By Bill D. Ward
I woke up the other day and discovered I had not won the lottery. I was devastated. I had imagined myself as the winner and had wasted brain energy planning all the great things I would do with the money, only to now have to deal with crushing disappointment.
Actually, that little parable is an experience shared by millions of people every day. How is it then that we all seem to be normal, happy people, when we could be gloomy and depressed over the loss of our dream, whatever that might be?
Well, it turns out that we have a built-in ability to adjust our emotional state to accept and be content with whatever circumstances life brings us. Studies now show that whatever happens to us, good or bad, within three months of the event, we have the potential to recenter and become content with life as it has been presented.
Humans have something that acts like an emotional immune system. It is largely unconscious but helps us change our views of the world in order to feel better about our own situation. (Harvard University, Gilbert)
Maybe that explains why most of the people I know are happy in life. I know their stories. There is a lot of heartache and pain in many them. And yet, people carry on, scars and all, still finding joy and purpose in their daily lives. I saw this consistently in my work in long term care. People with every reason to be bitter and hostile settled in to life and made the best of it.
They weren’t fine, and they weren’t in denial of their condition. Yet they functioned, they played, they laughed, they had meaningful conversations and social connections. They were mentally healthy.
How is this possible? Some might say we were created with the ability to recenter and make good of the bad. Others might say it’s because we choose to be okay. I think it is some of both. We all want to live our lives in a healthy fashion. We are equipped internally to do so. We are given the choice to do so. When someone says, “Its going to be okay, really,” its true. But it is only true if we choose to be okay. Many people choose poorly. I’ve known some of them. I’m just sayin.’