Life can be a cruel mistress.
You can love her, take care of her and be truly good to her, but the next thing you know, she delivers you a heart-crushing blow.
Allow me to get personal here for a moment, as recent events in the lives of those close to me have prompted me to share them with you today. And in doing so, I hope to illustrate a couple of important points about life that can help us all through pain, sadness and struggle that are an inextricable part of existence.
Yesterday, I received word that a good friend of mine from my Army days was diagnosed with a heart problem. This problem is one that will require surgery and the installation of a pacemaker. Now, this man is in his early 50s, doesn’t smoke, hardly ever drinks and generally leads an active life. Why was he afflicted with this heart ailment? We don’t know, but he is, and that is what he must deal with now.
After giving me the downbeat news about his situation, my friend proceeded to tell me that his circumstance was “the good news.” He then told me about what he considered the actual bad news in his life, which was that his wife of nearly three decades had just been diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer. To combat this disease, she will have to undergo chemotherapy, surgery and then more chemotherapy.
As you might imagine, a shadow crossed my heart when I heard this double-dose of bad news. Unfortunately, the tales of pain and loss weren’t nearly over for the day.
Just a few hours later, another friend of mine told me that she was feeling overwhelming sadness, because it was one year ago today that her husband of 32 years had died due to complications from COVID-19. Her husband also was in his 50s, was very healthy and had no known comorbidities that anyone could identify.
Now, I wish I could tell you this was the end of the woe for the day, but it wasn’t. Late last night, another very good friend and I were reflecting on the sadness he felt regarding his recent separation and impending divorce. I knew that the chief reason for the dissolution of his 20-year marriage was his wife’s struggle with drug and alcohol abuse, which led to her mental and physical deterioration into a person he no longer recognized.
As I slept on the events of the prior day, I woke with a jumble of thoughts that I wanted to put down. The reason why is because I hope that my conclusions can illuminate not only my approach to the world for you, but hopefully they can help you if you are struggling with any of these difficulties. And even if you aren’t dealing with these now, life isn’t likely to let you off the hook.
There’s a great line in the novel “Fight Club” by Chuck Palahniuk that says: “On a long enough timeline, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero.”
Well, on a long enough timeline, and no matter who we are or how well we’ve managed to organize our lives, nearly all of us will experience profound sadness, crushing loss, deep disappointment and likely intense physical pain that becomes both all-encompassing and debilitating.
Moreover, every one of us, if we haven’t already, will likely have to deal with the pain, hurt and loss associated with the death of either a grandparent, a favorite aunt or uncle, a mother, a father, a brother, a sister, a close friend or even what is said to be the most difficult loss to bear, the loss of a child.
What’s even more intense is that, as humans, we know that we are mortal. We know we are going to die, and we know that everyone we know living today also is going to die.
For me, knowing this allows me to focus on what I am doing right now — in this very moment. Because all we are sure of is that we have this moment. And this moment. And this moment.
This realization that life is now prompts me to ask myself why anyone would ever want to squander the now.
Why would you ever allow yourself to consciously live in a state of negativity, one replete with unhappiness, anger, distress, discontent and malaise over trivial things you have no control over? And let’s face it, nearly everything in our lives we have little-to-no control over.
Of course, that’s not to say we should feel something other than deep sadness over pain, loss and other adverse circumstances. It is proper to feel these emotions, and you do not want to shut them down or cut them off, as that would be a form of squandering the now.
Yet, think about all of the times we do squander the now by not paying close enough attention to our own minds.
We get mad when someone cuts us off on the freeway. We get upset if the barista gets our coffee order wrong. We become angry because one of the stocks we own slides after the company announces downbeat earnings guidance. But, if you realize that it is your reaction to these things which is the cause of your sadness, and not the actual events themselves, you realize that with a little effort, you can alter your mental state.
The first step in doing this, at least for me, is recognizing that thoughts are the root cause of all of our emotional states. Indeed, the ideas you have in the now are what is affecting you right now. So, if you can consciously identify those thoughts, process them and either let them go, change them or integrate them for future use, you will be much better off when the inevitable wave of life’s sadness slams into your own shore.
By knowing your own mind, and by cultivating a self-awareness capable of identifying thoughts as the root cause of all discomfort, pain and pleasure, arousal and peak experience, you can avoid squandering the now.
Instead, you can embrace the now for what it is, and you can become better at dealing with the good, the bad and the ugly — because life is replete with all of these elements, and that isn’t going to change.
So, do not let your head wander its way into despair. Take control of your thoughts, which one can do via practices such as mindfulness meditation and other active efforts to recognize the content of one’s own mind.
By recognizing the “you” in there, and the content of your inner life, you will put yourself on the path to making sense of the kind of day I had yesterday, and the gloriously happy days I know I will experience in the future — and everything in between.
Have A Why
“He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.”
— Friedrich Nietzsche
One key to overcoming life’s inevitable sadness is to have a really passionate and productive purpose at the center of your existence. This purpose is different for nearly everyone, and only you can determine what that is for yourself. But regardless of your age, social status or life experience, having a “why to live” will help you to endure any discomfort life can dish out.
Wisdom about money, investing and life can be found anywhere. If you have a good quote that you’d like me to share with your fellow readers, send it to me, along with any comments, questions and suggestions you have about my newsletters, seminars or anything else. Click here to ask Jim.
In the name of the best within us,