In the course of my job as a customer service agent, I talk to dozens of people every day and I hear a lot of stories, good and bad, about their lives. Some people marvel over their good fortune; others curse their bad luck. Some live in expensive neighborhoods, others are barely surviving.
But circumstances don’t make the person. It’s how the person deals with them.
Some people have it made and don’t know it, going through life as though everyone is out to get them. They put the worst spin possible on anything that happens; if it’s something good, it should have been better. If it’s something bad, there will be hell to pay.
I know a couple who have forgotten what it’s like to have a real problem. They are financially set for life, have a magnificent oceanfront home, good health and time to do what they want. But still they complain, about everything. This is wrong and that is wrong. These people think like idiots. That waitress is horrible. Everyone drives so damn slow. The dryer broke and we’re going to have to get it fixed. No slight goes unnoticed. Everything annoys them. They wear constant scowls, as though somehow life has let them down.
They are never happy.
Then there are people who are living lives of virtual hell, reeling from one catastrophe after another, dealing with so many things that you wonder how they continue.
Last week I spoke with a woman in her late 80s. Life hasn’t treated her very kindly. She’s lost the hearing in her left ear and is losing what she has in the right and her eyesight is failing. She is close to being unable to hear or see. Before I go on, imagine if you couldn’t hear, or see very clearly. How would your life change?
Now imagine there’s no one to help you except for a social worker who checks in weekly. This woman lost her husband two years ago, her daughter last year and had just spend two weeks in a hospital and three months in rehab after a series of falls over a two-day period. After the last fall, she lay helpless for more than 12 hours before someone found her and summoned help.
While she was in the hospital someone hacked into her bank account and created financial chaos for her, when she least needed another problem to deal with. She’s having problems adjusting to her new walker and is worried about how much longer her cat Toby will be around. Toby has been with her since he was a kitten, more than 14 years ago. She told me that Toby is the best thing in her life, that he always makes her happy.
Then she apologized for telling me of her problems. I told her that my heart went out to her, and that I knew how hard it must be for her to deal with all of this.
Not really, she said. Life is good. She looks forward to morning spring breezes. She has Toby to love her, to make her feel wanted and needed. She still can see enough to know a sunny day from a rainy one, and she noted that both are necessary for the world to survive.
My problems? she said. That’s just life. There are good moments and bad moments in every day. Toby helps me remember to see the good ones and forget the bad ones.
We talked for a bit about dealing with adversity. I commented that many people with her burden would feel like giving up.
Not me, she said. I’ve never been a negative person; I’ve always been happy. Sure I’ve had bad things happen, but I’ve had plenty of good ones too. I just try to focus on the good. It works. I’ve had a long life, never had too many things, if you know what I mean. But I can honestly say I’ve been happy. Still am, lumps and bumps and all.
Then she gave us all the key to happiness.
Each day, she said, you have a choice. You can look for the good in life, or you can look for the bad.
You’ll usually find what you’re looking for.