Appreciate even the unpleasant moments

Obsessing about getting what you want and avoiding what you don’t want does not result in happiness.

The Lojong text

As long as you’re focusing on fulfilling your desires, you’re going to end up being miserable. Obsessing over getting what you want and complaining when things don’t go your way is a little absurd after all. So, why do we do this to ourselves?

Your happiness is not limited to what chance happens to send your way. You can reframe your perception at any time and focus on what you can control. Try to create internal strengths like establishing positive thoughts, sound reason and look for wisdom rather than knowledge. It’s one thing to know that you have a problem. It’s an entirely different reality to understand how that problem came to be and what you can do to resolve it.

At any given moment, your actions and choices will be limited by a thousand obstacles beyond your control—wealth, law, strength, time, location, genetics. These are just a few of the obstacles you will face. Your thoughts, however, can be limitless if you train your mind to accept what cannot be changed and to overcome what is possible.

We don’t do that though. We tend to practice escapism rather than mindfulness in our culture. We just can’t seem to enjoy living in the unpleasant moments. We’re strangely more motivated to snap the perfect selfie–to share with strangers on the internet–than we are to risk experiencing the uncomfortableness of reflecting on the quality of our lives.

I think therein lies the crux of the problem. Living in the moment requires you to experience and accept the disappointments and unpleasantness that surround you within any given breath. You experience the passing of time and the consequences of the choices you make. You must experience something in order to appreciate it. So, if we fail to reflect on our decisions and disappointments, is it really a surprise we fail to appreciate life? If we lack the capacity to appreciate living, then where do we expect to find happiness? In death?

What Should We Value?

How many things are superfluous we fail to realize until they begin to be wanting; we merely used them not because we needed them but because we had them. And how much do we acquire simply because our neighbours have acquired such things, or because most men possess them!

Seneca

I think we fail to realize how many of our possessions are really pretty extraneous. Our parents and grandparents enjoyed their youth and middle years without many of the conveniences we enjoy today—cellphones, the internet, on demand streaming services, endless varieties of food, Amazon, Google, and now everything is available for delivery straight to your home—the list goes on for quite some time. The point is if we were born in a different era all of these things obviously wouldn’t have mattered. None of them were necessary for our parents to enjoy life and find their place in the world. So, why do you allow them to matter to you?

Have you ever noticed how at one moment we can be enjoying our latest purchase and telling our friends all about some new feature and two minutes later we can suddenly be overwhelmed when we discover something doesn’t go as we planned. Maybe our credit card won’t scan correctly at the checkout line or perhaps we find a ding in our new car’s door. The truth is that many of the things we let exasperate us don’t really matter on their own when we separate what happened from how it impacted our plans.

We’ve given these objects the power to upset us because we lost track of what’s really valuable. We stopped looking for value in ourselves and now we’re left with an unsatisfiable desire for something “more” that can’t be fulfilled by the material world. So, we ignore our feelings and go on buying “more stuff” and being disappointed when everything doesn’t turn out the way we wanted.

The truth is that there is nothing inherently wrong with enjoying the conveniences and luxuries of the modern world. I mean we all understand that an object can’t be good or bad. An object is just an object after all. It’s a collection of molecules arranged by nature and tempered by men to serve a purpose—nothing more. So we have to look at how we value and use those objects that determines if our decisions add value or inhibit our personal growth and development.

Is our sense of purpose and fulfillment really something we can measure and buy? Why do you work all day—every week—for decades? Is it to afford the latest fashions and gadgets or are you searching for your place in this world? We all have bills to pay, but are we working just to pay those bills or do we use our careers and salaries to help us fulfill a deeper human purpose? I think that’s the unspoken struggle we face. Objects and possessions are tools. How are you using yours? Are you using your resources to improve your mind or to distract it?

We All Have Limits

Hippocrates, after curing many diseases, himself fell sick and died.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

It’s important to remember that we all have limits. At some point we’re going to find ourselves in a moment where we just can’t give any more of ourselves. We’ll continue to do our best, but our “best” simply won’t be good enough. Our failure will be certain before we even have a chance to change the outcome.

Don’t surrender in these moments. Don’t despair. Failure is just as much a part of life as success. Accept the limitations that bind you, and carry on content in the knowledge that you will nevertheless do your part. This is how you approach failure with both wisdom and grace.

If you find it hard to accept failure as a possible consequence of even the best-lived life, take a moment to reflect on our lives in relation to the passing of time.

We don’t expect our life to go on indefinitely. We accept that at some point our life will end as a natural part of the process of living. Yet, we struggle to apply that same principal of finality (a type of natural fatalism) in other aspects of our life. We try and hold on to this illusion of control, but the truth is we have very little control over anything.

We all have an expiration date. As we age, we can become keenly aware of it. That doesn’t mean we give up. Time is a gift. It allows us to put everything else into a shared perspective. If we have to say goodbye tomorrow, then how do you feel about the day you just lived?

  • Did you share love or spread gossip?
  • Did you help a stranger or buy a latte?
  • Did you make the world a better place?
  • Did you even try?

Perspective can keep us both honest and focused on something other than ourselves. Accept that gift and use it to change the world—build bridges, tear down walls, mend the broken—the point is you can make a difference today even if you can’t fix it all. Famine, disease and poverty won’t disappear overnight. You’re not going to defeat every obstacle you face today, but you can start chipping away at them.

If we broaden our perspective we can apply this same strategy to our struggles, our business problems and those seemingly insurmountable obstacles. There is no real difference between them. Our obstacles aren’t really obstacles, they’re an opportunity to reflect on our limitations and learn how to anticipate and prepare for failure.