How to Be Happy in a “Fix Me” Culture

Cultivate this one virtue and love life no matter what

Posted Apr 30, 2018

As soon as we deviate from the norm or find ourselves struggling with a problem, we tend to think that something is wrong with us. Because nobody embodies “normal” always, almost everybody experiences pain and anxiety over feeling different. A great deal of suffering stems from the fact that we so poorly relate to our so perceived imperfections. Instead of accepting that life is full of challenges and that imperfections are necessary variations of life, we pathologize ourselves and hope for a quick fix or at least a solution in the not-so-far future.

Unfortunately, we do not just visit with a clear-minded psychotherapist or other professionals who emphasize that supreme beings only exist in fantastic movies, of which we have more than ever before. All too many times we actually turn to the fantasy world for guidance and get advice from advertisements with photoshopped models. And God forbid our child deviates from the norm, is wild, too creative or displays any differences. The overwhelming majority relies on organizations, such as our schools, that are pressured to deliver perfect products: our children. None can be left behind, at least not without facing financial retributions.

I believe that our “fix me” culture is in part responsible for the many addictions we currently find in the United States. Our often beneficial, relentless can-do attitude has a dark side. Nobody likes pain, so the problem of trying to drink, smoke, eat and hide away psychological wounds does not belong to one country. But in no other country do we find such an intense cultivation of the idea of the easy and pain free life. Also, happiness in America is not necessarily tied to a quality of life, but to “making it” and “being on top.” “Being there” seems in reach, but can never be experienced on this day, in this moment. Our ideals are so removed from reality that ordinary life seems entirely inadequate and we entirely and hopelessly flawed.

Other than looking through the pressures of our culture to be a fantastic creature – to be thin; to have six pack abs (my kids tell me they exist); to have smooth skin; young skin; cool comebacks; perfect grades, outfits and hair; abundance; gadgets; to be never sad; never mad; never insecure; always confident and in charge – try this one amazing trick: patience.

With this long-forgotten virtue, almost all problems disappear. When your kid does not hit a developmental goal, support him or her with the right know-how and care. And then be patient. Teachers and other parents might give you an inevitable “OMG” response, but you, knowing that you have done all you could, will smile patiently. I will never forget when a second-grade teacher approached me with a horrified face, telling me that there was something wrong with my son. She found some bugs in the pockets of his jeans….

When you feel sad, let yourself feel sad. When you feel mad, feel mad. Actions, not feelings hurt people. As we focus kindly and patiently on our feelings, we can see them pass through our minds like clouds pass the sky.

When you are in the habit of drinking alcohol or abusing food and want to stop it, stop it with patience. Expect difficulties and cravings and feel them with patience. No experience is permanent. They come and go in waves. Observe these waves with patience. This patience is also called mindfulness.

When you think of yourself as a loser, acknowledge your thoughts and look upon them with patience. Instead of waiting for an external change, which might or might not happen, do what you can and then be a calm witness to your negative experience. This too shall pass.

When you find yourself deviating from a norm that goes against your nature, be patient with your discomfort. Both, your discomfort and your difference, are okay. A rose cannot become a sunflower and should not try to convert. To be different is scary because we fear nothing more than ostracism and loneliness. You can grow to stand tall and love yourself the way you are. Just give it time.

Be patient with your true imperfections. They are likely the reason for why others find you lovable. Much of our suffering is based on the misunderstanding that we grow by willing ourselves from one developmental stage to another until we are finally there. We grow more like plants. They are perfect as in “complete” every stage of the way, never alone and disconnected. Instead, they grow in connection, with the soil, sun and water. Be patient with yourself as you are embedded in a garden that is not all under your control. Whenever you can, see to it that you are being nurtured, but do not forget to enjoy your present moment. If you cannot do this, please familiarize yourself with mindfulness and the art of meditation. Leaning onto our all interconnected Being can be learned by unlearning impatience with receptivity, tranquility, reliance and lightheartedness (see Part 3 of A Unified Theory of Happiness). As you patiently cultivate the virtue of patience, you begin to love life the way life is. Virtue almost always culminates into this grand love, which is what our culture needs above anything else.

If you you’d like to read other articles I’ve written for Psychology Today, click here.

© 2018 Andrea F. Polard, PsyD. All Rights Reserved.