My friend David in Atlanta has been going through an absolutely horrible divorce for the last couple of years. I have watched him deal with issues I would not wish on any one (like not seeing his 5 kids in over a year).
He wrote this to me after his (almost) final court date – and I thought so much of it I asked permission to reprint here for you…
What he doesn’t say in this article is that he learned this from me! But that aside – congratulations Dave!
A number of people have recently been surprised at by response when they ask how I’m doing. I am wonderful; great; fantastic; fabulous… but they all expect me to say “hanging in there” as if only basically coping.
The forensic psychologist at my divorce case asked me how I was… and when I said “wonderful” he asked “why” in the most confused manner. My response, “you can try to fight a roller coaster or just ride and enjoy it… either way the coaster is doing what it wants to; they only difference is what you take away from the experience” floored him… “great way of looking at it” with a big smile.
So here is my observation:
When something really bad has occurred in ones life, many people seem to think they can only count themselves happy if they experience a greater-magnitude event in the positive… if you had been in a concentration camp, then winning the lottery might offset the bad with overall good… and you could say you were sum total, happy. These people seem to keep a running tally of happiness; basically counting the number-of-good versus number-of-bad of some reverse-yet-equal-magnitude happenings… a streak of awful events can be overcome by a greater number of similar-offset pleasant events… finding a dollar offsets losing one; having a girlfriend offsets having lost one; praise from your current employer offsets having been fired at your previous one; on and on.
Here’s an alternate way of looking at happiness “scoring”… the balance sheet. In business, one common form of performance evaluation is a snapshot of here-and-now, called a balance sheet… simplified, it means “what are the checking account balance and the credit card debt right now”. Nothing is said of “how you got in this state”, only that you are in the state right now… and you are sum total positive if your banks balance exceeds your debt level. Obviously, the past plays a role in what your current state is, but the events themselves don’t matter, only the lasting effect to that moment… so if you had a million dollar debt a year ago and fought yourself back to a mere thousand dollar debt today, all that shows is the thousand, not the million or where it went; if you had a million dollar balance and spent all but a thousand, all that shows is the thousand, not the million or where it went.
Well, you can do this with your life too… “how good do you feel today versus how bad do you feel today?” Note that your past plays into this “somehow”, but the parts that you have forgotten, and the parts you have learned to cope with, and the parts that you put aside… they no longer make you feel bad today… so as long as you feel better than that smaller, remaining amount (today), you can call yourself “happy”. It is like there’s a half-life to the radioactivity that is your past… and the only part you need to overcome on any day is the part that remains to that day. Note how different this is… you are happy once the “half-life decayed, partial bad that remains” is overcome with good… you do not have to experience a “big good” that equals and offsets a “big bad”, nor do you need a number of these events to bring your score to zero or better… you only need to do something “happy enough” to offset the “lingering pain” in your life; a much easier obstacle to overcome. And the better you get at putting “things that were” and “things that you cannot control” aside, the smaller the amount of “residual bad feeling” is that you need to out-do with “good” to be happy… the overall magnitude and/or number-of-occurrences of the bad events no longer dictate “what must occur for you to call it a good day”.
Just something to think about.