One of the most significant mind-sets for a Good Life is positive thinking. When callers want to complain on and on about their parents, friends, or spouses, I usually ask them to give me five to ten really important, wonderful, good things about that person as the price for me hearing the bad stuff. This assignment is largely about helping the caller calm down and get perspective, and teaching them not to dismiss the valuable aspects that would buoy them in their lives and relationships.

A great example of this came from a listener, Kris, whose mother died as an alcoholic in denial. Kris never shed a tear about his mother's passing, nor did he feel any loss about her death. In fact, it scared him a bit that he felt nothing whatsoever in terms of grief or sadness. When his mother died, he mostly was relieved that his suffering at the hands of his mother was over. As the oldest child, while his siblings were finishing college and starting their own families, he provided for her necessities since she had squandered her own money. "So," Kris wrote, "I was all set to tell you why I would not honor my mother because of her alcoholism and the detriment that caused to our family. But, I can't! I really have a lot to thank her for, though I know the adult I became was not because of any grand parenting plan on her part.

"When she was too drunk to:

  • wash the clothes, I learned to run a washer and dryer
  • fix the meals, I became a fairly decent cook
  • take care of my baby sister, I learned how to change diapers, make formula, and how to entertain a two-year-old
  • pay the bills, I learned how to live within my means
  • help me with my homework, I figured it out myself
  • to pay for my college education, I did it myself
  • run to my aid when I got arrested for drag racing, I suffered the consequences of my actions myself
  • give me advice about life, love, and the pursuit of happiness, I learned how to achieve the American dream on my own.

    "So, even though my mother thwarted and frustrated me for almost my entire life, I still have to give her credit for helping me become the man I am. I can't say that I love her, but in a way, I must give her some honor for the gifts she inadvertently gave me."

    I believe Kris's analysis is something you can learn from because even negative examples are examples—of what not to do! A bad history is not destiny. You have choices in perspective, attitude, and actions. These are the stuff resilience, and therefore a Good Life, are made of....

    You can have a Good Life no matter how bad your childhood. It may not be a perfect life. You may never have all aspects of your life filled with serenity or the level of success that might have been yours had you picked different parents (just kidding). While some of you may never, for example, choose to have children because your anxieties about parent-childhood problems overwhelm you, you might feel comfortable volunteering in a preemie ward, where they always need loving folks to comfort children.

  • Your profound fears of intimacy may preclude you from becoming close to one person, so you might give of yourself by participating in civic programs, religious missions, and so forth.

    It might just be that engaging in activities and relationships that are more comfortable, related to but not quite the ultimate goal, still may eventually get you there—slowly, indirectly, but surely.

    Or, it may not. Admittedly, not everything can be overcome. But just like that amoeba I mentioned earlier, you too can move away from danger and hurt toward some compromise position, even if at this point it is only in your own mind. That compromise position is still progress, and still superior to an all-or-none mentality.

    You have to define for yourself what a Good Life means. Most of you will agree, I hope, that a Good Life has to do with what you do, what you mean to others, how you handle life's normal challenges, and how much you appreciate your blessings and opportunities. A Good Life is not about feeling good all the time. A fireman rushing into a burning building to save a child is not feeling good about it…he's scared and worried for that child, his family, and his very life. Nonetheless, he runs in because a Good Life comes from being something, not having everything.

    Be the fireman.

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