The happiest people don’t necessarily have the best of everything. They just make the best of everything.
I remember visiting a museum out west in the gold rush country where I saw the remains of a rusted head of a pick. The pick belonged to a prospector who believed there was gold in a certain place. So day after day, he would sink his pick into the ground, slowly chipping away at the mountain.
One day, however, he got tired of it all. He drove his pick into the ground as hard as he could and walked away forever.
Years later an extraordinarily rich vein of gold was discovered eleven feet beyond his left-behind pick. Had he not become discouraged, the gold would have been his. Instead, he gave in to discouragement and lost it all.
That doesn’t seem fair. He did most of the work, but the new prospector got all of the reward. Well, LIFE IS NOT THE WAY IT’S SUPPOSED TO BE. IT’S THE WAY IT IS. And as family therapist Virginia Satir used to say, “The way you cope with it is what makes the difference.”
You see it’s normal to want more. It’s normal to want the better things in life. And it’s normal to seek achievement beyond your present circumstances. But it’s not natural to get everything you want. You can certainly get most of what you want, if you don’t get discouraged, but you can’t get everything.
The trick is in not getting discouraged. And that comes from making the right choices and doing the right things. William Jennings Bryan, famous orator and presidential candidate from a century ago, said, “Destiny is not a matter of chance. It is a matter of choice.”
The first choice you need to make is one of perspective. If you’re going to ward off discouragement, PUT YOUR SITUATION IN THE PROPER PERSPECTIVE.
It’s like the time I took a train across Norway, from Bergen to Oslo. I had the thrilling experience of winding around a particularly high mountain. I remember passing through great snow fields, along the very edges of cliffs, and looking down hundreds of feet into the valleys below. And always, as the train wound around the mountain, it towered above me, vast and imposing, almost threatening.
Just recently I had the chance to fly over that same mountain. It looked quite small from thirty thousand feet, like an insignificant little cone covered with snow. Although it was still beautiful, the old sense of awe and threat was gone.
That’s how it is with mountains, and that’s how it is with situations in your life. Your perspective makes all the difference in the world. Are you looking at your situation from above, trying to get the big picture? Or are you looking at your situation from below, seeing only the huge difficulty towering above you?
The best perspective for warding off discouragement is “positive neutrality.” It sounds strange, even contradictory, but it works. When difficulties come, don’t automatically assume they are bad and get all upset. You don’t know if those difficulties are really bad, so remain a bit detached and nonjudgmental. It’s like the woman said to her husband, “Our vacation is not a total loss, dear. Most people go a lifetime without seeing icicles on palm trees.”
Chinese philosopher Lin Yutang wrote about taking this perspective in his book, The Importance of Living. He wrote about an old Chinese man who lived with his son. The man had one horse and the horse wandered away. All the neighbors came to commiserate with him on his bad luck, but the old man said, “How do you know it is bad luck?”
After a while, the horse came back, bringing with him several wild horses, and his neighbors gathered around to congratulate him on his good luck. But the old man said, “How do you know it is good luck?”
Now that there were so many horses around, the son took to riding, but he fell off and broke his leg. Again the neighbors came around to commiserate with him on his bad luck. He answered, “How do you know it is bad luck?”
Pretty soon a war started. But the son, because his leg was broken, did not have to enlist in the army. And so the story goes.
When difficulties come, when discouragement is threatening to take over, maintain perspective. Don’t jump to conclusions. Don’t assume those difficulties are always negative.
Indeed, the second choice you need to make is to SEE THE BENEFIT IN YOUR DIFFICULTIES. Lin Yutang went on to say, “Disappointment is like a medal. There is printing on both sides, and there is an advantage and disadvantage to what seems to be an adversity.”
I know what he’s talking about. When I had arthritis so bad I could barely walk, I learned about the power of nutrition, attitude, and prayer. That was a huge benefit. When I lost my closest loved ones to death, I learned about letting go, starting over, and bonding with new “family” members. That was a huge benefit also.
I understand that when the game of golf was first invented, the balls were round and smooth. A golfer got his ball all hacked up one day. It had nicks all over it. But it was at that moment he learned he could get greater distance and accuracy with the marred ball than a smooth one.
A golf ball manufacturer heard about this. He began some testing and found that the indentations “grip” the air so that directional accuracy is better and distance greater.
In a similar sense, if you will see the benefits in your difficulties, if you will see the advantage in your “nicks,” you can prevent discouragement from taking over. You will keep on trying until you prevail.
That leads to the third right choice you need to make. CHOOSE NOT TO WHINE. Victorious people are doers rather than whiners and crybabies. Victorious people know that whining doesn’t work. It’s a complete and utter waste of time.
Whiners are simply looking for people who will agree with them. They want to find people who will feel sorry for them and give them permission to stay stuck in their self-pity.
Victorious people, on the other hand, suck it up and deal with the tough times when they happen. They just ask themselves one question, “What am I going to do about it?” And then they do it.
Discouragement is often times the only thing standing between you and your dream. But you don’t have to be a victim of discouragement. Try these things to get the power you need, and then next week, I’ll give you part two of my comments on fighting discouragement.
Action: Select an item of difficulty and discouragement in your life. Then aggressively look for and list all the benefits in that difficulty. The longer your list, the better you’ll feel and the more powerful you’ll be.