“It’s not what happens to you, it’s how you react to it that matters,” so said Greek philosopher Epictetus. He has a point. While I like the idea of going out and happening to life, rather than waiting for it to happen to us, there are times when incidents and situations pop up that are not of our creation.
For instance, the bus to work could break down which means you’ll be late for work. You had zero input into the bus’s engine failure, and can do nothing to fix it (unless you’re a mechanic, perhaps), but you are in control of how you react to this situation.
You can sigh and sink into a bad mood, worrying that your boss will be cross with you. Or, you can choose to think about what positive action you can take. You can look at the bus timetable to see when the next one is due. You can see if any of the other stranded passengers are going your way and want to share a taxi. You can call your boss, and anyone else affected by your lateness, explain what’s happened and what you’re doing to get to work as soon as you can.
Going through the options available to you, making a plan, and informing anyone else affected means you’re taking control of your reaction to a situation you find yourself in. You can just as easily react by getting worried about being late for work, feeling angry towards the bus driver and company, and glaring at your fellow stranded passengers..
With either reaction you may still have to wait for the next bus to come along. With reaction one you’ve gone for a positive approach, taking control of what you can and letting go of what you can’t. But with reaction two, your negative, passive reaction just puts you in a foul mood with tense muscles and a stress headache.
And this doesn’t just apply to buses to work. However much we might like to feel in control of our lives there are great chunks of it that are outside our grip. Whether it’s small, everyday incidents or great, big, life-changing curveballs, we choose how to react to them.
As Michael J Fox puts it: “I have no choice about whether or not I have Parkinson’s. I have nothing but choices about how I react to it. In those choices, there’s freedom to do a lot of things in areas that I wouldn’t have otherwise found myself in.”
So the next time life takes a sharp turn you didn’t expect, stop and think for a moment how you will choose to react to this new plot twist. Will you shake your fist at the world for being unfair and declare there’s nothing you can do? Or will you look for what steps you can take to deal with the situation in a positive light and move forward?
If you want to find out more about taking positive action in your life, check out my new e-course: Choosing Happiness – Live Happy Your Way, where I show you the science behind happiness and share strategies, methods, and actions for you to build your own happiness habits.