Reality Check: Which List Do You Keep?

As you’d expect from a person who writes lessons on happiness, Dr. Gad Saad looks like a pleasant man who has a positive attitude. It makes sense; I’m sure neither you nor I would be enthusiastic about buying books or taking happiness advice from someone who is grumpy and miserable.
Is he happy because of his personality? Maybe he just had an easy life! While Saad acknowledges that some of his positive attitude could come naturally, a comment about his background stood out for me. He says, “The list of personal setbacks is very long. So, I’m sure, is yours.”
Some people seem to always have a positive outlook. They look on the bright side; they smile; they’re ready with an encouraging word. It’s tempting to believe that everything in their lives has come easily. We might think, “If I had an easy life like that, I’d be smiling too. The reason I don’t is because, as the old song goes…nobody knows the troubles I’ve seen.”
Thus, Saad lists some of the difficulties he’s faced, such as growing up in a war zone. But Saad also suggests that every one of us has had difficulties: setbacks, problems, things that didn’t go as they should. Some people have much more difficult setbacks than others, and I’m not suggesting that they all even out. However, there are setbacks for all. You have yours; I have mine.
If you are a list-maker (like me) then you probably have lists on paper, in computer files, on notecards scattered on your desk… You may also have lists in your head; lists that are taking up valuable brain space.
Saad’s comment reminded me that when we look at our lives, it’s likely that each of us can list our setbacks. For example, maybe people lacked understanding and discouraged us, thus limiting our opportunities. Perhaps schooling was inadequate for our specific needs. It’s possible that friends were disloyal, or that we were the victim of evil actions by others. It could even be that events conspired to keep us from ever having a truly loving relationship.
Your list of setbacks may be long and varied. You’ve suffered setbacks; it’s a fact.
However, there’s also the fact that we have another list. That’s the list of our good fortune, the gifts, the joys, the opportunities. That list exists too.
If we haven’t been in the habit of visiting that list, however, it might be hard to even recognize that we have a list of good stuff. If we only spend time visiting, revisiting, writing and discussing our list of setbacks, we can perceive that to be the only list we have. However, both lists exist. And both are facts.
A personal observation I’ve made about people over the years is that there seems to be little correlation between one’s list of setbacks and one’s level of contentment. Some people have experienced tremendous setbacks: illness, injury, loss of loved ones, missed opportunities. Yet, they maintain remarkably positive outlooks. Others, who’ve had relatively minor setbacks, hold on to them and never let go, essentially ensuring that lasting contentment never comes their way.
We may not have a lot of choice in the events that appear on our individual lists. But we do have some choice as to which list we focus on. Which of those lists do you keep and allow to influence your life?

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