Two Ways of Living

As we begin the transition from Thanksgiving to the Christmas Season and all of the hustle and bustle that the holidays bring, it occurs to me that there are two basic ways to approach life (and shades of each).

The first is the way of fear and it could be called an “ontologically disappointed life.” With this approach, life is a burden, people always let you down, nothing is ever good enough, and life is unfair. This approach is grounded in cynicism, negativity, pessimism, and disappointment. Fear becomes the dominating emotion and anxiety rules the day. There is always somebody out to get you, screw you over, hurt you, or take what you have. With this approach, you never get the credit or recognition you deserve. You take blessings for granted, develop a sense of entitlement, and complain often that things aren’t as they should be. People who live this way are rarely happy, satisfied, fulfilled, or content. They are very good at playing the victim and any type of change is viewed as a threat. These individuals are often miserable.

The second way of living is the healthier way, the way of hope and love. With this approach, life is exciting and is an adventure. Others do not control you. Joy is found in the small things. Nothing is taken for granted and every day is viewed as a gift and an opportunity. You don’t get bogged down with the past or become obsessed over the future. People who live this way learn to count their blessings on a daily basis and thanksgiving becomes a way of being. These individuals truly live the Advent virtues of hope, peace, joy, and love. The fruits of the spirit become the goal – including patience, kindness, gentleness, generosity, and self-control. This approach tries to make the most of any situation and does not complain about circumstances. This approach involves a healthy recognition that many things are out of our control and that is perfectly ok. This second approach to life is one that generates warmth, compassion, and a sense of authenticity. Fear is kept in check. Intentional steps are taken to reduce anxiety and stress. Change is an opportunity for growth. Experiencing inner peace becomes very important. These are individuals who move beyond narcissism and selfishness so that they can learn to live for others. Serving and giving back becomes a way of life. You could call the second approach the “road less traveled.”

These two ways of living life, fear versus love, ultimately boil down to a choice, and we all get to make that choice on a daily basis. Concentration camp survivor Victor Frankl once concluded that we don’t always control our circumstances but we do get to control how we will respond to our circumstances. That simply cannot be taken away from us. Clearly, the second approach is a healthier way to live but many people have a hard time choosing it. The Christmas Season is a time of “peace on earth, goodwill to all,” and it’s the perfect time to choose the second approach to life. After all, nobody is promised or guaranteed tomorrow. All we have is today.