How often do we say “Wouldn’t it be great if . . . ?” If only we could acquire, achieve and experience all the wonderful things in life. And if only we could get rid of, conquer and transcend all of our problems in life. “Oh, if I could lose this weight and arthritis then I could travel and run around like I want to.” “If only I could get out of this job or this town and start over.” “If only I could overcome my social anxiety and meet the right partner.” Wouldn’t that all be great?

Constant craving

Indeed, all of these might be nice things to accomplish and would be cause for celebration. It seems healthy to have things to look forward to, to work toward and to enjoy when we’re successful. But where do we draw the line? How do we avoid living 

a life constantly wishing, “Wouldn’t it be great if . . . ?” If we’re not mindful, we can get caught up in wanting, wishing, desiring or craving to the point where we’re not living the life we have but chasing the life we imagine in the future, “If only we could . . . “

A colleague once shared that as a child growing up in the Blue Ridge Mountain region, no matter how far the family drove through the mountains she could never arrive at the place where the blue trees were. From a distance, there was a blue tint to the mountainside, but every time she got close and looked at the trees in front of her, they were green. It seems the grass is always greener and the Blue Ridge Mountains are always bluer on the other side. 

Maybe the green grass and the blue mountains are meant to be enjoyed from a distance. But this is not what our culture teaches us. TV commercials, magazine covers, roadside billboards, pop-up ads online and even self-help sections in bookstores aim to persuade us that everything we want is within our reach. We can—and should—have it all. And wouldn’t that be great?

Be careful what you wish for

And if we did have it all, what then? If everyone we love is healthy and wealthy, the food and the clothing are the best that money can buy, the perfect house has the perfect view in the region with the perfect climate, the hobbies are fun and fulfilling and the sex is regular and amazing, well what do we do then? Do we just live in a state of unending ecstasy? 

Is it even possible to live in a state of perpetual bliss? Or would we eventually get bored and start looking for the next “Wouldn’t it also be great if . . . ?” Maybe moments of bliss exist only when they’re contrasted with a background of non-bliss. It’s nice to enjoy a good meal when we’re hungry, but hard to do so when were already full. It seems that there must be some tension or deprivation first in order for there to be relief or fulfillment. Without a background, there can be no foreground.

The highs and the lows

Maybe there’s a natural ebb and flow in the world of tension-release, emptiness-fulfillment, discomfort-comfort. In our culture, it’s easy to get caught up in a life of running from the tension, emptiness and discomfort and lusting after the release, fulfillment and comfort. 

To avoid this trap, we should not have to go so far as to abandon pursuit of all things that are pleasing and resign ourselves to a life of misery and suffering. Perhaps we can still move toward pleasant life experiences, but without a spirit of craving and desperation, and rather with a relaxed acceptance, appreciation and even gratitude for the tension, emptiness and discomfort because we understand that these are necessary conditions which allow us to experience their pleasing counterparts.

Art Frenz, Ph.D.

Photo by Jorge Illich-Gejo on Unsplash 

Articles

Psychological Fitness

“Psychological Fitness” is my monthly column featured in the Binghamton, NY Press & Sun Bulletin since 2004. This page highlights articles, or adaptations thereof, from that column.