Do you remember that Halloween when all you saw were little Elsas everywhere? The little blue gossamer gown and blond braided wig. It was like an Elsa apocalypse. Not surprising, considering Frozen garnered $1.28 billion in sales between 2013 and 2014. “Let It Go” won the Oscar for best original song, and little girls adopted it as their anthem. I was conflicted about that song, to be honest. On the one hand, I was thankful that Disney heroines had moved beyond the “Some Day My Prince Will Come” lament. On the other hand, Elsa’s let-it-go proclamation had a bit of a gnarly undertone. I applauded the letting go of expectations to be true to your authentic self, but did that freedom require forced isolation in an ice palace? How was that winning?
After doing my homework, I get it.
The Harvard Study of Adult Development, one of the longest-running studies on happiness, has been following 724 participants since 1938. In that time, researchers found that certain personality traits are associated with increased levels of happiness as participants aged. Letting go is one of those hallmark characteristics. Not shocking, right? At some point, we’ve all struggled with letting go—whether that be a relationship, dream, habit, guilt, forgiveness, way of thinking, or grief over the loss of a loved one.
The boogeyman of fear makes letting go difficult. The unknown is well, not known, and some perceive that as a black hole of nothingness instead of a white space of possibility. Almost easier to hold on to the devil you know. When channeling your inner Marie Kondo, letting go is integral to making space. It’s okay to grieve whatever you’re letting go of. I’m not suggesting you turn into a calculating narcissist without emotion. I would then have to date you (cue in canned TV audience laugh track; and don’t worry—that dating pattern was at the top of my Shit That’s Gotta Go list!).
Seriously, grieving is part of letting go. It’s comparable to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s grief model in her studies on death and dying. You often need to go through similar stages (denial, anger, bargaining, depression) before you can reach the stage of acceptance, which is your springboard to freedom. Think Sound of Music, spinning-with-your-arms-outstretched-amidst-the-majestic-mountains type of freedom.
If the superpower of acceptance and its resulting freedom aren’t incentive enough, I’m happy to negatively condition you as well. The longer you hold on to negative affect and let it linger, physical health and functioning suffer. Your immune system. Your cardiovascular system. Your digestive system. Chronic stress accelerates aging and is associated with premature death. It’s a fact. Want to be healthier? Want to live a full life? Let whatever you’re clinging to the f*ck go.
I get it. I really do. It’s hard to let go—to give up that perceived control. Hi, my name is Beth, and I’m a controller. Reformed, but that inner dominatrix is always lurking beneath the surface if I’m not vigilant. Even the thought of not having control could put me into a tailspin. But that’s the thing about control: It’s an illusion.
Monitoring my cheating boyfriend on Find My Friends or constantly checking his call log was an absolute exercise in futility. I thought I had control over the situation when, in fact, it was controlling me—nay, consuming me. Being an internet and smartphone sleuth became my side hustle. An exhausting one at that. I couldn’t control what he did, or who he did for that matter. Letting go of that relationship took more than one do-si-do through those stages of grief, but on the other side of acceptance was exhilarating freedom. Sure, the sex may have taken my breath away (insert green vomiting emoji repeatedly), but now I can actually breathe again. Talk about waiting to exhale. I forgot what that felt like. Oxygen is the best “big O” out there, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
My advice? Keep an Oh-Hell-No litmus test handy. For me, my two beautiful daughters became the ultimate litmus test for my own life. I would imagine what my advice would be if they were ever in similar situations as young adults. If Oh-Hell-No immediately comes to mind, then it’s not okay for you, either. No do-as-I-say, not-as-I-do bullshit. It’s an effective accountability exercise. In a perfect world, I love and respect myself enough not to have to play the Freaky Friday mind swap to find my truth. I’m developing that muscle (so can you), but it’s still a viable fallback when in doubt. If you wouldn’t recommend something for your BFF, grown child, or loved ones, then it should be off-limits to you as well. Healthy choices are a two-way street.
Take inventory of your life and identify what’s gotta go. For many, it’s the resulting space left behind that scares them into stuck submission. Rather than viewing it as a gaping hole of nothingness, embrace your tabula rasa. View it as potential and not a penalty. What would you like to put in its place? Write it all out—whatever that new masterpiece may be (partner, career, life change). In detail. Be as specific as you can. It’s incredibly beneficial.
In the process of letting go, you will lose many things from the past, but you will find yourself.– Deepak Chopra