Today I want to thank one of my clients for sending a link to an intriguing New York Times article by Daniel Gilbert, author of “Stumbling on Happiness.” In the article Gilbert contends that it’s not the bad times that make us uneasy and depressed, but rather that we don’t know how the bad times will play out. Gilbert explains, “people feel worse when something bad might occur than when something bad will occur…human beings find uncertainty more painful than the things they’re uncertain about.” He goes on to cite a number of studies to prove his point.
I’ve certainly seen an uptick in worry about the unknown and things we can’t control.
But if you shine a very objective light on it, there have always been and always will be things out of our control, good times or bad. You might wake up tomorrow and hit your head getting out of bed or find out your dearest friend has been killed in a car crash. And these things could happen regardless of the state of the economy or job market or housing market.
And yet, we don’t normally go around feeling depressed because one of these or any number of other catastrophic events might occur.
No, we get a choice, and usually take it. We choose to believe that life is sweet and worth living in spite of all the hazards out there. We accept that the world sometimes will be bleak, but also recognize that things can and will get better.
So why give so much power to the uncertainty we’re faced with these days?
In the article Gilbert seems to conclude that this is just how human beings are hardwired, and there’s nothing much we can do but stay in a deflated limbo. He writes: “An uncertain future leaves us stranded in an unhappy present with nothing to do but wait.”
Yikes! Now that’s truly depressing, if you ask me. And with all due respect to Mr. Gilbert, I have to disagree.
There are other options besides waiting it out in a downhearted stupor.
One sure fire way to begin to defang the unknown is name it: just what is your biggest fear, and what would you do if it happened? I’ve written before about worst-case scenarios, the importance of identifying them and using them to explore your own resilience and resourcefulness.
Believe me, you are fully capable of envisioning a worst-case scenario that is way worse than anything that will ever happen to you. And as you call upon your resourcefulness to defeat that imaginary scenario, take heart in knowing you can handle anything that comes your way, because you are a person of great resilience.
I’ve encountered a lot of resilient people lately.
And the thing I’ve noticed most about them is that they are very good at stripping away all the extraneous stuff and getting down to the core of what truly matters. This leads them to pay attention to what they most value, take actions that are particularly meaningful, and in turn increase their self-esteem, confidence, and optimism about the future.
Doesn’t that sound better than waiting for the other (unknown) shoe to drop? If so, why not start now and do one thing, today, that is meaningful to you?