We all have a story to tell. Some of us have been through the wringer, and our faces might show the difficulties that life has thrown our way. Others have led a fairly simple life, fortunately enough, escaping all but the most menial trials. As I consider this dichotomy, or the reality that some of us have struggled much more than others, I am faced with a very puzzling question: why does it seem as though happiness bears no correlation with life circumstances?
In other words, why are the most burdened individuals often so happy while thriving people are often so miserable?
Perhaps it involves the story that we tell ourselves.
“I’ve never gotten what I deserve,” some of us might complain. “People never give me what I’ve earned.” If we tell ourselves that we’ve been slighted our entire lives, we will never be satisfied with the recognition that we do get. It’s a never-ending cycle of discontent.
“I’ve never amounted to anything,” another might add. “I’ve never been intelligent or savvy.” If you tell yourself that your entire life has been below average, the rest of your life will be below average.
On the other hand, if you tell yourself that you were born a god, you’ll probably end up being an arrogant fool.
In order to truly reach a positive mindset, we must learn to shut off these negative voices and replace them with more realistic expectations. For example, “the world doesn’t owe me anything, so I’m going to work hard to reach my own goals” could replace a self-entitled story. For those who feel their life has been an utter failure, a reminder that “failure isn’t final” might do the trick (yes, I got that one from my pastor). For the arrogant clown…well…you might need to reevaluate a few things.
The most heartbreaking circumstances in our lives can be spun in a positive or negative light, and our attitudes about them will directly influence our actions. Let’s take a veteran, for example. Soldiers that suffer from PTSD have endured circumstances that I can’t even imagine. Based only on life events, they have most of us beat. When they come home, they are told that they are dangerous and can snap any time. This creates a stigma, a fear of and within our nation’s heroes.
What if we changed the story? What if we valued the soldier’s ability to protect his or her family due to hyper vigilance? These men and women possess a worldly knowledge that most of us will never achieve. They know how to act, react, and keep those around them safe from external forces.
When we change the story, we begin to recognize true value.
Each negative event leaves us with a better understanding of ourselves, the world we live in, or our ability to endure hardship. It often makes our faith more solid, our will to survive stronger, and our enjoyment of the little things in life so much more intense. When we value these aspects of hardship, we can begin to view our stories as positive life changes.
Sometimes we get the story wrong. We tell ourselves that money and accolades matter, and then we fall apart trying to reach them. We strive for importance in the wrong places, tearing ourselves apart in the process. When our stories are incorrect, our happiness and wellbeing suffer. Let’s face it: we’re human.
When we find ourselves in the midst of a miserable episode, it is often due to skewed priorities that result from incorrect stories. We told ourselves that the fancy car would do it. That the relationship would do it. That the promotion would do it. We told ourselves that the one thing we lacked our entire lives would bring us happiness. Once again, we got it wrong.
Have no fear! When we become conscious of the stories we create, the process of rewriting them becomes more manageable. Rather than telling yourself “I’ve always been unhappy because I lacked money,” you can learn to recognize this fallacy, rewrite it, and repeat to yourself, “I’ve always been unhappy because I placed too much value on money. I’m going to change that.”
With these methods, we can learn to correct our mindset and attitudes, thereby forming a more positive life story for ourselves. These positive stories lead to healthy, productive actions that perpetuate the story even further. For those of us who have been wounded by life circumstances, these actions provide the perfect conditions for healing and restoration.
That’s my story, anyways.