Abraham Lincoln, who suffered from chronic depression, famously said, “Most folks are about as happy as they make their minds up to be,” which means he had some challenges making up his mind to be happy.
On this Thanksgiving Day, 2021 it caused me to remember a story that I think clearly illustrates Lincoln’s notion.
Many years ago while I was in the midst of my psychotherapy practice I saw two women on the same day who were 89, but their attitudes towards life couldn’t be further apart.
The first woman was still quite attractive, but her vanity kept her from being thankful. On this particular day she showed me her moderately swollen fingers due to arthritis and bemoaned to me that she would have to have her expensive jewelry cut off and resized to fit her fingers.
Given how much she still could be grateful about compared to other people her age, I confess I had some difficulty mustering up empathy and compassion for her angst about her dilemma regarding her jewelry. But muster it I did and reflected back, “It must be difficult to feel upbeat with your frustration about your jewelry on your mind.”
The session moved on reasonably well from there.
Several hours later another 89 year old woman came in who in contrast to the first one was hunched over, walking slowly with a cane and conjured up the memory of the witch who walked with a cane in the animated movie, Snow White. However, what was incredibly striking about this woman, especially when compared to the prior one, was the wide smile that radiated from her face.
Feeling astonished by the contrast I asked this second woman, “I couldn’t help noticing that you seem to be walking with a fair amount of difficulty and yet you have an amazing smile on your face and appear to be quite happy. Could you please tell me what that’s about?”
She paused for a moment and then gamely replied, “I was just thinking how great this cane is going to look in five years when I am in a wheelchair.”
Her response blew me away with its simple hidden in plain sight wisdom.
I was in my early fifties when that happened and made a mental note to myself, “When I am in my seventies, instead of focusing on and bemoaning what through age I have lost, instead look at my life from the eyes of my future when I am (hopefully) still alive an in my nineties and be thankful for what I still have.”
I can tell you that now that I am in my early seventies, that mental note has come in handy on many occasions.
What do you still have in your present that you could look at through the eyes of your distant future and be thankful today that you still have? Your health? Your Marriage? Your friends? Your still being relevant to the world? Or what?