How to Instantly Put Your Life and Problems Into Perspective

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If you are anything like me, you have a handful of life difficulties or minor problems lurking in your brain at any given point in time.

They can be minor irritants like computer problems or taxes due. And then we have the biggies like coping with ailing parents, issues with our children, marriage problems, or job loss.

Most of the time we spend far more brain energy worrying about the issue than we do actually suffering with the reality of it. In fact, for me the worry alone causes more suffering than the problem itself.

Back in my twenties, shortly after my mother died, I had a close friend tell me she had been to a psychic. During the meeting, she asked the psychic about me, and the woman said that my mom (now deceased) had a message for me. The first message was funny, but as it turns out quite useful. She told me that my mom wanted me to stop wearing such high heels. They would cause bunions and foot pain later in life. That proved to be correct.
But the second message was far more useful and quite startling at the time. The message from my mom was to stop worrying so much. Worry doesn’t do anything to make life better, and it would steal my joy. I had been a chronic worrier, and although her beyond-the-grave admonition didn’t change that immediately, it stuck with me. At the time I didn’t know you could control worry. I also didn’t trust messages from dead people.

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Living with Worry

In later years, I wished my mom’s warning had come with instructions. I learned first-hand how worry can lead to debilitating anxiety. I know how the what-ifs and the awfulizing can turn you into someone on constant alert, waiting for the next bomb to drop. It is no way to live. Mom was right. It does steal the joy from life.

For a long time, I didn’t think you could control worry. Once it creeps into your life, it grows like kudzu (if you aren’t from the Southeast or Japan, you may not know about kudzu). When you are trapped in an overgrowth of worry, it’s hard to see the light of day.

Over time I’ve learned more about how to control worry. I’ve shared many of those techniques with you here — ideas on retraining your thinking, reducing stress, learning mindfulness and meditation, etc.  But only in the last few years have I become profoundly struck at how wasteful and unnecessary it is to worry and pontificate about problems and life difficulties.

Here are some ideas on how to put problems in perspective.

My Ah Ha Year

The first thing that opened my mind to this was turning 50. Even now, I don’t think of myself as a woman in her fifties — at least not my concept of 50’s. I feel about 35 and often find myself confused about how a woman my age should behave. But when that birthday rolled around, there was no denying  I had reached that milestone. It was right there on my birth certificate.

I had the classic, textbook reaction.

Oh my God!!!!!

My life is more than half over!!!!!

Is this it?????!!!!

I did the morbid little exercise of trying to figure out how many days I had left. Then I cut off a few thousand assuming that the last few years might not be spent driving around in a red convertible and climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. This was the first time when I really knew, believed in my soul, that my days were numbered. Prior to that, life was just life, and it felt like it would go on forever.

Turning fifty slammed me with the realization that I did not want to waste any more time. I especially didn’t want to waste time on something that had never, ever provided me with anything useful — worry. It was a cold turkey experience. Boom. I will no longer worry.

Now, whenever I feel worry creeping in, I do two things. First, I ask myself, “Is there anything I can do right now to address the problem I’m worrying about?” If there is, I do it. If there isn’t, I whack my brain on its knuckles with a mental ruler and say, “Return to the task at hand. Be here now.” When I’m busy in the moment, worry cannot enter.

Our Place in the Cosmos

One other bit of research and learning has had a significant impact on my perspective about my life and my problems. Even though I’m a right-brained, English major, intuitive type, I’ve become fascinated with elements of quantum physics and theories on the multiverse and the discovery that the universe is expanding at a rapid rate.

I’ve trudged through a few books on the topics by Stephen Hawking and Brian Greene. I can’t intelligently articulate the theories or findings, but I do understand clearly that the cosmos around us is larger than we can imagine. Trying to comprehend it makes my brain hurt.

Look at this little statistic.

In the book The Science of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the author Mike Hanlon says, “In July 2003, scientists at a meeting of the International Astronomical Union in Australia announced their latest estimate for the number of stars in the Universe – 70 sextillion. That is 7 followed by a mind-boggling 22 zeros… The new estimate means that the number of stars in the visible Universe is larger – quite a bit larger, actually – than the total number of all the grains of sand on all the beaches on Earth…”

If you want some additional perspective on our human existence in relation to our position in the universe, take a look at this series of photographs:

Here’s our lovely Earth looking beautiful and ample, especially compared with poor Pluto, the non-planet.

 

Oh dear. Earth is not quite as colossal as it seems. Jupiter looks like the big bully on the planet playground.

 

Well, at least we know Big Daddy Sun is looking out for us, even though we’re pretty puny. Pluto is pitiful. At least we’ve got that going for us.

 

Uh oh. No Earth in sight.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Look at Antares and Betelgeuse.  Ever hear of them? Antares is more than 1000 light years away and the 15th brightest star in the sky. Sun is that ridiculous white speck next to the dinky orange dot.

(Source: www.iceagenow.com)

These photos represent only our solar system within our one galaxy.

But according to scientists, there are around 100,000,000,000 (one hundred billion) galaxies in the known universe, as far as current telescopes can detect. Some of these galaxies may hold up to 100,000,000,000 stars, but most galaxies probably contain at least 10,000,000,000 stars.

What Does it Mean?

In the scheme of things, our little problems don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. (Apologies to Humphrey Bogart.) We are a speck on a speck — times infinity.

This knowledge can be completely depressing or totally liberating. It can make you question everything you believe or get really clear about your life.

So here’s the conclusion I have reached for what it’s worth.

I have a very short time on a very small, but beautiful planet. I have many wonderful things at my disposal — people I love, interesting work, fun things to do, new things to learn every day, incredible beauty all around me.

Yes, sometimes crappy random things happen, and they disrupt my life. But I don’t want them to disrupt it any longer than they must.

I want to savor and enjoy as much of life as I possibly can every single day. I don’t want to waste a minute worrying or thinking about problems. And I want make the world better in some small way before I leave it.

That’s all I know for sure, and that’s what I intend to do.

How about you?

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Comments

  1. Sandra / Always Well Within says:

    Dear Barrie,

    Perspective is everything, isn’t it? This is such a creative, physical way to help us put our challenges into perspective!

  2. Thank you Barrie. Yes, it is about perspective, but sometimes it is not easy to move on to the cosmic perspective….life gets in the way.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      You are right Naureen. Life does get in the way. It takes conscious and determined effort not to allow the problems of life to overwhelm us and our thoughts.

  3. This was a great read! I like how you challenge worry. I think that worry is far more physically damaging than we know at this time. And the other thing I loved is that I always like some science behind the ‘softer’ theories. It somehow makes them more tangible for me. thanks!

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Kelly,
      I’m so glad you liked it. Worry is just another expression of stress, and we know the impact stress has on us. I like the science behind things as well — I’m totally with you on that. Show me something practical and real that I can wrap my head around. :)

  4. Good stuff, Barrie. I think worry is a lot about control – that if I just think about the potential problem long enough, I’ll prevent it from happening. It’s really a bit of a superstition sometimes.

    • Cool stuff, Barrie! Like all your posts, actually :) I’m reading them since one year now and I don’t seem to ever have enough. Keep up the great work, it really helps us all, A LOT! You’re true inspiration, really.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Yep, I agree totally Bobbi. I used to believe I could “out-think” a problem. But generally I just made the problem more complex and last longer!

  5. londonozlunivers says:

    I loved to see the pics of our solar system again. Thanks. I found a video about that perspective on the internet a few months ago and it is just amazing to see how small we are. Thank you for sharing your thinking on worry as it is always good to remind ourselves that, in the end, nothing is really serious. In the XVIth century, Montaigne wrote: « rien ne vaut qu’on se rompe la tête », meaning something like “it is never worth worrying”. And Blaise Pascal also put our existence into perspective when he wrote an essay about The two infinities (the small one and the big one). Really, anything about the Human Being and the Universe fascinates me. That was a good article to read, thank you so much.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Our cosmos is mind-boggling, isn’t it? The idea that there are more stars in the universe than grains of sand on Earth is just incredible. I love the idea that all events are neutral and the only meaning is what we ascribe to them. In a seemingly random world, that provides an element of control and creation around how we choose to live.

  6. Thank you so much for this, Barrie! You had me at “The first thing that opened my mind to this was turning 50″! It’s incredible what turning 50 does to us, isn’t it? Thank you for sharing your conclusion – you’re right on. XX

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Yes, it’s definitely a huge milestone with many more existential implications than turning 30 was! I’m glad it resonated with you. Thank you Lynn.

  7. This is great and thank you for writing it! I just had my big birthday this summer so it especially hit home. Thanks again, Barrie.

  8. Wow, those pictures are amazing! When you think about how we’re all just tiny specks in the universe, it really makes worrying seem like a waste of time. Worrying about things that haven’t happened (and may never happen!) isn’t how I want to go about my day. This is a great reminder to do something meaningful with your life.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      That is Sage advice! (Sorry, I couldn’t help it. :) ) We are little specks, and it makes me realize that the likelihood of other living beings in the universe is quite possible. It also hammers home how very important every moment is — how it shouldn’t be wasted on worry.

  9. There’s really no way to comprehend the Universe’s age and vastness. But it surely does make you pause and reflect on your own petty little problems. Even the big problems can be seen with more “distance.”

    Now that I’ve turned 60 (Ohhh, just wait, Barrie!) my perspective on challenges and duties and suffering and such things has shifted completely around. But, what I’ve decided is that age is only a small part of the shift. So many people fight it forever. Such a waste, isn’t it? We have value to share!

    I’m not going to tell you what happens to your brain at sixty but it was interesting to read that evidently your brain grew knuckles! Interesting …….

    ;-)

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Carmelo,
      I’m sure 60 holds it’s own set of lessons! I’m trying to stay open to all possibilities and probabilities (like aging). Maybe my brain will grow a younger version of me! One can dream . . . :)

  10. I suffer from schizophrenia and in my world there are many things about cosmos and inteligenicess i belive that even if there are hostils the universe, in balanice is fairly peaceful i belive in a dark star which is a star with the surface is dark matter and glows like a soloar eclipise and when it goes super nover cracks like egg and turns in to a super black hole. Some have theorised that if you went through it you would end up in a paralel uneiverse.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Josh,
      I read some about black holes being wormholes to parallel universes. It is complex and controversial in the scientific community, but so very interesting. I wish I understood more about it, but I need to go back and take a basic physics class!

  11. Ha! I really enjoyed this post. Very cleverly illustrated. Thanks for reminding me how little we all really are. And I AM 35, and I DO feel like life will go on forever! When I turn 50, I’m pretty sure I’ll remember reading this! Thanks!

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Sara,
      Make a copy and put it in an envelope to open on your 50th birthday! In the meantime, try not to waste a minute on worry. :)

  12. You’ve gone ‘in depth’ with this one Barrie, thankyou. Well I’ll be 58 at year’s end and I’m committed to enjoying each day & worrying as little as necessary. I like you have found out that ‘worry’ really gets us nowhere…time is better spent on looking forward to how we can live & propsper, physically & mentally.
    be good to yourself
    David

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi David,
      Good for you! That’s the way we all should be living. I hope every day is filled with joy.

  13. dear barrie, your post are awesome. i like your posts. you r my teacher.great

  14. Hi Barrie – WOW, this is perspective to the infintesimal degree. I got that feeling when we saw the excellent space show at the Museum of Natural History in New York. My then 18 month old put his hands up over his eyes, because in the 3D show, all the stars where flying right at him! Thanks for a great post.

  15. Thanks a lot. You changed my thinking from today. Great!

  16. Thanks for this lovely post! It’s a great reminder of why we should not worry about anything in life. The illustration of the planets was something I learned of from a motivational speaker and it’s refreshing to see it again in your post to be reminded of how God is there to help and guide us eventhough we are bet a speck (or even smaller) in the entire universe!
    I used to have an anxiety disorder and I know how it feels to be sick of worrying over nothing. I just praise God for helping me when I called for His help.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Trish,
      I am so glad you have moved past worry and anxiety. There is so much around us to enjoy and so many reasons to be happy — even on our little speck of a planet.

  17. Elizabeth says:

    How incredibly fantastic is that? Thank you….this puts life into a different perspective and for some reason really made me smile:)

  18. Christy Eberle says:

    Barrie – guess I am actually ahead of my time table (LOL -just turned 46) and visceral “won’t be here forever” has shown up. Thanks for the clear language, self- and other-directed compassion in your message as well as the practical advice. A mutual friend recommended your blog and it is wonderful!

  19. Thanks for this Barrie.

    “How to Instantly Put Your Life and Problems Into Perspective” ?

    Watch some of the Paralympic games in London, truly inspirational.

  20. I love the metaphor you are using about how tiny we really are. Also, compared to the age of the universe, our lives are like a microsecond. With that perspective it makes much more sense to start enjoying life, and stop complaining and worrying.

    I have a few years until I am 50, but my warning signal came already at 30. Gosh, I had to get going with my life.

    About 2 years ago I watched the movie “The Bucket List”. Two retired men get cancer diagnosis, and learn that they only have a few months to live. With that perspective, they really get started. Skydiving, racing with formula 1 cars, and lots of other fun things. We are so used to postpone such fun things until we have “sufficient time”. Which is usually too late.

    That made me realise what I was about to miss. It made me go on my dream trip to Australia, and skydive and surf.

    I also realised: The only things we regret are the things we _didn’t_ do.

    I made a decision. When I die, I want to have done everything on my bucket list, and taken my life as far as I can.

    I do not want to regret not having done what I wanted to do.

    Thanks for an inspiring article, Barrie! I look forward to read more of your interesting articles.

  21. Hi Barry – I love this picture! It’s so humbling to realise what tiny small specks we are :) I appreciated your opening words – that it has taken you a long time to learn how to deal w worrying and anxiety. I’ve started to get a handle on mine in the past 2 odd years and keep thinking “really?! Should it take so long?!”

  22. I happened to tune in to the History Channel presentation of The History of the World in 2 Hours. It was an excellent show that really changed my perspective regarding mans’ existence on planet Earth. Provided I understood what they were saying correctly, if the history of the world were compared to 1 hours worth of time, mans’ existence would only be equal to either the last 3 minutes of that hour or the last 3 seconds (I don’t remember which one it is). I can honestly say that knowing that tidbit of information had a huge impact on me, although I’m still trying to work that impact out in my mind.
    Just thought I’d share.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      I’ve heard that same analogy before too Kitty, and it was equally daunting to me. We must make our own meaning in this tiny life of ours!

  23. Barrie – I love your visuals – yup! We are but a microsopic spec on a pinhead in comparison! Sure puts things in perspective. I have a Mark Twain saying framed in my office: “I’ve had many problems in my life – most of which never actually happened.” :-)

  24. Barrie, what a fantastic post. People (myself definitely included) worry too much. I needed things putting into perspective today and after your post came up on Google I feel like a huge weight (maybe Arctarus) has been lifted off my shouders. Ahhh, nice. I will be revisiting this for whenever I need reminding what little ants we all are. Thank you!

  25. Thank you! This helped me!

  26. Thank you for this.

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