Everything that happens to us now, is the result of actions (our own and those of others) taken so far. Everything that is going to happen to us in the future, is the result of actions taken so far, and the actions that will be taken from now on.
What affects our lives, can be broadly divided into three groups.
- What we choose to do (our own actions).
- What others choose to do (the actions of other people).
- And what I call Big Events (they may not even look big, but affect us in big ways) which can be divided into Civic Events and Natural Events.
Civic Events or societal events are the events that no particular person is directly responsible for them, e.g. stock-market crash, boom and bust of the economy, social or industrial revolutions, wars, etc. But, Natural Events are usually disasters, e.g. earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, etc.
Good things and bad things happen to all of us, partly regardless of how good or bad we have lived our lives in the past. There are lucky and unlucky coincidences that are almost impossible to explain. What is happening to us is not just because of our own previous actions (Karma). But it’s partly the result of someone else’s right or wrong doing, e.g. the consequence of terrorism, heroism or altruism, and sometimes the result of Big Events (social or natural). In general, our lives are governed by the laws of probability and shrouded in uncertainty. However, we can increase or decrease the chances of good things happening to ourselves and others.
Let’s look at a couple of day-to-day decisions and actions that we may take. Say, our decision about being a careful driver and consequently our action; “driving carefully”. This, not only is going to reduce the probability of us being involved in a car accident, but also reduces the probability of car accidents for others. Or say, our decision in taking up a new course and learning a new skill. This is going to open new opportunities for us, leading to a better job, more income and probably more happiness and satisfaction for us, for our families and for other people around us. Equally, our negative decisions and actions have direct and indirect consequences for us, for our families and for all other people around the world.
In the same way, decisions and actions that others take, affect our lives in a positive or negative way. As Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi said in his book, Living Well: “whether we like it or not, our lives will leave a mark on people close to us, on our loved ones, on our environment, on our country and on the whole world. Each person’s birth makes ripples that expand in the social environment - parents, sibling, relatives, friends and many others are affected by it, and as we grow up our actions leave a myriad of consequences, some intended, most not. Our consumer decisions make a difference in the economy, our political decisions affect the future of the community and each kind or mean act slightly modifies the total quality of life around us and ultimately, the wellbeing of the mankind”.
What I've described so far, may seem to support “Victim Mentality”! Far from it, firstly, we have (or at least, we should have) lots of control over our own decisions and actions which play an important role in what happens to us and subsequently to others around us. And although, we don’t have any control over decisions and actions of other people or on the Big Events in life, but we do have (or should have) control over our own responses to those actions and events.
Nothing we can do, makes us immune or invincible. From time to time bad things happen to all of us. Why? It’s very difficult to know. Life is very complicated, universe is very complex and sometimes it feels very unfair when bad things happen. But, they happen, and when they do, what makes them possibly bearable and may be survivable, is the type of response or otherwise the type of attitude that we show towards them or for that matter, towards life in general.
Dr Viktor Frankl (a psychiatrist who survived the death camps of Nazi Germany) realised that in the middle of the stimulus-response model, humans have the freedom to choose. People have a will to meaning and have freedom under all circumstances to activate that will, and find the meaning of their own lives.
Dr Stephen Covey in his book; The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People describes this as “the ability to choose how we respond to any stimulus” (habit one; being proactive). “Animals do not have this independent will. They respond to a stimulus like a computer responds to its program. They are not aware of their programming and do not have the ability to change it”. However, we can choose our response. “We can choose to be reactive to our environment. For example, if the weather is good, we will be happy. If the weather is bad, we will be unhappy. If people treat us well, we will feel well, if they don't, we will feel bad and become defensive. We also can choose to be proactive and not let our situation determine how we feel. Proactive people are driven by values that are independent of the weather or how people treat them. Our response to what happened to us affects us more than what actually has happened."
Positive Psychology is about living our lives proactively, exercising our will to meaning, and responding to people and the events with love, compassion, and positivity. Let’s exercise our will to meaning and purpose, and make the world a better place for everyone.