Sometimes we can have a tendency to think about the things we don’t have instead of the things we do have. We can call these daydreams or fantasies or wishful thinking as we search for fulfillment in our lives.
These experiences of wish fulfillment aren’t a recent development. They’ve been with us probably since we started wanting things. There’s even a commandment on coveting your neighbor’s property. But that’s another topic.
What I want to focus on in this post is our tendency to daydream about the “what if’s“. The feeling of not doing enough or not having the life experiences we see on social media or online.
This brings to mind the novel Madame Bovary.
Examples in literature
This brings me to the Gustave Flaubert (1857) novel Madame Bovary
Caution: spoilers ahead.
Susan Wise Bauer provides a nice summary in her book The Well-Educated Mind.
I think it’s a good overview of the story and the consequences of acting on daydreams while ignoring the consequences of these actions.
Emma Roualt marries the village doctor, Charles Bovary, because she likes the idea of being the doctor’s wife. But the reality is so boring that she becomes ill. Her husband gives up his rural practice and moves her to the town of Rouen, where she has a daughter. Both motherhood doesn’t fulfill her yearning for romance; when the baby drools on he, Emma recoils in horror.
Instead she years for the law clerk Leon -until he leaves town- and incurs the wrath of her mother-in-law, who complains that Emma is too busy reading novels: “books, bad books, works that are against religion and where they make fun of priests.” Longing for romance, tired of her dull husband with his dirty fingernails and peasant ways, Emma is ripe for the attestations of the town bachelor Rodolphe Boulanger, who has “frequented women a great deal.” Boulanger has an affair with Emma, promises to carry her off, and then ignores their appointed meeting (my note: he liked the idea of them but not them together plus he didn’t want her daughter around).
Emma, disappointed begins an affair with Leon, who has just returned to town; she goes into debt, spending her husband’s money without telling him until the sheriff comes to confiscate their property. Neither Leon nor Rodolphe will help her, so she poisons herself…..Charles Bovary dies of grief, leaving their daughter an orphan who has to work in a cotton mill (my note: a life opposite of the romantic notions of her mother) – surely a gurantee that she won’t share her mother’s failings, which required a regular source of money for their indulgence
Mistaking fantasy for real life
Flaubert presents Madame Bovary as someone who has, relatively speaking, a nice life.
A character that has a flaw of mistaking the lifestyle she reads about as real. Denying the positives she has while focusing on the negatives.
Imagine how easy it would have been to read about heroes and romances in that age. Now imagine, being bombarded with more information in a day than people would have experienced in a year or a lifetime, to easily confuse fantasy for real life.
I often find myself doing this. Reading travel tales, stories of far away and exotic places and people, and other lifestyles that seem adventurous. For me, that kind of life seems amazing.
Then I think, what’s wrong with my life? I think I’m lucky to be where I am, regardless of failures and setbacks.
Make a daydream into reality
Unlike the character of Madame Bovary, there’s nothing wrong with a little daydreaming now and then. I get caught up in the “what if’s” of wish fulfillment when I hear about large lottery winnings
We can find ourselves daydreaming about a life we think we want and not doing anything about it (wish fulfillment). Maybe we think that it’s impossible or that it’ll take too long so we do nothing.
There’s a hope inside of us that we can search for fulfillment and succeed.
Instead of wishing about something, we should figure out how to make it happen. Maybe along the way, we will realize that the dream isn’t something we want. It could give us an opportunity to appreciate what we have instead of what we don’t.
If along the way, we realize the daydream is something we want then it’s up to us to have a thoughtful reflection on how it could change us and impact those around us.
If it’s a significant change like moving to a new area or changing careers, it’s important to have these discussions with those you trust and who will be impacted.
Do your research and come up with a plan and present it and get feedback. They can help you find the flaws and things you may not have thought about.
Sometimes we yearn for something more, something new. It’s normal to search for fulfillment in what we do, to want more from our lives.
Yet, we have to be careful of wish fulfillment and be realistic or rational about the things we want and what it’ll take to get there.
It’s up to us to take planned and measured actions towards what we want in our lives. We also need to be mindful regarding the plans we want and how they impact those important in our lives.
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