Having lived in Florida for many years has given me the opportunity to learn from the lives of those much older than myself.

I’ve met octogenarians who are extremely happy and some who are miserable. This has led me to question why. How do some people get to their eighties and feel as though life has been good to them and others feel as though they’ve been slighted? Addicted to their misery, it almost seems as if they’re incapable of peace and the joy it brings. Just as the alcoholic, drug addict, is addicted, so are some to negativity. The only difference may be that while a person may know nicotine has a grip on them another may not be aware that their thought patterns fluctuate from worry to frustration, to anger, and back to worry, recycling negativity from the stories they tell themselves.

Addicted to misery

There are two times that stand out in my memory when fear suddenly gripped my thoughts. Both had to do with freedom. The first was when I was sixteen and learning to drive. It must have been my very first time behind the wheel because suddenly I realized that if I turned the wheel to the left, I would drive into oncoming traffic. I had the freedom to crash.

The second time was days after my daughter, Arielle was born. I worked as an apartment manager in Los Angeles. Someone wanted to see an apartment. The elevator was being repaired. The apartment building had an open floorplan, and the stairs were outside. It was raining. As I ascended the stairs with Arielle in my arms, I had a moment of panic. What if I dropped her? I had the freedom to fail as a mother.

Both times the negative thoughts I experienced were so horrible they conflicted with who I felt I was and thus opened my eyes to the fact that they were only thoughts.

When I reached my thirties, I began reading Sue Monk Kidd’s nonfiction which led to Eckhart Tolle, Oprah Winfrey, Brené Brown, and Deepak Chopra’s books. All of them teachers on the power of thought. By my forties, I understood that I could choose which thoughts to believe and which ones to let go. Freedom.

Why choose misery over joy when we have one life? If we’re lucky, we get one hundred years. Why would anyone choose to live those years consistently complaining, full of regret, angry, sad, or bitter? The answer could be as simple as why does someone choose to eat fast food over a healthier option knowing one will lead to sickness and the other health. Habit. We all form good and bad habits. When we have the freedom to choose habit can take precedence because it protects us from the fear of being uncomfortable, the fear of change. If you’re used to eating unhealthy even though you know it’s bad for your health you continue doing so because it’s what you’re used to. The same goes for our thinking. If you’re used to worrying, getting upset, thinking the world is against you, then that habit continues until you recognize it and decide to change. This doesn’t mean that suddenly all your thoughts will be sunshine and rainbows. It means that once you acknowledge negative thoughts you have the freedom to choose a healthier option. And the more you practice healthy thinking, the stronger the habit becomes. It’s a lifetime practice one that I believe the happy octogenarians have mastered.

We are not our thoughts. We are, and we have many thoughts. Choosing wisely can lead to a habit of being grateful for life and a life well lived.

“Change your thoughts and you change your world.”  Norman Vincent Peale

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