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puzzle pieces close up

One of human nature’s most effective ways of sabotaging happiness is to look at a beautiful scene and fixate on whatever is flawed or lost or missing, no matter how small.

This tendency is easily demonstrated. Imagine looking at a puzzle that is missing one piece. Your eyes will immediately be drawn to the missing piece.

This happened to my mother several years ago. She finished a puzzle and realized she was one piece short. My father very cleverly attempted to paint it in on his own. This made us concentrate even more on the missing piece and this permitted us not to enjoy a beautiful puzzle rendering of nature.

We don’t want a doctor to overlook the slightest medical detail or a builder to overlook a single tile. But what is desirable or even necessary in the physical world can be very self-destructive when applied to the emotional world. A puzzle can be perfect, but life cannot be perfect. In fact, in life there will always be puzzle pieces missing, and even when there aren’t, we can always imagine a more perfect life and therefore imagine that something is lost or missing.

This tendency to focus on what is missing was brought home to me by my bald uncle.
My uncle confided in me, “Whenever I enter a room all I see is hair.” Poor fellow. When he is around people, all he sees in the hair on other men’s heads, and when he looks into the mirror, all he sees is a bald head.

Little does he realize how little his baldness means to most others. He was shocked to learn that those of us who have all our hair don’t even notice, which men are balding. If after a meeting five men I were asked which of them was bald, I would be hard pressed to recall.

Most of us who have our hair don’t think that having hair is nearly as important to our happiness as the bald man thinks it is. The validity of our perception can be ascertained by investigating whether men with hair are happier than bald men. I do not know whether such a study has been made, but I doubt that there is a correlation between hair and happiness. And if there is, it is a direct result of bald men attributing too much importance to their missing hair and allowing it to make them unhappy.

The Lost Puzzle Piece syndrome is ubiquitous. If you are overweight, all you see are flat stomachs and perfect physical specimens. If you have pimples, all you see is flawless skin. Women who have difficulty getting pregnant walk around seeing only pregnant women and babies. Nor do you need to be overweight, have pimples, be balding, or want a child to believe that you have a missing puzzle piece. You can allow any real, or merely perceived, flaw to diminish your joy.

We often proclaim whatever we think is missing in another person to be the most important trait. A trait that we believe, or that is in fact, missing in our child becomes the most important trait in a child. A trait we perceive as missing in our spouse becomes the most important trait in a husband or wife. And to make things worse, we then find this trait in other people’s children or spouses.

This is a way to make ourselves and others miserable. It is human nature to concentrate on what is lost and deem it the most important trait. Unless we teach ourselves to concentrate on what we do have, we will end up obsessing over missing pieces and allow them to become insurmountable obstacles to happiness.

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