Choose a Better You

Lately I’ve thinking a lot more about living well. Not just on exercising hard, eating better and improving my sleep, but really living well.

Here I am, deep into the middle act; working, raising kids, saving for educations, paying a mortgage, saving for retirement, yada, yada, yada. The popular culture of the day would have it that I’m living a life of quiet desperation, stuck in a dead end job, trapped in a loveless marriage, raising a bunch of bratty kids whom I really can’t stand. Desperately looking for a way out. Sort of like that enormous pile of Oscar winning dreck, American Beauty.

Well, the pop culture is crap; I’m living the best years of my life; I like my job, I love my wife, and my kids are the joy at the centre of my universe. So, why the difference?

Above all, I think it’s an attitude of gratitude. To be happy, or to be miserable, is a choice. Think of “The vinegar tasters,” a traditional subject of Chinese art; Confucius, Buddha and LaoZi are standing around a pot of vinegar. Each tastes it, and reacting according to his outlook:

  1. Confucius has a sour expression. He saw life as sour and tasted the vinegar as spoiled wine.
  2. Buddha has a bitter expression. He saw life as pain and suffering and the bitter taste of the vinegar affirmed that.
  3. LaoZi has a happy expression. He saw life is good, and the vinegar tasted exactly as vinegar should. It was in accord with its nature, and that is good.

Three men, tasting the same flavour, each reacting differently according to his outlook.

Which brings me to Wayne Dyer. Who is he? I don’t know, but he’s credited as saying:

Our lives are a sum total of the choices we have made.

I made the choices that brought me to this point in my life. Made some good ones, made some great ones, made some royally bad ones. Each contributed to who, what and where I am today.

Sometimes I think back on screw ups and broken dreams. Falls and failures. Pain. Sadness. Regrets. I think, “If only I had…then I…” Then I what? Then I wouldn’t have the wife, the kids, the life that I have. And I realize there isn’t a single major choice I made that I would undo. Oh, sure there are little screw ups along the way I wish I could undo. Things I wish I could unsay, things I wish I could undo. But the big stuff? No. Forget it.

An example. When it came time to choose my University, the decision ultimately came down to; option A has a better reputation, but option B offered me a scholarship. Option A might have made pursuing my career a little easier, but I went with the money and option B. While there I joined the University karate club and:

  • The university karate club’s teacher had a classmate who opened a club in my hometown
  • Upon graduation, I joined the hometown club
  • My wife and her sister went to the same university
  • Her sister joined the karate club
  • She was looking for a place to train in the summer
  • The university club teacher recommended the club I was now teaching in
  • She joined and brought my wife with her
  • I met my wife.

Think of that string of coincidences (and there are many little things I skipped over). Make one link different anywhere in that chain and my whole life is different, fundamentally so. There aren’t a great many women in the world I would want to have kids with, and my wife is one of them. Break any single link in that chain and I’m not leading the life I am, with those three wonderful little boys at its centre.

It’s possible that a different life would be better, but I honestly don’t see how. Even if I could, even if the universe granted me a do-over, the chance to fix one awful choice, what would happen? I’d be wishing my boys out of existence. Nothing, no change to my quality of life would be worth that.

But it’s all wish casting anyway, the universe isn’t going to give any of us a do-over.

Bikram Choudhury said about healing your body through yoga:

You’re never too old, never too bad, never too late and never too sick to start from the scratch once again.

While there are limitations to that, you really can make yourself younger through exercise. But it’s more than that.

Don’t like where you are in life? Ultimately, you’re there because you chose to be there. Don’t want to stay there? Choose differently. Choose to:

  • Exercise
  • Eat better
  • Sleep better
  • Surround yourself with those people and things that will make your life better.

And above all, choose happiness. Choose LaoZi, who would have understood the serenity prayer:

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things that I can, and wisdom to know the difference.