THE BLOG

Not Trying to Get Your Way May Make You Happier

11/16/2012 04:41 pm ET | Updated Jan 16, 2013

You know Rolling Stones' song, "You Can't Always Get What You Want"? It's a great song. Especially the version with the choir. Amazing. But when someone quotes that title to me -- suggesting I want too much or that I should settle for what I need -- I want to punch him dead in the face.

And here's why.

Ego. Mine can be huge. I have earnestly been trying to whittle that giant thing away over the years. But woah nelly, can it inflame, flare up and erupt when things don't go the way I planned. The way I want them to go. The way I think I would look best if they went.

Which is to say when things are out of my control, I can grow big, scary talons trying to hold on with dear life to whatever I was trying to control and still force it to go my way.

Here is something I tell my patients about how we cannot predict the future, and therefore have to accept we have zero control over many of life's outcomes.

Remember the day you met your significant other. You remember it, right? Did you have any idea the day before that, that it would happen? Nope.

I met my boyfriend on July 10, 2006. I woke up like any other day, made my coffee, turned on my computer, found an email from him (we met online) and was in love within a month. He is still my best friend and love of my life six years later. On July 9, 2006, I didn't have the slightest idea that would happen.

I am not saying trust fate (at all) or that things all work out (they won't). I am saying -- you have no idea at all what will happen tomorrow, so clinging too tightly to what you want tomorrow to look like, or trying to prepare for or control its every outcome, is not going to help.

But love is an easy one to get our head around. Everyone wants to be able to welcome love.

But do we want to welcome obstacles or just any old circumstance that comes our way? Not so much.

We want to plan! We want to control! We want to be ready and look our best and come out on top! But controlling for what is coming is no guarantee you are going to make the most of what comes -- in fact, it's probably going to hinder our ability to get the most out of it.

In Chinese medicine, there is a tenet that says if the heart has a place to dwell, there will be stagnation and qi will knot up. When qi knots, thoughts cannot evolve, and this will cause mental pain -- mental blockages. If those mental blockages persist, they will have physiological consequences -- often the first place those are said to manifest is digestion. You can think your way into constipation, bloating, acid reflux and more.

Think of your heart in the Western sense. It is a pump. It pumps blood in and out all day long. It doesn't dwell, it is the very definition of constant change. It needs to be open and welcoming.

Emotions in Chinese medicine are manifestations of how your qi is organized. Which is to say, how your matter/energy/physiology is organized will determine or be your mood. Emotions arise harmoniously if your qi is flowing smoothly (think of how clear you feel after a long jog or yoga class that has moved your qi). But if your qi is knotted, your emotions will knot. Thoughts will feel difficult and heavy. (Think of how badly you sleep or feel when you just cannot let go of a thought, or are up all night revisiting some interaction that you wished had gone better -- planning your excellent comebacks if you had it to do all over again.)

The heart is meant to welcome whatever comes to it. To be open. To just pump each moment through and take it for what it is. You cannot do that if you are controlling or trying to manufacture what moments "should" look like according to your desires.

There is a great line in The Matrix Reloaded (yes, I liked even the sequel). Persephone has just turned traitor on the Merovingian and that left him facing Neo -- who is about to escape and kill his men. He says simply, "Alright, let us see where this goes."

"Let us see where this goes" is a powerful way to just be curious about what is going to unfold, rather than strangling it with our expectations.

As the holidays approach and family conflicts are imminent and things are all bound not to go our way (even just delayed flight plans) try just "seeing where it goes" and see if that doesn't smooth your qi and help you feel balanced. You may meet the love of your life, who is also stranded at the airport bar, but if you're too busy being mad that your well-laid plans went to crap, you won't be open to this cool new possibility -- that you didn't even have to plan...

Happy Thanksgiving!

For more by Amy M. FitzPatrick, MS, L.Ac., click here.

For more on wisdom, click here.