Sunday, April 24, 2011

Lesson #2: Dropping The "Should" Makes Life Happy

At forty years old, I would like to think I have the wisdom, knowledge, and insight to say what my life should look like, how others should act, and how the world should look.  Unfortunately,  I have absolutely no clue.  When I assume I do know, I pay the price with frustration, irritation, stress, and heart ache. 

"Should" assumes that there is an agreed upon governing body of principles that we can all defer to in order to determine morality and standards.  It assumes that you and I have knowingly and willingly entered into an arrangement stating, "We will both respect and follow the dictates of this system.  We will agree upon how people should behave, how they should appear, what they should value."  Outside of a convent or a monastery is this true? Hardly.  You are bound to encounter people different from yourself who have different values.  All of us carry around our own governing systems based on ideas we have learned throughout our lives, and most people defend that theirs are inherently "right."  However, it is exactly this narrow faith in an invisible objective committee which leads us to condemn ourselves and others.  There is no objective moral standard for living that all individuals in a diverse world will agree upon so the term "should" holds no universal meaning. 

During my first year of college I began questioning the nineteen years of "shoulds" that had been weighing me down such as, "I should be smarter, I should be more masculine, I should play sports, I shouldn't be so emotional, I should be better looking, I should be in a relationship..." and dozens more.  I notice that when I dropped the "should" I immediately felt more at ease, relaxed, unburdened, and hopeful.  I shared this idea with friends, and they too noticed they felt better without "shoulds." We even started playing a game where we would catch each other every time we used "should" in a sentence, and had fun with the idea that feeling better could be so simple and immediate.  Because "should" had been such a fundamental part of my thought system I wore a sign around my neck of the word should enclosed by a closed circle, which ultimately went on to be come the logo you see above.

In Lesson #9, I discussed how change is good, and that everything that is wonderful in my life now is a result of a change that some point I resisted.  Every time I have not gotten a job, a relationship, or an opportunity I wanted, I was able to look back in retrospect and see that not getting it was the best thing for me.  Having these experiences repeatedly lead me to realize that I have no clue how anything should be so I might as well drop the "should" and chill out. 

I have been criticized for being too adamant and alert about the word "should" (I believe the word "should nazi" was used once).  Believe me, I have no investment in controlling any body's thoughts.  But I do stay consistent with this message because we are inundated every day with hundreds of message, directly and indirectly, which communicate that you are not okay to be who are, and so you should change the way your look, your weight, your finances, your mood, your clothes, your job, your home, your values (and so on...).  From my perspective these "shoulds" lead people to suffer when they conflict with reality, and then result in depression, anger, anxiety, high blood pressure, aches and pains, failed relationships, drug and alcohol use, and so much more.  It takes a strong counter force to balance toxic messages, and being cognizant of these "shoulds" has been the number one way that I have been able to hold my own against them.

I challenge anyone who feels bad about themselves, or who fears getting older, to try going just one day without using the word "should" against themselves and others.  Knowing and living this lesson prepares me to get older feeling empowered, confident, and strong.  Dropping the "should" has enabled me to live, love, to cope with painful loss, and still feel excited about what the next day will bring.  It is my profound hope that it helps you do the same.

Press here to view a copy of "Absolutely Should-less: The Secret To Living The Stress-Free Life You Deserve."

Damon L. Jacobs is a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist seeing individuals and couples in New York City. He specializes in issues related to addiction, ageism, bullying, caretaking fatigue, body image, grief and loss, gay/lesbian issues, stress management, depression, as well as couples in non-traditional arrangements. He is the author of "Absolutely Should-less: The Secret to Living the Stress-Free Life You Deserve." To have him speak with your group, or to schedule a counseling visit, call 347-227-7707, or email at

**If you are in the New York City area, please come by for Damon's "Fabulous at Forty" workshop on Monday, April 25th, at 8pm, at 208 W. 13th Street, Room 410* 

No comments: