Today I heard a friend say she had become angry when her therapist told her she had chosen to be unhappy and that she could choose to be happy instead. My friend felt that the statement was ridiculous because no one would choose to be unhappy. In fact, life is all about choices. We may not choose specifically to be unhappy; but we choose how we look at life, how we approach it. One person chooses to be as active as possible, walking endless miles one walker step at a time, because she wants to enjoy life as much as she can given her physical limitations. Another refuses to be a stereotypical old woman pushing her walker around a facility with no place to go, so she sits and is unhappy. Both those attitudes are choices, and the results are predictable. The walker is more mentally alert, sleeps better, and is more sociable than her counterpart. She is meeting life here and now, not looking for a doctor or visitor or staff member to somehow make things better for her.
We make choices standing in checkout lines, stuck in traffic, disciplining children, paying bills, and walking out of a bad movie. The trick is to be aware that those are choices, and that you have the power to make them in order to change your situation and the outcome. You can’t make the checkout line shorter or the traffic thinner, but you can choose to let go of the impatience and irritation you might otherwise be feeling. The person behind you is even further back, and the person in front isn’t moving either. So what are you angry at? Our egos insist that our time is important and our convenience is paramount; but everyone else’s ego is saying the same thing, and we can’t all be right! Learning to make choices that reduce our stress and frustration is possible, but only if we stop trying to deny that we’re making choices. And in real life, abstaining isn’t possible: no choice is also a choice.