Making the Most of the Time We're Given
by Daniel D. Maurer
I can't believe it's happening to me.
I mean, I'm the young guy, right? I'm not a middle-aged dude . . . right?
Here we are, at the end of another year, and I've grown accustomed to stating to people who first come to our home in Saint Paul, Minnesota: "We're new here."
But the thing is, we're not.
When I first got sober nearly six years ago, everything was "brand, spankin' new." I like novelty. I like the brand, spankin' new.
We had moved from our home in western North Dakota to urban Minnesota, and it had been at first a difficult change. (When is early sobriety ever easy, anyway?)
Right after rehab in June of 2011, I lived in a sober-living home, away from my family. I was there for about seven months. We had successfully sold our home in Williston, North Dakota and purchased a bank-owned house in Saint Paul. It was in December of 2011. I was 40 years old.
The next month, my family moved back in with me. I was newly sober. I was a new urban dweller. I had only begun my career as a freelance writer, and—honestly—that all didn't take off until several years after that.
Life was grand. Exciting. Of course, it wasn't without its own challenges. But it was new!
Now, I'm 45 years old and I'll pass the midway mark in April of the upcoming year.
And I catch myself when I introduce our family to newcomers. I'm no longer "new" to Saint Paul, Minnesota.
Like many others, I get somewhat contemplative the latter part of December each year.
So, today, I thought I'd pass on a little bit of wisdom I read recently. I appreciated it, and I hope you will too.
The key to enduring through life is recognizing that everything isn't all bad when the bad things happen — Even after it gets "old."
I know some of you might be thinking:
Well, that's nice, Dan. But sometimes there isn't a silver-lining in the storm cloud. Sometimes things are just bad!
You're right. Sometimes things are just bad.
But that doesn't mean you cannot train your mind to find the good that already exists, somewhere.
When I was at Hazelden Betty Ford in Center City, MN for the inpatient phase of my recovery, there was a spiritual care counselor that taught me something.
This was back in March of 2011, and I was crying all the time, couldn't ever sleep, and had constant anxiety eating away at my soul. To make matters worse, every morning when I tried to read the newspaper, all I read was bad, bad, bad (in comparison, today, all of the events seem tame). But one day, at an appointment with her I said, "I can't stand reading the paper—it's all bad news all the time! It makes my life seem that much worse."
She said, "Something I do when I read the paper or hear about bad events in the news is I see it as another opportunity for prayer. God has given me the gift to pray for the situation, for the person who is hurting."
I was a bit dubious. I said, "I'm not sure I believe anything good comes out of prayer. I don't believe God is a magician."
"Well, I don't either! Maybe nothing comes of my effort with prayer for the others. I believe it does, but I can't be sure either," she said.
"Why do you do it, then?" I asked.
"Because I change. All we ever have is right now. I don't have any control over much of what happens, but I do have control over my response. I choose to pray. And you know what?" she prompted me.
I shook my head.
"I change. And then I find out that . . . it's not all bad."
I left that conversation discovering that I had changed.
I don't practice the advice she gave me perfectly. But I catch myself—all the time, now—looking for the good in a situation, not only within whatever circumstances I find myself, but also for others.
And I pray.
I have a nudging suspicion that the insight she gave me back then is worthwhile, not only for myself, but also for others.
Something I read online recently seems to confirm this idea.
“Research shows that on average, negative events impact people five times as much as positive events do,” says Heidi Reeder, Ph.D., author of Commit To Win: How To Harness the Four Elements of Commitment To Reach Your Goals, and professor at Boise State University.
“Resilient people, however, keep the negative from having such a powerful impact by focusing on what's positive in the situation. Rather than just focusing on the downside (e.g., "I made a fool of myself in front of the whole team") or just the upside (e.g., "The team got to see that I am human, which will deepen our relationship") they are able to hold both the positive and negative equally. This kind of emotional balance allows you to move forward with more confidence and less stress.” (Source)
This seems especially true for people who struggle with an ongoing issue with anxiety (like me). If I take the time to find gratitude and goodness in whatever situation that presents itself, I discover that I'm much better equipped to persevere through the difficult times. I know it's more complex for people suffering with PTSD or a bona fide anxiety disorder. Still, the practice is worthwhile and has the potential to change your mind. Because, with me, it has.
I know, especially this next year, I'm going to need to look for the good. And you know what?
There's lots of good stuff going on out there. It's worth finding.
I think making the most of the time we're given means simply TAKING the moments as they come, DISCOVERING what good is there, PRAYING for others as we can, and ACTING however we can to pass along hope, love, and change to transform the world as best we can into a more loving place.
At least, I'll try to do this now, and as much as I can. And maybe years 46-50 (EEK!) won't be a scary as I think they'll be.
Daniel D. Maurer is a freelance writer and author. He's also the keeper of this blog and enjoys sharing his transformations with others, as well as reading others' contributions. He wishes you all happy holidays and many joyful new years!