In life there are two types of pain that we, as humans, experience. The first is physical pain from something that ails our body. A stubbed toe, a sore throat, a headache, so on and so forth. Physical pain is a part of our reality, and to a large degree it is out of our control.
The second type of pain is emotional pain. It’s disappointment in a friendship. It’s frustration with a coworker. It’s emotional distance with a significant other. This type of pain is less definable and less acute than physical pain, but happens to be much more in our control. How so?
By detaching ourselves from outcomes.
Let me explain. Emotional pain is fairly straightforward when we examine it. In life, we mentally construct an attachment to an expected outcome, and we create pain for ourselves when that expected outcome doesn’t occur. There are big, weighty examples like attaching ourselves to the expectation that our spouse won’t cheat on us, or attaching ourselves to the expectation that a pregnancy will go smoothly. But then there are the more subtle examples that we experience each and every day, whether we realize or not. We expect our car to start when we turn the ignition. We expect our significant other to be kind to us. We expect our boss to be grateful for our hard work. We expect our GPS to give us accurate directions. The list goes on and on. These are the attachments that we create each and every day.
We are continuously creating emotional pain by allowing our contentedness to lie in the outcome of something out of our control. If we can get rid of this attachment to outcomes, we can eliminate most of the emotional pain in our lives.
Emotional pain from the big things in life – loss, grief, change – are okay in my book. This is the price we pay to also receive joy from those same things that created the pain. But the small things that we attach ourselves to provide us an enormous opportunity to improve our happiness by simply letting them go. We do this by:
- Working hard in our jobs without expectation of reward from it
- Loving deeply in our relationships without expectation of reciprocated love
- Letting the little things be little things*
- (*hint: pretty much everything is a little thing)
“Let it go” is often the advice applied to situations that disrupt our happiness. Though trite, it’s incredibly accurate and applicable advice. When we have emotional pain from something in our life it is because we have not decided to let our attachment to it go. We are holding on to the very thing that’s hurting us. When we are disappointed by an outcome it is not the external that feels the wrath of our disappointment. It’s us. By letting it go, by removing our attachment to outcomes, we take the control of our happiness back into our own hands. Let the big things be big things. But don’t let the little things continually mask themselves as larger than they are. By letting them go, we let our emotional pain go with it.