I made a decision a long time ago that has served me well. If given the choice, I would rather be happy than right. To me, this is basic pragmatism. It does not mean that I ignore facts. It's just that everything in our lives is subject to interpretation. Given that we can see things from any perspective we want, it makes sense to look at them in the best possible light. Every morning, I say The Pledge, which includes the following statement:
Everything that comes my way is a gift and an opportunity. To think otherwise would be the height of arrogance and ingratitude. It's like declaring to the universe: "I know better." The problem is one of expectations. If I expect things to turn out a certain way and they don't, then I am setting myself up for disappointment.
The flip side is to always expect the worst. Psychologists use the term depressive realism to describe the finding that depressed people who expect the worst also tend to be right. Of course, part of that could be self-fulfilling prophecy: If you expect the worst, you often get it--especially when the outcome is determined to a certain extent by your own efforts. Expect to fail and you probably will.
Success is trickier because it is harder to define or anticipate. I have had many times in my life when something wonderful and unexpected happened. Such outcomes far exceeded anything I could have expected or imagined. Case in point: The night I met and fell in love with Maria. I never saw it coming, and I certainly wasn't looking for it.
In a results-oriented society, we are pushed to set goals and envision our future successes. To a large degree, I buy into this philosophy. I know that there are a number of things I can accomplish more successfully if first I can conceive and imagine them. And yet, there has to be room for magic--for the kinds of outcomes that defy expectations and stagger the imagination.
I just experienced a bit of that magic while visiting my father, who is dying at age 91 of a series of complications, including congestive heart failure. I went to see him without expectations of any kind. And here is what I found:
The one thing we can all expect is that my father will die in the days or weeks to come. That moment, when it does arrive, will come with great sadness but also a tinge of relief. None of us wants to see a good man's life come to an end. Yet we also know that his decline has brought a certain level of indignity to a dignified man, who is now relegated to having his diapers changed several times a day and being spoon-fed his meals in bed. And we have watched my mother work herself to total exhaustion trying to attend to his ever-growing care needs.
I don't know how I will react to the death of my father, because I have never been through this experience before. And also, because I don't want to have expectations. I prefer to stay open to whatever gifts this major life event will bring my way. Maybe, just maybe, a little unexpected magic will occur.
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