Paul Nixon's Blog |||

The Tyranny of the Shoulds

What if most of the frustration that we experience in life is avoidable?

From the excellent - and highly recommended - book Change your Thinking with CBT, by Dr Sarah Edelman

One thing that many irrational beliefs have in common is that they are absolutist. In other words, we believe that things should or must be a certain way, rather than simply wishing or preferring them to be that way.

We have preferences for how we think things should go, and how other people should behave. Trains should run on time, websites should work they way we expect them to, people should say thank you” when we hold the door open for them. And so on. And on.

However, sadly, frustrations are inevitable. They are deeply woven into the fabric of a universe that was clearly not made for our comfort and wellbeing.

The question we should ask is not When is the universe going to align perfectly to my desires so that I can finally be happy?” but How much suffering am I going to inflict on myself when things inevitably and unavoidably don’t turn out exactly as I would like?”.

The reality is that the world, other people, and our experiences are not going to consistently align with our goals. It’s not the nature of our preferences that are the mistake, it’s the expectation that the world should always arrange itself so that those preferences will be met.

As is often the case in matters of this nature, Alain de Botton captures the situation rather beautifully (in the wonderful The Consolations of Philosophy)

We may be powerless to alter certain events, but we remain free to choose our attitude towards them, and it is in our spontaneous acceptance of necessity that we find our distinctive freedom.