The word should in itself is a form of judgment. It is someone else (in your head) or in your life telling you how you are supposed to behave.
The shoulds that we live with come from all places in our lives. Our parents, our teachers, our community, our society as a whole, the “experts” that we encounter, etc.
The problem with should is that we take it to mean “the truth” as opposed to a particular perspective that might not fit with your own values and your own wishes and desires.
The shoulds can steal away our happiness, or at least put it on hold.
When we spend too much time listening to the shoulds, we lose out on what we really want for ourselves, and our lives become about what other people think, rather than what we think.
For example, if someone says, “You should write a thank you note after receiving a gift” that is really a matter of perspective. Is it a nice gesture? Of course, but does your life always need to be about being “nice”—no. People pleasing all the time gets us in trouble long term--in trouble with ourselves.
I also want to address the fact that I am not talking about good deeds or bad deeds, or what is nice or not nice. This isn’t about morality, it’s about judgement.
Martha Beck, whom I have written before, talks about how we live with a disconnected self. We have an essential self, which is what we are yearning to really do, and then our social self, which is the self comprised of what we “should” do in order to fit in in society. Those selves battle each other every day.
Unfortunately, we often find ourselves being powered more by our social selves than our essential selves. We get into a routine powered by the shoulds, and forget what really makes us come alive.
At the end of the day, we need to live in both worlds, but if we spend too much time living in our social world, we lose sight of our own needs and desires and end up with regrets, resentments, frustration, disappointments, etc because we end up putting our happiness on hold.
In order to determine if you are putting your happiness on hold, use these statements as a guide. Respond to each statement with Often, Sometimes, Rarely, or Never.
- I have fun.
- I allow myself time to play.
- I laugh out loud.
- I give myself permission to do what I love to do.
- I practice gratitude.
- I do new things or go to new places.
Your happiness doesn’t have to be on hold.