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Make the Choice

It reads trite, and some people are actually offended by it, but there is great truth in what I am about to say. We’ve certainly all seen it in those little inspirational posters, whether one with a kitten, a lion, deep space, the rising/setting sun, or any other of a thousand stock images. And we bristle at it in its imposed superior wisdom – that we weren’t astute enough to know this on our own. Or in its implication of the simplicity with which we can change our lives.

We wake up every morning with a choice; a choice to be happy or not.

Boom – there it is. <Slaps self on forehead> I wish I had known it was that simple. Who knew? Just decide to be happy today – how could I have missed that?!?!?!

But there is great truth within those words which many find so insulting at face value. Of course we can’t choose our condition; we can’t choose to not have diabetes or heart disease or arthritis. We can’t turn a blind eye to our inability to hear anymore. But we can accept it as our reality and learn to drive our lives in a direction that best fulfills each of us. And there is no doubt that upon awakening the morning after losing your beloved dog of the last twelve years or having heard a dear friend has passed away, that you will be able to choose to be happy and joyous that day. But we can choose to acknowledge that grief and understand its purpose and role in our life, and to not let it dominate to the exclusion of all else. And on the days where nothing of note is going on, there is definitely an opportunity to awake and to choose a smile over a scowl; to be glad and not sad.

Is there a choice to be made every morning? Yes; never underestimate the power of positive thinking and choosing to be thankful you are alive. There are millions of little daily “things” that present themselves looking to nestle under our skin – getting cut off in traffic, catching every red light, missing the recycling truck,  forgetting your dentist appointment, getting home from the store and realizing you  forgot the one thing you absolutely needed above everything else. All those little thorns assault us all day every day and can really erode into a good mood and diminish a smile of contentment into something less. But deciding each morning to not let those thorns bite into you so deeply, deciding to recognize the day’s misfortunes are merely minor inconveniences that in no way diminish the gift of being alive and the joy of living, is a choice we can all try to make each day. And when a thorn digs in a little deeply and evokes a reaction, acknowledge that, remove the thorn, and go back to embracing that choice you made in the morning. 

For myself, with the stresses, trials, and tribulations of work now a mere speck in my personal rear view mirror, I find that I struggle with this perhaps more than I used to. I think (not sure because I have not spent enough time yet considering it) that the reason might be that the magnitude of the issues I faced daily while working were so great, and took so much of my time, thought, and energy, that the smaller things were…..well, smaller and less troublesome. I simply didn’t have the time or bandwidth for them to seriously impact my life. But now, with days filled with a real, genuine, full eight hours sleep each night, exercising, hiking, splitting wood, plating corn, clearing land, going to the movies, and playing with my grandchildren – now there is not much to worry about, not much stress, really no problems. So the little things, having lost the towering issues that formerly would diminish them to nothingness by comparison, the little things now cast a much larger shadow on me.

I’ve always maintained that stress is stress. The stress felt by a cardiologist as he or she holds a human heart in their hand during surgery is great; but the stress felt by an auto mechanic who just snapped a bolt or stud is just as great. Certainly on the scales of importance to life, a human heart outweighs a mechanical fastener all day every day, of that there is no doubt. But the stress felt by each person? The same. Perspiration, increased heart rate, respiration, and blood pressure…..classic effects of stress will be present in each individual. For me, facing a major disaster in our facility or a major quality issue in the ship’s construction absolutely wreaked havoc on me emotionally, spiritually, and physically; there is no discounting that stress. But even though I am no longer responsible for any of those things, I still face stress. Happily, not as often and certainly not as prolonged or all-encompassing as those stresses. But still, there is stress in my life occasionally. And at times I need to remind myself that it is momentary, transitory, and unimportant in the bigger picture. Not always easy, not always successful, but critical to a happy, healthy life.

And the two concepts dovetail nicely together: choosing to be happy when we wake and choosing to recognize that while what we are feeling is affecting us, that it is going to pass and to at least try to let some of the stress slip away. How we each do it that is, I think, as personalized as our fingerprints. I believe we each have to understand ourselves and how stress impacts us in order to learn how to lessen it, how to let it go. And the same thing with how we choose to face our day each morning. I don’t need a doctor, a scientist, or a philosopher to tell me how lucky I am. I worked as a shipbuilder for almost 45 years and came out essentially healthy and whole. I aligned myself with a strategically sound company who offered good retirement and 401k options and I managed to accrue a retirement portfolio that allowed me to retire and sustain a desirable lifestyle. I have a wonderful wife, wonderful children and grandchildren, and a comfortable home. I am fully aware of how lucky I am. But that does not just automatically exempt me from stress. I still need to remind myself to let it go – we all do. Don’t leave it to a coin toss – make it your decision!

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