One of the posts making the rounds on Facebook yesterday was this quote attributed to Zig Ziglar:
Miserable people focus on what they hate about their life. Happy people focus on what they love about their life.
I was not able to verify the attribution; sources also suggest Sonya Parker as the source. The quote appears on Ziglar’s Facebook page as a picture with the text repeated in the accompanying post. As frustrating as it can be to verify attribution online, that is not my point; but I had to mention it for the sake of accuracy.
What is important about this quote is what it does not say: that being miserable or being happy is at its heart a matter of choice. When I was my husband’s caregiver, I was often happy and sad in the same moment, in the same breath. But miserable? Never. And that is my personal experience, from which others may or may not choose to extrapolate for themselves.
The heart of the matter: choices, choices, choices. I could have focused on all the difficulties with which those final weeks were fraught — and they were many. I could have focused on the fact that my heart was breaking every day, because I was going to lose him. I could have focused on how unfair it all was — that I was spending my first months of what was supposed to be “our” retirement doing very unpleasant things and preparing to say goodbye to the other half of “us.”
Instead, I chose to focus on how fortunate I was to have the ability, strength, time, and yes, inclination to provide the care he needed. I chose to focus on where he was going, rather than what we were going through. I chose to put all my energy into the things I could control, and I chose to tap into my strengths while I peered through the maze around me into the future.
Did that make me a “Pollyanna”? Was I simply ignoring the inevitable, sugar-coating the harsh reality? I don’t think so. Another quote I remember from a conference many years ago (and I have no idea who said it): “Optimism is not Pollyanna thinking.” That is, optimism as a chosen way to view the world and its events is not a mindless cheeriness that ignores reality. Rather, optimism is a choice to view reality — in all its sometimes hard brilliance — in terms of the potential for a positive outcome. Then it becomes easier to see how one’s choices can not only influence, but bring about, that potential.
So, as an optimist, I counted what I was doing as a privilege, and I understood that what was coming would lead both my husband and me into a new and different kind of future. It would be for him a future that I could imagine but not fully see, and for me a future that I would need to shape and to put my own mark on. And the lesson in the midst of all that?
Being sad — grieving — does not necessarily involve being “miserable.” It does involve suffering and pain, but I think being “miserable” implies that an abject state of continued suffering must inevitably continue without relief — and that’s where I think one’s choice of focus becomes material.
Several years ago, I delivered a workshop on tools for managing change at a personal level. In the course of the workshop, I asked participants to tell of a significant change they had experienced recently, and after a few examples involving jobs and diets and the like, a woman shared that her mother had died a few weeks earlier and that this had wrought change she just didn’t know how to deal with.
I was unprepared for the example, but it certainly fit the focus of the workshop: building tools to manage change that comes at us without our permission or choosing. The group discussion that followed started me thinking about death as a sort of ultimate change, and about whether it was a change that could be managed in some way. As I came face to face with my husband’s death, I realized that the same tools I had taught for managing other changes — especially the idea of making conscious choices about attitudes and actions — might help me though this change.
It was hard work. It still is hard work. It involves not giving in and just letting grief happen — although there are times when sadness is overwhelming, survival requires a choice to believe that it is temporary. And that profoundly changes how we experience sadness.
Choices, choices, choices. I am probably a change junkie, because with the sense of power that conscious choice gives me, I really actively seek change and feel restless when there is no change on the horizon. What I love about my life changes, so my focus is constantly changing too.
So bring it on, life: bring on my fix. Bring on the changes.
Comments on: "Change Junkie?" (2)
Brilliantly said! Love your blog!
Thank you, Bob! A new way to take on the world, right?