“The fact that we live at the bottom of a deep gravity well, on the surface of a gas covered planet going around a nuclear fireball 90 million miles away and think this to be normal is obviously some indication of how skewed our perspective tends to be.” ~Douglas Adams
The Buddha famously said that life is full of suffering. While I acknowledge there is much suffering in the world, for my privileged life in the West, I like to think of it more as life being full of challenges. You see, sometimes the suffering part is optional.
Now again, I’m not talking about war, famine, trauma or other life-threatening or intolerable living situations. I’m talking about your regular developed world problems.
The hot water stopped working.
The subway is over-crowded.
Your child has the flu.
You didn’t get the job we thought we deserved.
Your friend isn’t talking to you.
You can’t afford a new car.
Those regular sort of problems that we encounter on a regular basis that interrupt our well-being. We get annoyed by them, ruminate about them, and make them bigger than they need to be. Our minds tend to go straight to the negative, and that is usually to beat ourselves up in some way or predict the worst-case scenario.
Suddenly our temporary irritation becomes a BIG problem.
I’ll never find a plumber who is reliable.
I hate this subway ride—I can’t keep doing this.
How am I going to keep my job if I have to keep taking days off? What if it is something more serious?
I’ll never find a good job.
I’m a terrible friend / they’re a terrible friend.
I need more money.
Our brains are incredibly unhelpful. We have this negative bias that is designed to keep us safe, a useful characteristic for our ancestors, but not so functional in these modern times. We don’t need our minds to play out to the worst possible outcome and we certainly don’t need it to keep reminding us of our perceived inadequacies.
I was reminded of this recently when I had a falling out with my youngest child. I kept replaying it over and over in my head.
What if we never sort this out?
What if she doesn’t want a close relationship with me anymore?
Where did I go wrong in my parenting that she could behave like this?
She hates me!
I am a bad mother.
Yep. Over and over again in my head either going to worst case scenario or beating myself up.
And all the while making the situation much worse than it needed to be.
And then I remembered: A problem is only a problem when we decide it’s a problem.
We could also decide it’s not a big deal.
It was time to get some perspective.
I made a choice to get out my own head and take a step back. And then I asked myself the following questions:
What would my best friend tell me about this situation?
She would tell me that my daughter is stressed and tends to get emotional when she is stressed. She would tell me not to take it personally.
What would I tell my best friend if they were going through this?
I would tell her that her daughter is a teenager behaving like a teenager and we don’t have to go to every argument we are invited to. I would reassure her that this is a small issue that will be resolved quickly.
What would someone you admire say about this?
This too shall pass…
What would a judge and a jury tell you?
You have a good relationship and this is just a small matter.
Is this going to matter in five minutes, five days, five months, five years from now?
Yes, no, no, no.
Suddenly I felt much better. Putting it into perspective and getting outside views on the situation is so helpful in getting our minds back to the real issues. And removing ourselves from the situation has a way of really allowing us to see what is important and what it not.
And it allows us to reduce the size of the problem significantly.
However, to me, that only goes so far.
I like to keep moving further and further back.
And I remind myself of the following reality:
We live on a little blue planet literally in the middle of nowhere. I don’t know how we got here but whatever your beliefs, it is some kind of miracle.
We are the perfect distance from the sun to have temperatures that we can not only survive but thrive in.
And this planet we get to live on is truly magnificent. If someone asked me to create a planet for humans to live on that was not only life -sustaining but also the most beautiful planet imaginable, I could not create something more magnificent than Earth.
If that weren’t enough, we get to live in the 21st century. Imagine how much more difficult life would have been for us if we had been born 100 years earlier? 200 years earlier? It’s difficult to fathom the hardships we would have had to go through just to survive.
And if you’re still not convinced that that is enough, think about this: If you are reading this you have access to a computer and the internet, something most of the world does not.
You are probably living in a somewhat developed country where clean water, fresh food and shelter are all in abundant supply. You also probably don’t have to worry about war, famine or natural disasters on a regular basis.
In other words, you have won the lottery. The only lottery that really matters, anyway.
And the opportunities that come with that privilege are mind-blowing.
We can do anything we want in this life.
We are free to choose any life we can imagine.
I don’t know how we got here or why we are here, but one thing is for sure, I’m going to hang on and enjoy the ride.
Suddenly the petty distractions of life become even pettier.
Do I really want to be arguing with my daughter?
Do I really need to make a big deal out of this?
And the bigger question: Do we really want to waste this life worrying about things that don’t really matter?
I know what my answer will always be…