Last week, while I was meeting with a client, she started talking about a new crisis in her life that was causing her distress. (For the purpose of this article, I’m going to call my client “Julie.”) At any other time in her life, Julie would have easily been able to handle the type of crisis she was going through, but this time she was in severe distress.
After telling me what happened, she said, “I just don’t think I can take anymore.” I immediately replied, “If you say you can’t take anymore, you won’t be able to get through this. You have to be careful about how you think and respond to any crisis that comes your way.”
Julie didn’t react to my statement the way I expected her to. Ordinarily she would have been open to my comments, but this time was different. She looked at me with an expression of anger and disdain. It appeared as though she was about to start crying. I reactively followed up with some questions and then I made some outlandish comments that threw her off guard and made her start laughing.
There’s a saying that “Life can either be a comedy or a tragedy. It all depends on how you view it.” I suppose that if most of us had a choice between living in a comedy or a tragedy, we would choose the comedy. That’s why I frequently attempt to find humor in even the most dire situations.
The reason Julie didn’t feel as though she could take anymore was because for the past eight months, she has lived through four major personal crises, all of which involved her husband and/or her children. I’ve known Julie for more than 10 years and she’s not the type of person who gives up easily, but her current situation pushed her to the edge.
You may have heard of Viktor Frankl, the author of the best-selling book, Man’s Search for Meaning. During the 1940s, Frankl spent three years in two different Nazi death camps. While Frankl lived to write about his experiences in the death camps, his wife and every other member of his family were killed by the Nazis, except for his sister who was able to escape to Australia.
Frankl wrote that the way the Nazis dealt with their prisoners was to first destroy their wills to live, and then destroy their bodies. In order to maintain hope (and his will to live), he developed a daily ritual that he faithfully followed.
Frankl came to realize that he needed to do three things every day to guard against the onslaught of mental and physical abuse that the Nazis leveled against him.
First, he determined that he needed to pick out something every day that he was thankful for. One habit that Frankl developed was to look out a certain window every morning at a tree that was growing on a hill in the distance. Each day when he looked at the tree, he reminded himself of how thankful he was for the beautiful tree. The process of observing the tree every day allowed him to continually develop a further appreciation for the four seasons — spring, summer, fall, and winter.
The second thing that Frankl did each day was find something to laugh about. Can you imagine the difficulty of being in a concentration camp knowing that your family members were being tortured or murdered, and realizing that it was only a matter of time before you would suffer the same fate? It would be extremely difficult to find something to be thankful for or to laugh about.
The third thing that Frankl did each day was find someone who he could help.
One thing that Frankl realized was that while the Nazis were in control of outside circumstances, he was in control of what went on within his own mind. He was also in control of how he responded to what the Nazis did to him.
True happiness begins with how we respond to difficulties and hardships. We all have choices that we have to make. Are we going to respond to a problem with self-pity or are we going to respond with gratitude and appreciation for what we have?
Are we going to focus on our own pain and suffering or are we going to focus on helping someone who is experiencing a hardship or difficulty? And are we going to be able to step away from our own situation long enough to have some fun and laugh about something that is going on around us?
We all know people who are never happy. Their primary problem is that they always look outside themselves for their happiness. They have developed the habit of blaming external factors for their unhappiness — they don’t have enough money, or their spouse works too many hours, or their spouse doesn’t pay enough attention to them, or their parents don’t understand them, or their employer is unfair to them.
They don’t realize that their own happiness has to start on the inside.
I’m sure you’ve heard the saying that “God has a sense of humor.” Not only does He have a sense of humor, but He created each of us with a sense of humor. He wants us to have fun and laugh about ourselves and the circumstances we’re involved in.
He also wants us to be thankful and show appreciation for every gift that He has given us — even the gifts that cause us enough pain to force us to grow and change into better individuals. And, of course, He wants us to reach out to our neighbors and assist them when they are in need.
I talked to my client the day after she told me that she didn’t think she could take it anymore and she was back to her old self — happy, confident, and ready to conquer her day.
Can you find something to be thankful for today? Is there something that you can laugh about today? Who can you reach out to and help today?
Embrace this three-part formula and your life will be happier, more meaningful, and more rewarding.