Your perspective on a given situation can determine if you will be happy or bitter.
Imagine the scenario: it’s a warm evening with a light breeze. You’re standing on the beach, watching waves crash on the shore, listening to the roar of the ocean with the stars overhead. I assume you’re feeling relaxed and calm, transported away from the worries of the world.
A client recently described finding himself in the following situation, one all of us can relate to. He was driving along the Belt Parkway in Brooklyn at 10 p.m., when traffic suddenly came to a standstill. He manages to pull over by the shoulder alongside Plum Beach, a beautiful expanse of sand where the Atlantic Ocean meets Jamaica Bay. He is running on empty; his cell phone has five percent battery power. As he describes his evening, I’m thinking about all those evenings I drove past that exact spot and how I never stopped to take in the view. We pay hundreds of dollars to fly to far off places to sit on beautiful beaches and take in such sights, and yet I speed by nightly at 10 mph over the speed limit.
I’m about the suggest how lucky he is, when he says that as he stood on the beach, with hundreds of idling cars behind him, his anxiety turns to anger. He questions why he took this route in the first place; he projects how his wife is probably reminding herself how irresponsible he is, and he envisions the fight they will have when he gets home 4-5 hours late. Ten minutes later, traffic is moving at a rapid clip. After processing his feelings with him, I reflect the initial thoughts that had flashed in my head. I explain that he and I took the same situation, and allowed it to affect us in radically different ways. In fact, his thoughts increased the tension and anxiety he was already experiencing, leading to a progressive cycle of negative thoughts, ending hours later.
Inevitably, we encounter moments daily that are beyond our control. We will get stuck in traffic at the worst moments; planes will be delayed when we desperately need to make that layover; we’ll even find that the milk is sour right after pouring it into our cereal. The question is how we react and respond to these uncertain certainties in life. In Alcoholics Anonymous there’s a common belief that for true recovery, we need to learn to “live life on life’s terms.” This means accepting our limits in this uncertain world. However, I think that this only allows us to survive life. For those interested in thriving in life, we need to take it a step further.
Watching the different recovering addicts pass through my office, I have found that those who live on life’s terms and also embrace them can bask in true serenity. They actually relish those moments when we feel blindsided. How do they do that, you may ask? They do so by truly understanding their limitations. In those moments we most dread, when circumstances are beyond our control, they appreciate what cannot be changed. Our greatest strength is when we can truly recognize this fundamental fact. It can change our lives and deeply alter our relationships.
Avi Shteingart, LMSW CASAC, is a licensed therapist and maintains offices in Queens and Bergen County. He specializes in substance abuse, gambling, and other process and behavior addictions, as well as work with adolescents, young adults and adults struggling with anxiety, depression, social struggles, and transitions. Contact info: avi.shteingart_gmail.com or 201-410-5883.
By Avi Shteingart