A certain man, Donald, came into my psychology office for counseling and began to complain about his sister. He told me that the Saturday before, he had held a family gathering at his home and his sister caught up with him in the gazebo in his spacious back yard. The two of them, drinks in hand, looked silently about the verdant expanse, admiring the small brook, the little flowered foot bridge and the koi pond that lapped melodiously beneath their feet like a lake slapping rhythmically against the pylons of a pier in the wake of a small boat. All was peaceful, serene and stunningly beautiful—and all was his, the fruits of his many years of labor.
Then, without any warning, he continued, his sister looked at him and said, “I could have done this too, you know.” “What are you talking about?” he asked. “I could have made the kind of money you did and I could have had a nice place just like this,” she responded.
Donald told me that the direction of the conversation was disconcerting and he had no interest in pursuing it, but a little gremlin inside his head was more than a little miffed and out of his mouth came this silly, stupid and quickly regretted retort, “Oh yeah? Then why didn’t you do it?” As soon as he felt those words pass over his tongue, he knew he had made a mistake. But as we all know, once the bullet leaves the muzzle, you cannot take it back. It was now time to pay the price.
“Why?” she hissed. “I’ll tell you why, Mr. ‘Everything-I-Touch-Turns-To-Gold! It’s because I wasn’t as lucky as you. I didn’t have the luxury of …” and we all know where that went. Finally, she got down to this. “I could have gone to school if only I had blah-blah-blah…I could have gotten my broker’s license if only it wasn’t yaddah-yaddah-yah…I could have… (fill in missed opportunity of choice)…if only… (fill in excuse of choice)” and the litany of “reasons” continued punctuated liberally with the phrase, if only. If only, if only, if only. Or as Leonello Baldini, an old Italian man I knew, once whimsically said with a glint in his eye and a wave of his gnarled fingers, “Magari…se solo!” If only!
The difference between Sr. Baldini and Donald’s sister is that Leonello knew that he had made certain decisions and that he was where he was and had what he had because he had been the master of his life. It was he, Baldini himself, who had brought him to where he was in his life. His “if only” (magari in Italian) was not a condemnation for the vagaries of life or the world about him. To Leonello, it was an acknowledgment of the fact that there could have been any number of different outcomes in his life if he had made different choices and decisions. There is no one to blame—not even himself. When you accept responsibility for living your life by design, no matter how well or poorly it turns out, there is no room for blame.
But, being fair, we all do this sometimes, don’t we? I mean, don’t we all occasionally look back at a time when we might have taken the road less traveled and said to ourselves with a wave of our fingers, “Magari…”? We meet someone we almost went into partnership with, almost married, almost took off for a hike across Europe with and think “Magari…” We’ve all had that wonder of how things might have been, if only. But Donald’s sister was not whimsically wondering. She was enviously condemning all around her for controlling her and preventing her from reaching her full potential. And therein lies the problem. She was condemning the world, and perhaps even her brother, for the successes of others implying that they were at the cost of her own.
Many of us never get past the fact that all of us are dealt a hand at birth. Some hands are definitely better than others for certain kinds of success. But, depending on what we do or “how we play our hand”, so to speak, we can be successful in a way that can bring us happiness. Not all of us can have the same kinds of “things”, but we can almost all be happy.
Before there was radio, people were happy. Before there was TV, people were happy. Before there were cars, computers, video games, smartphones and all the trappings of modern convenience, people were happy; and just maybe, happi-er because it took less to be satisfied. So the point is that the focus of what will bring us happiness is also the basis of our level of happiness. If we insist that we must have a big house, new car, all the latest gadgets and gizmos to be happy, we set ourselves up for constant want for there will always be new things. If on the other hand, we find a way to allow ourselves to be happy with fewer things, we set ourselves up for greater happiness.
Let’s be honest with ourselves for just a minute. No one’s listening to your thoughts. No one is going to ask you what you say to yourself when you answer this, so be honest without mercy. Isn’t it possible for you, or me or anyone else for that matter, to be able to look at your life and think that you COULD have done more, and therefore have more; that you could have had as good a job as some others and could have been as good at something as some others are…if only?
“If only I had been born less poor…if only I had been able to go to a better school…if only my parents had been better at being parents…if only my teachers didn’t…if only my wife would…if only, if only, if only…!!!?!” They are just two little words, but when you put them together and use them as a condemnation of your own life or to blame others for where you are or what you have, they become the core snowball rolling down a ski slope, building size and wreaking havoc all along the way. They are the seeds to the destruction of your happiness because they are the root of jealousy and even revenge.
You can be happy no matter where you are or what you have. Happiness can be seen in the face of the poorest of the poor and sickest of the sick. It is all a matter of where your head is. Donald’s’ sister’s head was in a no man’s land of crushed dreams that never made it past being just that—dreams. We are the masters not of our world, but of our minds, and thus our happiness. But we must be willing to let go of that we do not have and embrace that which we do—especially the love of those who care. Then we, too, can some day sit in utter contentment and simply muse without the smallest hint of envy as did Leonello, “Magari…”
Cogito! Shakespeare’s Hamlet says, “There is nothing either good or bad, but the thinking makes it so.” I agree. Are you trapped in a kind of thinking with bars made of envy, jealousy, resentment, revenge and anger? These are all examples of that wonderful part of life called emotions. As I’ve been saying since the title page of this book:
Think more, feel less
And you can find happiness,
That can endure regardless,
Of what you or your “brother” may possess.
~Excerpted from: Naked Thinking, Phil D’Agostino