Let’s face it: You don’t need to be a raging Buddhist to buy into the fact that pain and suffering are bound to exist in some form in everyone’s lives. No amount of money, no amount of luck, and no amount of denial can protect a person from that inevitability.
But how is it that some people seem so… well, happy (or I should actually say “content”), even in the midst of some pretty crappy circumstances or events? How is it that one person believes and feels as if her world is crumbling around her when a stranger says something nasty to her or her kid won’t stop crying in the line at Target or she gets a parking ticket, and another person holds her head up high, rolls her eyes, and moves on? And even more fascinating, how is it that some people are able to experience devastating tragedy, loss, and upheaval, and yet come out the other side emotionally intact?
I happen to find the concept of “resilience in the face of life’s bumps and bruises” fascinating, although I know I might be a little biased as a psychologist …. So for those of you who care not about the details, I will cut to the chase:
The reason one person that feels intolerable suffering and another person t feels the sting but pushes forward is because the two people have very different beliefs about themselves, the world, and other people. The second person feels frustration, pain, and discomfort (assuming he is a person, and not a robot.), but he still remains content overall. Here is what that resilient person believes:
1) There are no “shoulds.” This guy genuinely thinks: No, it isn’t true that the police officer should have let me off with a warning, my neighbor should keep his dog quiet or I should get new shoes. It’s definitely not a fact written somewhere that I should not have gotten in that car accident, that I should always be kind, that I should have gone to law school, etc. etc. People who are content don’t invest energy dwelling on or fighting what “should” or “should not” have been or what “should” or “should not” be happening. They also think for themselves about whether doing something makes sense instead of relying on “shoulds” to guide their behaviors.
2) Everything is a shade of gray (and that’s okay). Content people think something like this: I accept (and can tolerate the uncertainty that comes with admitting) that the world is not “black or white”, “all good or all bad”. I accept that I have some strengths and some limitations; I accept that a person can be rude or make mistakes or have bad judgement, etc, and still not be totally horrible. I accept that just because something horrible happens in my life, my life is not all bad.
3) All relevant things are based on facts (not judgments or assumptions). Content people see themselves, others, and the world realistically, meaning they stick to the facts when they acknowledge the bad things and the good things. They don’t think to themselves, “I am such an idiot” when they forget to turn the oven off; They simply think, “I forgot to turn the oven off.” They don’t think to themselves, “Now my kid will never graduate college” when he struggles with reading in first grade; They simply think, “It takes more time and intervention for her to practice phonics right now.”
4) It’s not all about me, and that’s okay. Content people believe: I am not the best or the most handsome or the smartest or the most successful human being on the planet, and that’s okay; Not everyone likes me, and that’s okay; Often times people are focused on their own thoughts and perspectives more than they are focused on me, and that’s okay. Also, I accept that ultimately it is up to other people, not me, to handle their own feelings and behaviors and make their own decisions and opinions.
5) It is okay to accept the reality of how things were and how things are, even when it’s painful. People who are content genuinely think the following: I accept that people are sometimes be irrational and hurtful toward me; I accept the obstacles and tragedies in my life happened and there is no way to undo them; I accept that I will go through periods of pain and hardship in the future; It is okay to experience that pain without fighting it, numbing it, or drowning it.
6) Even though there are some things that I just have to surrender-to, I do have overall control over my life. People who are content believe: If my behaviors or ways of thinking get in the way of my contentment, I am responsible-for and capable-of changing them. It is okay to speak up for and protect my needs, even if someone does not like me for it; It’s okay to not cater-to another person if doing-so gets in the way of my well-being.
BTW, I have never put this on a blog post, but I feel as if it is an appropriate disclaimer for this one: This is not meant to be a replacement for therapeutic intervention. If you are experiencing depression or anxiety, by all means please get help beyond reading an article on the internet. You could begin by looking up psychologists on your insurance plan or discussing options with your primary care provider. I sincerely wish you the best!