“Looking back, we see with great clarity, and what once appeared as difficulties now reveal themselves as blessings.”~Dan Millman
I recently had a reader write to me that she often didn't try things because she feared something bad would happen. Though she didn't say this, I suspect she's had some bad things happen in her life. By the time you reach your 40's and 50's, most of us have had several bad things happen.
Sometimes children and young people have really bad things happen in their young lives. They lose a parent. They are abused. They get very sick. They have a disability. When something really bad happens at a young age or when you have a series of difficult events, you start to believe you've been chosen as the lifetime recipient of Crappy Existence Award. You constantly feel like you're waiting for the next axe to fall.
When you're a child, you don't have much control over bad things happening or how to handle them. If you have good and loving parents, they help you navigate through it with as little pain as possible. But if your parents are the cause of the bad things or if they aren't equipped to help you, the imprint of pain and fear can stick with you through adulthood, even when things are going well for you.
Like most of you reading this, I've had my share of bad things happen in life — many of them in my childhood and youth. Like my younger reader, I spent a good part of my young adult life trying to dodge the “bad thing” bullet. I thought if I could arrange my life just so, carefully planning what I did, who I was with, what I ate, and how I responded. It felt like tiptoeing through a minefield, and I was sure one misstep would cause an explosion.
In retrospect, four things have occurred to me related to bad things:
1. I've had far more good things happen in my life than bad. The bad ones just tend to grab your attention more.
2. Of all of the bad things that have happened, the worst by far is living in fear of bad things happening. Living in fear is the most debilitating, energy-draining, and painful existence of all. It's like the steady drip, drip, drip of water torture.
3. I have always recovered from whatever the bad thing has been. Nothing has ruined my life or made it impossible for me to be joyful given time.
4. There is no rhyme or reason to how, why, and when bad things happen, but in general they happen less frequently than we fear they will.
The unpredictability of bad things is enough to make you crazy — like the rat in the cage who never knows when the electric shock will zap him. He dies quickly from the stress. Fortunately, that unpredictability for humans is tempered by my other three revelations: there is more good than bad in life; the bad is not as bad as fearing the bad; and we can recover and live happily in spite of the bad.
If you accept that my four premises are true, here are some thoughts on living happily in spite of bad things:
- Our experience of life usually has more to do with what we focus our attention on than it does with events. One bad thing might happen, but 20 good things are all around you. If you only see the one bad thing, then life is bad. Consciously switch your focus and look high and low for the good things.
- In general, trying to avoid bad things has a negative impact on your happiness. You can't predict most life events, so trying to control your life and those around you only breeds fear, anxiety, and unhappiness. Instead, recognize and acknowledge that mostly good things happen to you. Put your time and energy into enjoying those moments.
- There are some practical things you can do to prevent trouble and unhappiness in life. Take care of your health, wear a seat belt, don't smoke, manage your anger, etc. Manage what you can manage to minimize the possibility of certain bad things.
- When you are in the midst of a bad thing, you will experience pain and difficulty, but it won't kill you. In fact, I've learned that many great things come from bad times. You learn who your friends are. You discover your own resilience. You become more empathetic. You take a new direction. Bad things are often the precursor to positive change and personal growth.
- If you release your clutch on living a problem free life, you can enjoy a true sense of freedom and peace. You allow life to come at you with all it has to offer, good, bad and ugly. You gratefully accept and embrace all of it, because it's that balance of positive and negative that deepens our experience of the world.
- The longer you live, the more bad things you will have under your belt. That might seem frightening, but the law of averages requires it to be so. However, with age and experience, you become more capable of facing bad things . You realize they are bumps in the road, not a prison sentence.
- Knowing that life is a mix of good and bad, spend time figuring out what you enjoy, what is meaningful, and how you'd like to spend most of your time. Then do those things. Do them now. Find any way, by hook or crook, to design your life in a way that allows you to savor the best bits right now. Don't look back with regret.
If you are living in fear and anxiety that bad things might happen to you, I wish I could wave a magic wand and make the fear disappear. I know it is scary. Try to visualize this: fall backward and let the universe catch you. Release your grip and tumble into the unknown. Relax into the peace of falling. The landing may be softer than you think.
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