Perspective, or a way of regarding situations, facts, etc. – and judging their relative importance – can allow us to keep our calm in stressful situations and appreciate positives hidden in everyday life. For instance, I recently watched my friend run into her kitchen after one of her kids screeched, “Oh no!” following some sort of tremendous thud and subsequent popping noise. As it turned out, her son had lost his grip on an entire two-liter bottle of Coke, sending an explosion of dark soda onto the floor, counter tops, cabinets and appliances. The first words out of her mouth after “grab some towels” were “I’m just happy my new laptop was in another room!”
Don’t get me wrong, she wasn’t exactly laughing when she first walked into the kitchen. Certainly she had her son thoroughly cleaning up the mess with some very direct adult supervision. She openly lamented the timing of this misfortune, as apparently she had cleaned the floor earlier that morning. What struck me was that she quickly recognized an element of gratitude in the midst of a challenging situation. She didn’t spend any time worrying about blame after a simple accident, and she may have even taught her son that when faced with a mess, a pile of towels and a wet floor mop are a much better use of energy than an angry outburst.
It seems some people are naturally more able to rely on perspective in difficult situations. We may marvel at their optimism and ability to not “sweat the small stuff”. At times, the world presents us with extreme examples where even the most dedicated pessimists can recognize their relative good fortune. We see images of devastation from natural disasters or hear of tragic accidents and we feel, by comparison, lucky to have been spared. When we work to develop an inner perspective that we carry with us daily, we can see beyond temporary stressors and better appreciate the gifts hidden in everyday life.
Expanding our perspective is an active and purposeful process. We can look for opportunities to recognize some positives, even if a situation might not immediately measure up to our standards. Coming out of a harsh winter, we might feel that even a cool spring day gives us more than enough sunshine and warmth to enjoy some time outside. We consciously remember there is a world larger than our own, where many people struggle with basic human needs such as food and shelter. Suddenly a family meal, complete with picky eaters and bickering siblings can be appreciated despite its undeniable imperfections. We watch our teenagers struggle through their first breakups and remind them that their 88-year-old grandfather can’t recall the name of his first girlfriend, yet he holds dear in his heart the name of the woman he was married to for 50 years.
We are human, and some days may present enough challenges that it is tough to incorporate any perspective at all. We aren’t meant to talk ourselves or others completely out of bad feelings in the face of problems that test our strength. Yet we give ourselves more of a chance to overcome obstacles when we use inner perspective to manage some of the trials in life. Say, for instance, your beloved yellow Labrador manages to reach the top of the kitchen table, knock over a pot roast and render it basically inedible. Take a few minutes to acknowledge the time and money wasted and the resulting frustration. Then remind yourself this is the same dog who greets you with unconditional love at the end of the day. Take a look outside; maybe it is a beautiful evening for a walk. Chances are any teenagers in the house have the phone handy and the number of a take-out restaurant already on the screen. Let yourself mentally turn the corner and say it out loud if it helps: “I’m just glad we have the means to order pizza instead!”
Laura B. joined Empathia in 2000 and is an EAP Counselor. Laura has a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Northwestern University and a master’s degree in Social Work from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, with a concentration in marriage and family therapy. Prior to joining Empathia, she worked as a case manager with chronically mentally ill adults readjusting to life in the community. Laura enjoys reading, attending kids’ activities and spending time with family.