All of us have an attitude toward life based on our life experiences. If we have had overwhelmingly positive experiences, we would have a positive, optimistic, friendly, benign, and trusting attitude. On the other hand, if our experiences were predominantly negative, our attitude toward and approach to life would likely be negative, pessimistic, cautious, cynical, and distrusting. Our experiences, especially the early ones during our formative years, will determine our view of the world and our philosophy of life whether we are conscious of them or not. In my over forty years of mental health work with clients, I would reassure them at the end of each session saying: “Things will work out”. What am I really meaning by this? Things will work out one way or the other, and the one way is not necessarily better than the other in the long run. In other words, things may not work out the way we would like but the way they work out can be to our advantage if we have the right kind of and accepting attitude toward life.
Often things happen the way they happen, and we have little choice. The way we take them makes the whole difference. For instance, I have seen two women of comparable looks, education, accomplishments, and socio-economic and mental status have been brutally sexually assaulted. One of them is going from one mental hospital to another, and the other one is on national television (USA) immensely popular with incredible wealth. The personal factor that made the difference was their attitude. The bad thing that we think is happening to us may turn out to be a great blessing. This is what we call blessings in disguise.
Take, for instance, the story of one of my clients. He was very emotionally upset, distraught, and inconsolable about a plane that was going to take him to a fortune, and that he missed due to no fault of his own. He was driving to the airport. On the way close to the airport there was a huge tanker truck carrying oil met with an accident, and turned over spilling thousands of litters of oil making the only road to the airport impassable and also tying up traffic for miles. Meanwhile he saw the plane that he was to be in flying overhead. He cursed and cussed, and mourned his misfortune, finally turned around and went home. After half an hour close to home he heard on the radio in his car that the plane that he was supposed to be in crashed due to bad weather, and all perished. He got out of the car and danced for joy.
There is a popular saying in the USA:
“When you get a lemon (standing for a used bad car bought or more generally for a bad situation) make lemonade”. We have to play the hands that we are dealt with. Often we have to take what we are meted out and make the best of it. Epictetus, a Roman philosopher, who lived around the time of Christ, made a very wise observation:
“It is not what happens to you that matters, but it is what you make of what happens to you that matters”. This observation is one of the great principles of Cognitive behaviour Therapy as well as Rational Emotive Therapy in psychology. When we know we are going to fall, do not resist the fall, but fall and roll so the impact is spread over many points, and the fall becomes less hurting. What is our attitude? Do we waste our precious energy fretting over things that we cannot do anything about? On account of our negative attitude, do we become our own worst enemies, our own worst nightmares? Life is full of problems. Are we creative in problem-solving? Everything that happens to us in life, no matter how costly and painful, contains a message for own growth and development if we with resignation, acceptance, and patience are able to decipher that message. Is our attitude positive - one of accepting and celebrating life on life’s own terms, one of gratitude? Do we need an attitudinal adjustment?