State, national lifestyle columnists

When ‘I get to’ replaces ‘I have to’

By From page A2 | December 04, 2012

“It’s not that we ‘have’ to do it; it’s that we ‘get’ to do it.”

So said a friend right after Thanksgiving. She said it’s a lesson she and her husband are trying to increasingly focus on with their family.

It’s a lesson I could use. I think as we enter the Christmas season, it’s a lesson a lot of us could use.

Here’s what she meant: To think more, and more routinely, in terms of having the opportunity to do something and how that might even change duty into delight. So, instead of “I have to do my volunteer work at school today,” think of it as “I get to do my volunteer work at school today.” This subtle change inevitably brings to mind so many things to be thankful for, including my children, the fact that they have the opportunity to get an education, that I’m healthy and can help serve lunch at the school.

I even think it might allow my family to live a little more in the moment, something I’m constantly striving – but too often unsuccessfully – to do. How frequently might we say that “I have to go grocery shopping,” ”I have to make dinner for my family” or “I have to visit that friend who has cancer”? And how does using “have” inform how we think about those things?

Now, insert “get” instead, and suddenly we are more likely to think about the privilege of full refrigerators and spending time with a dear one and how amazing it is we have our own health and can make the time to visit to begin with.

When you think about it, our lexicon is filled with such words that tell a lot about our priorities. My children, for instance, would say, “I get to go Black Friday shopping!” But they would also likely say, “I have to go to church on Sunday.” (I myself would definitely make the case that “I have to go Black Friday shopping,” but that’s for another time.)

More to the point, I would typically assert, “I have to go visit my dad,” but “I get to go out with my husband.” That says a lot about how I understand the privilege of having an aging father to love and care for.

And do we more often say “I have to go to work,” or “I get to go to work”?

It would be odd, I suppose, to call a friend and have her tell us, “I can’t. I get to go to the doctor this afternoon.” Though, when you think about it, that’s exactly what a person suffering from illness in the Third World might say. So, why should it be so odd here?

The world itself might be radically changed if more of us simply thought, “I get to pray,” versus “I have to pray.” But that could fill another column.

Here, as my friend talked, it simply occurred to me that, even on a mundane basis, speaking or at least thinking about our daily tasks and responsibilities as “I get to,” as opposed to “I have to,” might lead to a lot more gratefulness and joy in the moment.

At least, I really, really hope so. Especially because it’s that time of year again, the time when I, um, “get to” go outside and spend hours in the freezing cold putting up the Christmas lights!

Betsy Hart’s latest book is “From The Hart: A Collection of Favorite Columns on Love, Loss, Marriage (and Other Extreme Sports).” Email [email protected]

Betsy Hart


Discussion | 3 comments

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  • GemmaDecember 04, 2012 - 11:27 am

    I've tried this concept, though not long enough for it to stick. They say do something for two weeks, and it becomes a habit.

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  • VallejoanDecember 05, 2012 - 7:29 am

    I've tried this. It didn't really change anything. I feel the way I feel about certain tasks, and changing the wording doesn't change those feelings. "I get to scrub the toilet" is just laughable. OTOH, thinking in terms of "I need to" instead of "I have to" sometimes actually helps. I don't "have to" scrub the toilet - no one is forcing me to do it, and I could choose to leave it dirty. However, I "need to" scrub the toilet if I want a clean toilet. Which I do. "Need to" reminds me that I have a choice, but that there's a good reason why I should choose to do it. I like having choices.

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  • CD BrooksDecember 05, 2012 - 8:12 am

    OR as the saying goes: I don't “have to” do anything but die and pay taxes. I “get to” die and pay taxes just doesn’t have that same poetic feel! :)

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