You are not your bad days. You are not your mistakes. You are not your scars. You are not your past. Be here now and breathe.
Tragedy strikes a woman who is not yet old. A minivan traveling towards her on a dark mountain road hits her car almost forward shortly after sunset. She grips the steering wheel as hard as she can and turns into the rocky mountain side until her car stops to a stop. The minivan turns on its side and slides in the other direction from a cliff, plummeting nearly 500 feet to the ground below. Inside, a young family of five was on their way to Grandma's house for Christmas Eve dinner.
The woman does not remember the events that followed in the next few days. She does not remember the three eyewitnesses who comforted her and assured her that it was not her fault – that the other driver had swung into her lane. She does not remember how she came to the emergency room or the fact that she stayed there for over a week, for Christmas and for the New Year, to treat a serious concussion and broken bones.
What she does know – and clearly remembers – are the endless days she passes sitting alone in her bedroom, crying and thinking, "Why me?" Does God ask her to spend the rest of her life knowing that she alone killed an entire family?
She has her own family trying to comfort her sick heart, but now she sees them only as the family she has taken from the world. She also has an abundant network of close friends who want to see her smile again, but they now represent friends that others have lost because of her.
The woman who is not yet old is starting to age faster. Within a few short months, she is a shell of her former self – skin and bones, wrinkles that fold under her eyes, a despairing look and a hole in her heart that has become so wide that she feels there is nothing left.
All the people around her – these family members and friends who care so much – have done everything in their power to revive her to her former self. When love did not work, they tried relaxing holidays. When vacation did not work, they tried to engage her in healthy social activities. When the social activities did not work, they tried doctors. And now they have given up trying. Because the woman who is now an old woman has completely renounced everything.
One night comes – Christmas Eve a year after the accident – when she decides it's just not worth it anymore – that it's time to leave this world behind. Maybe to go somewhere better. Maybe not to go anywhere at all. Fortunately, she decides to sleep on it, since she barely has the strength to keep her eyelids open. So she closes her eyes and immediately falls into a deep sleep.
And she starts dreaming. In it, she sits in a dimly lit room at a round table opposite an elderly woman resembling her late mother, who at the time died on Christmas morning five years before the accident. They stare at each other in silence for several minutes and then the older woman speaks.
"My dear, tragedy is simply a miracle waiting to be discovered. Because within the tragedy lies the seeds of love, learning, forgiveness and empathy. If we choose to plant these seeds, they grow strong. On the other hand, if we choose to overlook them, we prolong our tragedy and let someone else discover the miracle. ”
The old woman cries in her dream and in her sleep. She thinks of her husband, her children and all the wonderful people who love and care for her. And she suddenly realizes that instead of using the tragic accident to feel how valuable life is, she has prolonged the tragedy and basically ceased to live her life. And she is now very close to transferring all her pain and sorrow to the people she loves most in this world.
She opens her eyes and takes a deep breath. She is alive. She realizes that she still has the opportunity to change things. . . to fix the broken pieces and experience the miracle that comes after the tragedy. . . to plant seeds of love, learning, forgiveness and empathy and water these seeds until they become strong.
She rolls over and kisses her husband on the cheek and ruffles her hair until his eyelids start fluttering. He opens his eyes and looks at her, completely confused. There is a spark in her eyes that he hasn't seen in a long time – a spark he thought had died with her youth on the day of the accident. "I love you so much," she says. "I missed you," he answers softly as he kisses her lips. "Merry Christmas and welcome back."
Our stories. . . This time of year
The woman in the story above is a close friend. Her name is Wendy, and I'm happy to say she's alive and well, and not nearly as "old" as she once was. With that said, however, Angel and I are many beautiful souls just like she who is still struggling desperately. We talk to them every day. And many of them tell us that this time of year is the hardest.
Through a decade of coaching sessions, training courses, heartfelt talks and live annual seminars, Angel and I have learned a great deal about the human condition and stories we hold and recite to ourselves. And for so many of us, the holiday season is after all. We spend the last days of the year from work and school to reflect on the state of our lives. Of course, it's not so bad, but even when times are generally good, our minds tend to push back to (perhaps less intense) personal versions of Wendy's accident on the dark mountain road.
And Angel and I are no different. This time of year is sometimes the best of us as well.
Keeping things in perspective. We feed ourselves the right reminders to ease our aching senses and redirect our energy efficiently. We challenge you to also remind yourself. End the year and start 2020 with these important notes to myself. . .
first Note to Self: You are not alone.
Don't be afraid to let someone in when you are in a dark place. You know who this person is. Don't expect them to solve your problems; just let them face your problems with you. Give them permission to stand next to you. They will not necessarily be able to pull you out of the dark place you are in, but at least the light that blends in when they come in will show you what the door is like.
Above all, it is important to remember that you do not have to face hard times yourself. No matter how bizarre or embarrassing or pathetic you feel about our own situation, there is someone in your life who has handled similar emotions and wants to help you. When you hear yourself say "I'm alone" it's just your mind trying to sell you a lie. Don't buy it! Turn to those who love you and let them in, even if there is nothing to say.
2nd Note to self: You're not the one you used to be, and that's OK.
Life often leads us on trips that we would never go if it were up to us. Do not be afraid. Have faith. Believe. Believe in yourself through difficult times. Believe in your ability to heal. Think the answers are out there waiting. Think that life will surprise you over and over again. Think the trip is the destination. Think it's worth your time.
Yes, you have been injured. You have gone through many ups and downs that have made you who you are today. So many things have happened – things that have changed your perspective, taught you lessons, and forced your spirit and soul to grow. See the beauty of this. Appreciate your progress. Give yourself credit for your resilience and how far you've come. . .
You have lived.
You have survived all your bad days.
And you're still here and growing.
3rd Note to self: This is the beginning.
Everything in life – every situation and every relationship – must finally come to an end. It is important to appreciate and accept the end of an era – to walk away sensibly when something has reached its inevitable conclusion. Drop, flip the page, move on, etc. It doesn't matter what you call it, what it means is that you leave the past where it belongs so that you can make the best of the life available to live. This end is not the END, it is only your life that begins anew in a new way. There is a point in your story where one chapter fades into the next.
To a great extent this happens to us constantly. It is happening right now.
Every day, we have to accept the fact that things will never go back to what they used to be, and that this end is really the beginning. This concept may be difficult to accept sometimes, but it is always the truth. Life is infinite impermanence. And it is beautiful. This means that nothing is really behind you. This means that life always starts now – right now – not tomorrow or the next day or the next. And that means you can get the new start you want whenever you want.
So was humble. Be teachable. The world is always bigger than your immediate view of the world. Right now there is plenty of room for a new idea, a new step. . . a new beginning. (Note: Angel and I discuss this in more detail in the "Happiness" chapter in the NEW edition of 1,000 Small Things That Happy, Successful People Do Different.)
4. Note to self: In your current answer, your greatest strength is.
The goal is not to get rid of all your negative thoughts, feelings and life situations – it is impossible. The goal is to change your response to them.
The first step?
Anchor yourself in the present. No matter what, you can always fight in today's battle. It is only when you add to the endless battles of yesterday and tomorrow that life becomes too complicated.
The easiest way to find presence and change your immediate response is to begin by evaluating the tension in your body and posture. In fact, I think you can find some kind of tension in your body right now. For me it is often in my neck, but sometimes it is in the back and shoulders.
Where does this excitement come from? We oppose life in some way – maybe we are unhappy with the truth, frustrated by our circumstances or overwhelmed by the way forward. And our mental resistance creates tension in our bodies and unhappiness in our lives. Therefore, Angel and I often recommend this simple strategy to our course students who are struggling to rid themselves of their resistance and tensions:
- Look up the tension in your body right now.
- Notice what you are resisting and tense up – it may be a situation or person you are dealing with or avoiding.
- Relax the tense area of the body – deep breath and a quick stretch often help.
- Facing the same situation or person, but with a relaxed body and soul.
Repeat this practice as often as needed – making it a little daily ritual. Meet the day with less excitement and more presence. Change your approach from struggle and resistance to peace and acceptance. And see how you change your life. (Note: Angel and I build small, life-changing rituals with our students in the "Goals & Growth" module of the Getting Back to Happy Course.)
5. Note to self: You don't have everything you want, but you have enough to move forward.
What if you woke up tomorrow with just the things you were grateful for today?
Seriously, look around and be grateful right now. For your health, your family, your friends and your home. Nothing lasts forever.
And even in times of uncertainty – even when life seems far from perfect – it is always important to keep the simple things in perspective.
- You live.
- You didn't sleep hungry last night.
- You didn't sleep outdoors.
- You chose what clothes to wear tomorrow.
- You have not spent a minute in fear of your life.
- You know someone who loves you.
- You have access to clean drinking water.
- You have access to medical care.
- You have access to the Internet.
- You can read.
Some might say that you are extremely wealthy and privileged. So remember to be grateful for everything you have. Let your enthusiasm rise from the doldrums by taking advantage of the real and present opportunity you must be appreciating. Breathe in it. And then do your best to take the next small step forward.
It's your turn …
I really hope you will join us to keep the points and principles in this post at the top of your mind vacation season and into the new year. 🙂
But before you leave, let us know:
- Which point or principle above is most relevant right now, and why?
Leave a comment below and share your thoughts with us.
We recently released our NEW podcast, THINK BETTER, LIVE BETTER (yes, it shares the title of our annual live event). You can listen to the first seven episodes of your favorite podcast player right now (M&A on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Google Podcasts).
Finally, our next annual Think Better, Live Better conference takes place February 8-9, 2020 in San Diego. We just released another 5 discounted early bird tickets that are still available right now (while they last).