Wish Less, Live More
There’s a famous, oft-repeated Dr. Seuss quote that says, “You know you’re in love when reality is finally better than your dreams.” It’s accepted knowledge that you’re happy when you’ve reached all your goals and made your dreams come true. We all know the power of having dreams, that it’s indispensable to our lives. It’s impossible not to have dreams. But when does wishing for dreams become unhealthy? When does wishing actually hold us back from happiness?
As a race of humans, we have this awful tendency to romanticize our dreams and build them up in our heads as the only way we could ever be happy. There are images in our mind of things we want, and we’re determined to have them, and we won’t settle for anything we deem lesser than that, thank you very much. For me, this tendency bleeds into two major aspects of my life, which I think is true for pretty much everyone: work and love.
In terms of my career, I always saw myself as this fashionable, well-heeled sophisticate stomping around the city. All my life I’ve wanted to be a writer and live in New York, and while I am very close to recognizing this dream, it took a long time for me to see that the image I had of myself with this particular job was making me feel lesser for not having accomplished it yet. While wishing for this end result, I was forgetting to be happy.
At the same time, I turned down good opportunities because they didn’t fit the image I had in my head of my perfect life. Over time, I learned to stop letting that dream in my head keep me from taking opportunities, but my career was one thing. My love life is another.
I think most people have an idea of what their perfect mate is like. And if you want to be in a relationship, chances are you have a shortlist of certain characteristics you want in a partner. Simple things like “funny, smart, loving,” etc. But you may also have a certain image in your head of what a so-called perfect partner or perfect relationship looks like, and you tell yourself, wisely, that you won’t settle for anything less. You know your self-worth, after all.
And you shouldn’t settle. But that also doesn’t mean that your allegedly perfect mate exists at all. You—me—all of us—may be wishing for something unattainable and thus rejecting the good, real things that we can have instead. Forgive the cliche: maybe reality is better than your dreams, you know, because it’s real.
Wishing becomes unhealthy when your dreams inflate to such a point at which they feel more real than reality. Wishing becomes unhealthy when good opportunities and real choices are sacrificed for the sake of the dream that may be unrealistic or unattainable. Because I had this idea in my head of what I wanted—what I had always wanted—when something great stood right in front of me, I wasn’t sure. I wavered. I hemmed. I hawed.
I did all those things and more. I rationalized my reluctance by telling myself, “I know what I want. This isn’t what I want” and I mistook that for determination and told myself I knew my own mind. Turns out I didn’t, because I didn’t know my own mind well enough to know that it was my dreams that were actually holding me back from good, solid things in reality; it wasn’t that reality wasn’t good enough yet. It was good. I just didn’t want it because I always thought there was something better, perfect, for me. Maybe the things and people I turned down would have made me happier than I could have dreamed.
I wasn’t settling. But I didn’t have the circumspection to recognize that. All I saw was a disconnect between my own larger-than-life dreams and what was right in front of me. How many opportunities, how many real connections had I rejected because it didn’t fit into the picture in my mind? And if I ever did get exactly what I thought I always wanted, would I even see that? What was I even waiting for?
In cases such as these, it helps to consult a wise, older person. Like Albus Dumbledore. He once told a very small boy (forget his name), “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.” Wishing, dreaming can become a crutch we lean on when living becomes too hard. Wishing should be a motivator, not an excuse to stop living.