Life’s What You Make It

Most things in life come down to a choice: the choice to focus on the positive or the negative; the choice to go after something you really want or to sit back and let someone else have a go; the choice to try out new experiences or to remain in your comfort zone; the choice to stay in a damaging place or to get out and start afresh.

It’s also possible to choose to see life as a series of choices, not a hand of cards that you are powerless to change. And if you do, there is nothing sitting beyond your reach. This may sound simplistic but I truly believe that it’s the only mind-set to have for living a fulfilling life.

Back in the dark days (when I drank most evenings and hated myself), I had no idea that life could be based on choices. Even down to the most basic of choices – deciding which thoughts I paid attention to and which I let go of – I was under the impression that I was a sitting duck: that whatever terrible episode may land on my doorstep, whichever bit of bad luck might descend upon my world, or however lonely and unloved I felt, I had no control over any of it whatsoever. It felt as though it was all just ‘my lot’.

There are many snippets of wisdom that we pick up during our time on earth but I think that grasping the idea of having choices and living life accordingly can make one of the biggest differences in how happy we are.

I decided that for me to be content and fulfilled, it was necessary for me to not drink alcohol. This was a choice. I could have followed the school of thought that says addiction can’t be beaten, that I am powerless over alcohol, that I had no choice. But I believed in the notion of choice, and I made that choice and stuck to it.

Yesterday I found myself suddenly overcome by negativity. Everything was wrong; I started to flounder in a pit of despair. But then I went for a walk in the nearby woods that are brimming with bright, autumnal colours and I took a few photos of the trees, noticed the beautiful blue sky, and breathed in the cold, fresh air, felt alive, watched my dog trotting amongst the fallen leaves and became aware of how even this mood that had engulfed me moments earlier was, in fact, a choice.

I started to think about all the things in my life that I am grateful for, all the beauty of the earth, the simple pleasures that make it all worthwhile. I stood in front of a tree for a while and observed the way in which the leaves, now littering the ground at the foot of the trunk, appeared as a reflection of the canopy above. It occurred to me that this could all be perceived as the dismal end of summer, a tree moving into a state of hibernation for the winter, or a stunning image of vibrancy, a captivating celebration of change; the beginning of a miraculous new season. I stared at the tree for a long time, and it became a symbol to me of how life is whatever we want to perceive it as.

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Earlier in the week, I had thrown a small Halloween party for my four-year-old and a few of her little friends. The carpet was covered in crisps, toys were strewn all over the lounge, and the kitchen looked like a bomb site. After everyone had left and I’d scrubbed my daughter’s face clean, wiping away every last trace of the ghoulish make-up she’d been wearing, my older daughter shouted down the stairs to me; “Can you help me with that English coursework now please?”

I had a choice in how I perceived all of this; to see the stress, the mess, the chaos, and to focus on my tiredness and how all I wanted to do was go and lie down on my bed. Or I could have chosen to see it as the lovely, hectic, full-on express train journey that is life, with all its demands and busyness.

I took the decision to view it as the latter.

Pause for Breath

We live in an amazing world. Think about it for a moment; in the midst of a massive black space home to many uninhabitable planets, stars and a boiling hot sun, we get to reside on Earth – a beautiful, green and blue sphere filled with amazing animals, interesting insects and us, human beings.

We jump out of bed each day, go through the same rituals and motions, drink coffee, pack the kids off to school, navigate our way through the busy streets to reach our places of work, engage in phatic conversation with colleagues, come home, eat and talk, and then collapse into bed. And how often, in all of that time, do we stop and look around and think ‘OH MY GOD! THIS IS ALL JUST TOTALLY CRAZY AND WONDERFUL’? Probably not very often because if we did, we wouldn’t get much done and everyone would think we’d gone slightly wacko.

But think about it now, for a minute, because it really is.

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We’re so immensely clever, we make things that are beyond incredible – we worked out how to fly out of our atmosphere and into space, and how to send satellites into orbit that take pictures of other planets so we can find out what’s out there. We found bones and old artefacts and put the clues together to work out how people lived thousands of years ago and how we got to be here at all. We’ve developed communication so extensively we can send a message to someone instantly on the other side of the world, engage with millions of people all at once, and watch films on a tiny screen we can hold in our hands.

We’re caring and thoughtful, and have built a society which incorporates all kinds of help and support for those in need. We conquer disease and illness, saving lives every day through unbelievably sophisticated medical techniques. We established how to take blood from one and give it to another to prevent them from dying.

We invented the wheel and bridges, aeroplanes and cars, so we can move about wherever we want to go. We are able to fly to the other side of our planet in less than a day, and travel the length of an entire continent in just a few hours.

We are creative and brilliant and have dreamt up stories and songs capable of completely changing a person’s mood and inspiring them to live differently. We’ve written millions of books, recorded breath-taking music and penned screenplays and scripts that have literally changed mankind. We are leaders and teachers and motivators and doctors and mechanics and builders and engineers and actors and scientists and academics.

We live in a place where the sun rises and sets with a multitude of colours, and where blue-green waters roll in and crash onto white sandy beaches. There are mountains capped with glistening snow that stretch up to the sky. We share our world with the simple wonder of a daffodil and the rarity and beauty of a tiger.

We have each other, our friends and family, the people we can laugh with and who cheer us up, who hold us when we feel alone or sad. Our children show us how to rediscover excitement in the seemingly mundane, and our parents pass on the insight and wisdom that age brings. We form groups who share the same interests, and bond with others over a mutual thought. We fall in love.

And mostly, we let all of this slip by every day while we grumble about our mobile phone being slow to connect to the internet, complain about the traffic jam we are sitting in or because we can’t find a particular ingredient in the supermarket. We fight with people over meaningless nonsense and forget to value ourselves and all that we have. We don’t stop to look around at our planet and history, and at everything we’ve accomplished together as a species.

When you put an end to destructive drinking patterns, life becomes more noticeable. The little things jump out at you, you are awestruck by things you never used to see. But if you don’t pause to take stock occasionally, your time on Earth will fly past you at a hundred miles an hour.

Stop for a minute today and soak up everything that we are. Our world is truly amazing.