You’ve likely heard this before, or something similar. That you cannot always choose your circumstance, but you can choose how to respond to your circumstance. Of course, this is eye-rollingly trite in the face of earth shaking circumstances such chronic health issues or imbalanced brain chemistry. But it’s still something I need to pay more attention to if I truly desire to live with more joy versus wallowing in complaints and discontent.
I was reminded of this recently when the hubs, the kids and I made a trek to Colorado for a ski weekend. (Another blog post is forthcoming about the importance of taking vacations.)
This trip was our second family adventure to a mountain resort, and like the first, we wanted to tie in a visit with the hub’s brother and his family who live in Denver. Last time, we stopped at their home for a visit, a meal and an overnight stay. This time, our schedule and anticipated holiday weekend traffic meant we would only connect with extended family if they ventured up the mountain road to get to us. They agreed and we all looked forward to a dinner out in Keystone, CO.
I’ll jump to the end of the story and say it worked out really well. The eight of us, who see each other only once or twice a year, had a terrific evening. We enjoyed a great meal while catching up and sharing stories.
But before it went well, it didn’t, at least for my brother-in-law. Picture this. He lives in Colorado but doesn’t downhill ski. It’s not that he doesn’t enjoy skiing. He just doesn’t enjoy the bumper-to-bumper traffic on roads leading to local ski resorts each weekend. And he’s not a fan of typical tourist shenanigans.
Now to be fair, most locals living in any tourist destination have a love/hate relationship with tourists. I get that. But here’s the thing. His mood was less than, shall we say, cheerful when he first arrived on our doorstep. He’d encountered people driving poorly, larger crowds than normal and inadequate signage that led to a bit of a parking lot fiasco. Frustration rattled him. We’ve all been there.
Over dinner and a few beers, we laughed about his experience. I recall saying something like, “Since you live here and know there will be traffic and crowds because it’s a holiday weekend, you could prepare yourself for these aggravations by deciding in advance to remain calm, relaxed and patient. Or, because you know there will be traffic and crowds, you could choose to be angry before you even leave your house, and then get even angrier once you encounter what you already knew you would.”
He laughed and said, “Obviously, I chose option B.”
Now, I’m super glad it all worked out and that we had a great visit. But I can’t help but wonder how often we all choose option B. When we know something is going to be difficult or distasteful, why do we choose in advance to respond negatively? Or is it sometimes possible to visualize those things that might make us uncomfortable and try to prep our attitudes in a more positive direction? I think this is part of a bigger issue–our relentless desire for control–even when it comes to circumstances we cannot change or improve. When we can’t change it, we get angry about it, as if our anger has any power over the universe.
Now forgive me if I sound as if I’m babbling some psychoanalytical self-help mumbo-jumbo. It’s just that many of us already know what our triggers are. Mine typically include tardiness, rudeness, lack of sleep, lack of coffee, being too cold, being too hot, being too scheduled and sometimes feeling like I don’t have anything to wear.
And yet, we willingly turn over our joy by getting riled up in anticipation of our discomfort-thus tripping our own triggers on frustration, stress and anger. This is nothing less than self destruction. And when you’re married or around other people–mutual destruction. Gah!
There must be a better way. Maybe one better way looks a little like a Colorado ski bum even if saying this will surely make my brother-in-law cringe. I’m not talking about recreational indulgence of the Colorado variety. But I am talking about taking more deep breaths. Look around. Most of what we get cranked up about either isn’t as important as we think or is beyond our control anyway. Ski bums by definition are actively choosing a lifestyle of joy, eschewing negativity and being open to adventure instead of insisting upon control. I’m hoping to bring a bit of that Colorado ski bum attitude back with me into daily life. Although my days may look different than a ski bum–what with children, a job and a more stereotypical suburban existence, I’m still hopeful that with a little practice, prayer and patience, I can choose better reactions to stressful situations.
It is my prayer that you (and my brother-in-law) can get better at this too.