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Why Learning to Let Go and Adapt Is a Shortcut to Happiness

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Charles Darwin is believed to have said that in nature, it’s not the strongest or most intelligent that survives but those who are most adaptable to change.

No matter what kind of life we live, we all need to learn to adapt, because everything changes. Good and bad come and go in everybody’s life. It’s one of the reasons resilience is so critical.

We plan our lives expecting good to come our way, to get what we want, and for things to work out how we planned. At the same time we’re chasing the good, we try to avoid the bad.

One of the biggest sources of our unhappiness and discontent is not being able to adapt to change; instead, we cling to things we’ve lost or get upset because things don’t unfold as we want them to.  

What we overlook is that this is a fundamental law of life, the ups and downs, ebbs and flows. Things come and go, nothing stays the same, and we can’t control most of the things we’d like to. Accepting this and learning to adapt and go with the flow brings us one step closer to happiness.

I’ve just come back from a meditation retreat. It sounds relaxing, and it was, but it was also difficult in many ways.

I had to adapt to a new routine, which meant a 5:30am alarm, sitting for long periods of meditation, and periods of complete silence and solitude.

And there were lots of other changes: Not having my morning cup of tea or evening chocolate—or any caffeine or dairy—and adjusting to a vegan diet. Being without WiFi and my cell phone, and braving the sub zero temperatures up in the mountains of NZ in winter. Having to do karma yoga work—things like cleaning toilets and stacking wood.

Not to mention the kind of emotions, thoughts, and feelings we’re confronted with when we start to disconnect from the world and spend time with ourselves.

I was so pleased to be returning home, but then instantly thrown into the chaos of a busy airport with all flights grounded due to fog. I then realized that I would not be going home, and to attempt that tomorrow meant a bus ride to the next airport and finding some overnight accommodation to wait it out with the hope that the weather would be fit for flying in the morning.

Despite my Zen-like state post-meditation, I was frustrated, upset, and I just wanted to get home to see my partner, sleep in my own bed, and not feel so helpless.

I had my plan, my expected outcome, and for reasons beyond everyone’s control, this wasn’t possible. I wasn’t going to get what I wanted.

Now, a week later, I find myself having to learn the skill of adaptability once again.

Many years ago I played soccer. I wasn’t bad, either. I loved it. It was my passion. As a kid, I’d play all day on my own in the garden, and once I found a team I’d never miss a match. However, my career was cut short in my early twenties after a ruptured cruciate ligament that was surgically repaired, re-ruptured.

I had to give up on my passion and for many years didn’t play soccer. It was as a result of this devastation that I found yoga—my new passion and lifesaver for the past seven years, something I do every day.

I’ve just had a further operation on this ailing knee, and while I’d adapted over the years from the injury, I found myself once again having to adapt to changes: Not being able to walk, being housebound, using crutches and the difficulties this brings. Finding a way of sleeping comfortably and seeing through the fog the painkillers seemed to create. Not being able to do my morning yoga routine and struggling to meditate because I couldn’t adopt my usual cross-legged ‘proper’ meditation position.

Sometimes what is, is good enough. Acceptance is key to helping us adapt. 

If I can breathe, I can meditate, and I’ve enjoyed some of my lying down meditations (the ones where I’ve managed to stay awake!).

And now, as I reduce the meds and ease off the crutches, I can see positive change occurring. I can do a few standing yoga asanas and can take short walks with support.

The devastation of leaving my beloved sport morphed into another form of exercise I fell in love with that I may never have otherwise discovered. And my recent operation led me to new ways of enjoying this passion.

These recent lessons caused me to reflect on how life has changed for me over the last year or so and how I’ve been adapting along the way (sometimes kicking and screaming).

I’ve gone from a nomad traveling the world to settling down in a city I’d said I’d never live in due to the wind and the earthquakes. I’ve experienced some of the worst winds and biggest earthquakes of my life since being here and learned to love it all the same.

I’ve recognized the positives and come to love the bits that make this city (Wellington, NZ) great: the small town feel, the laid back lifestyle, the friendly residents, the ocean, the beach suburbs and beautiful scenery, the wonderful array of cafes and restaurants, not to mention the abundance of yoga, meditation, and wellness related activities.

I’ve gone from being single and happy to living with someone else and having to think about someone else, taking into account more needs than just my own.

I’ve had to learn to love again, take risks, and face fears while navigating a long-term relationship and our different wants and needs. I’ve had to learn to share a home and build a nest, and think about the future in ways I’d never have thought I could, feeling very blessed if also a little apprehensive and scared at the same time.

Very often those in long-term relationships may envy the free, single, fun life of others, while at the same time those who are single are chasing the dream of finding their soul mate and settling down like the married couples who envy them.

I’ve learned that everything has its pros and cons, each cloud has a silver lining, and each silver lining has a cloud. It’s what we choose to focus on that impacts our happiness.  

We could always be chasing the next thing, looking for greener grass. But if we do this, the grass will always be greener even when we get there. And if we live like this, we miss out on all the good stuff we already have, all the silver linings that exist in the now in our current situation.

New relationships generally start well because it’s new and we’re in love. But what about when the novelty wears off, years down the track when we’re living together and bringing up kids?

We realize that our new love is, in fact, human. We get tired, we get irritated, we find they do actually leave clothes on the floor and leave the lid off the toothpaste.

In the same way our new, latest model dream car becomes not so new, or the dream job turns out to be a bit tougher than we thought.

Everything has good and bad, so stop expecting perfection and clinging onto an unrealistic ideal. This results in us always be disappointed.

Life changes as the seasons do. What we needed then may not be what we need now, and either way, we might not have control of what exactly is unfolding. Learn to adapt with these changes, not fight against them. Trying to keep everything the same is like trying to tell the leaves not to fall from the trees in autumn.

Whether the weather doesn’t hold during a party we’ve planned or a long-term relationship ends, things don’t always go to plan. Things change and we don’t always get to hold on to good stuff forever.

Embracing this is key to happiness, as is living in the present and enjoying each moment as it is.  Whatever is happening now won’t last, which is great news if we’re going through a tough time but not so great if things are going well and we’ve just got the promotion we wanted or met our soul mate.

Life is not about what happens to us but how we react to it, and some of our biggest disappointments can lead to better things in life, bringing us new beginnings if we learn to adapt and embrace change.  

Expect life not to go to plan and then you won’t be so disappointed. Accept what is, look for the silver lining, and adapt. Keep looking for the good in every moment and learn from the tough ones.

This is how we not only survive but thrive: by embracing each moment for what it is and choosing to make the best of it.

About Jess Stuart

After a successful career in the corporate HR world Jess decided to follow her passion in Health and Wellness as a coach, speaker, and author. A qualified yoga instructor who has trained in Buddhist meditation and mindfulness, living and working in many countries Jess draws her life experience into her work to share the principles of health and happiness.

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About Yury Zvyagolskiy

Yury Zvyagolskiy
In almost all American movies there is a bad guy who is usually Russian and his name is Yury. If the bad guy is not from Russia, his last name usually starts with Z. So here I am - Yury Z. My specialty is personal effectiveness. I am an expert in goal achievement, personal effectiveness, relationships and effective thinking.

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