…but don’t live your life in a country song
Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. – Viktor E. Frankl
What do you find challenging in your life? If I asked you to make a list right now, what would be your list of “problems?”
If you had asked me those questions ten years ago, I could have made a list a mile long. I was miserable and I felt obligated to share that misery with anyone who would listen.
It become second nature to respond to anyone and everyone with evidence of how terrible my life was. The big sigh. The exclamation that it had been a rough day. An example – or ten – of everything that had gone wrong.
It was like living in a country song!
Optimists tell us not to dwell on your problems. The thing is, if you’re human, you have problems whether you choose to see them that way or not.
I do agree that a problem doesn’t have to be a bad thing. We inherently see our challenges as something bad. And more specifically, something bad that has happened TO us.
Think about that for a minute. Do you ever ask the question “Why is this happening to ME?” I’ve found that’s a recipe for continued misery.
In reality, stuff happens. It is happening all the time and not just to anyone in particular. “Bad luck,” unforeseen circumstances, delays, obstacles, challenges, disappoints, personal tragedies. We all experience them at some point.
But you know what? Our lives are as full of or free from misery as we choose for them to be. Today, if I elect to focus on my problems, I can find just as many – or more! – issues as I could ten years ago.
Instead, I have chosen to view problems differently. Sure, my problems may still make me sad or frustrate me. They may feel incredibly difficult at times. But they don’t have to dominate my life.
It really is all about perspective.
The best thing I’ve learned is that it is indeed possible to find a silver lining in every cloud if you know how to look for it. Here are six ways I’ve learned to find a better perspective in my problems.
1. See problems as an opportunity to get creative.
I like figuring things out. Problems are a chance for me to dream up creative solutions, no matter how small or silly. Sometimes I genuinely surprise myself with an awesome solution.
2. Use challenges to get closer to your friends and loved ones.
When we are dwelling on our troubles, we often alienate others. Instead, I’ve worked on being honest and asking for help. Even when they can’t fix your problems, the people in your life may be able to help you see things differently. Having a bad day often prompts me to text my husband. His responses are usually irreverent and make me laugh… which reminds me that things aren’t all that bad.
3. Take the ME out of the issue.
It can take some time to shift your perspective, but you can change your focus on how you, alone, are the target of all your problems. Instead, realize that troubles are universal. We all have them and, together, we are all in this thing called life.
4. Look for what’s going right.
It’s usually pretty easy to talk about what’s wrong. For each thing you want to complain or be miserable about, challenge yourself to name three things that are going right. I did this recently when I locked my keys in my car while running an errand. I was grateful that I was close enough to walk home. I had a warm coat with me for the walk. And it was a chance to check exercise off my list for the day.
5. Recognize that misery doesn’t last forever.
It’s ok to be upset or in pain. That is natural. But tough emotions pass if we let them. Acknowledge that you are unhappy and then let it be. Just like a watched pot never boils, a watched emotion never leaves.
6. Use mindfulness to step through problems.
Instead of dwelling on past hurts or future worry – i.e. Why are they always leaving me? I’ll be alone forever! – focus on living in the present moment and taking action to fix problems as needed. Paying attention to each moment as it appears leaves little time to be miserable. Plus, it’s another chance to notice what might be going right.