Let’s Get Some Perspective

by Stephen Mills on July 21, 2009

Problems

Got problems?  I’m betting you really don’t.  Even if from some objective viewpoint you have a big “problem”, developing a different perspective can help you through it.  We are immobilized by the small stuff.  Our lives are one drama after another.  Everything is an emergency.  We actually convince ourselves that this stuff is important and matters, but in reality the problems are coming from inside of us and not being dictated by external reality.  The way we react to our situations is critical to whether we improve them or not.  Instead of reacting to these situations, we need to develop a perspective that reminds us that these situations are not really that bad, important, critical, or whatever.

“I was sitting with a friend at lunch about ten days after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.  With tears in her eyes, she said, ‘Did you notice that not a single person on any of the hijacked planes who had the opportunity to make a phone call called their stockbroker?’  Far from being facetious, she was making an obvious but very important point.”  — Richard Carlson

Did somebody cut you off on the freeway?  Will that matter tomorrow?  Will it matter in an hour?  If it does matter for five seconds, what good does it do to get upset about it?

Do you have a lot of bills that are stressing you out?  Why don’t you join the estimated 2,000,000 pavement dwellers in India and lay your head on a rag spread on the concrete at night.  You won’t have to pay rent.

Did somebody “disrespect” you?  That seems to happen a lot to young people nowadays.  God help you.  Did a colleague dump his work on you?  You could join the ranks of the unemployed and then maybe you would have something to bitch about.  Or would you?  Would you starve?  No, but a child dies every 5 seconds from hunger-related causes.  Your stress from the uncertainty of being unemployed wouldn’t seem so bad to them.  If you got sick while unemployed and without insurance, you could go to a hospital emergency room.  What exactly is going to happen to you that is so bad?

In the U.S., I’ve personally observed the “poor” using cell phones, wearing expensive sneakers, and struggling through the aisles at the supermarket because of their obesity.  They didn’t look look like they lacked for food.  They virtually all have electricity and probably cable TV.  I’ve seen them in a hospital emergency room when they were sick.  But they are such terrible victims.  Just ask them.

My father was born during the dust bowl in rural Kansas in 1935.  My grandmother told me they put wet rags under the doors to keep the dirt out.  They went outside in the cold winter to use an outhouse.  When it snowed, they packed the snow into a hole in the ground inside a wooden shack they called the ice-house so they would have ice when the weather warmed.  My grandparents filled the hole in and were using the building as a storage shed by the time I saw it.  I think my father variously rode a horse or a bicycle to a one-room school house.  By my standards, and by the standards of the modern welfare recipient, that would suck.  But he would tell you he had a good childhood.

Problems relative to what?  Less than a year ago I was stressed out, feeling horrible, taking 12 different prescription drugs, and was given a diagnosis of MS by my neurologist.  I had a lot of “problems”.  I sure felt sorry for myself.  But twelve years ago, at the age of 39, my sister died a horrible weeks-long death hooked up to a respirator in an ICU.  Her death was the culmination and quite frankly the relief from more than  a decade of a miserable and painful illness.  At my worst moments,  I couldn’t even imagine what she must have went through.

Just so you know, a second opinion from a different neurologist disputes the MS diagnosis.  I agree with the second opinion.  In any case, I don’t take any of the prescriptions any more.  I do take an over-the-counter anti-histamine.  I took myself off the drugs and started eating right and exercising.  I don’t know what the future holds, but I don’t have any problems.

At any moment in time you will find yourself in a particular situation.  Some of those situations are more pleasant and healthy than others.  In any moment you will face a myriad of decisions.  In any situation that you don’t like you can accept it, get yourself out of it, or change it.  Those are your basic choices.  It doesn’t help to get worked up, stressed out, or call your girlfriend to bitch about it.

You will want to make decisions that drive you to the happy and healthy end of the continuum, but all the bitching, complaining, and feeling sorry for yourself is not going to do anything but divert valuable energy away from your effort to improve the situation.

Come on!  The economy is not so hot, but relative to what?  They way it was last year?  I was sitting at a traffic light today in four lanes of traffic.  I looked around as far as I could see looking for the “worst” car I could find.  It appeared some poor slob was driving a Nissan Sentra that might have been five or six years old.  We are really suffering aren’t we?

I am not making light of your situation, whatever it may be.  I’m just willing to bet that it’s not really that bad.  Regardless, treating life’s situations as “problems” and creating drama is doing nothing to help.  It is actually hurting.  Enjoy what you have.  Calm down and relax.  It could be worse.  You’ll then be in a much better position to see your way to a better situation.

You are never going to be happy and develop that sense of well-being as long as you blow little inconveniences up into problems and drama.  You are never going to have peace as long as you turn difficult situations into tragedies of life.  150,000 people die every day.  Your situation is not the end of the world.  Whatever it is, there are a lot of people in worse shape and there are a lot who are in the same situation.

I understand how relative to your ideal situation you think you have problems.  I’m a human too and I suffer the same malady sometimes.  Don’t get so attached to what is wrong.  Besides, what is wrong gives you a contrast that allows you to enjoy what is right.

So what are you going to do about it?  You can whine about it or you can change your perspective and get on with enjoying whatever you have, even if it is not as much as you had yesterday.  Develop the attitude of resilience to your life.

“The solution here is to catch yourself when you fall into your habit of insisting that things should be other than they are.  Gently remind yourself that life is ok the way it is, right now.  In the absence of your judgment, everything would be fine.  As you begin to eliminate your need for perfection in all areas of your life, you’ll begin to discover the perfection in life itself.”  — Richard Carlson

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Jay Schryer July 21, 2009 at 8:33 am

Well said! I think every person in the U.S. and other developed countries should be required to read this!
.-= Jay Schryer´s last blog ..The Song Remembers When =-.

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Jenny Mannion July 21, 2009 at 8:43 am

Hi Stephen,
I think the key to this is consciousness. I find many of us just resort to habits and being on automatic pilot. When you are actually aware of the messages you send yourself and HOW you are reacting… you begin to notice you WANT to change your behavior.

I am sooo happy you got a second diagnosis and got off the many meds. We are so powerful when it comes to creating our own reality and our health is an important part of that. Congrats to you and I really did enjoy this post. Thank you.

Love,
Jenny

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Positively Present July 21, 2009 at 9:16 am

Attitude is everything and I agree that changing our perspective really helps us to realize that whatever we think is so bad really isn’t all that bad. Acceptance is key here. If something’s not going well, that’s the way it is. We can either be miserable about it or choose to find some goodness in it.
.-= Positively Present´s last blog ..happiness doesn’t just happen =-.

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Crafters100 July 21, 2009 at 9:38 am

I don’t get the ‘disrespect’ thing. It’s pervasive. Where did people ever get the idea that they deserve respect without earning it? I guess it’s just another hallmark of the cult of personality.
.-= Crafters100´s last blog ..10 vintage film stumbles =-.

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Oscar - freestyle mind July 21, 2009 at 9:48 am

Awesome post Stephen! Regarding perception of problems, think of all the problems you had 5 years ago that seemed insurmountable… how do you feel about them now?
.-= Oscar – freestyle mind´s last blog ..Interview with Glen Allsopp =-.

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Jodi at Joy Discovered July 21, 2009 at 10:21 am

I agree, there are very few problems that really should be considered problems. And you are so right that when we fuel a situation with drama we are taking valuable time and energy away from actually improving the situation. I think having an open mind, a positive attitude and being grateful keep us happy no matter what our external or material circumstances. Thanks for this post!

On a side note, I’m glad you took your good health into your own hands and are symptom and prescription drug free!
.-= Jodi at Joy Discovered´s last blog ..Excuses, Good Friends, Great Lessons =-.

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Deb Owen July 21, 2009 at 12:29 pm

I like differentiating between real scarcity and a ‘scarcity-mentality’ (most of us reading this blog are probably not in a situation where we aren’t sure where our next meal is, right?)…..

However, I believe that any time that we get into using comparison as a coping device, that can serve to take us down the wrong path in the long run. After all, if we use looking to ‘others having it worse’ as a way to feel better about where we are, we can then reverse that and end up looking at how others have it ‘better’ too. This can still lead us to use external definitions of success vs. failure or good vs. bad that don’t serve us well.

So while I agree with your overall point that the complaining and seeing ourselves as a victim or as slighted or whatever it is…is a waste of energy and keeps us from acceptance and from personal responsibility and from making positive changes in our lives….using comparison as a tool always makes me a wee bit nervous.
;-)

All the best!
deb
.-= Deb Owen´s last blog ..creative pros: desperation is still a turn-off =-.

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zencontrol.net July 21, 2009 at 12:32 pm

Hi, Wonderful post. I really liked it. This would definitely be of great help to many people.
.-= zencontrol.net´s last blog ..Apollo 11: What it Takes to be Part of Larger Events Like This =-.

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Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills July 21, 2009 at 6:32 pm

Hey Stephen, this was refreshing. We all have so much power and influence over our “perception” and yet some choose to see the worst. I love it when someone serves up a double decker reality sandwich. Thanks!
.-= Jonathan – Advanced Life Skills´s last blog ..The Power of Intention – A Personal Quest =-.

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Stephen Mills July 21, 2009 at 6:49 pm

@Jay, thank you very much!

@Jenny, thanks for commenting and for your support!

@Positively Present, exactly. It doesn’t mean you don’t try to do better, but you can be thankful for what you do have. Thanks!

@Crafters100, thanks for stopping in an commenting. I don’t get it either and never have!

@Oscar, thanks for all your support and I don’t even remember what my problems were five years ago!

@Jodi, Thank you! I agree that we can be happy with what we have almost no matter what. People with far less are happy.

@Deb, that is a very good point. I guess to me it’s a dose of reality. If you don’t see what it could be like, it might be difficult to be thankful for what you do have. Thanks for the thought!

@zencontrol, thank you for stopping in and commenting!

@Jonathan, thanks so much for all your support. It helps to get hit with a little reality once in a while.

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Buddha of Hollywood July 21, 2009 at 10:14 pm

From a Buddhist perspective:
There are things that we desire.
There are things that we need.
When we start confusing our desires with our needs we are asking for trouble!
.-= Buddha of Hollywood´s last blog ..Oneness =-.

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Diggy - Upgradereality.com July 22, 2009 at 4:02 am

Hey Stephen!

So cool how you constantly come up with inspiring posts!
So sorry to hear about your sister:(

What you say is true, there is always someone else with far worse problems, and when it comes to a matter of life or death many problems(like money) are not as important anymore.

Actually, none of are problems are important in the end, because when we die we have no more problems. Everyone will die eventually, so everyones problems are only temporary anyways.

Of course easy to say this, but as long as you have your health,freedom and friends and family you can consider yourself a very lucky person in my opinion:)

Kepp on Keepin’ on:)
Ciao
Diggy
.-= Diggy – Upgradereality.com´s last blog ..Delayed Gratification or Quick Fix? =-.

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Diggy - Upgradereality.com July 22, 2009 at 4:04 am

Stumbled ;)
.-= Diggy – Upgradereality.com´s last blog ..Delayed Gratification or Quick Fix? =-.

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Zeenat Merchant Syal{Counselling Psychologist&Naturopath July 22, 2009 at 5:16 am

Wow…your post was really powerful. Has the ability to move the insides.I agree with you on all counts. It is about being complacent i think. Complacent with yourself first and then very naturally you will become complacent with everything around you.
.-= Zeenat Merchant Syal{Counselling Psychologist&Naturopath´s last blog ..Finding Your Happy Endings =-.

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Zeenat-Positive Provocations July 22, 2009 at 5:17 am

By the way…thanks for your visit to my blog. Your comments are always appreciated.
.-= Zeenat-Positive Provocations ´s last blog ..Finding Your Happy Endings =-.

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BunnygotBlog July 23, 2009 at 5:11 pm

This is a wonderful article Steven. I think it is very true there is always a positive in every thing we may think is negative at first. I think we need to turn things in to opportunities more.
.-= BunnygotBlog´s last blog ..Wislawa Szymborska, Nobel Prize Laureate & Poet =-.

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Angela July 29, 2009 at 3:33 pm

Good one – we all could use a little perspective to balance out our inner brats. Thanks for this.
.-= Angela´s last blog ..Nearing The End? =-.

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Smellerbee August 12, 2009 at 12:48 pm

Then that same attitude is used routinely to say, “So what if you are being fleeced of your life savings for medical care, or just barely have enough food to stave off malnutrition, or don’t have access to a decent education at least your not living in a hut in the jungle, or living under stalinist rule, or a hobo in Beijing”

It’s bull. Just because you can find someone worse off doesn’t mean that you don’t have real problems that need to be addressed. I’ve seen this same attitude used to excuse poverty, racism, inequality, and any number of social tragedies. It’s a horrible attitude that scoffs at genuine problems because they don’t meet some absurd standard.

Just because I’m not some over contrived movie of the week one in a billion horror story doesn’t mean my problems aren’t real and don’t need solutions!

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Stephen Mills August 13, 2009 at 4:49 pm

@Smellerbee, thanks for sharing. I’m sure you are on your way to greatness with that attitude.

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Rose September 2, 2009 at 1:13 am

Hi, Im a newbie on here. I’m not a cool blogger or anything like. I wanted to just say WOW you have seriously taken my breath away with all of your wisdom. No, not in this one blog but, its kind of a secret, but ever since last Thursay when I discovered your site at work, I havent been getting alot of work done because I am pouring through what seems like eons of knowledge that, yeah I needed a while ago, but I am addicted. I am going tio be such a stalker (j/k i meant in a funny way, dont block me). Well gd thing I have before finding your site, been neurotic about all my work & helping others do there work, but no mas, thanks to you.. You are so talented & have changed my angle on life.
I love you (ok maybe not love, but pretty close…)

Rose (better not put my last name just in case)…

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esp October 1, 2012 at 9:30 am

I was born into a fairly well off family and I have a nerological disorder, and I’m supposed to say that I should just be say it’s not a problem for me in my life because I didn’t have 30 other medical problems on top of it? Look if you think that you are crazy, I’ve still got a medical conditon, it makes things the average person just sort of expects people to be able to do and takes for granted they can impossible so don’t feed me the at least you don’t have cancer line because I still have to live with this and that won’t change no matter how much money I have. You want to tell me there are people who have it worse than I do go right ahead and you know what I’ll tell you it doesn’t fix my motor skills, it doesn’t do anything about my face blindness, it doesn’t do anything about the fact that I have litterailly been blinded by sound on a regular basis, and that’s the short list those problems don’t get solved by saying other people have it worse they are still there. Non of it’s relitive, I don’t stop having to live with it because other people are worse off, and honestly I scooped your ideas out of a horse stall along side the leftover hay.

And your suggestion that people lower their standards and say oh well other people have it worse I cleaned that out of a horses padock. All it takes is one person lowering their standards and people start dying. You want an example of how that could litterially happen, I’m a blood donor, I lower my standards for a husband (or what I will do outside of marriage) and end up with a disease from that not only do I suffer (and that people in whatever country on the other side of the planet starving to death won’t change that because I will be sick weather they are starving or feasting) but then I could have to stop giving blood which means up to 3 people every 2 months who would be saved if I’d just demanded that my man be held to the standards I demand in real life because I would have been able to donate the blood that would have saved those lives and it doesn’t matter if those lives were the lives of people who were rich or poor the bottom line is that those are people.

And you want me to say I’m glad that I’ve settled in the past for a job a I hated to make less money than would ever have made ends meet because people I knew were unemployed and people across some ocean were starving, that doesn’t solve the fact that I was working a job I hated and I couldn’t afford to pay for rent let alone grocieries, the fact that other people have it worse didn’t make the pain I was in from working that job any less severe, it didn’t make the my bills go away, and it doesn’t make doing a job you hate any less horrible. You know what solves saying “I quit” and then following up with “and I’m starting my own business”. And just because someone in some other country makes less money in their life time than I do in year doesn’t mean that my bills go away or that I’ve got enough money to pay them.

People like you who suggest that I should lower my standards for anything in my life make me sick because it’s pretty clear to me that you don’t have the full understanding of what lowering your standards can cause.

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