Be A Victor, Not a Victim

The happiest people are those who are too busy to notice.

Some people are victims. Other people are victors. To some extent, the difference lies in their goals and their perspectives.

Victims often seek happiness. That’s their goal. They just want to be happy.

The problem with that is one of power. Happiness comes AFTER certain things happen. And seeing you can’t make all things happen the way you’d like, it’s easy to become a victim of circumstances.

Victors, on the other hand, have a different goal. They want a life of joy, and they can have it. All they have to do is see things differently.

As I said last week, joyful people do two things. They realize the importance of today. And they focus on their fortunes. Let me take you a bit further. If you want to be a victor with a life of pervasive joy, there are three more things you’ve got to do.

You’ve got to STAY IN CONTROL OF YOUR REACTIONS. After all, your reactions are more important than the events that prompted them.

The nineteenth century American author, Ella Wheeler Wilcox, knew that. She wrote, “The world is round, and the place that seems like the end may only be the beginning.” Indeed.

I’m sure you’ve experienced an event that you initially thought was horrible. And then, you found out that that event was the best thing that could have happened. Or at least you found out that all things can work together for good.

It’s often a matter of controlling your reactions. The same event can make you better or bitter. I found that out years ago, and I wrote about that in my latest book, BRAVE QUESTIONS: Building Stronger Relationships By Asking All The Right Questions.

The famous artist Auguste Renoir learned about the joy that comes when you control your reactions. During the last years of his life, Renoir was home bound, almost paralyzed by arthritis. The younger artist, Henri Matisse, however visited him daily.

Matisse was amazed that Renoir continued to paint. Finally he blurted out, “Auguste, why do you continue to paint when you are in such agony?”

Renoir’s reply was simple and direct. He said, “The beauty remains; the pain passes.”

How profound! While a lesser man might have lost his happiness to arthritis, Renoir kept his joy because he controlled his reaction. Are you controlling your reactions?

Another key milestone on the road to joy has to do with irritants. You’ve got to STEP OVER OR REMOVE THE IRRITANTS.

A Hindustani proverb says it very well. It says, “Men do not trip on mountains; they stumble on stones.”

How true! I see it all the time in my coaching practice. More often than not, it’s the small things that drive people crazy — the rude coworker, the traffic jam on the way to work, or a meeting that was a total waste of time. They don’t know how to step over or ignore those irritants.

The same people, however, might respond quite effectively in the midst of a crisis. As Russian author Anton Chekhov wrote, “Any idiot can face a crisis. It’s this day-to-day living that wears you out.”

If at all possible, I would urge you to remove the irritants that rob your joy. Ask your rude coworker to come back at a more convenient time. Say your affirmations instead of swearing in the midst of a traffic jam. Help your team get back on track if a meeting is getting nowhere. And the list goes on and on and on.

You need to do something about the irritants — even if it’s symbolic. I was reminded of this by a Swiss festival that takes place in Zurich each year.

It’s a celebration called the burning of “Old Man Winter.” Every year the guilds have a parade. Thousands of children and thousands of guild members come down the Limmat River Quoi to the center of Zurich. There, in their historic medieval costumes, with a couple dozen bands, they find a great 50-foot pyre of straw and wood with a white figure on top.

The figure, of course, is the nasty Old Man Winter. As the parades continue all afternoon, huge torches are eventually used to set fire to the pyre. And thousands cheer as Old Man Winter burns to the ground.

Maybe you need to do something similar. Maybe you need to step over or remove the irritants that are robbing your joy.

Finally, if you’re going to have pervasive joy, you’ve got to learn to LAUGH AT YOURSELF. And the key word is “laugh.”

That doesn’t mean that you put yourself down. It doesn’t mean that you pretend something is good when it isn’t. You just need to find out what’s funny about your situation.

That’s how Roger C. Anderson deals with his irritants. He says you should, “Accept the fact that some days you’re the pigeon, and some days you’re the statue.”

You may bemoan the fact you’re getting older and losing some of your youthful energy. Learn to laugh at yourself. Personally, I’m always glad to have birthdays. It’s not having a birthday that doesn’t excite me.

People who can laugh at themselves are the ones who have the most joy. The comedian George Burns illustrated that by the way he lived and the way he talked.

When George was asked what it was like to be 98, he gave a wonderful answer. He said, “There’s not a thing I do now that I didn’t do when I was 18, which shows you how pathetic I was at 18.” He was able to laugh at himself.

Can you be as gracious with yourself? Are you able to find the humor in your situation? I’m convinced it will give you greater joy for as long as you live, and you’ll probably live longer.

I remember one time the press was interviewing an old man who had just celebrated his 100th birthday. He rocked back and forth on the porch and puffed a corncob pipe.

“To what do you attribute your marvelous vitality?” asked the press.

“I don’t rightly know yet,” he said as he blew his smoke lazily. “I’m dickering with two breakfast food companies right now.”

He was able to joke about it. He wasn’t afflicted with terminal seriousness. No wonder he had a joyful life.

Maybe you’re being teased or criticized. Maybe it hurts. Sometimes the best response is a light-hearted — not mean-spirited — little joke.

Oliver Wendell Holmes once attended a meeting in which he was the shortest man present. “Dr. Holmes,” quipped a friend, “I should think you’d feel rather small among us big fellows.” “I do,” retorted Holmes, “I feel like a dime among pennies.”

Action:  List 10 irritants in your life. Or list 10 things that bug you. Perhaps you’re bugged by windshield wipers that do not work, a shoe that pinches, or a cafeteria line that moves too slowly. Write them down.

Beside each of your listed irritants, indicate whether you can “CONTROL” or you “CANNOT CONTROL” them. In other words, indicate whether or not you can do something about them.

Finally, step over or remove one irritant each day this week — an irritant that you have control over. You’ll get an instant injection of joy.