Embrace the lesson in every experience

There is no playbook for life. I’ve learned a few things about what seems to work best regarding how we should approach life, especially when facing difficult situations. In addition to battles I’ve already shared like my eating disorder, depression, and family alcoholism, my family experienced a recent tragedy. My sister was killed by a drunk driver just over a month ago. A horrific event that changed my life in many ways. There are other, smaller battles, too, battles that hardly seem like battles at all anymore. Like losing the state representative campaign or not being accepted to a fellowship program. The list of hurdles is long, and I could use the entire length of this column just listing them. You have your own list, I’m sure.

I’d like to share what I have found consistently leads to greater happiness in life, especially in working through challenges.

Embrace the lesson in every experience. Difficult situations can be humiliating and painful. They can leave you feeling defeated. They can lead you to a place in your life that’s not healthy, where you are afraid to take chances or pursue your dreams. If you shift your perspective, and learn to embrace the lessons in every experience, you can keep your life from going down that path. For example, an eating disorder is full of shame, and the negative thinking that goes with it is painful. If I were to focus on the shame and pain, it would not lend itself well to my recovery. Instead, I choose to focus on the lesson. Through my eating disorder, I have learned to let my walls down and be vulnerable. I’ve learned to reach out to people when I need support and to let them support me. It has been a lesson that continues to provide value to me. Every experience has a lesson. Embrace it.

Adopt positivity. Choosing an attitude other than positive seems counterintuitive to happiness. I see people often blame others, think the world is out to get them, and struggle to move forward. Choosing a positive attitude isn’t always easy and it doesn’t mean that life will be perfect, but it allows you to shoulder your struggles differently. I think about my sister’s death and I approach it with a positive outlook. I hang on to the 35 years we had together and value that time. I also have a strong belief that everyone who is grieving, including myself, will be ok. I could adopt an attitude of pity for myself, sadness that is debilitating, or such hatred for the driver of the other vehicle that it destroys me. I won’t, though, because I choose positive. Even when it is difficult.

Adopt an attitude of gratefulness and appreciation. Your reaction to an experience is a choice. When my sister passed, I had the opportunity to make a choice and, although I don’t always feel like life is fair, I choose not to dwell on that. Instead, I choose to be grateful. I am grateful that our family has chosen to bond together during this time. I am grateful that I am where I am with my eating disorder/depression recovery journey so that I am healthier and stronger to handle this tragedy. I am grateful that my family member who struggled with addiction is as far along in his recovery as he is. Had this tragedy happened three years earlier, it may have turned into two losses for our family. I am incredibly appreciative of all who have stepped forward to share words of comfort and offer everything from prayers to a distracting adventure. I will not be ungrateful in this situation. But that is certainly a choice I have. To choose anything but an attitude of appreciation and gratefulness is to choose misery and unhappiness.

This world can make you bitter if you allow it.

Choices we make can keep the bitterness from settling in.

It’s easy to dwell on the driver of the car that killed my sister. It’s easier to hold on to an eating disorder than let it go. It’s easy to be angry about an addiction that overtook a wonderful person for many years. It’s easy to struggle with trust after a relationship that involved cheating or lying. It’s easy to give up a job search after many rejections. There are many things in life that are easy but don’t lead to a happy, healthy life. Don’t take the easy path. Embrace the lesson in the struggle, adopt a positive attitude about your experiences, and practice gratefulness and appreciation. It will lead to a happier and more fulfilling life.

Jackie Krawczak is president/CEO of the Alpena Area Chamber of Commerce. Her column runs bi-weekly on Thursdays. Follow Jackie on Twitter @jkrawczak.