The lessons of this book, The Five Things We Cannot Change…and the Happiness We Find by Embracing Them, fit very nicely (pardon the pun) with the goal of exposure therapy for OCD and anxiety: to learn to live in a world of uncertainty and be happy anyway. So, I wanted to share the five things with you and give you an example of how I am using them this weekend.
Yesterday, I was hanging out in the living room, waiting for the plumber to arrive to fix a leak in my kitchen sink, when I noticed how hot it was. I checked the thermostat, and it read 79 degrees. After an hour of so of messing around with vents, turning the A/C on and off, staring at the outside A/C unit (telepathically asking it to please turn on) and wishing the plumber were also an HVAC guy, I realized my air conditioner was broken.
And hey, I live in Hot-lanta, so this is somewhat problematic.
But sitting on my coffee table in the living room was The Five Things We Cannot Change. As I waited for the A/C guy to call, I flipped to the back cover of the book and realized how my situation was a beautiful example of what the author, David Richo, is trying to teach.
- Everything changes and ends. Yup. Something about my A/C has changed or ended. And my comfortable living environment has definitely changed (when I went to bed last night it was 82 degrees in the bedroom).
- Things do not always go according to plan. Bingo. I’m supposed to be having a nice, relaxing staycation this week. So much for that!
- Life is not always fair. Quite right. I just bought this condo last year, in part to get away from all the maintenance of owning a free-standing house. But the A/C is not something the HOA takes care of.
- Pain is part of life. True. I tried to remind myself last night, at 1:30 a.m. as I lay in bed sweating, trying to go to sleep, that many people in many parts of the world live and sleep very happily in heat and humidity and don’t even have A/C. But since I’m fortunate and used to living with A/C, it was still painful.
- People are not loving and loyal all the time. Correct. Not that I expect my home warranty company to be “loyal,” so to speak, but you could put this “given” another way: people don’t always do what you want. I didn’t realize the A/C was broken until after 5 p.m., so no one could come out yesterday. When I talked with the A/C company that my home warranty sent me to today, they couldn’t see me until next Wednesday. It’s supposed to be 92 degrees early next week, so now I’m paying a different A/C company to look at it today.
Can I do anything about any of this? No. If I struggle against all these things, what will I get? Well, I’ll tell you: when I was still awake at 1:30 a.m. last night because of the heat, I was sweaty, tired, and aggravated, to say the least, and I was bemoaning all five of the above givens, which just made me angry and caused the very thing I was trying to avoid: losing more sleep.
Learning from that mistake, I am working today to accept the uncertainty and lack of control inherent in all five givens. Fortunately, I have done enough exposure therapy to know that:
- Accepting that we don’t have control is actually a lot easier than trying to force things to be the way we want them to be (remember the serenity prayer?)
- Embracing uncertainty is actually freeing, because it’s consistent with the realities of life: the only certainties are death and taxes (and some would argue that taxes are debatable….).
If something doesn’t go your way this Labor Day weekend, I encourage you to try accepting the five things we cannot change. And you never know … your acceptance may create the opportunity for bigger (and potentially better) plans that your own to unfold.
Now for some shameless self-promotion: if you’d like to learn more about how to manage anxiety and uncertainty, visit Beyond the Doubt to see our upcoming events and webinars. We also offer a few pro bono registrations for each of our events, in-person and online, to make sure everyone who wants to attend can join us.