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.

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There are 33 comments.

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  1. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn

    Stad (View Comment):

    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.

    I’m going to have to have a talk with Neutral Observer about the things you’re implying about her. Then you’d better watch what she serves you!

    • #31
  2. TBA Coolidge

    There is this too – if life is one’s personal Odyssey, do you want to tell it like a heroic saga or a whiny diary? 

    • #32
  3. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    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’ve been meaning to respond to you, @susanquinn. Thank you. At those times when we model suffering heroically, we are meeting our calling. It means everything to hear this.

    • #33
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