Four Little Words to Live By

by Tresca Weinstein

For some people, it’s “What would Jesus do?” For some, it’s “Do unto others …” or “Live and let live.” The wise words I return to again and again are “Permission to be human.”

I first heard that phrase from Tal Ben-Shahar, in the Certificate in Positive Psychology program at Kripalu. Tal is a self-described perfectionist; he hones his lectures and his books over weeks of careful editing, and he works hard on his parenting and his marriage—not to mention that he’s also a former Israeli national squash champion and Harvard professor. Setting goals for ourselves, Tal says, is one of the ways we give our lives meaning.

Yet it’s just as important to continually forgive ourselves when we stumble along the road to those goals. That’s where giving ourselves permission to be human comes in.

I bring that phrase to mind for the little things—when I realize I could have done better in an interaction with a colleague, or when I forget a friend’s birthday, or when I buy something I don’t need but just really wanted in that moment (usually shoes). And for the big things, too: It’s been most powerful for me as a mother, because parenting can sometimes feel like both the most important and the most challenging thing I’ve ever done.

Not surprisingly, we typically hold ourselves to a higher standard than we’d ever impose on the people we love.

“Would you criticize your partner if she gave a less-than-perfect speech?” Tal asks in his book Being Happy: You Don’t Have to Be Perfect to Lead a Richer, Happier Life. “Would you think any less of your best friend if he did not do well on an exam? If your daughter or father did not earn first place in a competition, would their “imperfect” record diminish your love for them? Probably not. And yet when we ourselves fall short, we often regard ourselves as wholly inadequate, utter failures.”

The irony, of course, is that those flaws, the very things we seek to rise above, are often what make us most lovable. It is in sharing the struggles and revelations that we find authentic connection. We love celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence, who says she hates exercising and keeps a swear jar on the set of The Hunger Games to try to control her potty mouth.

So, can we extend ourselves that same indulgence and compassion? Can we love ourselves because, not in spite of, our imperfections? When I’m stuck in a place of irritation with my own actions, and I remember to say those four words to myself—sometimes even out loud—it’s as if a weight lifts from my shoulders and my heart. Next time you’re there, give it a try.

Tresca Weinstein is a freelance writer and Kripalu's Features Editor.

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