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If Only Syndrome
Mom with a View

If Only Syndrome

The surefire way to unhappiness.


Who is happy? One who is satisfied with his lot (Ethics of Our Fathers, 4:1). Many people think that this refers to happiness with our material lot in life – with our wealth or lack thereof. But it’s much broader.

Being happy with your lot encompasses your whole situation in life – your talents (or lack thereof!), your strengths, your weaknesses, your physical appearance, your job, your family circumstances…it means not living with a constant sense of “If only…”

This is not so easy to do. We are all plagued by “if only”-ism. “If only I had a bigger house (or at least a bathroom off the master bedroom!),” “If only I had that diamond bracelet (my husband knows which one I mean),” “If only I had one more pair of black heels,” “If only I had a better boss (I’m of course not speaking personally!),” “If only all my children were married,” “If only my _______ had a better paying job,” “If only I didn’t have to work so hard,” “If only I didn’t have so many challenges,” “If only the school had a better remedial program,” “If only the school had a better gifted program…”

“If only, if only, if only.” It’s a natural and yet destructive way to live. It’s a guarantee of unhappiness.

I recently read an ultimate case of “If only” in the NY Times entitled “That Nose, That Chin, Those Lips.” The author, Abby Ellin, went on to describe cases where people seek plastic surgery so that they can look like a particular movie star.

The piece featured a Texas woman who, after much research, decided that she wanted to look like Kate Winslet. A Dallas plastic surgeon was happy to oblige. She “shaved cartilage from her nose, injected the dermal filler Sculptra to plump out her cheeks and squirted a little Botox into her forehead and around her eyes…”

Once you address one need, your dissatisfaction just moves to something else.

Is the patient, Ms. Davenport, happier now? The article doesn’t elaborate. But I can’t imagine she is. Because she is not someone who was happy with her lot. The problem with “if only” disorder is that once you address one need, your dissatisfaction just moves to something else.

Because it’s an attitude, a way of being, a bad habit. And the solution is not to “scratch the itch;” it’s to eliminate it altogether.

Inherent in the idea of being happy with your portion is the Torah philosophy that the Almighty has given us everything we need – to develop our potential, to live our life to the fullest, and to achieve the deepest closeness to God.

If we think there are other prerequisites to this experience, we are mistaken. We have everything we need to accomplish life’s ultimate goal.

I’m not saying it’s easy. But there are only two choices – live a life of constant dissatisfaction and unremitting “if onlys,” or live a life of peace and happiness. It's a greater effort but the payoff is eternal.

January 25, 2014

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The opinions expressed in the comment section are the personal views of the commenters. Comments are moderated, so please keep it civil.

Visitor Comments: 5

(4) pouran ahdoot, May 16, 2015 11:14 PM

I like to read all about

(3) Anonymous, January 31, 2014 4:36 AM

So achingly true

Ay. This is me. After teshuva I had more children than I can emotionally accept and now spend my days with "if only" embedded in my heart, brain, being..... Even if there is much to be grateful for I cannot bear the thought that I bought upon myself and my children such madness out of spiritual whim (and some bad advice). It is clear that Hashems hand guided the chain of events but this only causes me more pain. I have trouble davening on this and suffer from much confusion. Happiness with ones lot is clearly the way to happiness. The difficult part is getting there. Most of us need therapy to reach that destination....

Ann, February 2, 2014 7:51 AM

Where is your gratitude and your Emuna

You should focus on the principes of Emuna : Hashem does everything, everything is for the very best and what does Hashem expects from me?
Then dont Forget to thank Him even for your challenges and He Will give you more reasons to thank Him! Gratitude is the key

(2) Anonymous, January 31, 2014 1:40 AM

if only...

If only people would follow this timeless advice, how much better the world would be. no drug addictions. no alchohol addictions. more fathers (and mothers) home with their kids instead of out late at the office making more money to keep up with the jones. No jealousy, no hate, no competition. Just happiness. Wow!

(1) Anonymous, January 30, 2014 3:34 PM

The true path... happiness? Let go of control to HaShem. In the course of any given day, how often do you ask: "Your Highness, what is Your Will for me? Your Highness, kindly tell me what I should do, what should I think, what is best, what is your desire?" Do you believe G-d just to be an idle listener?

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