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Endings Don't Have to be Sad

"It is always important to know when something has reached its end. Closing circles, shutting doors, finishing chapters, it doesn't matter what we call it; what matters is to leave in the past those moments in life that are over”

Paulo Coelho, The Zahir

It was an unusually hot day in London in July 1990. I still remember sitting on the grass in a white tank top and jeans. I was with the man I moved to Australia with. In my memory, I'm munching into a crunchy ice cream cone. We were at Wembley Stadium for what was then billed to be the Rolling Stones final concert. I wasn't a fan of the Rolling Stones though I love many of their songs. The only reason why my then-boyfriend was able to convince me to attend was that it was the last concert, the end of an era.

I can still remember the collective excitement in the stadium, that we were all there to witness an ending.

For many, endings can have a negative connotation and bring feelings of dread or loss. We cry over sad endings in movies and books. We resist the impending endings in our own lives like the ending of a relationship, a job, or a business.

A few months ago, I moved out of my home of 6 years. I moved into my cute little studio to downsize while I was studying. I wanted to reduce my expenses so that I could focus on my degree and enjoy the process. I had no intention of living in this place for more than 2 years, but over time I grew to love the location and cherished living in such a friendly neighbourhood.

Emotionally I was ready to move about 18 months before and when I did move the process was bittersweet.

A week later, I left the part-time job I had been in for over 4 years. Again the ending should have come 2 years previously but I hate change and feel that I'm not good at endings, so I hung in there.

Similarly, I see this habit of 'holding on' with my clients and friends. Many put off endings and stay way past a stage that is healthy. This is especially commonplace when ending relationships or friendships. Many struggle with this and tend to have to demonise the person before they can leave them. A few struggle so much with this that they stay in the relationship but act out by withdrawing or having physical or emotional affairs to compensate.

In a 2017 study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology, Kristin Layouts reminds us that in most cases endings are sad. However, they also seem to have a clarifying effect, one that often highlights the good. Now research is exploring just how powerful endings can be for our well-being. It suggests that by simply imagining that things are coming to an end, like a stage of our lives, our time in a certain place, or a relationship, we may be able to better appreciate them before real endings loom.

She suggests that imagining time as scarce prompted people to seize the moment and extract greater well-being from their lives. When people take action to savour their surroundings, including their nearby friends, family, and colleagues, they may feel like they are just where they want to be.

In her article, Four Reasons Why Endings Can Make You Happier, Kira M. Newman reminds us that every day good things in our lives come to an end. The last bite of something delicious, the last chapter of a book you're devouring, the last meeting, the last kiss.

Here are four ways anticipating the end can improve your life by Kira M. Newman

1. Endings help us stay in the present

When we perceive time as vast and expansive the theory goes, we tend to prefer knowledge-seeking activities: attending school, going to networking events, learning new skills. These activities are an investment in the future, often involving some degree of difficulty and struggle. When we perceive time as short and limited, in other words, when endings seem near, we tend to prefer activities that feel good or meaningful now, like hanging out with our best friends or enjoying our favourite foods.

In other words, it’s possible that endings drive us towards the very things that will boost our happiness in the present.

2. Endings can bring us together

Contemplating the end seems to make us prioritise social connections, which a lot of research shows can increase our well-being. Spending time with family falls into the category of a feel-good activity. It may not involve novelty or challenge, but it tends to be relatively pleasant.

3. Endings help us to let go of the past and focus on goals

Research suggests that imagining an impending ending could give us some clarity.

When time is restricted, people are motivated to maximise their current experiences in the ‘here and now.' Time is viewed as a limited resource not to be wasted on unfulfilling pursuits. When endings loom, in other words, our minds seem to tune into the present, shedding distractions from the past and the future that have little bearing on our happiness now.

4. Endings provoke mixed emotions—and so create more meaning

Endings seem to inspire a particular mixed emotion called poignancy. It occurs when we realise that something we used to have is (or will soon be) gone, and it’s reasonable to believe that real endings are even more poignant than imagined ones. These mixed emotions, suggests at least in recent studies, open the door to greater meaning in our lives.

Newman invites us to imagine that the thing you love will soon be coming to an end. Far from making you unhappy, this exercise may give you the capacity to better appreciate the here and now, and perhaps avoid regret later.

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