We can engage with the one bright light in our lives, or with the vast sea of darkness which surrounds it.
When we “engage” with something or someone, we become focused and deeply involved with whomever or whatever we choose to engage. This is a truly powerful ability, because whatever we choose to engage can determine which directions our lives go. We all have the ability to choose with what we engage.
We can become deeply focused on our chronic illness, paralyzed by the fear and uncertainty; or we can focus on that ray of hope or joy that we have in our lives, and be happy. We can become deeply involved with movements and people who are making a positive difference in the world, and feel fulfilled; or we can join the chorus of negativity, thinking that venting our fears and anger is somehow doing some good, but finding that our voices are only serving to validate our fears and anger.
I have relationships with people who have wealth, health, popularity, and plenty of time to enjoy it all. Yet some of these people are really unhappy. They rant about other people who disagree with their point of view, make negative projections about society, become upset if their steak dinner is served to them 10 minutes late, and ruminate about people from their past who betrayed them. I have another close friend who has an enviable life style, has everything paid for by one of his family members, yet complains frequently about what he doesn’t have.
I know many other people who are going through serious medical treatments, have to closely budget their money, and are limited in their activity; yet some of these people are genuinely happy. You ask them, “How are you?” And, they will beam a very radiant smile and say, “Great! I have so much to be thankful for!” Then you will hear about the great visit they had with their family, what a great meal they had at the diner, and how fulfilling their volunteer work is at the soup kitchen.
The difference in my 2 groups of friends and acquaintances is with what they have engaged their focus in life. Prolific research on “happiness” shows that happiness depends on where you focus your attention. While wealthy, healthy people are often happy, it is more often the middle-income person (in US culture) with some challenges in life who demonstrate a significantly higher degree of happiness. In third-world countries, it is the lower-income people who are often happier. This occurs in cultures that highly emphasize relationships and fulfilling work as the key to a happy life.
To engage with the light, does not mean that we ignore the darkness. We acknowledge the darkness, recognize it for what it is, then focus our greatest attention, to the point of engagement, with the light. Light is a much more powerful force, and the light is what we want to engage with in our lives.
Look at your options for with what and with whom you can engage your attention and focus in life. Some will lead to great happiness and fulfillment. It is your choice.
Christopher Knippers, Ph.D. November 16, 2016