There is a concept in psychoanalysis, developed by the British analyst Donald Winnicott, called the “good enough mother”.
The exact meaning and scope of the term is beyond the format of this blog, but in brief it suggests that a mother need not strive for eternal perfection in the care of her child, but rather that her ability to adjust appropriately as the child develops allows for even further development. It is her inability to be perfectly empathic at all times that lets the child become a whole human being able to interact normally with others. Indeed, within this theory, if the mother is too “perfect” – too actively attentive, too constraining, too mindful of the child’s needs and potential risks at every single moment – the child cannot learn to separate itself from the parent as it will never learn to stand on its own feet. It will never develop a healthy identity of its own.
I mention this theory not to discuss parenting or developmental psychology, interesting as that may be to some, but to point out the wider applicability of the concept to daily life. Many of us strive to for perfection in our work, our relationships and our ethical behaviour. I suggest to you that this drive for perfection is highly damaging. By seeking to be perfect, the psychological strain on us is immense, as the goal can never be reached. In fact, by setting ourselves up to fail, we ensure that even lesser and more achievable goals are missed due to our inability to manage the stress that results. We cannot be happy because we can never complete a task.
This is where being “good enough” comes in. By allowing ourselves to deliberately fail at being what society demands of a perfect human being (being at the apex of one’s profession, having a wonderful spouse and offspring, possessing vast amounts of money and power), we can accept a simpler, purer, less complex lifestyle that we can control and manage effectively. This offers us the opportunity to be happier, because we’ve changed the rules of the game of life to one that we can win. We can still indulge the competitive side of our natures, it’s just the winning line that is different.
Some might argue this is defeatist and such unconventional thinking is not practical in today’s society. They’re entitled to argue that. I’d just ask one question of you, as the reader, choosing what to believe.
Do they seem happy to you?