We live in a world of tremendous and confusing dichotomy. Recently, I read brief articles on white privilege work being done at a variety of colleges and universities and on the importance of being present – and appreciative – of life in the moment.
One piece advocates intellectual and practical dissention; pushing back against injustice that exists today, along with its power to limit or destroy those who experience it.
The other suggests that life changes quickly and constantly and contains daily moments of goodness and opportunity to reach out in support and appreciation.
Reading these two articles back-to-back made me reflect on how people view life. Do you see the world as an angry and dangerous place or as someplace significantly more welcoming?
The frame you choose dictates your mindset and, I would argue, your level of contentment.
That word choice can agitate people. Perhaps you didn’t choose to see life as dangerous but have been taught it by those closest to you. Perhaps, alternatively, you were protected from every type of evil and, thus, have no idea it exists nearby. This is real. And at some point, you can change it. If you want to be maximally effective, at some point you must.
The notion of contentment suggests comfort. However, I have met many people along life’s journey whose circumstances were difficult, even grim. Yet they possessed a serenity that belied their situation. How does that happen?
Mindset. They don’t expect life to be easy or without setback or disappointment. At the same time, they do not expect a life of endless struggle. They have enjoyed moments of pleasure and endured darker times. They know each of these times will end and new mornings will dawn. This acceptance was not installed at birth; their experiences taught them these truths.
I don’t know if it is normal human tendency to think we know more than we do or to draw firm conclusions based on limited information or experience, but it seems we create a lot of heartburn for ourselves by wishing – or demanding – things be different. Mostly we place these demands on people around us, whether or not they have direct impact on our circumstances. These demands create tension, anxiety and anger, which sap energy. How often have you railed against people or things you have no power to control or redirect?
I am reminded of an airline flight I was on years ago. The man sitting next to me was holding the finance section of a newspaper and fuming at what was happening in the stock market. Out of curiosity, I turned toward him. He jabbed at the newspaper, shouting, “Look at this! Just look at this! My future is being destroyed!”
His face was red and sweat-drenched, and the veins in his forehead and neck stood out. Fearing for his physical health, I quietly asked what he could do about it. Looking at me like I was crazy, he said, “Not a damned thing!”
At that point, I went back to my own reading, wondering why a person would want to cause himself to stroke out over something he was utterly powerless to affect.
It’s funny in retrospect, yet don’t we all have moments like this? We get enraged over things that got the way they are with no help from us and will stay the way they are until something causes them to change. Yes, it is frustrating to feel the negative effects of such things and we can feel justified in our anger. Beyond that, however, it seems pointless to give our time, energy, intellect and emotion to something we cannot change in the moment.
If you feel called to work on changing a particular reality, that’s different. Then you need to consider your resources and how best you can bring them to bear on a solution. If that is not the case, take a look at how you are framing your outrage to see if there is a different, more productive way to accept it.
Your life belongs to you. No matter how it started or has progressed to date, you have the power – and responsibility – to take it into your hands to shape it the way you want it to be.
This is not a solo undertaking; there are many resources to assist you. But you have to make a decision to start and reach out for help. Then you must persist in your efforts, for life will bring you sunshine and epic storms. Embracing both, you begin to develop power, wisdom – and yes, contentment. That’s a frame worth choosing.
–Susan A. Marshall is an author, speaker and the founder of Backbone Institute (www.backboneinstitute.com). She can be reached at (262) 567-5983 or firstname.lastname@example.org.