As a coach, I work with people who want to feel better. Those people often have a lot of circumstances in their lives that no one would wish for.
I have one client in particular whose life looks pretty rough from the outside. Because of her circumstances, her well-meaning friends expect her to be in constant misery. Her dear, benevolent friends believe that happiness and peace of mind come from the outside-in.
They believe that circumstances determine our experience of life, so it makes perfect sense that they would look at her circumstances and expect her to be miserable.
She buys into their story sometimes. Deep down she knows that happiness and peace of mind are inside-out, not outside-in, but she sometimes uses their sympathy and their outside-in model of the world as an excuse to add to her pain.
Her friends try to help by giving her a list of normal behaviors for someone in her circumstances.
They say, “Of course you are overeating to cope with the stress, that’s normal.” Her well-intentioned, outside-in-loving friends even bring her food she doesn’t need to help her “cope”.
Her friends are absolutely right—it probably is normal to use substances for comfort. Normal just means that’s what most people do. It’s the norm, statistically speaking.
It’s normal to believe in the outside-in model of happiness.
It’s normal to think ourselves into misery when circumstances are tough. It’s normal to use other people’s sympathy as an excuse to numb out with food or television or whatever is handy in that moment.
And beyond this particular client, it’s very normal to take your partner for granted and hate your job too.
But are those things natural? No.
Natural means the way nature intended. Natural is default. Effortless, because it’s in line with what is.
You may disagree, but I believe well-being and peace of mind is our natural state. Existing without all the extra layers is our natural state.
So, it stands to reason that what’s natural also feels good most of the time.
Is it natural to zone out with food you’re not physically hungry for? It may be normal, but it’s about the least natural thing I can think of. It takes effort. And although it comforts on the surface, it certainly doesn’t feel good.
Is it natural to think yourself into misery because you have tough circumstances in your life? Normal, definitely. But natural?
Is it natural to hate your job and take your partner for granted? Well, when your mind is calm and clear, is that the state you effortlessly return to? And how does it feel—like well-being, or like ego-constructed suffering?
Are you doing what’s normal or what’s natural?
Doing what is normal will allow you to fit in. It will ensure that you’re just like everyone else. You’ll have sympathy, understanding, and company in spades.
But doing what is natural will ultimately bring peace of mind and well-being.
Sometimes normal and natural are the same thing. Often, they are not.
Which are you doing?