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Some of the more popular self-help bromides and old sayings include:
• Keep all your options open.
• You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
• Leave nothing to chance.
• Climb every mountain.
• Dream the impossible dream.
• You can’t change occupations because you’re past your prime.
• Refuse to accept second best.
• Don’t take no for an answer.
• Treat your children like adults.
• Keep a stiff upper lip.
• Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow.
One reason these seductive slogans tend to work better as songs than as strategies for living is that they leave us wanting to do what we can’t, have what we don’t, and be who we aren’t. Each is an open invitation to insecurity, guilt and worry. We curl up in our easy chair in anticipation of enlightenment, only to get hopelessly stuck. It’s like taking the cure and getting sicker.
Until we learn to wish for the right things, what we wish for will only come true by accident. What’s worse, if we wish for the wrong things, the fear of disappointment will dog us from one broken dream to the next. To escape repetitive disappointment, a key to freedom turns wishful thinking on its head.
Happiness doesn’t follow when we long for what we lack, for things we have lost or shall likely never find. The past is over. What we pine for is probably very different in our selective memory than it was in reality. And longing for something we may find in the future distracts us from enjoying the present. Wishful thinking is both sloppy and sentimental. We should think to wish instead for things closer at hand:
• The grace to take our successes lightly
• The courage to bear up under pain
• The liberation that comes with forgiveness
• The pleasure of one another’s company
• The meaning to be found in giving ourselves to others
• The energy to address tasks that await our doing
• The joy to be gained in even the smallest tasks
• The wonder that lies between the sacred moment of our birth and death
• The patience to surmount things that are dragging us down.
I call this thoughtful wishing, wishing for what is ours, here and now, to have, do or be.
Fear, the great champion of wishful thinking, tries to persuade us that such wishes are insufficient. Reject its counsel. With thoughtful wishes, the odds turn in our favor. In fact, we can’t lose. It’s like dreaming the possible dream. All we have to do is put our heart into it. With but the slightest cooperation on our part, thoughtful wishes always come true.
Bob Mueller is vice president of advancement & community relations at Hosparus. The views expressed in this column are those of the writer.