It has often been said that it isn’t what happens to us that causes distress, rather it is our interpretation of the event that evokes emotional reactions – good or bad. Our thoughts have far more influence over the quality of our lives than many of us realize. I know this from talking to many clients who perceive life as happening to them, rather than them having control over their lives. There are many things in life that thwart our efforts and many events are beyond our control… so it makes sense to focus on what we can control – our thoughts. When times are rough, seeing the good in people, being optimistic and adopting an appreciative attitude towards what is good in your life is the first, and most crucial step to enjoying life more.
Now for a little perspective. When times are rough and all seems lost, it can help to remind yourself of a few facts:
1. When you’re stuck in traffic on the way to work
Think about those barefoot African children walking an average six miles per day just to get water. There’s no comfy car to sit in or an interesting news story to listen to on the radio. Life is reduced to basic survival.
2. If you dislike your job
Give a thought to those working in shocking conditions in sweat shops around the world. In developing countries, an estimated 250 million children ages 5 to 14 are forced to work and every cent they earn goes towards feeding their families. Many don’t have a life outside of work.
3. When you haven’t got much spare money at the end of the month
Remind yourself of all those who don’t get a choice between spending money on a new pair of shoes, a cinema ticket, or using their credit card as back-up. More than 842 million people – or one in eight people in the world – do not have enough to eat. Sixty-six million primary school-age children attend classes hungry across the developing world, with 23 million in Africa alone.
Be thankful that you are not one of the estimated 51 million girls younger than 18 that are child brides – forced into marriage with a stranger. Over the next decade, another 100 million girls will become child brides. Their lives are, in many cases, pre-determined.
5. If you resent having to go to school or having to attend professional development seminars for work
Think of the recent story about the Nigerian girls who were kidnapped from their school. All they wanted was to get an education against the odds and to build a better future for themselves. This basic right is being denied.
Imagine the life for those that get forced into the sex trade. Human trafficking is the third largest international crime industry (behind illegal drugs and arms trafficking). It reportedly generates a profit of $32 billion every year. Of that number, $15.5 billion is made in industrialized countries. Between 14,500 and 17,500 people are trafficked into the U.S. alone each year. Love and desire are not part of the equation.
Spare a thought for those victims of acid attacks. Many victims survive the initial attack and spend the rest of their lives dealing with the psychological, physical and emotional aftermath. They also suffer from social isolation from which there is little escape. These, mostly female victims have no choice but to focus on their inner beauty and detach from their physical appearance.
8. Even when life seems at an all time low
There is still control over your experiences of the world around you, what you tell yourself and your inner mind. Viktor Frankl wrote a book about his experience as a concentration camp victim in Auschwitz. Despite the bleak surroundings, he understood that his captors could not take his spirit, his memories and his ability to choose his thoughts about the situation. (Viktor Frankl’s – Man’s Search for Meaning)
You become the person you think you are. If you think you’re someone who will never amount to anything… guess what? You’re right. What would your life look like if there were no rules and you couldn’t fail? The way that you interpret your life experience creates your identity and determines the quality of your life. Make your thinking work for you, not against you.
No one can ever take away your right to interpret life in a way that works for you. I say – do what works! Being a pessimist never works and nurturing an optimistic attitude will serve you well. Focus on what is good and working well in your life. Write a gratitude journal once a day listing things that make you happy – even the smallest experience such as the sun shining or birds singing.
No one escapes life’s challenges – we all have our ‘cross to bear.’ Priming yourself to think more positively trains your brain to use different neurological pathways, so the more you practice gratitude, the more natural this outlook will become.
“You are today where your thoughts have brought you; you will be tomorrow where your thoughts take you.” James Allen
Featured photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/moriza/176374054/in/photostream/ via flickr.com