The first person I encountered at a recent holiday party was my friend and colleague, Andy Kinmonth. We exchanged the usual pleasantries and when I asked him how he was, he replied, “I’m great!” He asked about me and I replied with a much less enthusiastic, “I’m okay” and then I proceeded to tell him about some of my burdens and troubles.
Andy listened intently and compassionately as he always does, and then he told me that he, too, could point to the things in his life that weren’t going so well, including serious health concerns with family members. And then he said that even though those things are happening, he has decided that he’s great.
I’ve thought a lot about that conversation, and how much I can learn from it. Andy is a wise man and I learn from him all the time, but this lesson hit hard. It’s not that life for me has been terrible of late – not at all. I am blessed with a beautiful family, warm home, enough food, meaningful work, and the list goes on. And I’ve also experienced some setbacks in the past few months and they’ve brought me down.
Now, I’m a positive person in general; I naturally find the good news even in negative situations, and I’m optimistic about the future (some would argue unrealistically so). So where along the way did I forget that I can choose my response to the situation around me? That’s what my conversation with Andy reminded me: that there is actually space between what happens to us and how we react to it. Sometimes we forget that, but we do have a choice. (If this sounds familiar, it may be because you recognize it as Stephen Covey’s Habit 1: Be Proactive, from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. He’s even got a diagram in there of stimulus --> freedom to choose --> response.)
To be clear, it’s not about denying or avoiding negative feelings; we’re human, we experience a wide range of emotions, and we ought to feel them. Rather, what Andy reminded me is that I don’t have to unpack and live in the negativity; I can choose a different response. (I also recognize that for people with depression or other mental illness, the choice may not be as apparent and sometimes help is needed to get back on track.)
The tradition in my family since I can remember is to end each year with each person sharing their “Highs and Lows”. (Years ago my sister-in-law recommended that we also look forward and share our hopes for the New Year, which has been a welcome addition.) It seems that every time we do this the Highs outnumber the Lows. Of course we always acknowledge the Lows thoughtfully, and the Highs are shared with smiles and excitement, storytelling and reminiscing.
I don’t know exactly what I’ll share in the coming week, but I do know that I have more Highs than Lows, and that one of my aims for 2018 is to do a better job of remembering that.
May you enjoy a wonderful Christmas and holiday season.
And when you take stock of 2017, I hope you find many happy memories to savor.
My warmest wishes for a healthy and rewarding New Year.