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Flipping the Script: “Have to” vs. “Get to”

Chances are you probably spend quite a bit of time around at least one person who seems like they constantly have something to complain about. If you do know that person, you likely also know that it’s not very much fun to spend time with them. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad friend for silently admitting this, it only means you’re human, because negative thoughts don’t make us happier, plain and simple. And even though we can all agree on this, nearly all of us still find ourselves grumbling about one thing or another every once in a while. Not only do we bring those around us down when we do this, but we also dig ourselves into a deeper hole of dissatisfaction. So how can we kick this habit to the curb once and for all? Well, I won’t claim to know the answer to that question altogether, but today we will explore one simple habit we can use to flip our perspective and cut out complaining. Disclaimer: I also don’t have the answer for how to get rid of your chronic complainer friend.

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Based on the title, you may have already guessed that the tool we’ll be talking about today is moving from a place of “have to”, to one of “get to”. In a literal sense, this means paying attention when we’re talking to ourselves or others and when you’re about to say “I have to ____”, say “I get to___” instead, even if that sentence is finished with work late, do 100 burpees, or anything else you dread.

“When we start to frame our lives around the idea that we “get to” do everything we’re doing, we’re practicing gratitude for our situation and taking control of our own happiness.”

The science behind this tool lies in positive psychology. This simple change in vocabulary turns obligations into moments of gratitude, because the more you catch yourself doing this, you start to realize that you truly do “get to” do everything in your life. Take laundry for example. You might despise all the loads of laundry that seem to be constantly piling up, but catching yourself and deciding to say out loud “I get to do laundry” might just make you realize that this is a blessing in disguise. You have an entire closet full of clothes, which is much more than many people can say, so yeah, you do “get to” do laundry as a result.

I don’t want you to think I’m trying to make you feel bad for every minor complaint you have in your life, because your feelings are valid. But I do think we could all (myself included) do a better job of seeing the positive side of many of the things we consider to be burdens. Even doing this for the things we have a hard time seeing any positive side to – like traffic for me – and “faking it till you make it”, will start to cultivate a more positive mindset. This is extremely beneficial, because our perspective in life is consistent through many situations. If we allow the thoughts of “I’ll be happier if/when…” to creep in at any point, we set ourselves up for the mentality that we’re not happy right now, and that something outside of our control is keeping us from being happy.

Related: How do I Create Lasting Change In My Life?

 A study at the University of California, Riverside found that the percentage of our capacity for happiness that is within our control is 40%. Woah, let’s digest that a bit. This means that 60% of our capacity to be happy lies in our situation, and the other 40% in how we think about our situation and the things we do to make the most of it. But I’d argue that our situation is more within our control than out of it, which would push that needle even farther up from 40%. No one is forcing you to do anything, you’ve made countless choices up to this point in your life that have lead you to where you are now. Therefore, when we start to frame our lives around the idea that we “get to” do everything we’re doing, we’re practicing gratitude for our situation and taking control of our own happiness.

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Many studies have found that focusing even a little bit on gratitude leads to a greater sense of happiness, fewer health complaints, more time spent exercising, and many other positive side effects. And one of the simplest ways we can practice gratitude is to swap  “get to” for “have to”.

Quick word of warning though: this isn’t a quick process. I first heard about this philosophy about three years ago, and am still working on it to this day. But I can tell you that, like most things that require consistent effort, it is worth it. Every time I catch myself and decide to flip the script, a sense of peace and comfort washes over me, and I look forward to the day when I will always have that feeling. Go ahead, give it a try. Start simple; you get to go to work tomorrow because you have a job, you get to make dinner because you have plenty of food, you get to do a tough workout and get stronger. See? It’s working already.

–Jay Alexander