Better, Not Bitter
By Kelly Sullivan Walden
Award-Winning Dream Expert and Author of A Crisis Is a Terrible Thing to Waste
When asked why I wrote, A Crisis Is a Terrible Thing to Waste, I say, “It’s the book I wish I had when I was dog-paddling through my own crises. My hope is that it will inspire readers to become better (not bitter) regarding how they perceive their challenges, so they can sage while they age.” What I also mean to say, but I didn’t, is what a friend once told me, “… so we don’t become the kind of people whose entire reason for living is to show us how not to live.”
The seedlings of these thoughts first blossomed in my awareness years ago while attending a newish friend’s soiree at her opulent penthouse, overlooking the dazzling Atlantic Ocean. I couldn’t help but compare her McMansion to my shabby chic (with an emphasis on the shabby) mountain abode.
I felt like a straw-chewing, cut-off-jean-shorts-wearing hick who ambled onto the set of a real housewife show. As I tried to relax on a plush setae, I listened to one of the ladies of leisure complain about how, “There’s just no good help these days.” Another whined, “I hate having to buy a new dress for every black-tie gala we attend.” The tipsy one seated next to me slurred into her martini, “I’m exhaushted having to juggle the shchedule of our bookkeeper, housekeeper, groundskeeper, chefs, maids, dog-walkers, yoga instructors, nannies, masseurs, and chauffeurs. I’m deshperate for a shpa day.”
I nodded my head in mock sympathy while nibbling on a jumbo prawn, envisioning how I might stash a handful of them into my purse for a midnight snack.
I’d kill for one of your damn problems, I thought to myself.
Then another voice in my head argued, why can’t you just enjoy yourself? I scolded myself as the women gossiped with disdain. Glossy lips curled into snarls as they bonded over loathing their husbands. One suspected hers of cheating, another said she didn’t care if hers did, and another plotted a revenge affair with her pool boy. Despite being in the lap of delicious food, sparkling champagne, and stylish clothing, I couldn’t help but fantasize about bolting out the door like my hair was on fire.
Days later, grateful to be back in my cozy, thimble-sized rustic home, researching for my book, I stumbled upon a website touting a breakthrough study by Sonja Lyubomirsky, Kennon M. Sheldon, and David Schkade1. They’d surmised that 50 percent of our happiness comes from genetics, while only 10 percent is determined by our circumstances (job, relationships, wealth, or health). I felt a surge of excitement when I read that 40 percent of our happiness is under our control—determined by our habitual thoughts, feelings, and actions.
I suddenly saw how elevating our happiness-o-meter (at least the 40% we have a say over) could be like turning up the faucet in the shower on a frosty day. Totally doable!
In this wild and wacky world there’s so much we are powerless over. But discovering there is plenty we can do about our own internal attitude thermostat, fueled my passion for discovering tools to help us maximize what is in our lane to change.
The tool I share in A Crisis Is a Terrible Thing to Waste is my OGLE formula. It’s a deceptively simple yet powerful process I’ve developed, over the past decade, to help me and my clients climb out of the mud of victimhood and bitterness toward the mountaintop of self-responsibility and empowerment.
In my professional experience as a certified clinical hypnotherapist for the past 20 years, I’ve found that the best way to overcome a tragic (or even slightly irritating) circumstance, is to truly look at it through an empowering lens. I’ve reclaimed the word “ogle” from its historic bad rap definition: to stare at something in a lecherous manner. I suggest we deeply perceive our circumstances, as in to ogle them through a healing perspective, into your journal, the ear of a dear friend, or therapist—not the person who triggered you.
Besides, it makes a great acronym to remind us to examine:
O: What’s the Offending behavior and/or situation? (This is where you have permission to hurl, whine, blame and judge.
G: What is Good about that offending behavior and/or situation? (This is where you become a detective on the hunt for the gift horse in disguise, aka, “the pony in the poo.”) Even if it seems impossible that there’s anything good, give it a shot anyway. For example, look for the intention behind the behavior, or consider what happened may be revealing your moral value on the opposite end of the scale from the triggering behavior.
L: How am I peering into the Looking Glass? (This is where you wrap yourself up in a blanket of compassion as you look in the mirror and ask yourself “Have I ever, or how might I ever … or have I even thought about doing the same offensive behavior … even to the most microscopic degree?”)
E: How will I allow this situation to Elevate me? (This is where you identify a baby step you will take, toward higher ground, with regard to the part you play in this issue/situation.)
Here’s an example of how I OGLE’d the women from the aforementioned soiree:
O: What is the Offending behavior and/or situation?
The glamor-pusses’ negativity left me feeling drained as if I’d been feasted on by emotional vampires. It's one thing to have nothing and envy people who seem to have everything, but to be bitter and wealthy, bitter and powerful, bitter and beautiful, or just plain ol’ bitter without awareness and self-responsibility … all the plastic surgery in the world can’t make that pretty.
G: What is Good about that offending behavior and/or situation?
Being around them helped me more clearly define my values, toward appreciating my life, and endeavor to transform every grimy situation I encounter into the gold of gratitude, creating a rich life, from the inside out. What’s also good is these women reminded me that wealth, status, power and prestige don’t guarantee happiness.
L: How am I peering into the Looking Glass (mirror)?
Ouch. I’m grateful for those pouty princesses, for holding up a mirror the size of a Las Vegas billboard, showing me that even though I don’t walk in their exact Miu Miu’s (high heels), I also complain about what some might consider to be “high-class-problems”: like being overwhelmed by a book deadline; fretting about not enough time in my social calendar to accommodate all the invitations that come my way, or not having a large enough refrigerator to squeeze in all my fresh groceries. Thanks to the women at the soiree, I see how I can either ogle my complaints or become an ogre who complains about her life.
E: How will I allow this situation to Elevate me? What Elevated action will I take?
As a result of that night, when I catch myself complaining, I stop and drop into the looking glass to remind myself how lucky I am to have the challenges I do.
I now see that despite our outer circumstances, all of us humans are all so similar. What differentiates us isn’t what we have or don’t have in the material world, but our ability to be grateful for our lives, no matter what we’ve got. In fact, no life is devoid of problems … and having problems is proof that life is in session.
Just like the saying, “Don’t sweat the small stuff and it’s all small stuff,” perhaps all problems are high-class problems because they occur in a life that is alive—and being alive is the greatest gift there is.
It doesn't take any skill to let life chip away at us. With each heartbreak, disappointment, upset, and betrayal it's understandable how we could all become increasingly shriveled by life with each passing offense, each day, week, month, and year. But the antivenom that heals a snakebite doesn't make itself. Technicians create antivenom from the antibodies that bind to snake venom components, enabling our own immune defenses to eliminate the toxins.
In other words, with a little effort and willingness to ogle what offends us under the microscope of our awareness, we can swirl it around within the laboratory of our minds and change the toxic properties into tonic remedies. This requires we do the counter-instinctual move toward, not away from our pain, with wide open arms, saying, “Thank you, in advance, for making me stronger, deeper, wiser, more compassionate; and a better, not bitter version of myself.”