It would be impossible to count the number of times, growing up, when I was told to ‘be thankful for small mercies.’ Depending on the level of griping, this advice might be followed by the mournful story ‘I cried because I had no shoes, until …’
In our home, bringing a situation into perspective was fast, vocal, and visual. Self-pity could not take up permanent residence. A brief period of wallowing in perceived injustices was allowed. After that it was snap out of it – look around – make yourself useful. Action beats wallowing. Wallowing takes you down a dark hole. The right action lifts you up, out, and ahead.
Months before he passed away a friend was told he had limited time left. Pangs of self-pity were deep, but brief. He moved into action. He called friends and shared fun stories. He arranged his own uplifting service. He found ways to make others feel better. He filled his days with living.
Not all challenges are created equal. Having the wrong sneakers does not compare with a months-to-live diagnosis. No matter how dire or how simple the problem, moving quickly from self-pity to self-purpose is good advice. One self destructs; the other builds monuments and memories.
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