I remember visiting a new client about 20 years ago and the experience was so profound I still remember it like it was yesterday. Our company provided specialised around-the-clock care in clients homes to enable them to live independently. This lady had had Multiple Sclerosis (MS) for over 20 years and it was fairly advanced for her now. She was then confined to a wheelchair, needed hoisting everywhere and she could not eat unaided because her arms and hands had minimal movement and on top of that her voice had gone. She communicated with me using a small device with a keypad into which she typed using a pen controlled by her chin which would dictate her text to me as speech. My meeting with her took a long time due to the need to respond to my questions using the typing device, inputting letters with her chin. Despite all of this, I found her exceptionally upbeat and jolly. She constantly would point out the light side of her condition and she was very gracious and grateful.
Towards the end of our meeting, thanking her for her time and the patient way she responded, I felt I should ask this lady how come she was so happy – despite the challenges life had thrown her, and continued to, what kept her upbeat? She looked right at me, gave me an enormous smile, and said ‘whatever comes your way in life, you have to figure out what you’re going to do about it to make the best of today’ she said, ‘I can usually find something positive, even if it is just humour.’
I have thought a lot about that experience and the others I have had when I see people experience tremendous challenges in their life yet they are able to smile and remain upbeat. What is going on that separates these people from the rest of us? It’s not the external circumstances they are suffering from but the way they have learnt to respond.
“If you have a positive attitude and constantly strive to give your best effort, eventually you will overcome your immediate problems and find you are ready for greater challenges.” Pat Riley
Here’s one thing that will help
Over 30 years ago, in our first year of marriage, we were discussing phrases we commonly used and could probably do without. We both used to use this phrase ‘Don’t worry, it will be alright when…’ in lots of situations and a lot of time to comfort each other. It’s a long drive tonight, it’ll be good once we get to our destination and we can relax. Waiting for a job interview or exam and saying that it’ll be better when it’s over and finished with or till we get the result. We found that we often made excuses for how we were feeling right now and promised that it would feel a lot better when something was over or when something else happened.
The irony is that we were young and carefree, two incomes with no children and no house mortgage commitments. If you would have told us then how lucky we were, we’d have part agreed and part scorned, saying that happiness would come later when we had our family, family home, etc… Looking forward to our plans and attaching our ‘real’ happiness to these goals.
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” Nelson Mandela
Back 30 years ago in that moment together, we agreed that we would stop using that phrase and that way of thinking. We would not put off doing something to help when there might be something today we can do to feel better. This took some time to adapt and we were good at reminding each other if we used the phrase ‘it will be alright when…’ I’m glad we did – and I think it is something that everyone should try to do. It really has helped us to switch our thinking to firstly; not to procrastinate doing something we are able to do straight away that will help how we are feeling – if we can. And if we really can’t do anything now, then secondly; not blame external things for how we are feeling now – and choose to react differently.
This 2005 study published in Psychological Bulletin concluded from a study of over 275,000 participants that it is happiness that contributes to your success rather than success that makes you happy. “When people feel happy, they tend to feel confident, optimistic and energetic and others find them likeable and sociable. Happy people are thus able to benefit from these perceptions.”
Sometimes we are just looking for a reason to let our mind worry and torment us in anticipation. But remember that ‘worrying about it means that you are suffering twice’ – firstly when worrying and secondly when the event you are anticipating happens (if it actually does go the way you were worrying it might!).
If you practice waiting positively or being proactive with the more simple challenges in life, this can be especially helpful when we go through long times of difficulty and pain. We may have lost someone very close to us or suffer illness or hurt. The important thing to do is be honest about what we can actually do about the situation and to stop worrying about what is out of our control. Remember – we can find peace with the present situation quite a lot of the time and the choice is up to us.
“The happiest people don’t necessarily have the best of everything, they just make the best out of everything that comes their way.”
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