We were going out for lunch, to our local Asian buffet place. Because we thought we didn’t have anything at home for lunch.
So we set out walking to our neighborhood eatery. It’s a beautiful day, and it’s only a 10-minute walk.
However, our pleasant stroll didn’t result in a fine dining experience. The place was closed. It’s closed on Sundays.
So we went to the plan B. A Vietnamese place across the street. Again closed — this one opens at noon on Sundays. It was 11:15AM, and we were starving. (We usually eat lunch early)
Upon considering our options, we strolled back to our home, took out some ready-made pasta sauce, made salad, and had a fine lunch. And we saved the money on lunch.
I’d like to point out that throughout this endeavor, there was not a hint of frustration on any of us. Even my 4-year-old daughter, who loves buffets, didn’t complain or show signs of disappointment at all. In the hind sight, I am pleasantly surprised how well everyone took the turn of the events. My daughter is deep in the drama queen phase and it doesn’t take much to upset her sometimes.
It’s easy to feel disappointed or frustrated when things don’t turn out the way we plan. Sure, in the above example, a little research would have prevented us from “wasting” 30 minutes from our busy lives. But sometimes, even the best research and most thorough preparation can’t yield the desire result.
We all know that, yet we let ourselves get emotionally attached to the outcome we want. The only thing in life we can control is ourselves, yet the world is filled with information, tips, and tricks to give the illusion that we can manipulate those that we cannot.
But why do we even feel the need to predict, premeditate or prepare our future to go the way we want?
It’s because we forget that all events are neutral. Nothing that happens in life is neither good nor bad.
We are the ones who interpret and assign values to all events. We decide whether it’s good or bad.
Now, with that statement, I don’t mean to trivialize the weight of some events that just can’t be considered good — no matter how you try to twist your mind with some kind of “think positive” mantra. Little children suffering is terrible, for example.
But we have tendencies to pre-assign values to certain events, way more often than they need to be. So often, in fact, that most of us don’t even realize that we are the ones assigning values to neutral events. We tend to think of events as either “desirable” or “not desirable” and allow ourselves to feel all kinds of unpleasant or painful feeling for the latter type.
Allow me to state the obvious: since we are the ones who interpret all events and assign values to them, we have the power to turn any events into positive or negative.
That’s right. Any of us can, at any given point, arbitrarily decide to interpret most everything that happens in his/her life as positive. And live happily ever after. Happy Ending is available for everyone.
I do realize that my example above is too trivial to demonstrate this. So here is an experience that is a much bigger deal: passing of my father.
My father died almost 2 years ago. He was 61-years-old and died from ALS. Though he didn’t die particularly young, he was the youngest of 5 children by far (his closest sibling was 9 years older than him) and all of them, plus his mother, was still alive at the time. Nobody expected the youngest son in the family to die first.
When he was diagnosed, and subsequently when he decided that he was not going to employ any artificial means to prolong his life, it was very difficult for us family members to accept what was to come. There were many important moments of our lives — seeing my little brother get married, watch our children (his grandchildren) grow — that we wished for him to witness. Each of us went through a grieving process, but at the end we accepted his desire to allow the end to come.
When my father passed away, he was at home, surrounded by his family members. He called us, his three sons, his pride and biggest accomplishments. He gave my mother permissions to go and pursue a life that her heart desired, unhindered nor burdened by his presence.
Obviously I was not happy that my father died. But through my grieving, I was able to come to accept the events as they happened, and identified so many positive elements in this otherwise “tragic” incident. Just to name a few,
- My father was not afraid of dying. He welcomed it as a relief from the toils of life. And he died in a way he intended to — naturally, surrounded by his family. He told me he was satisfied with his life.
- Thanks to the time it took for the illness to proceed, all of us his loved ones had time to process what was going on, and to tell him what we needed to say. Though I was living continents away at the time, I was able to visit him 3 times that year and was able to talk. When he went, I had no unfinished business with him. We were so fortunate to have the opportunities to tell him we loved him and to say our goodbyes.
- Because of our situation, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to be by his side in his final moments. But thankfully, I was there when he died.
- His suffering was not too long. I know it was very painful to live while his body slowly degenerated, and was tempted to end his own life. He remained with us, however, because he thought that such an end would cause great shock and grief to his loved ones. Mercifully, the end came before he or the ones who cared for him were too drained and exhausted.
I miss my father greatly, but I was overall happy with how the whole process went, and I know he was, too. My memories of that period are all vivid, beautiful and warm. I can’t speak for everyone else in my family, but for me, I don’t need to change a thing about how it went. I am at peace with it.
We don’t control much of our life or the world around us. The part we can control is what we think and do, and that includes how we interpret the events in our lives. If the glass is only half way filled, which interpretation makes you more content: half-empty, or half-filled?
I would say, we’re infinitely better for choosing to interpret most events as positive. That’s not the same as labeling all events as desirable. But what’s happened has already happened. Facts remain and do not change — but we can.
When we truly embody this notion that we do control how we interpret life’s events, our peace of mind becomes unflappable. We no longer need to control what happens in life, for we have the power to turn all events into positive influences.
That’s a big relief, isn’ it?