Most people do not like to talk about their rules, but they have them for everything. There are rules for living, rules for dying, rules for work, rules for home, rules for riding the bus and rules for eating in a restaurant.
As soon as you understand you do not live alone in the world, you know that to get along, you need to have some rules to live by. The amazing part is that even to get along with ourselves we need rules.
Thoughts, beliefs and feelings are stored in the brain as rules. For example:
- If I wash the dishes, I can eat from a clean dish and keep healthy
- If I buy a gift for someone else, I can expect a gift in return
- When I succeed in something, I feel proud
If you think deeply about all your thoughts, beliefs and feelings, you will find that you have rules determining what triggers each one of them. If you look at the 100 things that make you happy you will notice that every line on that list is a rule you have created. Here are some ideas from my list:
- When I drink hot chocolate, I feel happy
- When I hear the kids laughing, I feel happy
- When I walk on the beach barefoot, I feel happy
- When I write, I feel happy
- When I am creative, I feel happy
Unfortunately, we all have a sad list, with the rules that make us miserable. Those rules are the opposite of the happy list, listing things that cause us heartache and pain.
Wayne Froggatt, in his book “Choose to be Happy“, described 12 “irrational rules of living”. These are 12 rules he has found to be the most common as the cause of emotional pain in his therapy clients.
Today, as the first of the series, I will present rule #1, the rule of external approval:
I need love and approval from those significant to me, and I must avoid disapproval from any source
It is amazing how many people adopt this rule. In fact, we are born to seek our parents approval and then we get stuck with it for the rest of our life. If you think about your childhood, you will notice that many adults seems to be saying to kids, “If you will do what I tell you to do, I will be happy, smiling, approving and accepting”. Punishments are the food of this rule. Whenever we punish our kids we actually reinforce this rule in their mind. Therefore, it is no wonder most people integrate this rule into their living philosophy.
As a parent, you are probably thinking, “Well, Ronit, this is nice, but how can I set rules if I’m afraid my kids might suffer from them?”
When children are young, because we are the captains of the family ship, we must take control and set the rules. In truth, we cannot live without them, but in non-critical areas, we need to encourage kids to think for themselves. The only way to make sure they do not carry the external approval rule to adulthood is to allow them to do things their way even when you think differently.
If you are not happy with how they spend their pocket money (and they will know you are not happy even if you say nothing), you can tell them “It is your money. You are not supposed to use it to my liking. You are supposed to use it the way YOU like”.
If you are not happy with what they wear (and they will know, because, being 20-35 years older, you have a different taste in clothes), you can say, “We come from different generations, of course we do not have the same taste in clothes”
The name of the game is “Choose your battles“.
If you have to set the rules for every step they make, you will be perceived as controlling and it will be a guarantee your kids will grow with this rule that will make their life miserable.
If you only focus on the important things for you, they will learn to accept that Mom and Dad are different, think differently, believe in different things, but they are accepting and appreciating of others’ beliefs and thoughts.
The other source of this rule is the message that kids get from many of the adults in their life, “I am big and you are small, I am right and you are wrong” (as Roald Dahl so beautifully described it in his book “Matilda“.
Make an effort to show your kids you are human, you make mistakes too, you are sad too and disappointed sometimes. When you talk about your kids’ teachers and other authorities, talk about them with respect, but avoid treating them like “gods”.
Join me tomorrow for the second irrational rule of living about self worth.
You need 10 happy rules for every sad one, so start working on your rules.
Blessings of happiness,
This post is part of the series Irrational Rules of Living:
- Irrational Rules of Living – External Approval
- Irrational Rules of Living – Self Worth
- Irrational Rules of Living – Problem Solving
- Irrational Rules of Living – Right and Wrong
- Irrational Rules of Living – My Way or the Highway
- Irrational Rules of Living – Disempowerment
- Irrational Rules of Living – Anxiety
- Irrational Rules of Living – Avoidance
- Irrational Rules of Living – Dependency
- Irrational Rules of Living – The Power of the Past
- Irrational Rules of Living – Sympathy
- Irrational Rules of Living – Discomfort and pain