Richard Stride Commentary: Considering Mother’s Words — ‘If Wishes Were Horses, Beggars Would Ride’

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My mom used to say, “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.”

I never really liked it when she would say that, because I knew she was telling me that the world didn’t work how I wished it did. As I grew older, I began to see the wisdom in what she was trying to teach me.

She was trying to tell me that wishing for something doesn’t make it happen. If wishing for something made it happen, everyone would have everything they wanted. In other words, you must work for things you desire. Merely wishing for them doesn’t cut it.

Wishing is defined as “to feel or express a strong desire or hope for something that is not easily attainable.” However, we make wishes all the time. We make a wish when we blow out our birthday candles. We wish upon falling stars. We sign off our notes and sometimes emails with the phrase’ “best wishes” (it’s an expression of hope for someone’s future happiness, according to the Oxford dictionary).

We vie for the wishbone of a turkey or chicken, hoping to get the longer piece. (Romans were the first people to see the wishbone of a bird as good luck, which eventually led to breaking it.)  We toss coins into wishing wells and fountains. The most famous wishing fountain is the Trevi Fountain in Rome (fascinating story on the fountain itself and why people love to take selfies in front of it while tossing a coin over their shoulder — Google it). This time of year, we also wish each other a Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays.   

So, why do we wish? If it really doesn’t lead to much. As I think about it, we wish because we want or fancy something we don’t have. Or we wish for something in the future, like continued good health.

Are we never satisfied with what we have? Do we always want what we don’t have? I think the answer is partly yes and partly no. You see, we humans are contemplators and dreamers. We are always wishing for something better. A better job, a better car, a better house, a better life for our children, or sometimes globally, like wishing for a peaceful world.    

If nothing happens because of wishing, then what’s with all the wishing? Is wishing a waste of time? No, I don’t think it is. But taking it to the opposite extreme if we are never satisfied with anything, that could be a problem. Some of the happiest people have very little. In fact, according to University of California professor Sonja Lyubomirsky, research indicates happy, contented people have things in common, and they aren’t what you might think.

1. They devote a great deal of time to their family and friends nurturing and enjoying those relationships.

2. They are comfortable expressing gratitude for all they have.

3. They practice optimism.

4. They savor life’s pleasures and try to live in the moment.

5. They show poise and strength in coping in the face of challenges.    

In the field of “positive psychology,” research indicates that some activities, if performed on a regular basis, can lead to what is called a lower “happiness setpoint.” Lowering your happiness setpoint means being happy and content with less. You can lower your setpoint by being completely immersed and present in whatever you are doing at the moment. This is called “flow.” Flow is immersion in things and avoidance of distractors. The other way to lower your setpoint is enjoying pleasure. Pleasure is described as doing what feels good, being satisfied with what you’re doing, fulfilling your desires and just enjoying the experience of enjoyment.

You know what? I’m still going to wish. I’m still going to throw coins into wishing wells and fountains. I’m still going to wish on falling stars. I’m still going to wish for a better understanding of others. I never want to lose the childlike wonder of wishing.

Yes mom, you were right. We do have to work for the things we want.  But, mom, if you can hear me, which I believe you can (she always hated it when I said “but”),  I’m also going to seek pleasure in my daily life and savor those moments in time that just feel good. I am also going to be grateful for what I do have, and not always wish for what I don’t.

What do you wish for?     

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Richard Stride is the current CEO of Cascade Community Healthcare. He can be reached at drstride@icloud.com.

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