#A few years ago, a friend of mine awoke to the sound and lights of multiple fire engines in the middle of the night. The house next door had burned to the ground in a matter of minutes. The family got out without injury – also without socks, shoes or coats – and it was hailed as a miracle.
Everyone talked about how dramatic this story was. The family had literally jumped through the living room window one by one in their bare feet and onto a snowbank before taking refuge in their vehicle. Another 5 seconds and one of them would have been lost.
Donations of goods and cash poured in to help. Total strangers felt connected to these people in a way they couldn’t explain.
I think we’re drawn to stories like this because it’s strangely soothing for us to imagine ourselves suddenly losing everything.
It’s not because it reminds us that life is precious, or that family is everything.
It’s because it reminds us that all the random crap that seemed so important a moment ago can be rendered meaningless under the right circumstances. It’s liberating to be reminded once in a while to think about what doesn’t matter at all.
The human mind is wired to pay a lot more attention to negative things than to positive ones. This is a survival mechanism passed down to us from our animal ancestors. In the wild, we needed to use up more of our bandwidth checking everywhere for possible threats than reminiscing about our last delicious meal.
The problem is that as modern-day humans, we start responding to things like not having a clean kitchen or the right handbag for those shoes as if they were an actual threat to our survival. Our brain is out there turning molehills into mountains, whispering into our inner ear that we can never relax and be happy until we’re surrounded with things that help us feel that we measure up, that we’re are doing it all right, that we’re not going to get voted off the island.
So we all secretly long for a way to justify letting go of what doesn’t really matter. Sometimes, it brings us closer to something that actually does matter, but it doesn’t have to.
All you need to do is remind yourself what doesn’t matter. Take yourself less seriously.
Learn to be happy, knee-deep in imperfection. Right now, with the dishwasher not emptied and the cupboard doors left open. With your kids, or step kids, and their hormones or their attitudes. With your partner, who loves you so much, but fails to say or do the perfect thing at least 5 times a day.
If it helps to imagine standing in the charred ruins of your home knowing the kids and the pets made it out, go ahead. Do that every day. You’ll be surprised to see how much easier life will feel when you can put pretty much everything in the pile of “doesn’t really matter’.