Resolving The Should-Be Life Conflict

If we are to find the ‘good’ life, we must first see the ways in which the ‘should-be’ life shadows our everyday lives, and then decide if those perspectives truly serve us. And with that purpose in mind, we are examining the five statements we asked you to look at
last month.

  1. I would be happier if I had more material success.
    Getting ‘more’ gives us the sense that the ‘should-be’ life is at hand. The rush fades, but unfortunately, not the compulsion to once again, taste that life. The compulsion is further fed as ‘more’ temporarily eases the dissatisfaction we have with our
    current lives.
    Response: Envision a simpler, according-to-your-means life. What does it look like? What opportunity might it hold for you?

  2. I think my friends, colleagues, and acquaintances have better lives than I do.
    They are living their ‘potential’, their should-be lives; I’m not; therefore I’m less of a person than they are.
    Response: When you refuse comparisons, you find your own brand of happiness.

  3. I studied this; became that; married her/him, but… .
    Many of us chose careers, life-partners, and friends based on their ability to magically fulfill our unmet desires—to turn a should-be life into reality. And when they don’t (as never they can), we blame them. We look for escapes: we quit; we divorce; we let friendships unravel, never realizing the root of our dissatisfactions.
    Response: Do you see and use people and situations as stepping-stones…as prospects for gain? What would happen if you just enjoyed them…would it put the should-be life out-of-reach? Might it make the should-be life irrelevant?

  4. If I knew what I wanted I’d be more satisfied with my life.
    We have mistaken understanding ourselves or ‘knowing ourselves’ as meaning to know what we want to achieve or have. But given we behaved/thought one way yesterday, and today, another, we have to come to terms with the puzzling and frustrating fact that we will never be able to fully explain who we are or what we want, either to ourselves or to others.
    Response: We are changeable and we can never completely know ourselves. Accepting that idea helps ease the mind.

  5. Once I achieve some of my key goals, I will be happier.
    Because you’re focused on the should-be life, you can’t take pleasure in, or give yourself credit for your past and current achievements. You won’t allow that kind of happiness, for if you take pleasure in what you’ve come to view as ‘ordinary’, you fear that you’ll stop striving for your special life. Ergo, your life will become humdrum, and therefore, unsatisfying.
    Response: You have achieved key goals; you wouldn’t have your good job, happy family, good friends, etc., if you hadn’t. Which means, you can afford to be happier…now.

The unlived life is a story, a fantasy, a myth. And while fantasies and myths offer comfort or a sense of control, they cannot stand-in for the truth…which is this: for better or for worse, our lives have been what they have been. We are better off accepting our past – however painful – than continuing to fight against it. This is much easier said than done, but is a
worthy pursuit.

If you are to cultivate meaning and joy in the time still left to you, then look at the stories you told yourself about being rich, famous, inventive, creative—special, and ask if they were/are based on the fallacy of ‘infinite possibilities’.

Or examine a regret. Really examine it. Would your life be better or happier if you were to turn it into action? Is it worth the price of admission? If not, then isn’t it time to put away the stories, the blame, the angst, and the regrets of the should-be life, and instead…live and appreciate the inexpressible wonder of the good life?


Phillips, A. (2012). Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life. Great Britain: Hamish Hamilton. (This is not an easy-read, self-help book; it’s a set of dense, theoretical, academic essays.)

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