One of my clients was having a tough time: “Something has gone wrong every day this week,” he said. “It’s not supposed to be this way. Life is supposed to run smoothly, not be so crazy and difficult..”
I asked where he had gotten the idea that life should run smoothly.
“That’s what life should be,” he said simply. “Other people’s lives are not this complicated, this exhausting. I should be happy.”
No one is promised an easy life. There are no guarantees. Bad news splats into every life. Long-term illness, a financial loss, war, natural disasters, a plan gone wrong. We find ourselves in a middle of a life of hardship we never imagined.
When my parents were young, they worked hard, studied hard, and created a useful life doing work they loved. They worked hard to earn respect and dignity. But a few years after they were married, their world fell apart. A war wiped out their house, took their possessions, took the lives of relatives and friends. They suffered for nine years, each day not sure there would be another. They arrived in America with a few wooden crates with what was left of their lives and started over. It was devastating, but my father constantly talked about how fortunate they were.
I did not tell my client he was fortunate. He didn’t feel that way. We need down times to make the climb back up feel like a victory. And along the way we re-define happiness as something we create, not something we deserve.
Martha Beck, the life coach and author, has a wonderful quote about how we view life:
As long as we are breathing, the conditions of our lives will always be in flux, our ships still sailing in, the things we already own potentially dissolving (or disappearing). To accept that fact without anxiety is
to enjoy the process of living. Anything less, and we are simply suffering until we die.
–from Enjoyment in the waiting
I’m not much for suffering. I think we are here to enjoy life. How much we enjoy it, and how we feel about our life, depends largely on how we look at ourselves and our experiences.
Bad things will happen. We will lose those we love when we are not ready. We will make choices we regret. But for all that, we can still enjoy our lives, balancing the joy with sorrow, for neither one can exist without the other.
—Quinn McDonald is a writer and creativity coach. Not every day is a bowl of cherries and ice cream, but very few days are cactus spines, either.