By Nancy Rynes, author of Awakenings from the Light
I think we all know at least one person who seems bound and determined to be miserable, even if he or she has all the best the world can give them.
I met Steve* recently while participating in an artistic workshop in a rural area of New Mexico, USA. Part of the workshop involved traveling to a remote location for a day trip of about 10 hours, so the instructor asked the participants to carpool. I volunteered my car and took three of the other workshop attendees with me for our class that day. Steve rode next to me in the front passenger's seat with the other two attendees, both women, in the back of my SUV. The first few minutes of the drive went OK but within a half hour, I had a feeling that riding with Steve could make for a challenging day.
As far as I could tell, and from speaking with folks who knew Steve better than I, this man had a pretty darn good life. He was retired, happily married to a spouse who was also a well-respected (and very well-paid) professional, and who graciously and fully supported his artistic hobby. The couple lived in a nice home, had no debt, traveled internationally on vacations a few times each year, and lacked for nothing that money could buy.
Soon after setting off for our day trip, though, Steve began ranting about everything under the sun. Nothing and no one was good enough. He ranted about the other drivers on the road (they were fine, trust me). He ranted about a set of furniture he and his wife were ordering for their home. He ranted about politicians, religions, countries, the young people today, and much more. I think you get the idea. Nothing and no one (except for his wife) was spared from his impassioned ranting. And worst of all, he directed just as much, if not more, negativity toward himself as he did to other people. In his mind and in his words, nothing he did was right. According to him, he was dumb, forgetful, clumsy, slow, and pretty much worthless if you believed what he said about himself (I did not). In the end, it was how he spoke to and about himself that distressed me the most because I know how damaging it can be.
Several times that day, I and the other folks on the trip tried to get Steve to think and speak differently about himself, his circumstances, and life in general. We tried everything we knew: pointed out the beauty in the world around us, called attention to the things he did well, showed him other options or choices he could make, and much more. But I soon realized that Steve had firmly chosen to be miserable on a trip that should have been fun, joy-filled, and beautiful.
The rest of us didn't let Steve affect our moods, though. We remained happy, enjoyed ourselves, had fun, joked, and learned as much as we could from the instructors. Unfortunately, Steve remained miserable no matter what we did to try to help.
By listening to Steve that day, I was reminded that, to varying degrees, many people choose to stay mired in misery and unhappiness even when they have every opportunity to live an amazing life. And some people who should be miserable, given their circumstances, choose to live in gratitude, joy, and peace**. It's all in the choices we make in our attitudes and how we live our lives.
Yes, cultivating happiness, contentment, and even joy are choices we can make in each and every moment. If you doubt this, read the books of Viktor Frankl sometime and you'll understand what I mean. Even while being imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II, in conditions you and I would find unlivable, Dr. Frankl chose to find beauty and love around him:
"We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms -- to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."
If you want more love in your life for the new year, try learning to be more loving and kind to others. If you want more peace, learn to cultivate that for yourself and your family. If you want more beauty, learn to see it every day in the world around you. Remember, it's really up to you, and only up to you. Waiting on someone else to give you peace or love or contentment is like betting everything on winning the lottery. Probably not going to happen, at least not in the near future, and you'll waste a lot of valuable time in limbo in the meantime ;-)
My wish for all of us in 2016 is that we learn how to create for ourselves and our loved ones that which we most desire: peace, love, gratitude, kindness, and beauty each and every day.
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*Steve: not his real name
**See Awakenings from the Light for more examples
As always, if you are experiencing extreme or distressing circumstances in your own life, please consult with a qualified professional for help. You don't need to go it alone. Talking to a licensed counselor, therapist, or spiritual advisor when you need it is a way to show love and compassion for yourself.