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If Only Syndrome

January 23, 2014 | by Emuna Braverman

The surefire way to unhappiness.

Who is happy? One who is satisfied with his lot (Ethics of Our Fathers, 4:1). Many people think that this refers to happiness with our material lot in life – with our wealth or lack thereof. But it’s much broader.

Being happy with your lot encompasses your whole situation in life – your talents (or lack thereof!), your strengths, your weaknesses, your physical appearance, your job, your family circumstances…it means not living with a constant sense of “If only…”

This is not so easy to do. We are all plagued by “if only”-ism. “If only I had a bigger house (or at least a bathroom off the master bedroom!),” “If only I had that diamond bracelet (my husband knows which one I mean),” “If only I had one more pair of black heels,” “If only I had a better boss (I’m of course not speaking personally!),” “If only all my children were married,” “If only my _______ had a better paying job,” “If only I didn’t have to work so hard,” “If only I didn’t have so many challenges,” “If only the school had a better remedial program,” “If only the school had a better gifted program…”

“If only, if only, if only.” It’s a natural and yet destructive way to live. It’s a guarantee of unhappiness.

I recently read an ultimate case of “If only” in the NY Times entitled “That Nose, That Chin, Those Lips.” The author, Abby Ellin, went on to describe cases where people seek plastic surgery so that they can look like a particular movie star.

The piece featured a Texas woman who, after much research, decided that she wanted to look like Kate Winslet. A Dallas plastic surgeon was happy to oblige. She “shaved cartilage from her nose, injected the dermal filler Sculptra to plump out her cheeks and squirted a little Botox into her forehead and around her eyes…”

Once you address one need, your dissatisfaction just moves to something else.

Is the patient, Ms. Davenport, happier now? The article doesn’t elaborate. But I can’t imagine she is. Because she is not someone who was happy with her lot. The problem with “if only” disorder is that once you address one need, your dissatisfaction just moves to something else.

Because it’s an attitude, a way of being, a bad habit. And the solution is not to “scratch the itch;” it’s to eliminate it altogether.

Inherent in the idea of being happy with your portion is the Torah philosophy that the Almighty has given us everything we need – to develop our potential, to live our life to the fullest, and to achieve the deepest closeness to God.

If we think there are other prerequisites to this experience, we are mistaken. We have everything we need to accomplish life’s ultimate goal.

I’m not saying it’s easy. But there are only two choices – live a life of constant dissatisfaction and unremitting “if onlys,” or live a life of peace and happiness. It's a greater effort but the payoff is eternal.


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