I’m starting to come around to the idea that how we perceive our lives and daily reality contributes hugely to our happiness quotient. Have you ever looked back on a period of time in your life and realized, hey, I had it pretty good right then. I was happy and didn’t even know it. I have. I’m challenging myself to have those realizations more closely to the moments I’m living, rather than in retrospect. I’m doing it one small bit of awareness, one little shard of presence at a time. And it’s kind of working. I’m going to keep trying and see where it leads, with gratitude as my guiding force.
Bill, the very wise and perceptive man who officiated my wedding happened to be in the PR biz, which made him a master of both verbal communication and using truth to meet a positive end. As my fiance and I were working with him on writing our wedding vows, he sensed my frustration at struggling to articulate, in words, exactly what my man meant to me, and what I was willing to promise in front of our community. “Perfection is the enemy of the good, Kate,” Bill observed, searching my face for understanding, pausing to allow his words to sink in. I’d not heard that before, and I had no idea what he meant. It had nothing to do with what we were trying to accomplish (I felt) and it sounded like an awkward sentence, anyway. What good? Perfection was the order of the day. We were talking about my wedding, a day I had eagerly (anxiously, madly) anticipated, the end-all-be-all of my goals for my adult life!
But Bill gave me something to think about, and the words washed up into my consciousness for the next couple of years, until one day they made total sense. In striving for perfection, I was risking all the good to be had in life. By seeking, aiming for, attempting to grind out something flawless, I was unaware of the good. Falling short of perfection was cause for shame and resentment. Believing perfection unattainable, new ventures were not taken. New ways went unexplored. Why try if the path to superb seemed unclear? It was the ultimate, or nothing. It wasn’t until I found myself speaking the words to a colleague who was struggling to complete extremely deadline-sensitive projects on time due to her obsessive need for impeccability, that the force of their meaning became clear. She looked at me blankly. “I was once like you,” I thought.
It’s about perception. If life and the people in it must conform to a rigid set of expectations founded on perfection, it won’t. Disappointment, fear, longing, frustration and anger will reign. Perfection is an absolute, and humans are flawed. Try to reconcile those truths and find yourself miserable, on the road to bitterness. But it doesn’t have to be that way! You can choose, right now, to change your perception. No, it doesn’t mean you’re lowering your standards, setting your sights low or settling for less. It means you’re actively living in the here and now, examining this space and seeing it for what it is. For me, it was about using gratitude to keep me present, anchoring me when I wanted to flit off into a tizzy of perfection-seeking. It was, I have everything I need right now. My needs are taken care of, and isn’t that good. I’m not in the hospital fighting for my life. I have full use of my body, and it carries me where I need to go. I’m not hungry or thirsty, and if I am, I can sate each. I have places to go both inside and outside, and I have the means and ability to take myself there. I have full command over my choices, this is my life, and I’m doing it myself. Grounding myself with those observations expanded my understanding: there are masses of others in this world, in places very far, and in places down the street who can’t access these things I so freely enjoy.
And to think that because none of it was to my exact specifications rendered it invisible, all this good! A new feeling was relief, both at letting go of an unattainable state and realizing the good before it could be swept away.
My ability to perceive the good just grew from there. It would dawn on me during unexpected moments, when I wasn’t doing my gratitude and awareness exercises. I would be dancing my ass off at a show, music lifting me into a state of frenzied pleasure, surrounded by friends, and joy would wash over me, because I invited it. I would think about the lonely 15 year-old I used to be, trapped in my room on a dark Seattle winter night, longing to be free, to dance and be part of the party. And my life had carried me forward into the state for which I had so longed. So good. Or I’d be hosting friends for dinner around my dining table. Or I’d be surveying the people gathered around my living room, talking and laughing loudly at the party I was throwing. Sometimes it was a Sunday afternoon when I was immersed in friendly competitive card games with my closest friends, the table littered with snacks. So, so much good.
I’m consistently happier over the last four or so years than any time before. I’ve suffered from depression, active alcoholism, crushing ennui, deep, existential loneliness, and never has the pursuit of perfection moved me from these states of being. The decision to perceive my life as a work-in-progress, a journey to the unknown, a gift to be celebrated has solved these painful problems. I urge you, work on altering your perception, and watch your life begin to improve. Do a gut-check with the goal of discovering whether your perception is including the good.
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