, gluttony, am I doing so in a way that endangers my health. When looked upon that way, it made more sense.

But then I had to do a self-inventory. In this it was suggested that I start at two points, fear and resentment. As I blogged about earlier, resentment is when I drink the poison I wish someone to fall ill from. Most resentments are between two people but a resentment can exist between a person and an organization. The latter is much easier to deal with so I will take it first.

A guy gets fired from his job. He complains that he was unfairly dealt with, that he was treated poorly by his boss, and that he was not appreciated. A good friend asks him a series of questions: How often were you late for work? How often were you out sick when in fact you were just looking for a day off? Did you always complete your assigned work on time, completely, and to your boss’s satisfaction? The guy honestly reflects upon those questions and finds that he was guilty on all counts. And then the friend asks if he had been the boss would he have fired himself. The guy realizes the answer is “yes” and suddenly the resentment vanishes.

Now I will deal with the tougher of the two, the resentment of one person towards another. This is particularly important when it concerns two family members. The worst are resentments children hold towards their parents. There are some exceptions to this, e.g. the father deserts the family and the children are resentful. This is one place where a parent richly deserves the resentment. Resentment in such cases are entirely understandable, however, the resentment still only hurts the person holding the resentment. Resentments are always poisonous for the person holding it. The person holding onto the resentment is not allowing for his other feelings to surface, a healthy reaction. Having experienced the feelings he can move on to resolutions that will allow him to go on with life without the resentment. He can also feel free to consider the reasons the parent deserted the family. I suggest cowardice as a good one. You label the person a coward, you feel sorry for them, and then you move on. You are not excusing the person from their misdeeds but are simply defining them as best you can. Comfort can be found in reason.

Sibling rivalries are so common that for such a thing to not exist is probably an exception to the extreme. One of the most common complaints and basis for resentment is the old “mom always liked you best.” But even in cases where that is true, to what end does it help to hold a resentment towards your sibling? It is common for the eldest to feel displaced by the youngest. I know that for fact being the oldest of three. But there came a time when I had to look at my parents as human beings and detach their parental status. I needed to consider their shortcomings as best I could fathom them. In doing so I quickly gained a better understanding for both my parents and realized that so much of parenting is trial and error. My father died at a young age so I don’t have a lot to draw on from him but my mother lived 89 years. As time passed I think I understood her well, understood those actions of hers I felt resentful towards, and in the end found I was basically an idiot for not having done this at a much younger age. My parents were exceedingly good people doing an exceedingly tough job, trying to raise me. I was a handful to say the least. My parents always did their level best but being human failure on occasion was inevitable. They are not to be faulted for those failing, just understood and where needed, forgiven. The central question to their relationships with me was, did they love me? The answer is a resounding yes and that being true, I need to be satisfied.

All this introspection brought me to a conclusion about all of humanity: fear is the most pervasive feeling all humans have and the most difficult with which to deal. And a large portion of the human race does a poor job in dealing with fear. But fear is the one shortcoming that also owns a necessary place in our existence. But fear holds a special place because of its dual status. Fear is that extremely basic thing within all of humanity that was responsible for our survival from the earliest of days. It kept the human race alive back in its infancy and it keeps us alive today. No soldier who has ever been on the battlefield was devoid of fear. Even those who receive medals and are revered for their bravery will admit that they had a healthy amount of fear going in. Fear puts the body on alert that it is in danger and that a defense may be necessary. Fear heightens all our senses. That is the good fear. That is the type of fear that we not only cannot overcome but which we do not want to overcome.

But even that type of fear, that primal instinct of self-preservation and all others, come from a person’s lack of knowledge when faced with situations that require an action of them. We fear judgement. We fear being wrong. We fear rejection. We fear heights. And when we look at ourselves long and hard, we find that we all have a rather long shopping list of fears. Those fears range from the easy to deal with to the impossible to deal with.

One of the more common fears is that of being judged, particularly when that judgement comes from a person with whom we have a personal relationship. This is a tough one because it is human nature to desire to always been seen in a favorable light. This fear, however, can lead us to another character defect, honesty. People will say they were less than honest to save a person’s feelings. You are not responsible for another person’s feelings! If being honest means hurting a person’s feelings it may be better that way. But if it is one of those rare occasions where hurting the person’s feelings achieves nothing, then be judicious with your words but keep each word fully honest. You might find it wise to respond by saying “I need to think about that” or words to that effect. All of us are confronted with questions everyday but not every questions needs to be answered an instant later. Many question needed to be considered at some length before being answered. Most of the time saying “allow me to think about that for a minute” should suffice. Sometimes you will need to think longer. Regardless, engage your mind before engaging your mouth.

But there is one thing which is absolutely necessary. You must talk about your fears with someone you trust, if not a therapist. Many times a fear that is bouncing around in our heads loses all its power when shared with another person. Just our saying the very words “this scares me” frequently reduces the level of fear if not eliminating it entirely. I can say with absolute certainty that regardless of what scares you that exact same fear is shared by others and may actually be very common. One of the best things which can happen with sharing a fear with another person, is that person validates our fear by admitting they share the very same fear. Another frequent result of admitting a fear is finding a resolution to that fear in the process.

I have already touched upon honesty but it deserves further discussion. I have adopted a principle of absolute honesty even to my own detriment. That simply means that when someone asks a question of me, particularly a question which will require me to reveal a part of me of which I am not proud, I will give a fully honest answer. The only qualification to that is that the person asking the question has a right to the knowledge I hold. My wife has a right to ask absolutely any question she wants and I in return have an obligation to answer her honestly. But my sister, parents, other relatives, and friends do not have a right to access that information. What I cannot do is lie instead of telling them it is none of their business.

I have some young friends who have decided to not drink anymore and they struggle with how to deal with friends who use peer pressure to get them to drink. I tell them when asked why they are not drinking to reply that they simply do not want to. And if that person persists even after having asked twice, I suggest that they ask the person questioning them, “why it is so important to you that I drink?” This is shifting the burden in place of lying or of revealing a part of themselves they consider private. You are questioning their motives.

At this point I need to bring up the principle of “owning your own crap.” Everyone screws up, some of us more frequently than we care to admit, and yet it is still true. One of the biggest lies we tell ourselves is “I wasn’t caught.” Yes you were! It does not matter that no one else saw your indiscretion, you saw it, you know about it and you need to own it. The principle here is you cannot get rid of any crap you do not own. That is just logical. Let’s say you put an old refrigerator out behind your house, then an old car next to it, then a box spring, and before long you have what appears to be a junk yard. The city comes by and tells you that you need to get rid of your crap because you are in violation of an ordinance. You tell them it’s not yours. As ridiculous as this scenario seems, this is something people do every day with regards to non-material crap. They deny they have done wrong, they deny they lied or were less than fully truthful, they deny that taking a bunch of paper from work is wrong, etc. But as long as they use denial of the truth as the barrier from taking rightful responsibility, they will suffer its consequences. The consequences is that these things are additive and they weigh upon you. That weight gets heavier and heavier and frequently leads to a loss of friends, relationships, of trustworthiness and even jobs. There are few things more freeing than to admit that you screwed up. Having taken ownership of the screw-up you can then commence a course of relieving yourself of that crap. This should bring into sharp focus the concept of denial as being a major shortcoming. People use denial regularly do not realize they are lying to at least one person, themselves, and probably others. It creates unnecessary barriers. It keeps them from enjoying a lot of happiness and freedom.

Some of my other shortcomings are laziness, procrastination, over eating, and many other things I just cannot think of at the moment. The thing is, I accept that I have each and every one of these shortcoming and that to overcome any one of them, I need to take some sort of affirmative action. I think it unlikely I will ever overcoming my overeating tendencies but I task myself with a certain level of exercise to overcome the shortcoming, or at least lessen its effect. It does not always work but it is a solution among the several available. My shortcomings keep me from being as happy as possible. But by acknowledging them and having a method of counteracting the shortcomings, I am assuring myself of much more happiness than by not doing these things.