The small community in which I live recently experienced a mind-numbing tragedy. Four teenagers were killed in a wreck, and a fifth was badly injured. They were all only a couple of years younger than my daughter, and because of their young, active lifestyles, it seemed like everyone in the community was affected some way.
As a parent, my initial thoughts were with the parents of these girls. When I first heard of the accident, I remember saying aloud to myself, “they didn’t deserve this. No one deserves this.”
Hardly anyone deserves the bad things that happen to them, but bad things happen to good people all of the time. In addition to the accident, in just the past year, I’ve seen a relative have a freak accident and become even more badly injured in the ensuing operation, to the point that he’ll likely never walk again. A couple of months ago, a good friend – one of the greatest and purest souls I’ve ever met – lost the home in which he spent most of his adult and childhood life to a catastrophic flood. And, I’ve helped a couple of people very close to me deal with heart-breaking ends to their relationships.
None of them did anything to deserve the anguish they experienced, and I was baffled by the injustice of it all – until I considered the futility of fretting about what we deserve.
We don’t get to decide what we deserve. We can live perfect lives, follow all of the rules and check off all of the virtue boxes, and bad things can still happen.
What we do get to decide is how we approach each day and every relationship, including the one we have with ourselves. Seeing tragedy should shine a spotlight on these things.
Because tomorrow’s happiness isn’t guaranteed, we need to see each day as a gift that shouldn’t be wasted. That’s easy on days filled with family, friends and laughter, but what about those days that, on the surface, seem full of drudgery and frustration? Those are the days that we need to look a little deeper for beauty.
I try to look for something positive every day, and it doesn’t have to be extravagant. Many times, it’s as simple as making someone smile or encouraging someone in need. I don’t wait for these things to happen. If they don’t spontaneously happen, I make them happen. I’ll look for someone who seems down, and try to engage them in an uplifting conversation. Some of these people might think that I’m crazy, but I care less about that each year. I aim for a smile, and I almost always get that.
I also try really hard not to complain. There is enough complaining in this world, and I have yet to find a meaningful purpose for it. If someone asks me how I’m doing, I respond positively and enthusiastically, even if things aren’t going my way. Most times, that positivity and enthusiasm bounce back to me, and lift my spirit.
It’s also important to pay attention to our attitude toward life. When someone has an accident or gets some bad medical news, their chances of recovery greatly increase if they have taken care of their bodies and are otherwise healthy. The same thing is true with our minds. If our minds are in a good place, we’re better positioned to withstand and recover from a downturn. If you’re not feeling particularly happy and fulfilled, do something about it, so you’re optimally positioned to handle whatever life throws at you.
While we might not always get what we deserve, we can always seek out the happiness we deserve. Embrace what you have today, because life can change in an instant, leaving us with regrets for the days and opportunities we wasted.