The Five Things We Cannot Change… and the Happiness We Find by Embracing Them by David Richo
Of all the transformative and juicy books I keep on my shelf, this is one of my favorites. This enthralling manifesto to personal freedom is really worth taking a look at. As a therapist, I love to recommend this book, because its message applies to everyone.
Richo’s premise is that there are 5 things that impact every life, no matter who you are. He calls these 5 things “The Givens of Life”. They are:
- Everything changes and ends
- Things do not always go according to plan
- Life is not always fair
- Pain is a part of life
- People are not loving and loyal all the time
Richo explains that in his 30 years as a psychotherapist, it was these 5 things that his clients struggled with again and again. He proposes that it is not the 5 unavoidable givens that are the real source of our suffering. Instead says Richo, it is our own fear of and struggle against the givens that really causes suffering. Richo goes so far as to suggest that the givens actually teach courage, compassion and wisdom, and that happiness can be found by embracing them.
This book includes a chapter on each of the givens, drawing a more specific picture of how they show up in our lives. Richo shows that learning to say an “unconditional yes” to life in spite of the givens can open up channels for grace and unexpected beauty to occur. And thankfully, he devotes a good deal of the book to offering strategies for learning to say the full “yes!” to life.
As I write this review, I am stumped about what to highlight; every chapter is a gem. I have underlined passages heavily on almost every page. It’s a book I want to read over and over. However, since you’re here, I’ll give you one example of something I found useful in the book. It’s about calling. Says Richo,
“Our universal calling as humans is to be the most loving people we can be. This commitment makes us less likely to be at the mercy of others’ reactions to us or opinions of us. We appreciate acceptance but do not crave or cling to it. We are hurt by rejection but not devastated by it. Our focus is on how we love, not on how we are loved, on how we can give, not on what we can get…. Our calling is also about other capacities, gifts that are givens of who we are… Each of us is here to discover and share marvelously unique inner gifts. That is what the world is waiting for and why we were given a lifetime. Our appreciation of our gifts is itself the antidote to the self-loathing and self-diminution that we sometimes suffer.”
The secret within these pages is that we don’t have to get stuck when bad things happen. We have the capacity to choose love over fear. When we choose love in the face of disaster, something amazing happens. All of a sudden, we open ourselves to the incredible opportunity of being human- to the other equally true givens. Richo names some of them:
- Irrepressible playfulness and sense of humor
- Our ability to go on loving no matter how we are treated by others and no matter what happened to us in the past
- Our capacity to forgive and let go
- Our unflappable hope
- Our skill at finding order in chaos and meaning in disaster
- Our intuition, which reveals more than we logically know
- Our tendency to be honest even when no one is looking
- Our striving for what lies beyond our grasp, our inclination to stretch ourselves
- Our power to say, do, or be something that leads to healing ourselves and others
If you read this book or connect with these ideas, I’d love to hear what you think about them! Credit for the ideas in this post go to David Richo, PhD. Here is a link to his website, where you can download some amazing resources for living more deeply into these practices. And, if you want to buy the book, here is a link to where it can be purchased.