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The Comfort In Choices

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It’s easy to be worried and stressed, isn’t it? Far too easy. For many of us, it’s simply a gut reaction to certain situations and we don’t even think about it; we think that it just is what it is.

Or is it?

I’m going to propose another scenario. It may be our gut reaction, but no matter what the reason or circumstances, it is a choice to react the way we do.

Victor Frankl, in his amazing book, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” talks about life in the concentration camps of World War II. He observed that even in the harshest of circumstances, some people still maintained a positive attitude. While some were lamenting about their unspeakable living conditions, others enjoyed the beauty of the flowers on the weeds. How can this be? His basic premise is that our own attitude is the only thing in our lives over which we have total control.

I know that sometimes it doesn’t seem like we have a choice about the way we feel about some things, but if you really think about it you’ll realize that it is. Sometimes it is an obvious choice, but it is a choice nonetheless. For example, when a loved one dies you feel grief. You could, theoretically, choose to not think about it and, instead, think about something happy. No one said it would be easy, but the obvious choice here would be to feel your grief and let it out.

The other day something happened that made me angry. I don’t even remember now what it was, but it seemed pretty important at the time. I was stewing in my own juices, feeling the stress that only anger can bring when it dawned on me that my anger was a choice. As soon as I realized that, the anger disappeared like magic. I felt much more calm and relaxed, and realized that it was stupid to feel the way I did.

I’m not here to preach that you should always choose to be happy and carefree. I would, however, like you to at least realize what you are doing. It may just be that this new awareness will help you make choices that are easier on your soul. In times of stress you may decide that you don’t want to make another choice. That’s fine.

All I ask is that you think about it.

This article is one in a series on coping strategies for patients and caregivers alike. For more thoughts on caregiving, coping strategies, reducing stress, and just plain fun, subscribe to my free monthly newsletter at http://www.CaringAndCoping.com. Need a speaker for an upcoming event? I have a program that will knock your socks off! Watch video clips at http://www.ThePPP.org/speaking/#handle

Add a Comment4 Comments

I also really enjoyed this article. It reminds me of a few articles I read in college (Mind/Body Health course). Essentially, I had read that frequent and unquestioned negative thought processes have the same unintended side effects and "byproducts" that are similar to excess and chronic stress (for instance, many lifestyle-related diseases, including some cancers, heart disease, obesity, etc).

Conversely, there really is a power to "positive thinking", and can actually provide a buffer to stressors. I appreciated your comment that "we should not always choose to be happy and carefree", as that would not be "real" or even human, either. There is an important balance, as with all human behaviors and emotions, that we are continually striving to achieve in the ideal world. We can be aware of our feelings and emotions, identify them, and then act: change what is changeable and important, and then "let go" of what we can not change or is unimportant.

Just as you said that you were so angry about something that was important at the time, but then can not recall the situation days or weeks later. This would likely be classified as an unimportant and unchangeable event...somewhat like "road rage", actually!

July 12, 2009 - 2:37pm

Thank you, Kellie and Regan for the kind words!

Even though it may take time to "move to the other side" as you put it, the important thing here is the fact that you recognize that there IS another side and that you are free to go there. I think that's where most people miss the boat - they have no clue that there is a choice so they just go with their gut.

July 12, 2009 - 2:24pm

I loved that article! I remind my children (and myself!) that we can chose the way we react when things go wrong. There will always be people an events that upset or anger us, but how we react will determine how negatively it affects us.

My son is great and can move on quickly from bad events. My daughter and I need time to move through to the other side. :)

Dave, I love your articles. Keep posting here! Thanks

July 12, 2009 - 2:14pm

That's a good article. My name is Regan, and I'm a HerWriter about Lupus. I think also that sometimes, for me, my state of what I thought was depression was less true depression than it was a negative attitude. You see, lately, I have awoken in the morning choosing to be happy and to have a positive outlook. So thanks for your article, I think you have made a great point. Please continue writing on this interesting subject!

July 11, 2009 - 11:47am
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.


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