May 21, 2017

Stop Making It Worse—the Key to a Happier Mindset.

I’d like to share a story with you that just might change the way you experience your life.

It’s a short story—an old Taoist parable—called “The Farmer and The Horse.”

It goes like this:

There is a man who lives in a village with his family, and they own a beautiful horse—it’s the only thing of value that they own.

One day, the stable gate is left open and the horse runs away. All the people in the village come and share their sympathy with the man. “I’m so sorry that you’ve lost your horse! What a terrible thing to have happen!” The man responds, “Could be good, could be bad.”

A few days later, that horse returns, followed by a beautiful stallion. So, now the man has two of the most beautiful horses in the town. The villagers come and they say, “What wonderful luck! Now you’ve got a second beautiful horse!” And the man responds, “Could be good, could be bad.”

A little while later, his son is out riding this new, beautiful stallion and falls off, breaking his leg. Again, the villagers come to him and say, “Oh, that is so terrible that your son has fallen and broken his leg.” And again, the man responds by saying, “Could be good, could be bad.”

Another short while later, a war breaks out and all of the young men in the village are drafted and then killed in battle—except for this man’s son, whose broken leg prevented him from joining.

This parable illustrates what the Buddhists call equanimity, meaning, the ability to stay calm and present in the midst of things swirling around us, and not adding our own story lines to narrate it all.

For a lot of us, if any one of those things had happened, we’d be quick to say that one was good or one was bad, and we’d then react as if that were the case.

In fact, we do this all the time.

We might lose something that we hold very dear. We decide on the spot that a bad thing has happened. We tell ourselves, “This is awful, I’ll never have anything like that again!”

Next, something happens to us that we deem to be a good thing, and we’re back to being happy.

Not too long after, another “bad” event occurs and our reaction is one that causes us distress again.

It’s a real roller coaster.

How do we get off this roller coaster?

We must cultivate the understanding that the events in our lives will have a different meaning when viewed in a broader contextual picture.

I remember when my son’s mother was three months pregnant. I was laid off from the first “real” job that I’d ever had and I didn’t think that I had the skills to land anything that good again. I, along with everyone around me, was convinced that this was a terrible thing to have happen.

You can imagine the feelings of depression and anxiety that I heaped upon myself as my fearful mind played out how this story would almost certainly end.

However, I did get another great job and rather than derailing it, this event catapulted the trajectory of my career and my life to a level that I could not have even dreamed possible before.

This is just one example of a pattern that has happened over and over again in my life: Things that seem terrible at the time can turn out to be positive when considered over a broader period of time.

That doesn’t mean, however, that when difficult things happen they don’t hurt us in the moment; of course they do.

Keeping the perspective that the story of our lives isn’t over can help us navigate these events with far less suffering. We make things a lot worse by projecting all sorts of stories onto them.

I don’t believe that “everything happens for a reason.” I do, however, live by the perspective that we can make meaning out of anything that happens to us in life.

“Things do not necessarily happen for the best, but some people are able to make the best out of things that happen.” ~ Shawn Anchor

There is truth in the saying “when one door closes another one opens.” But the fact is that there can be some time between the closing and the opening, and we often spend that time stumbling around in a dark hallway.

The lesson of the parable is to not make this time worse by telling ourselves stories about the scary things that might lurk in the hallway with us.

Keeping a broad perspective can keep us moving forward no matter the circumstances.


Author: Eric Zimmer 
Image: Wonderlane/Flickr 
Editor: Catherine Monkman

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