The American Lawyer and Politician William Jennings Bryan (1860 ~ 1925) wrote, “Destiny is not a matter of chance, it is a matter of CHOICE; it is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved.” By “destiny” he meant our future. In other words, our future doesn’t come about by chance and isn’t something that happens to us.
It doesn’t happen to us because we create it. We do so with the choices we make. Each choice leads to a consequence. And each consequence is one strand in the fabric of our life. Since I am the weaver of the fabric that makes up my life, I cannot blame others or events for what ‘happens’ to me. Some find it difficult to grasp the idea that we are responsible for what ‘happens’ to us.
“Look,” Barbara says, “I didn’t choose to be poor.” “And I didn’t choose to be sick,” adds Christopher. “Neither did I choose to be lonely,” chimes in Neil. Yes, I’m sure Barbara didn’t want to be poor, but she CHOSE to spend more than she earns; she CHOSE not to set aside some money for emergencies; she also CHOSE to waste money on frivolities.
True, Christopher didn’t want to be sick, but he CHOSE to eat junk food; he CHOSE to avoid exercise, and he CHOSE to spend time with friends until the wee hours of the morning instead of getting a good night’s sleep. And what about Neil? No, he didn’t want to be lonely, but he CHOSE to criticize others, become argumentative, and spread gossip. Is it any wonder he has no friends?
Admittedly, it may be difficult to recognize that we create what happens to us by the choices we make, but if we wish to make the most of life, we must understand this truth. Once we accept it, we become empowered. We wake up each day with the realization that what happens during the day is the result of the choices we make. It is empowering to know that at any moment we can continue doing things as we always have, resulting in more of the same, or we can choose to act differently. We can choose to be grateful instead of resentful, kind instead nasty, and helpful instead of painful. As we change our ways for the better, our lives will improve immensely.
Another fact many find difficult to accept is that happiness, too, is a choice. Yes, no one chooses to be unhappy, but they do choose to do what makes them unhappy. For example, no one chooses to become obese, but many choose to eat too much fatty food. Since it is impossible to escape the consequences of our actions, choosing the means to an end is the same as choosing the end itself.
Happiness is a state of well-being in which we are free from fear, resentment, anger, hostility, or any form of suffering. So, if we refuse to live courageously and choose to live in fear, we are also choosing to be unhappy. Likewise, if we insist on being angry, we are also insisting on being unhappy. When we choose to suffer, we are rejecting happiness.
Does it seem strange to say we choose to suffer? Well, suffering is nonexistent in the material world. It is not part of objective reality. It is purely subjective. That is, it exists only in our mind. It is a choice we make. When I speak about suffering, I’m not speaking about pain. Pain and suffering are different. Pain is the result of something that occurred. For example if my house is swept away by a typhoon, I will be in pain.
On the other hand, suffering is a reaction, a response to something that occurred. So, if two neighbors had their homes swept away by a storm, one of them may choose the path of self-pity: “Woe is me! Everything that I have worked hard to accumulate was lost. All my precious belongings are gone!” Yet, his neighbor may see things differently: “How lucky I am! The lives of my wife and children have been spared!”
One of the neighbors chose to look at the bright side; the other chose to focus on the negative. One chose to be happy, the other, to be miserable. “Wait a minute! That’s not fair to blame the man who is suffering,” someone may be tempted to say. “After all, perhaps he is a pessimist by nature. That isn’t his fault, is it?”
Well, please understand that our nature is to be what we repeatedly think, do, and believe. So, if that man repeatedly thought and acted as a pessimist would, he would then become a pessimist. However, he is the one who choose to have negative thoughts, so he is responsible for what he becomes. When pessimists react to a challenge, such as job loss, they may have an automatic negative reaction. They may act without thinking. However, their automatic reactions are based on past choices, so they remain responsible.
Besides, those who are unhappy, always have the option of asking themselves, “What am I going to do about it?” Those who choose to look for a way to solve their difficulty will find a solution. Those who refuse to ask themselves that question have also made a choice. By deciding not to act, they chose to live in denial and chose to believe they are powerless to help themselves.
If we choose to live in awareness, we will realize that no matter how great our burden may be, there is always someone else with a far heavier load to carry. Therefore, we will always have a reason to be cheerful. All we have to do is be grateful for what we have.
Yet, if you try to explain this to a friend who is whining about their personal problems, their response will probably be something like, “Oh, that’s easy for you to say. You don’t know what it feels like to be in my shoes.” Yes, it’s true, you don’t know what it’s like for your friend, but neither does your friend know what it is like for someone with a far greater burden. That is the problem. Your friend can FEEL his or her pain, but cannot FEEL the pain of another.
Suppose you had a magical device and said to your friend, “I am going to rotate this dial, and as I do so, your pain will increase to the level of that man who is living in circumstances 10X worse than yours. Although he lives with his pain all day, I will force you to endue his pain for only five minutes.” How do you think your friend would feel five minutes later, after the pain was lowered to its previous level? Wouldn’t they finally feel thankful that things are not worse than they already are?
I haven’t written this story for you to share with your friend. Actually, I wrote it to share with YOU. It’s just a reminder that if you ever find yourself tempted to feel sorry for yourself, look for someone with a burden far greater than yours. Carefully note what you see and take in as much detail as possible. Then, when you have a quiet moment alone, take a few deep breaths, close your eyes, and picture what it would be to live as that person. Think of everything you do during the day and imagine how much more difficult it would be for you as the other person. Place yourself in their body. Try to FEEL their pain. Finally, after doing so, open your eyes and be thankful for what you have.
CHOOSE to be aware. CHOOSE to be thankful. CHOOSE to be happy.