One way to approach a sensitive subject is to tell a story. Although fiction, the following story has a ring of truth in it.
Megan stood at the sink looking at the soapy water that held the breakfast dishes. A tear crept down her cheek, so she brushed it aside by a hand covered in soap suds that burned her eyes drawing more tears. Why did he say such terrible things before he left.
He had called her names. He insulted her cooking. Then he left without a “good-bye.” Without a kiss. This was their mornings for the past several months. Her eyes belied her sadness in the life she thought would bring happiness from her “Prince Charming.”
Whimpering she dropped and broke a cup from the good china collection, a gift from her favorite uncle. She starred aghast at the sight of the broken shards on the floor. That sight seemed to indicate to her that nothing would ever change.
She would be chained to this house located five miles from the nearest store and a half-mile to the next house. She stared out the window stranded in the suburbs; stranded and in despair.
I believe everyone understands this situation, not just housewives. And I think most people would be able to tell you the name of someone they know in a comparable situation. This story illustrates the result of two people who seemed to love one another when they got married. But gradually, he took out his frustrations on her when life didn’t turn out like they had expected.
Humans, I think, were not intended to live this kind of misery. And it is this belief which explains to me why our minds control our feelings and emotions. And if that statement is true, then there must be a way to help us enjoy our lives rather than living in misery and unhappiness.
You might be thinking, That’s impossible. Actually, that’s what I used to think. And I believe that most people in our world simply fail to recognize that happiness in life is never found in people we love, finances we accumulate, or situations we are in. Believe it or not, our thoughts can and do control our emotions. Negative thoughts bring negative emotions. Positive thoughts bring positive emotions.
Alcoholics Anonymous asks their participants to memorize and remind themselves of the first sentence in this little prayer written by The Rev. Reinhold Niebuhr during the Nazi regime in Germany. It is a huge testament to a man who faced the worst that the world can offer and responded as only a contented, happy person possibly could.
"God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; trusting that He will make things right if I surrender to His Will; that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him forever in the next. Amen"
Learning how to truly enjoy life no matter what is going on is a skill that should have been taught in school for centuries. But, then it appears that teaching what to think has been the job of most educational institutions. I believe our schools should teach people how to think not just what to think. Learning to be happy is all part of the “how” of thinking as well as the “what.” Allow me to explain what I mean.
In the story at the beginning of this chapter, Megan was living a virtual hell. The problem was that she had accepted her situation as “normal.” She saw other people putting on an air of being happy when she knew they were not. She believed life is supposed to be that way. Yet, inside she longed for a more stable and happy life.
She had never been taught that happiness is a choice, not an emotion. If Niebuhr realized that happiness is found in acceptance of things unchangeable or in changing things that can be, then people today should be able to do the same.
People disappoint us. People anger us. People frustrate us. Or do they? Or do we “let” other people manipulate us? Don’t we have some responsibility in our relationships? Can we really “accept the things we cannot change” and continue to be happy in our circumstances as Niebuhr is quoted as propounding?
So, we accept things we cannot do anything about. But, we are to change the things we can. Megan cannot change her husband. Only he can do that. Yet, she can change her own thoughts about her situation. Or, she take steps to change her personal circumstances. Every human has choices. Taking charge of and accepting responsibility for your own decisions are the main keys to true contentment.
In the articles on this website we explore how and why happy people are happy. I would hope the articles here will allow you to confront your preconceived notions about relationships and start a new journey of a life loved more fully.
Herb Sennett writes about life and how to enjoy it more.