I know for sure that what we dwell on is who we become —- Oprah Winfrey
Have you ever noticed that some people who have very little manage to be quite happy while others who seem to have it all are miserable? How we view life has everything to do with how much joy we experience. The evidence that we are in charge of our feelings abounds.
I have a dear friend who has experienced more tragedies and setbacks than most of us. She has lived with a chronic illness for decades that has required frequent blood transfusions and limitations on her activities. She and her husband of many years divorced just when she was battling her disease, leaving her to survive on her own. She ultimately remarried and things appeared to be taking a turn for the better when her new husband had a series of strokes that left him bedridden. She has become his caretaker and as such is mostly isolated inside her home which is far away from family and friends. Most people would complain about the unfairness of such a situation, but she instead remains optimistic and grateful for the smallest of pleasures that enter her life. People like my friend refuse to be ground down by challenges no matter how difficult they may be. They serve as shining examples to those of us who know them or hear about their inspiring behaviors.
As I was driving around last Saturday doing some errands I listened to a story on the radio about a young man whose hockey team was involved in an horrific bus crash. Several members of the team were killed in the accident. He survived, but broke his back and was left paralyzed from the neck down. His whole life was centered around being active and at least for now he will be confined to a wheelchair. With the loss of both his friends and his ability to play the game that he so loves it would be only natural for him to become deeply depressed. Many of us would descend into a pit of despair given the circumstances, but he is determined to beat this setback, just as he always managed to come out a winner in sports. He is grieving for his teammates who died, but also eager to begin the hard work to regain his strength and athletic abilities. He does not intend to be defeated, and my guess is that somehow he will find a way to accomplish his goals. It is evident that he is never going to give up and simply languish in self pity.
The champions of this world are people who manage to make the most of whatever hand life deals. They have the ability to pick up the broken pieces of their lives and turn them into beautiful mosaics. Des Linden is one of those people. You might know her name if you are a running enthusiast because she just won the Boston Marathon, the first American woman to do so since the nineteen eighties. Her Twitter feed features her mantra, “Some days it just flows and I feel like I’m born to do this, other days it feels like I’m trudging through hell. Everyday I make the choice to show up and see what I’ve got, and to try to do better.” Des understands that from moment to moment there will be ups and downs, but the main thing is to stay in the race. What was most remarkable about her victory is that she even halted her run to assist a fellow participant who needed to make a pit stop. Des not only has learned the importance of just showing up to each day, but also realizes that ultimately the true measure of each of us is in how we treat the people around us. Her philosophies have made her not just a champion but a happy person as well.
There is no job, no kind of existence that is perfect and without troubles. Every single person experiences difficulties, failures, temptations and tragedies. Those who show up, keep trying, and focus on relationships rather than transitory values are the happiest among us. Winning is not about accumulating laurels or riches. It is all about finding the real secret of life which is to carry on with a sense of purpose and gratitude that there are thousands of second chances to get things right. Grit is the factor that keeps people moving forward through even the most horrific times.
I have often wondered what in the human spirit keeps people hopeful when they endure the most terrible aspects of inhumanity. How did enslaved people find even a modicum of joy? What did Holocaust victims do to keep from going insane or giving in to a deep dark desperation? How were they able to live and work after they were saved given what they had seen and experienced? What keeps refugees from war torn countries optimistic when they have lost everything that they ever owned and have become nomads in countries where they are often unwelcome? How do people manage to smile again when all that they have known is taken from them?
Somehow the true survivors among us find a way to make the best of the things that they cannot change. They smile and just keep reminding themselves that as long as they are still breathing there is hope for better days. They refuse to give up, and like the young man whose family home was inundated with mud from a collapsing mountain top they just keep repeating, “I am alive. I am alive. I am alive.” Then they clean up the mess and manage to smile at their good fortune.
It’s not easy to become a person who sees opportunities in the impossible. It takes a bit of work to dwell on the things that bring us happiness rather than focusing on our sorrows. We just have to show up each day with a determination to change our thinking from sorrow to joy. Sometimes that means finding a tiny shred of hope to pull us from the negativity that stalks us. Just as we can retrain our bodies to become strong, so too may we redesign our thinking to become the happy people that we want to be.