I am looking for anecdotes, stories, and pieces of wisdom where "giving up" led to increased happiness and peace of mind.
September 15, 2009 10:43 PM   Subscribe

I am looking for anecdotes, stories, and pieces of wisdom where "giving up" led to increased happiness and peace of mind.

"If you can't change your fate, change your attitude."
"If you can't beat 'em, join 'em."
"Fighting a losing battle."
"Beating a dead horse."

These are quotes that bring me comfort, and a sense of relief when it comes to trying to get past certain struggles in my life, though I still tend to ruminate and obsess, which just does more harm than good.

I'd like anecdotes, stories, and pieces of wisdom relating to situations in life, health, work, and relationships, where "giving up" led to increased happiness and peace of mind. Also, perhaps someone could guide me towards a certain philosophy or slant of mind that encompasses this concept.

I'd also love to hear recommendations for any movies, music, or books in which this is a theme.

Thanks MeFi!
posted by DeltaForce to Human Relations (21 answers total) 69 users marked this as a favorite
Don't know if this exactly addresses your issue, but here's a philosophy I heard recently --

Imagine two overlapping circles -- what you want, what someone else wants. You move forward in that overlap, where you both can agree on how to move forward. Focusing on that involves giving up probably 90% of what you wanted. But you're going toward the areas where you have enough agreement that you CAN move forward, and you make progress there. If you want to have the big battles later, you can always do that later. The idea is not "giving up" so much as "moving forward in the places you can actually make progress."
posted by salvia at 10:57 PM on September 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Here is my story of "giving up" the life of an alcoholic, and beginning recovery. This was followed a few years afterward by a couple bouts with depression and the life changes I had to undertake.

I have gone through a few stages of "hitting bottom" in the past 20 years. The memories are sad ones, the extractions painful and difficult, but I had to experience what I did to get to live the happiness, joy and emotional freedom that I have today.
posted by netbros at 11:09 PM on September 15, 2009

There's plenty on askmefi for the lookin. My own, personal anecdote:

I worked very hard when I was quite young to put myself in the position that when I finished my honours degree I was actually able to make a living as a freelance writer, covering stuff I was actually interested in (not an achievement for some, I'm sure, but for me it felt considerable, being able to call myself a "writer" and swim in pools with people much older than me, writing about 'exciting' and interesting things).

Fast forward four years or so. I was a wreck, I was living from cheque to cheque - which is a very bad thing to when freelancing because cheques can be delayed, mags can fold, etc. etc - and signing myself up for ever-more gruntwork, based on how well it paid or how quickly I could do it.

I had a stomach ulcer, and trouble sleeping, and I was periodically as broke as when I was a student, but that wasn't the bad part. The bad part was how compromised I felt. I accepted compromise when my research started to slip in response to ludicrous deadlines. I accepted it when my ethics started to take the inevitable tumble. I even accepted it when I felt my writing - my writing! - starting to suffer as a result of deadlines + source material.

And then one day, I looked around, and thought, "Wait, I'm living the dream?? This might be someone's idea of success, but jeez, it sure sucks a whole lot. I got into this because I liked exploring ideas around interesting things, making and explicating connections, and writing. By any of my standards, I'm _hardly ever_ doing that now. Christ."

I dropped my freelancing commitments as soon as I was able, and got a 'real' job - a sell out, in other words. I couldn't tell people I was a "writer" any more, I didn't get free movies, shows, books, etc. I wasn't able to write articles about exhibitions and interviews with authors. I only met interesting people socially. My work was completely and utterly meaningless by any real sense, and if I stopped tomorrow, no one would notice, let alone care.

God help me, I've been soooooo much happier (happy?) ever since.

Long story short, by prioritising my actual happiness, rather than what I thought would give me happiness. I have - surprise! - become quite happy. So for me success was actually a failure; a failure to be the kind of person I want to be, job titles be damned. "Failure" actually equalled success, I'm a happier, more generous, more tranquil, person today, who still reads books, goes to shows, and sometimes, I even manage to write about interesting things. My job is no longer who I am, and consequently I don't mind so much when I'm crap at it. :)
posted by smoke at 11:25 PM on September 15, 2009 [105 favorites]

Earlier this year, I had a six-month period of unemployment. During that time, I drove myself crazy trying to find gainful employment. Crazy, literally: I was at the point of wondering whether sleeping pills, poison or razors would be easier. I ended up seeing a therapist/doctor who told me: "Quit your job search. Just stop it. It's making you unhealthy and unhappy in more ways than one. Go out, have fun doing stuff you like doing. Make new friends, get involved. Employment will come to you."

So I stopped the job search. The next day, I made arrangements to go volunteer on a farm (spent 9 hours planting tomatoes in a sun-drenched field with total strangers who are now friends). I put in time at the local food bank. I went to a game party where I met new people and played board games. I attended some community meetings and met some folks who might be able to help me move into non-profit/public interest work. I started a project to try to bring a community garden to the area of Newark where I live. While I was focused on finding a job, I didn't do any of this stuff. I kept thinking: "I have to find work; without work, I am nothing, worthless, blah d blah."

Giving up on the job search led me to being happier, more relaxed and better able to enjoy what's out there in life. Honestly, I'm hard-pressed to think of a better time in my life than right now. Money's tight, but, damn... so what? I like taking pleasure in the 'simple' things: hanging out with friends, exploring NYC, instead of beating my head against a wall.

The side benefit is that I have made connections that, when the economic turn-around starts to be felt in this area, could turn into actual, full-time, long-term employment.

Employment did come, btw. About three weeks after my therapist 'gave me permission' to quit the search, some project work came in. Of course, I was laid off last Friday but now I have a different mentality about being out of work: it's okay. I'll survive not being tied to a job because I'm more than what I do for an employer (and that echoes smoke's statement from above).
posted by LOLAttorney2009 at 12:00 AM on September 16, 2009 [12 favorites]

I give up all the time.

Every time I take on a major project, like making a film. I try to do my very best, I work my ass off, and I end up hating it and hating the process because it doesn't end up to the way I pictured it when I started.

At some point, I give up trying to make it better. I admit I'm finished, and there's nothing more I can do to fix the flaws. This is the only way I can stay sane.
posted by drjimmy11 at 12:08 AM on September 16, 2009

Related -- How does one "turn his life over to God"?
posted by Methylviolet at 12:21 AM on September 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think it all depends on what it is you give up; being able to determine what it is you need to let go of, and what you need to keep on plugging away at. I was thinking about something similar yesterday, but from the angle of entitlement; how so many people nowadays think that they should be able to do whatever they like (very often with the clear subtext "and others be damned"), and that any effort, no matter how minimal, should be greeted with praise. In a sense, many have "given up" on long-term dedication and hard work. It seems to be a twisting of Joseph Campbell's "follow your bliss", which he also recognized in his lifetime, once grumbling "I should have said 'Follow your blisters.' "

When you think about it, it's true that the things that bring us the most joy in life are the ones that are also the hardest, but we look past the difficulties precisely because we love them so much. We give up on other things in order to be able to do them, but it doesn't feel like giving up — it feels like letting go of something, whether an object, a path, a way of being, that has become unnecessary or even an obstacle to what we truly love. Take smoke's anecdote, for instance: it's a good example of a situation that matured to a point where he realized that the work he was doing was getting in the way of the essence of what he loved, even though the two were related. I've gone through similar maturations and honestly appreciate them, because it brings a clarity of purpose that you wouldn't have if you'd never made the original attempt. In other words, through discovering what it is you don't love, even when honestly trying to do what it is you love, you better recognize what you do love, and so you're better able to let go of what has become an empty chrysalis to fly off with new wings to where it is you truly want to be.

There is a bright side to depression's rumination and "obsession" (though, obviously, in good measure, we're not talking about the damaging extremes): "Depressed people often report persistent rumination, which involves analysis, and complex social problems in their lives. Analysis is often a useful approach for solving complex problems, but it requires slow, sustained processing, so disruption would interfere with problem solving. The analytical rumination hypothesis proposes that depression is an evolved response to complex problems, whose function is to minimize disruption and sustain analysis of those problems [...]" The study's authors expounded on it in Scientific American.
posted by fraula at 12:31 AM on September 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

Vietnam war is a great example of how giving up made everyone happier. Wish we thought of that sooner!
posted by rainy at 2:48 AM on September 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

From the perspective of emergency medicine: I treat some critical patients for whom I know my efforts may be ultimately futile. There are "saves," but there are also situations in which we do everything we can because the person deserves our best efforts, and not because there's any real chance of recovery. I believe doing the job requires you to care enough to want to help people, but also demands an ability to surrender to the eventual outcome. We don't give up on patients, but we do give up on the idea that we can control life and death. We concede and we walk away so we can be ready to care about the next person.

I'm not sure if this is the kind of "giving up" you mean, but I think it's an essential human characteristic that, at least in English, we fail to differentiate from the negatively-charged concept of giving in: surrendering when a more courageous reaction would demonstrate one's integrity. The patient who gracefully jokes about her terminal illness isn't a sell-out; there is a kind of surrender, of yielding to understanding and inevitability, that is appropriate, justified, and perhaps even courageous.
posted by itstheclamsname at 6:12 AM on September 16, 2009 [3 favorites]

I gave up on finding the right person to complete me. I've realized that while this isn't for everyone, it is certainly working well for me. I've not blithely determined that I can be complete on my own, so much as be OK with the fact that I'm incomplete (even whilst others around me can't be OK with it).

I've jumped into international relief and development work and have worked in over 13 countries this year alone. I get to work on the front lines (or just behind them) of helping the worlds' poorest and most marginalized - and I'm amazed each day that I get that opportunity. Its completely changed my outlook on life.

I think it was Spencer Johnson who said: "Change happens when the pain of holding on becomes greater than the fear of letting go."

Letting go is an amazing feeling. I would most liken it to the first time I jumped out of a perfectly good airplane. There was a voice of reason somewhere in the back of my head still trying to scream HOLY HELL WE'RE NOT ACTUALLY DOING THIS ARE WE? and then there was the quiet satisfaction with the decision that was being made. The fingers release from the sidewalls of the plane, and in a rush I find myself suddenly looking up at it as it flies away. And then I'm free.

Its that feeling - but on the scale of my whole life.
posted by allkindsoftime at 6:20 AM on September 16, 2009 [5 favorites]

perhaps off angle:

About 9 months ago I quit my job in the middle of the biggest economic downturn in my lifetime. It was a job I had once had a lot of enthusiasm for but it had drifted into other responsibilities until it was an entirely new job. I didn't like what I was doing there anymore, but I spent months fighting it. Trying to wrestle my workplace tasks back into the shape they where when I started.
But I was seriously unhappy, It was negatively affecting every part of my life. So despite the market I quit.
I did freelance design and production work (something I did after college) for awhile, until I found a new job. And I love my new job. It's not 'kind of' what I wanted to do; it's exactly what I want to do.
If I had stuck it out I don't see how I would have would up this happy.
posted by French Fry at 7:01 AM on September 16, 2009

As a young adult, I gave up trying to find a job or career that would impress a lot of people, and started my career in libraries because I liked them and liked working there. Best decision of my entire life.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:56 AM on September 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Mrs. Usonian and I moved to Los Angeles in 1996 and spent about 5 years hating everything about it, and longing for the day we'd be able to afford to escape. When, in 2001, it looked as though it would be another several years before that happened, we resigned ourselves to the reality of living there and forced ourselves to think of it as our home for the next little while.

Once we stopped fighting the place life got a lot better... we knew we weren't going to be there forever, but we stopped thinking in terms of "back east," established plenty of local haunts and finally started making a few actual friends. As it happened we were able to move back to the northeast only a year later, but we both remember that last year in L.A. mostly fondly.
posted by usonian at 8:04 AM on September 16, 2009

Earlier this year I read this book: Roughing it in the Bush, or Life in Canada by Susanna Moody. It tells the story of her burgeoning family's years as pioneers in the Canadian bush.

It is just about the only book I can think of where the protagonists fail and turn out the better for it. It was surprisingly gratifying to read about people who persevered for ages, years and years, at their own cost, and ended up pulling up stakes at the end anyway. Throughout the book you can read their defenses of their bad decisions, or read how naive and trusting they were as person after person took advantage of them. The small kindnesses that were given them along the way kept them at it, but in the end, only acquiescence to failure gave them relief from their years of toil.

I found their story actually very inspiring - I think of it whenever I set out to do something I'm unsure about. Failure is an option, always. And it's sometimes the better outcome.
posted by Curiosity Delay at 9:08 AM on September 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have a phrase that I often think of just as you think of your quotes "Fighting a losing battle", etc.
Although I can hardly call myself a Christian any more, I was raised that way and this verse has stuck with me my entire life:

Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. (Matthew 6:34)

This gives me comfort because it allows me to release my worries and concerns until the next day when I can return to them with fresh thoughts. Perhaps like you I spent a lot of time worrying over the future and ruminating on things. I often think of it at night when all my thoughts from the day are running through my head and I just need to let them go. This verse sort of "lets me of the hook" and reminds me not to obsess.
posted by wundermint at 9:13 AM on September 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

How on earth did we get this far in the thread without mentioning Buddhism? The whole point of Buddhism is letting go of attachments in order to alleviate suffering.

For a practical book with personal anecdotes, see Pema Chödron's When Things Fall Apart (or anything else by her). I also like Charlotte Joko Beck (Everyday Zen: Love and Work) and Brad Warner (Hardcore Zen).
posted by desjardins at 9:23 AM on September 16, 2009 [3 favorites]

Not sure if this is helpful, but I particularly love this story:

Two Buddhist Monks were on a journey, one was a senior monk, the other his junior apprentice. During their journey they approached a raging river and on the bank stood a young woman. She was clearly concerned about how she would get to the other side of the river without drowning.

The junior monk walked straight past her and crossed the river. The senior monk picked up the woman and carried her across the river. He placed her down and continued on the journey with his colleague.

As the journey went on, the senior monk could see some concern on the apprentice's mind, he asked what was wrong. The younger man burst out, "How could you carry her like that? You know that it is forbidden for us even to touch women!" The senior monk answered, "I left the woman at the river's edge. Why are you still carrying her?
posted by AngerBoy at 9:50 AM on September 16, 2009 [3 favorites]

"He sees his life as just beginning, on a clear ground at last, now that he has a margin of resources, and the stifled terror that always made him restless has dulled down. He wants less. Freedom, that he always thought was outward motion, turns out to be this inner dwindling."

-- Updike, Rabbit is Rich
posted by anonymice at 12:01 PM on September 16, 2009

Don't you know that you are free?
Well, at least in your mind -- if you want to be.
posted by Methylviolet at 2:16 PM on September 16, 2009

What Should I Do with My Life, by Po Bronson, is full of of stories of this nature.
posted by Bron at 7:01 PM on September 16, 2009

If I hadn't dropped out of college after three years, I never would have had the series of adventures that made me the person I am today. Although I'm still paying off my student loans from my short-lived college career and have no degree to show for it, I don't have a single regret. In fact, I'm very thankful that events unfolded as they did, because I can see how each hardship and trial molded my character, shaped my sense of self, and taught me the values I most prize in myself--and others.

I don't know if "giving up" is what I'd call things of this nature--I think sometimes we just change our goals. If you're regretful of the choice you made, call it giving up. But if the decision to pursue another avenue has affected you positively, it might be more appropriate to look at it as simply deciding to be something else.
posted by balls at 7:51 AM on September 17, 2009

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