In life there are very few certain truths. Two people in the same situation can have vastly different experiences and it turns out it’s generally not based on what happens but on their perception of what happened.
“It isn’t the fact that matters, but your perception of the fact that matters.”
Have you ever been in a situation with friends where you’re having a super negative time but they’re genuinely enjoying themselves? Have you ever seen someone drenched because of rain and everything seems to be going wrong for them but they’re sitting there with a big old grin on their face? It turns out that while you’re viewing the situation as a negative, they’ve got a lens on the situation that is much more uplifting. The person caught in the rain may be remembering a kiss in the rain with someone important to them, or they may be expressing gratitude for the rain that’s going to water their garden.
Ultimately, how you perceive a situation is far more important than the events themselves.
Choosing Your Reaction
“It’s not what happens to you that matters, but how you react to it that matters.” -Epictetus
In every situation, there is one thing that you can control and that is your reaction. You’re not always able to control what’s going on around you, your boss is railing you for something you didn’t do but isn’t the type of person that will listen to reason or your significant other just didn’t live up to your expectations that day and it meant that you had to do the same chore for the hundredth time that they could do in five minutes and make your life easier. You cannot control the other person, you can’t control their action but you can choose, in that moment, how you will react.
When a situation that is unfavorable arises, take a moment to breathe and focus on letting go of the negative and choose to refocus on things that bring you joy or on things that you’re grateful for. You’ll find that if you do this, your reaction becomes one from a place that is real to you instead of a place of fear. When you’re in that state, a state of calm, you are enabled to act in the best way you view possible.
One of the most influential books of my life is “the Anatomy of Peace.” This book teaches you that the easiest way to tell if you are in a state of calm/happiness/personal integrity is on your willingness to do something for whoever it is that you’re interacting with. If your spouse has done something that makes your life harder for a moment, and you take a breath and you remember the time that they surprised you by doing something for you, and afterwards instead of wanting to criticize them you want to help them and love them you are in a state of happiness.
This isn’t easy, reframing a circumstance from how you would normally see it, but it is worth it. When you practice this, you end up in a habit of reflecting on the good in your life, you find the simple things that most people overlook can bring you more happiness than the sorrow brought on by larger events. When a bad situation arises, choose to do good as opposed to choosing to be a victim.
Be a Good Person
“Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be. Be one.”
The definition of integrity is “the state of being whole and undivided.” We have all heard that we need to have integrity to be a good person, but people use it as a buzzword, their belief is that for a person to have integrity they have to live up to THEIR morals and THEIR standards but that’s simply untrue; to have integrity means you live up to your standards and your morals. You have a personal belief on what it means to be a good person, ultimately you need to choose to be true to yourself and do what you view as making you a good person. You won’t live up to everyone’s expectations, and that can be hard, but you will live up to your expectation and that is how you build yourself.
“Search others for their virtues, thyself for thy vices.” -Benjamin Franklin
This is the part where I advise you to respect other people, not their opinions of you, but who they are. Everyone has a hard time, the popular internet quote is “everyone has burdens you know nothing about, so choose to be kind” and ultimately that’s true. When you’re in a situation where you’re choosing to be a good person, reflect on the situation you’re in and choose to see how you could be wrong and how the other person could be right. Choose to see how another person is bringing positives to the situation and you will free up room for you to react more positively and allow you to live up to your definition of personal integrity.
“Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” -Melody Beattie
In numerous posts about myself and about my life I’ve expressed how highly I value choosing to be grateful. It has helped me heal from trauma that I never knew I could heal from, it’s helped me mourn the loss of people I loved by remembering and honoring the good they’ve brought to me, it’s helped me forgive people that I so thoroughly allowed to hurt me that I thought I couldn’t move forward and it has given me a lease on life that makes me want to continue to see new things and meet new people as opposed to curling up in a ball to watch the world disappear.
Gratitude has been shown to have multiple positive effects on the life of individuals and in relationships. The effects seen can range from just having a more optimistic outlook on life and what’s coming, to improved trust and ability to express concerns in relationships. It has allowed me to see value in myself and in my life after years of crippling depression and struggles with PTSD, anxiety, and lack of self-esteem. When I take the time in a day to express gratitude for little things, I tend to see more to be grateful for in the bigger events in my day and in my life.
When you choose to express gratitude for things in your life, you’re choosing to frame things in a positive way. You more easily recall things that are good in your life, you see more of the good in other people and when things seem harder than normal because we all have bad days, things don’t seem to be as bad for as long as they do when you focus on the negatives.
One of my favorite exercises is to list things I’m grateful for while I’m taking a shower. It started one night when I had a difficult discussion with a girl I was looking to date, she had brought up some painful topics from my past (not to pry or be rude) and it had really just hurt. My main reactions to things at the time were negatives, I used anger to hide up any pain/emotion because it was easier to feel that burn than it was to focus on healing, and so I hopped in a hot shower to honestly just punch the wall and let the heat of the shower match the heat of my anger. I’d been having a lot of conversations about how to reframe and refocus with an old mentor of mine, and one of the things he consistently brought up was gratitude. I didn’t feel like I’d had a lot in my life to be grateful for, but I figured it was worth a shot, so I started listing them and I went on for over an hour. It didn’t immediately solve my issues, but it did allow me to calm down, I began to see good things in the painful moments that she’d brought up and to begin to heal from wounds I had neglected to address.
Other favorites include gratitude journaling, texting a friend a reason that I’m grateful for them out of the blue, thanking someone from my past for what they’ve meant to me and how they’ve influenced my life. There are numerous ways to express gratitude, and the positives from it truly do make a difference.
To finish up, there are three ways you can begin to turn your perspective around:
- Choose to react positively
- Be a good person and maintain personal integrity
- Express gratitude
These three things allow you to see the good in yourself, to see the good in others, to see the good in what is going on around you and allow you to act in a manner that promotes more of that goodness.
“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” — Viktor Frankl
Bring the happiness you want to see in the world into your life and the lives of others. Make a great day instead of expecting a day to be great of its own accord.