by Leo Babauta
Our lives are a series of fantasies — ideals and expectations — but unfortunately we’re not often aware that we’re having them.
And while we all have fantasies, and sometimes they can be nice, the problem comes when life doesn’t live up to the fantasy.
Reality is amazing, but when we compare it to the fantasy (which isn’t real, of course), it doesn’t measure up. As amazing as reality is, in all its glory, it falls short if we expect it to be some fantasy. This is a big reason we’re unhappy with ourselves. It’s a reason we’re unhappy with others, with our lives.
It’s also the reason we seek happiness in external things — we have fantasies about how great they’re going to be, how incredible our lives will be once we have these external things, how happy we’ll be once we have them. It’s not true, though, and when we get those external things (food, a boyfriend, new clothes, etc.), they fall short and don’t make us as happy as we’d hoped. And we don’t learn: We keep fantasizing, keep repeating the cycle.
Some examples of our fantasies:
- We see someone with a nice body and fantasize about getting abs like that, or arms like that.
- We want a boyfriend/spouse who will make us happy, love us unconditionally, be romantic, care for our every need.
- We fantasize about forming new habits and never messing up, and having discipline.
- We fantasize that other people will be polite to us, never cut us off in traffic, never get angry, wash their dishes, and clean up after themselves.
- We fantasize about having the perfect peaceful, productive morning.
- We fantasize that other people will always care about our stories, want to hear everything we have to say, care about our needs before all else.
Of course, we don’t always know we’re having those fantasies. But when we get frustrated, disappointed, irritated, or angry with other people or ourselves, that’s a sure sign we had a fantasy that didn’t come true.
We are discontent with ourselves because we don’t meet the fantasies we have about ourselves: that we should have perfect bodies, the perfect spouse, the perfect job, be good at everything, never mess up, have perfect habits, never procrastinate, or have the charisma of a movie star.
We are discontent with others because they don’t meet the fantasies we have about how others should behave: they should be unfailingly kind to us, happy not angry, care about us and meet our needs, never be rude or cold or ignore us, and always clean up after themselves and be on time.
We are discontent with our lives because our fantasies about how life should be don’t come true: that the weather be perfect, that we have a beautiful house and a great job, and always be at the center of peace and happiness and excitement, and surrounded by people who love us, and that we never lose anyone important, and that all the great things in our lives never change.
Contentment is about letting go of these fantasies, and realizing that life is amazing without them. People around us are amazing without the fantasies. We are amazing, without the fantasies.
How do we let go of the fantasies? First by shining the light of awareness on them. Watch ourselves fantasize, realize that it’s happening, realize that we don’t need the fantasies. Be OK with letting them go. Watch reality closely, and recognize life’s awesomeness, as it is, without the fantasies.
It’s there. We just need to learn to see it.
Make a note to watch when you’re frustrated, disappointed, angry, stressed, unhappy … and to write down, at that moment, what fantasy you’re having. Practice letting them go.