Agathism – The Best Way to Live Our Lives
About three years ago, I was driving a Toyota Forerunner that had been in my possession for about 14 ½ years. It had 274,000 miles on the odometer and it was still running, although of course, not perfectly. I finally decided that I needed a new car, and since I have a tendency to keep the vehicles that I buy for so long, I was determined to get exactly what I wanted. A new hybrid that I had been reading about for quite some time piqued my interest, and so I decided that this was what I would purchase. Unfortunately, my plans were dashed because the particular hybrid I wanted wasn’t yet available in the market. I ultimately decided to lease a car, since the hybrid wasn’t going to be offered for purchase for another couple of years, and I really had my heart set on buying it when it finally became available. Considering my tendency to hang on to vehicles for such long periods of time, I was more than willing to wait to get what I wanted!
If you know anything about car leases, you know that you’re not supposed to put too many miles on the leased vehicle. Since I have a fairly lengthy commute back and forth from work, putting a substantial amount of miles on my lease was inevitable. Towards the end of the contract, my wife and I switched vehicles. She drives very few miles per day, and thus would not add significant mileage to the leased car, and since we owned her car, it didn’t matter how many miles I was going to put on it. Now here’s where the story gets good! Just before my leased car was due to be returned, my wife was backing out of the driveway with it and didn’t see a car behind her. She hit the car, causing damage to both vehicles.
Now, we could just end the anecdote here by saying, “Aw too bad, that’s a bummer!” but this story is about how we handle things when something bad happens. What do we do when bad things happen? My wife and I could have had an argument. We could have been angry at one another and fought about the extra cost of fixing the leased car and the other car. This incident could have kept us from being happy, but it didn’t. We felt disappointed, of course, but a little disappointment happens in life! We realized this and thus we were able to move forward.
When my wife took the car to be repaired, the mechanic asked her if she was going to be selling it. My wife told him no, that it was a lease. He then informed her that most people, when their leases come due, purchase and then resell the vehicle. Since this was the first time we had ever leased, we were unaware of this fact; indeed we were truly clueless about the entire process. I did a little investigating and found out that the pay-off price of the lease was far less than what the vehicle was actually worth. Armed with this information, I purchased the car and now am in the process of selling it.
There is a powerful message to this little anecdote! Bad things sometimes occur in life, and we have three choices regarding how to address them. Choice number one is to be pessimistic, negative, and upset. I think a lot of people choose this path and dwell on the negativity. Choosing this path makes people feel sad and unhappy and can lead to an unsuccessful life. Obviously, I do not recommend taking this approach! Conversely, we can be optimistic; we can believe that everything will be well and deem everything to be great and wonderful. This course of action is, obviously, a much better approach for our mental health than negativity and pessimism. Optimism helps us to look at events in a brighter, more positive way. However, the danger of being optimistic is that we often don’t sufficiently deal with our feelings. If we are overly optimistic, we risk taking an unreal approach, pushing away our true feelings before they are adequately addressed. It is entirely appropriate that when something bad happens, we feel it. When the leased car was wrecked, of course I felt disappointed and even a little angry! I didn’t want to spend the money to have it fixed, but that’s what had to happen. I allowed myself to feel upset, but I did not let myself take out my frustration upon my wife; instead, I dealt with my emotions and realized that I had to let go of any lingering negativity. The third choice regarding how to deal with life’s unfortunate occurrences, and the way I recommend we live life, is to take what I call an agathist approach. An agathist is someone who believes that in the long run, even though bad things sometimes happen, everything will eventually work out for the best.
Returning to my car leasing example, I certainly wasn’t happy about having to repair the car after the accident, but I dealt with my emotions and let them go. And in the end, everything turned out pretty well. With regard to happiness, taking an agathistic approach is really a great way to lead life. We agathists fully experience our emotions, always remaining kind toward others. After the troublesome event has passed, we watch calmly as things mostly turn out well. As long as we keep an agathistic approach to living, we learn lessons and we grow. By expecting that things will ultimately turn out well, they often do. At this point, you may be thinking, “Well, Dr. Puff, you don’t know how bad this experience is for me right now. You don’t know how I’m feeling. How could the death of my child be good for me somehow? How could going through a divorce be good for me now?” I am not negating these bad and unfortunate things that happen to us. I know that there are very troublesome things that sometimes occur. But when something bad happens, it doesn’t mean that life is over, or that we should resign ourselves to giving up! We must hang in there, really hang in there, remembering that it is always the darkest just before the dawn. The sun will surely rise, and things will begin to get better.
There is a woman with whom I have worked in my practice who experienced many terrible things in life. I simply cannot imagine that anyone reading this could have had a more challenging life than this woman did. Think of the most awful horror movie you can imagine: she lived through worse and had to keep living it! When she came to me, we worked together, and we had to work through many things. Now she is one of the wisest, most internally beautiful people I have ever met. She would agree that her life has turned out very well in the end. She has incredible faith; she is very deep and reaches out to so many people in the world with her story in order to share her growth, her success, and her journey of overcoming her very, very dark life.
Keep in mind that the way in which we think about things matters! Of course, part of our goal is to live in the present moment and simply enjoy the journey. But when we are experiencing tough times, we need to remember to not give up, to have hope, and to believe that in the long run, things can turn out well; this is the way in which we need to approach life. We have to simply hang in there and not give up!
Remember again my anecdote about my leased car. There was seemingly nothing good about my wife banging into another car…nothing! Yet in the end, the accident ended up being a good thing. And my client, who had previously led such a horrible life, would have never achieved such great wisdom and such a keen ability to reach out to so many other people had she not lived through her dark experiences. Don’t get me wrong: I do not wish for us to experience terrible things. Of course, I want all of us to live very happy lives. But when bad things happen, as they will to the vast majority of us, we must remember to take an agathistic approach. Try to believe that in the end, negative events may actually turn into something good. Be open to the possibility that there may be a lesson to learn, an opportunity for growth, or an unexpected positive outcome.
I highly recommend taking an agathistic approach to life. This approach allows us to be true to our emotions, to experience them, and importantly, to not deny that they exist. It is good to experience our feelings and to live our lives. Indeed, we must do both, and the agathist approach helps us to accomplish this successfully. Living in the present moment, no matter how tough times are, is surely a great way to live. No matter how challenging life can be, we must remember that there is always something beautiful toward which to look forward.
Dr. Robert Puff, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist, author, international speaker, and meditation expert who has been counseling individuals, families, nonprofits, and businesses for over twenty years. A contributing writer to Psychology Today, he has authored numerous books and creates a weekly podcast on happiness at www.HappinessPodcast.org He also creates a weekly podcast on meditation, http://www.MeditationForHealthPodcast.com and a weekly podcast on spiritual enlightenment, http://www.EnlightenmentPodcast.com His retreat schedules can be found at http://www.HolisticRetreats.tv You also might find his blog useful at www.Meditation-Enlightenment.com If you are interested in having Dr. Puff speak to your organization or company, you can learn more about his speaking services at http://www.SuccessBeyondYourImagination.com