How easily are we affected by other people’s ups and downs, especially loved ones? How much do outside circumstances get us down? Perfect days are rarely repeatable. How often do we need things to be a certain way in order for us to be happy? And why give the external world that much power over us?
There is unavoidable suffering in every human life. How do we stay strong when things don’t go our way? I’m thinking the key lies in how much power we give to external events versus developing our own internal, personal power.
If we place our happiness in external experiences, we have very little control over this. Other people, even people who love us very much, will never do everything our way. They will do things their way. Life circumstances will not always go our way.* Can we be at peace when things don’t go our way? It’s difficult.
I have been lucky to spend time recently with elderly people. Many exude so much wisdom. They have a certain peace and acceptance about them. They have lived long enough to truly know what matters in life. They are such a joy to be with, like innocent children. They live with lots of limits such as less independence, health challenges, body aches, slower cognition. Yet some are very happy.
But some are miserable. Why is this? Long term habits, difficult life circumstances, focusing on the negative, frustration with losing capabilities, overall mindset, mental and physical health challenges, loneliness. There are so many factors that contribute to attitude. I’m not judging unhappy people. I’m just interested in the secrets of the happy ones.
I recently lost a dear friend who was 86. Ron lived a life of extreme generosity. He accrued a massive fortune due to his business savvy and scientific inventions, but in midlife felt something was missing. He then met a world-renowned humanitarian who changed his life. He devoted the rest of his life (and his money) to charitable projects that benefitted hundreds of thousands of people. He became the director of a charitable hospital in India. He oversaw the creation of many centers in the U.S. dedicated to serving the poor and needy. Close to twenty years ago, he became ill with a painful, incurable disease and was given a very short life expectancy. Things did not go his way. Yet he lived well beyond all doctors' predictions. During his “extra” time, he devoted all his energy to serving those less fortunate than him. He used his workaholic personality to benefit others until the end of his life. I only found out the extent of his altruism after he passed away, hearing stories told at his memorial.
How rare to find such a person in this world. I was able to help him occasionally after he moved near me. He would dictate letters to me, as his fingers were too sensitive to touch the keyboard. But his mind was sharp until the end. He was one of the kindest, most humble and generous people I've ever met.
I had opportunities to witness Ron face challenges with both his health and in business dealings. He approached both with courage, a calm demeanor, a sense of humor, and laser focus on the goal. I never saw him discouraged. These were profound lessons for me.
One time (pre-Covid) I was telling Ron about my experience with prayer and meditation. I mentioned how I was able to access deep inner peace despite external normal day-to-day life chaos. Ron liked to challenge people to grow. He asked me, “Now that you know you can access that inner peace, what keeps you from being in that state more often?”
What a great question!
What have I learned about personal power when things don't go our way?
Take back your power. Be loving to people. As my husband would say, "Spread your rays of sunshine to the world." You never know the effect that thinking positively about someone can have. Especially the effects it can have on you! Find strength in inner silence through prayer and/or meditation. Send blessings to all people, circumstances, places and events. And do what you can to feel the blessing of thinking positive thoughts. If we can find a balance within ourselves, and not let external events throw us off, we can often find the happiness that lies quietly within each of us, just waiting to shine.
*concept first heard in a talk by BK Shivani