How do You Choose to See Your Life?

 

After being in Indianapolis for two days for a wonderful seminar by Hillsdale College, I was going to write a post on the pluses and minuses of our trip. I have about twelve complaints about Delta Airlines in Atlanta just for our return trip, including their not asking local passengers to stay in their seats so the rest of us could try to make our connections; about sending us to a gate where the next flight to Orlando would be leaving, only to find out it was full; about giving us boarding passes that had red streaks that prevented the bar code being read the next morning at TSA. I’m not going to complain anymore than that, although there are lots of other annoying, stupid and inconvenient occurrences. (Did I say we were told to get to the airport at 5:30am for an 8:00am flight??

Okay, now I’ll stop—or I will completely destroy my premise for this post.

You see, I can choose how I characterize the entire trip. There’s nothing objective about my evaluation, but I could get many of you to shake your heads and say “poor Susan” if I piled it on. But there are a few simple reasons why I won’t: I have choices about how I see my experience. Let me explain.

First, there are people who have truly legitimate difficulties and challenges in their lives.

My inconveniences are insignificant, given some perspective. But how I see the challenging events and incidents in my life has very little to do with how many there are, how often they happen, how debilitating they are, or how frustrating they are. Instead, my viewpoint rests on whether I love life, am indifferent to it, or secretly hate it.

I don’t know any person who complains incessantly who loves his or her life. It simply can’t be done. Unless the person is psychotic. I also believe that we rarely choose how to see our lives based on whether good or bad things happen. No one I know says, okay, I had fourteen bad things happen today and 12 good things, so on balance it was a terrible day.

I’m not suggesting that we should never feel bad or down in the dumps; only Pollyannas* do that, and they tend to hang out with the neurotics, in my honest opinion.

Life constantly changes. If we get stuck in how we characterize our lives, especially when life is difficult, we limit our opportunities to grow

What I’m suggesting is our thinking about how we “hold” the unfolding of our lives.

For example, I can complain about all the frustrating things that happened to us on our trip, mostly regarding our travel, and try to encourage you to feel sorry for me (unless you don’t like me anyway and figure that I deserved it). Or I could elaborate on the excellent program that Hillsdale provided. Or I could tell you about the small things that happened that were the best gifts of all:

There was our first Uber ride with a fellow whose work background and family history were very similar to my husband’s and he was a conservative to boot;

How we enjoyed visiting with students from the Hillsdale Chamber Choir—what a delightful group!

Or how we bumped into Dennis Prager at the airport where I said something inane and Jerry shook Dennis’ hand and introduced himself;

Or when we got a bite to eat, the hostess took one look at me bundled in my black wool shawl and said honey, are you cold? I answered yes through my chattering teeth. She said, “I don’t think you want to sit at the windows because the air conditioning blasts there.” I agreed and thanked her;

Or the number of gentlemen who waved me in first at the airline gate or to exit first. (Okay, so I’m a senior citizen.)

And there were other sweet and beautiful things that occurred that reminded me that whatever is going on in the greater world, there are kind, friendly and helpful people who fill my life; some are friends, some are strangers, but so many are ever so generous. I can get caught up in the darkness of the world, the inconveniences of my life, the personal dramas, and appeal to your sympathy.

Or I can tell you that I’m blessed. Life is good. And there are lovely people all around us. We can choose how we see our lives.

We just need to open our eyes and be grateful.

*Pollyannas only see the positive and blind themselves to the negative; they are not optimists.

There are 33 comments.

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  1. Jim McConnell Member
    Jim McConnell
    @JimMcConnell

    @susanquinn, here are some quotes that I published in the monthly newsletter here at The Home, that speak to your theme:

    Springtime Words of Wisdom from some favorite philosophers:

    “Happiness is perfume, you can’t pour it on somebody else without getting a few drops on yourself.” — James Van Der Zee (June 29, 1886 – May 15, 1983), a black American photographer best known for his portraits of black New Yorkers.

    “I am a happy camper, so I guess I’m doing something right. Happiness is like a butterfly; the more you chase it, the more it will elude you, but if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder.” — Henry David Thoreau

     “Each morning when I open my eyes I say to myself: I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today. I can choose which it shall be. Yesterday is gone, tomorrow hasn’t arrived yet. I have just one day, today, and I’m going to be happy in it.” – Groucho Marx

    • #1
  2. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    I took a flight from Chicago to Hartford with a stop in Columbus, Ohio once. There was a blizzard in progress. After we landed at Columbus, the local travelers deplaned, new passengers boarded, and we sat. And sat. And sat. Eventually we pulled out of the gate and stopped again while a de-icing truck gave the wings a squirt, then moved off to a holding area, and we sat. And sat. And sat.

    Eventually, the captain came on the blower to announce that we were returning to the gate because a warning light was lit. (Writing the software to light warning lights is something I have done.) Once back at the airline desk, it transpired that whereas I wasn’t reaching Hartford until the next day, my luggage was already there. Oh, joy. As I was waiting for the transportation to take me to my hotel room for the night, the nice lady at the desk observed that at least I wasn’t going to take off in a plane with a warning light lit.

    “Ma’am, I just landed in a plane with a warning light lit.”

    For all that, the only really annoying part was sitting in the aircraft for too many hours. I could have gotten upset, but what difference would that have made?

    • #2
  3. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    There’s this old saying: “If you eat a frog for breakfast, nothing worse will happen the rest of the day.”

    Then there’s this gem from Brenda Morgenstern on the TV show Rhoda: “Avoid disappointment—aim low.”

    Personally, I declare a day successful if I can drag myself out of our extremely comfortable bed.

    As for how I live my life? One day at a time.

    As for how I see my life? Nothing but a series of successes, because I don’t dwell on the failures.

    • #3
  4. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Jim McConnell (View Comment):

    @susanquinn, here are some quotes that I published in the monthly newsletter here at The Home, that speak to your theme:

    Springtime Words of Wisdom from some favorite philosophers:

    “Happiness is perfume, you can’t pour it on somebody else without getting a few drops on yourself.” — James Van Der Zee (June 29, 1886 – May 15, 1983), a black American photographer best known for his portraits of black New Yorkers.

    “I am a happy camper, so I guess I’m doing something right.Happiness is like a butterfly; the more you chase it, the more it will elude you, but if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder.”Henry David Thoreau

    “Each morning when I open my eyes I say to myself: I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today. I can choose which it shall be. Yesterday is gone, tomorrow hasn’t arrived yet. I have just one day, today, and I’m going to be happy in it.” – Groucho Marx

    Jim, these are just wonderful!! I especially liked Thoreaus quote (although I’ll admit I’m partial to butterflies). Thanks so much!

    • #4
  5. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Stad (View Comment):

    As for how I live my life? One day at a time.

    As for how I see my life? Nothing but a series of successes, because I don’t dwell on the failures.

    Well done, @stad. Well done. Thanks.

    • #5
  6. 9thDistrictNeighbor Member
    9thDistrictNeighbor
    @9thDistrictNeighbor

    Jim McConnell (View Comment):
    “Happiness is perfume, you can’t pour it on somebody else without getting a few drops on yourself.” — James Van Der Zee

    As I had to come to terms with eight weeks of sitting around after surgery waiting for my leg to knit itself back together around a boatload of screws and a plate, the first thing I did was order a bottle of perfume. It sits on the kitchen counter. Every time I need to exercise I spritz some on. Perfume isn’t just a metaphor…Van Der Zee was exactly right.

    However, keeping on the sunny side is often a real challenge.

    Susan Quinn: …my viewpoint rests on whether I love life, am indifferent to it, or secretly hate it.

    This, I believe is the key.

    • #6
  7. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    This is not Willie Nelson’s version–it’s better!

     

     

    • #7
  8. Rodin Member
    Rodin
    @Rodin

    We all see life through lenses. What we too often fail to note is whether we can change the lens to see life differently.

    • #8
  9. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Rodin (View Comment):

    We all see life through lenses. What we too often fail to note is whether we can change the lens to see life differently.

    We also don’t realize that we see through a lens! There is nothing objective about it!Thanks, @rodin.

    • #9
  10. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    9thDistrictNeighbor (View Comment):
    However, keeping on the sunny side is often a real challenge.

    No doubt about it. Sometimes things just pile up or get worse, and we wonder if we will find our way out. But we will, if we try. Thanks, @9thdistrictneighbor.

    • #10
  11. 9thDistrictNeighbor Member
    9thDistrictNeighbor
    @9thDistrictNeighbor

    Rodin (View Comment):

    We all see life through lenses. What we too often fail to note is whether we can change the lens to see life differently.

    I’ve heard of a technique called thought hopping…think of skipping stones. If you are in a bad place, you don’t necessarily try to think of something totally opposite, but like a skipping stone, have a think about something that moves you just a little bit closer. Then your next thought…a little bit closer, and so on. We can all see through smudged and dirty glasses, yet as we clean them bit by bit, we check to make sure we get all the spots clean.

    Just thinking about this post and conversation is making my day better….

    • #11
  12. KentForrester Moderator
    KentForrester
    @KentForrester

    Two ways of seeing things soften our path through life:

    (1) View humans as if they are actors in the human comedy. Thus, Hillary is more comedic than dour and hypocritical. And even that silly senator from Hawaii, Marie Hiroko, is more of a laughable hot mess than a partisan hater.

    (2). Use deprecating humor to describe oneself. Reagan was particularly good at that. 

    So there you are. If you would follow my advice more often, you would be a lot happier. 

     

    • #12
  13. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    9thDistrictNeighbor (View Comment):

    Rodin (View Comment):

    We all see life through lenses. What we too often fail to note is whether we can change the lens to see life differently.

    I’ve heard of a technique called thought hopping…think of skipping stones. If you are in a bad place, you don’t necessarily try to think of something totally opposite, but like a skipping stone, have a think about something that moves you just a little bit closer. Then your next thought…a little bit closer, and so on. We can all see through smudged and dirty glasses, yet as we clean them bit by bit, we check to make sure we get all the spots clean.

    Just thinking about this post and conversation is making my day better….

    Love this, @9thdistrictneighbor. A technique I use (and my mother loved it), is when I’m sick and tired of obsesssing about something (and sometimes it has to be that bad), I promise myself to spend, say, only five minutes to obsess with the thought when it arises. I actually time myself. When my time is up, I go do something; actual activity/movement helps a lot. Yes, I may have to do it several times a day, but that’s what it takes to break up the pattern!

    • #13
  14. 9thDistrictNeighbor Member
    9thDistrictNeighbor
    @9thDistrictNeighbor

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    When my time is up, I go do something; actual activity/movement helps a lot. Yes, I may have to do it several times a day, but that’s what it takes to break up the pattern!

    When I have a low ebb I make myself lift little 8-pound weights. In the next few weeks I may end up with an upper body like Arnold Schwarzenegger. 

    • #14
  15. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    9thDistrictNeighbor (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    When my time is up, I go do something; actual activity/movement helps a lot. Yes, I may have to do it several times a day, but that’s what it takes to break up the pattern!

    When I have a low ebb I make myself lift little 8-pound weights. In the next few weeks I may end up with an upper body like Arnold Schwarzenegger.

    Oh wow! Post pictures!

    • #15
  16. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    Stad (View Comment):

    As for how I live my life? One day at a time.

    As for how I see my life? Nothing but a series of successes, because I don’t dwell on the failures.

    Well done, @stad. Well done. Thanks.

    Thank you! I should point out although I don’t dwell on failures, I try to learn from them.

    • #16
  17. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    I hope I see life realistically as a tragic-comedy. Some days are more tragedy and some are more comedy. It definitely lends perspective to have come very close to catastrophe (almost losing Little Miss Anthrope to complications of brain surgery and then meningitis). In the midst of that trauma, there was the entire case of Diet Coke exploded in the outdoor refrigerator, the inability to start Mr. C’s car because mice had chewed through the wiring (soy insulated?! there’s an engineering fail!), the broiler turning on and refusing to be turned off except by throwing the breaker (and calling 911 because of the crackling heat inside the walls) and having my recuperating eleven-year-old and sister standing in the front yard waiting for the firemen… At some point, it was all so absurd, we just had to laugh. Yes, I may have developed a dark sense of humor, but it’s better than crying over everything.

    As difficult as our journey has been, our experience seeing other families’ struggles at Children’s Hospital has given us perspective on just how fortunate (blessed) we are. I believe these other families are blessed too (they also develop strength and compassion by their suffering), just in a different, perhaps more intense way.

    I keep Dennis Prager’s jingle in my head, “If nothing’s horrific, life is terrific!” And I try to keep busy doing God’s will for my life. It’s helpful to have people say, “God must love you very much to let you suffer so.” And, “in your suffering you’re at the heart of the Church.” Making sense of the suffering is key. And then enjoying the days with less drama and all the beauty and goodness of the world and life — sometimes minute by minute, makes it all worthwhile.

    • #17
  18. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):
    As difficult as our journey has been, our experience seeing other families’ struggles at Children’s Hospital has given us perspective on just how fortunate (blessed) we are. I believe these other families are blessed too (they also develop strength and compassion by their suffering), just in a different, perhaps more intense way. 

    I thought of you when I wrote this post, WC. You have had more of your share of difficulties and suffering. And you are a model to the rest of us to carry on. I would like to ask you one question, at the risk of getting off point. Could you explain the meaning behind this comment:

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):
    “God must love you very much to let you suffer so.” And, “in your suffering you at the heart of the Church.” Making sense of the suffering is key.

    I’d appreciate a little elaboration. Thanks.

    • #18
  19. Yehoshua Ben-Eliyahu Inactive
    Yehoshua Ben-Eliyahu
    @YehoshuaBenEliyahu

    KentForrester (View Comment):
    Use deprecating humor to describe oneself.

    I once heard it said that a truly religious person, while very serious about G-d, does not take himself seriously at all.

    • #19
  20. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    Stad (View Comment):
    I should point out although I don’t dwell on failures, I try to learn from them.

    I don’t think eating your wife’s pound cake after it collapsed because you slammed a door counts as learning from failure. 

    • #20
  21. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    I will try to explain while staying within the word limit and I will need some help distinguishing between the Jewish and Christian perspectives. It’s my understanding that Jews believe doing God’s will will prosper a person in this life — correct me if I’m wrong. I get this impression from the Psalms, particularly (all the “righteous man” stuff). I realize Job is a counter-example, and, boy, let me tell you I lean on Job being righteous and loved by God! 

    But, for Christians, the Messiah is God, who took on human flesh to experience what we experience and redeem it — temptation and suffering — although unlike us (in our fallen nature), Jesus suffered for our sins, not his own (which is not to say we always suffer deservedly. Sin and death came into the world through The Fall).

    Our Gospel reading this Sunday was from John, where Peter and his brother apostles meet Jesus post-Resurrection after a night of unsuccessful fishing. Jesus tells them (from shore) to cast their nets over the right side of the boat, and the subsequent haul is so large, they can barely get it to the shore without tearing the nets. Peter recognizes the Lord at that point and jumps into the water to wade to shore and greet him, whereupon Jesus asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?” And after each affirmative answer from Peter, Jesus says “Feed my sheep.” Or, “Tend my sheep.” This is the mission of the Church founded upon Peter (the Rock, Petrus) — to incarnate the love of Christ in the world after his Ascension to Heaven, by the power of the Holy Spirit given at Pentecost (the Church’s birthday). For Catholics, we believe this is literally true — the feeding of the sheep — through the Real Presence (Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity) of Christ in Eucharist (the Bread of Life Discourse in John 6). 

    This puts those who suffer at the heart of the Church. It’s why the Church exists. And, as sufferers, we are encouraged to offer up our suffering in union with Christ for the sake of others (which comes from the writings of Paul). 

    To bring this back to politics for a moment, I believe it is this Christian ethic of self-abnegation (laying down one’s life for one’s friends/family) that has advanced Western Civilization beyond all others. And it takes nothing away from Judaism to claim it, since without Judaism, there is no Christianity. 

    • #21
  22. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):

    I will try to explain while staying within the word limit and I will need some help distinguishing between the Jewish and Christian perspectives. It’s my understanding that Jews believe doing God’s will will prosper a person in this life — correct me if I’m wrong. I get this impression from the Psalms, particularly (all the “righteous man” stuff). I realize Job is a counter-example, and, boy, let me tell you I lean on Job being righteous and loved by God!

    But, for Christians, the Messiah is God, who took on human flesh to experience what we experience and redeem it — temptation and suffering — although unlike us (in our fallen nature), Jesus suffered for our sins, not his own (which is not to say we always suffer deservedly. Sin and death came into the world through The Fall).

    Our Gospel reading this Sunday was from John, where Peter and his brother apostles meet Jesus post-Resurrection after a night of unsuccessful fishing. Jesus tells them (from shore) to cast their nets over the right side of the boat, and the subsequent haul is so large, they can barely get it to the shore without tearing the nets. Peter recognizes the Lord at that point and jumps into the water to wade to shore and greet him, whereupon Jesus asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?” And after each affirmative answer from Peter, Jesus says “Feed my sheep.” Or, “Tend my sheep.” This is the mission of the Church founded upon Peter (the Rock, Petrus) — to incarnate the love of Christ in the world after his Ascension to Heaven, by the power of the Holy Spirit given at Pentecost (the Church’s birthday). For Catholics, we believe this is literally true — the feeding of the sheep — through the Real Presence (Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity) of Christ in Eucharist (the Bread of Life Discourse in John 6).

    This puts those who suffer at the heart of the Church. It’s why the Church exists. And, as sufferers, we are encouraged to offer up our suffering in union with Christ for the sake of others (which comes from the writings of Paul).

    To bring this back to politics for a moment, I believe it is this Christian ethic of self-abnegation (laying down one’s life for one’s friends/family) that has advanced Western Civilization beyond all others. And it takes nothing away from Judaism to claim it, since without Judaism, there is no Christianity.

    I’m not sure I understand. It sounds like you are saying that when Christians suffer, they are taking on the suffering of others as Jesus took on their own suffering. And so it is a gift from G-d when one suffers, because one is doing that for others. Is that it?

    • #22
  23. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    I’m not sure I understand. It sounds like you are saying that when Christians suffer, they are taking on the suffering of others as Jesus took on their own suffering. And so it is a gift from G-d when one suffers, because one is doing that for others. Is that it?

    Not quite. Our suffering is our own, not that of others. But, in the sense that people may respond to our suffering with love, it brings good (God’s will) to them. We pray that our suffering may also help to bring redemption to souls (in some small way), as Jesus offers completely from the Cross. 

    • #23
  24. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    I’m not sure I understand. It sounds like you are saying that when Christians suffer, they are taking on the suffering of others as Jesus took on their own suffering. And so it is a gift from G-d when one suffers, because one is doing that for others. Is that it?

    Not quite. Our suffering is our own, not that of others. But, in the sense that people may respond to our suffering with love, it brings good (God’s will) to them. We pray that our suffering may also help to bring redemption to souls (in some small way), as Jesus offers completely from the Cross.

    Thanks for clarifying, WC. You also were correct; this belief is specific to Christianity, although Jews would likely say they suffer plenty!

    • #24
  25. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    I’m not sure I understand. It sounds like you are saying that when Christians suffer, they are taking on the suffering of others as Jesus took on their own suffering. And so it is a gift from G-d when one suffers, because one is doing that for others. Is that it?

    Not quite. Our suffering is our own, not that of others. But, in the sense that people may respond to our suffering with love, it brings good (God’s will) to them. We pray that our suffering may also help to bring redemption to souls (in some small way), as Jesus offers completely from the Cross.

    Thanks for clarifying, WC. You also were correct; this belief is specific to Christianity, although Jews would likely say they suffer plenty!

    Yes, indeed. Do you see suffering as punishment? It seems barrenness was viewed as shameful in the OT — as if God was displeased with the barren woman for some reason.

    • #25
  26. Yehoshua Ben-Eliyahu Inactive
    Yehoshua Ben-Eliyahu
    @YehoshuaBenEliyahu

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):
    It’s my understanding that Jews believe doing God’s will will prosper a person in this life — correct me if I’m wrong.

    If not in this life, then in what we call the world to come, but the details of that world are vague. For our sins, we go through a painful cleansing process in gehinom/hell after death that takes a maximum of 11 months. After that, every Jew is admitted to the world to come.

    Still, in Judaism, fhe main point is that this world is where the action is, so to speak, and a Jew’s chief concern is refining this world by first refining himself.

    We do believe in revival of the dead, however, when the messiah comes and so, when we reach heaven/the world to come after this life, we find it rather boring at times since we are impatient for the messiah to come so we can finally get back down to earth since, as mentioned, this is where the action is. (Mitzvahs or divine commands can only be carried out in the physical world.)

    • #26
  27. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):
    Do you see suffering as punishment?

    First, I’m glad you read Yehoshua’s comment–so beautifully said. No, I don’t see suffering as punishment. In fact, I think we often create our own suffering in innumerable ways. Buddhism talks about suffering–we suffer because we hold on to those things we want, and want to get rid of those things we hate–and sometimes, things simply can’t be changed. But as Yehoshua says, we are called to act, we are empowered to act and to improve ourselves and the world.

    • #27
  28. Michael Brehm Coolidge
    Michael Brehm
    @MichaelBrehm

    KentForrester (View Comment):
    Use deprecating humor to describe oneself. Reagan was particularly good at that. 

    Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly -G.K. Chesterton

    • #28
  29. Henry Castaigne Member
    Henry Castaigne
    @HenryCastaigne

    Susan Quinn: I don’t know any person who complains incessantly who loves his or her life. It simply can’t be done. Unless the person is psychotic.

    I have never heard of anyone under a mental illness doing this. 

    • #29
  30. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    Aaron Miller (View Comment):

    Stad (View Comment):
    I should point out although I don’t dwell on failures, I try to learn from them.

    I don’t think eating your wife’s pound cake after it collapsed because you slammed a door counts as learning from failure.

    Rule #437 about marriage:

    Never eat a meal your wife cooked if she’s POed at you for some reason.

    • #30

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