05/23/2013 04:04 pm ET Updated Jul 23, 2013

Living in the 'Should's

The "should"s of life are the greatest mental health killers I've come across! Every day, I sit with my clients as they talk about the things they're unhappy about. And the biggest culprit is usually not the thing itself, but how they're falling short of what their family, culture, or society expects from them. Or perhaps they're not falling short at all, but they're unhappy because they're not living the lives they want to be living.

My single girls "should" be married, and therefore feel awful.

My married clients "should" have a baby, and therefore feel awful.

The shoulds are endless: They come up around how much money we should make, what schools we should go to (or send our kids to), what kind of person we should marry, whether or not we should keep our religious rituals, whether or not we should talk to our moms every day... We should and should and should.

It's exhausting.

I battle the shoulds all the time, but I'm here to share with you that I am almost "should-free." And I say almost because I still work at it, every day. Breaking away from the shoulds was no easy feat; it was uncomfortable, caused pain, and I had to live through the disappointment of the people I love who don't agree with my choices. But the freedom that comes with living the life you're supposed to live versus living the one that's given to you is so good that once you taste it, there's really no going back. We can't make anyone happy or unhappy; other people's happiness is based on themselves, so whatever we do or don't do ultimately makes no difference in their well-being.

This comes up the most for me around the Jewish holidays. Although I'm very proud to be Jewish culturally, I don't follow the religion, nor do I believe in religion at all. And since my father has passed away, I've stopped going to temple altogether. There are many in my family who don't like or agree with this, and every year on the high holidays, I'm torn about what to do. Do I go to make my mother happy? And then I realize that she'll be happy or unhappy based on herself -- my actions "should" have no bearing. And as these holidays quickly approach this year, I hope to make the best decision for me.

So the lesson: Not every battle has to be fought. There are some things we do in life just to fulfill someone else's belief of what they need from us. I do things I don't necessarily want to all the time, just to be there for people. However, here is the question you always have to ask: Is the "should" you're doing getting in the way of you having the life you want? Is it contributing to you being unhappy? If the answer is yes, then you owe it to yourself to start making some new choices and releasing yourself from at least one of your "should"s.

For more by Dr. Debbie Magids, click here.

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