One way to think about ourselves and this life is that we are all on a journey that begins with our birth and ends with our death. As with every journey the path we ultimately take is the result of thousands upon thousands of choices that we make on a daily basis that end up creating and defining our journey. A somewhat simple but helpful way to think about this journey or our lives is that we encounter an enumerable number of forks in the road that we call choices. Most people tend to think of these forks in terms of the “big” decisions that we make like: Which job should I take?, Which school should I go to?, Whom do I want to partner with in life?, Where should I live?, etc. What I think many people miss is that there are an almost infinite number of smaller decisions that we make each day that contribute to the people we become, how we feel, how we see ourselves, and how we view the world around us. In very simple terms one is confronted with a decision about whether to travel the path to the “Land of Contentment” or to the “Land of Misery” embedded within each of the hundreds of smaller decisions we make each day. Becoming aware of the power residing within each of us to create our own unique journey to which ever “Land” we choose is critical. If one begins to think about life in this manner, I think it becomes important to make the bigger decision of to which “Land” do I want to end up living in.
After years of listening to people in both my personal and professional life, it appears that making the decision to head towards the “Land of Misery” is the path more often chosen or the one that many find themselves traveling more often than not. One of the reasons for this appears to be that many events or circumstances in life have the power to yank one on to the “Path of Misery”, i.e., the loss of a loved one, being treated cruelly by another human, losing something that is important to you, finding that you don’t succeed at something in the way you or others expected you to, continually being told that you are “not good enough” or worse the list goes on. We are often, perhaps unknowingly taught by others traveling the “Path of Misery,” that there is no point in thinking or behaving otherwise. At times we bring these events on ourselves but at others they just arrive on our doorstep without any warning. These are real challenges that each of us, in our own way, must learn to navigate, but ultimately, the challenge comes down to which path are you choosing to travel and which destination do you hope to reach.
Choosing the path to the “Land of Contentment” is not easy, takes immense amounts of courage and commitment, is often challenged by others, our own selves, and by events around us over which we have little or no control. The size and nature of the challenge is different for each of us and based in our own life circumstances. What is important for each of us to know is that our destination and the path we travel it is not preordained but created by an accumulations of decisions that we make each day. What is worth focusing on, is what you can control and how you can create your journey. If one applies what we are learning about people (psychology, neuropsychology, cognitive sciences, neurology, psychiatry, etc.) it becomes clearer how anyone can move through life working to remain on the path to the “Land of Contentment” while being aware that events in life are just waiting to yank us on to the “Path of Misery.” It is through learning to manage your own thinking and actions that you decide, at each and every crossroad, which of the two paths you are on and where you are most likely to end your journey.
A recent and extraordinarily powerful example of this idea is the courageous women who seem to be working hard to take tragic events, sexual abuse, in their lives and move towards the “Path of Contentment.” They are or have found their voices and stood in public and spoke about the abuse and pain that unfortunately too many in our world experience. An amazing example of individual courage to face tragedy, fear, and pain in an effort to heal. Rather than blame themselves (Path of Misery), they held the appropriate person responsible, a major step in healing from abuse. I do not know any of these women personally, other than having witnessed the physical feats that they performed on the world stage of the Olympics, but know that for each what they did was a step for them towards the “Land of Contentment.” The challenges to move in that direction are different for each of them and likely will continue for the rest of their lives, but they are making the choices necessary to move towards the “Land of Contentment.” That is the best that any of us can hope to do in life.
It is not an easy journey but one I continually encourage each and every person, whom I encounter in my practice, to work on daily and very importantly to recognize over time the power of those small decisions we make each day on the outcome of our lives, our emotional health, and in which land we end our journey. This is the work of psychotherapy no matter the challenges you are presented or encounter on your journey. The growing science of psychology is there to support you and give you the tools to do the work you choose to do to live a more contented life.