Attitude is (almost) everything

“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.” 

This line, from John Milton’s epic poem, “Paradise Lost” (1667), is spoken by Satan who is trying to make himself feel better about living in hell. He thinks that if he tries real hard, he can make hell seem as good as heaven.

Let’s avoid the theological implications of this phrase and just extract from it a lesson we can apply to our lives. 

Here’s my paraphrase of Milton’s sentence: Though we may not be able to change our circumstances, we can choose how we interpret and respond to our circumstances. Our attitude can be positive or negative. Regardless of your circumstances, you can choose to be an optimist or a pessimist. 

Consider the plight of Peruvians: I’ve been to Peru twice and can attest to the fact that Peruvians are kind, sociable, and happy—even though most live in poverty. Approximately 51% of homes in Peru do not have a refrigerator, and yet, according to the latest study from the Worldwide Independent Network (WIN), Peru has one of the highest happiness rates in the world.

Compare Peruvians with many middle- and upper-class Americans who are relatively safe and well-funded, but live pessimistic, despondent lives.  

Here’s a good example of what I’m talking about: I have a friend who struggles with multiple sclerosis. She moves with the help of a walker or wheelchair. She’s in constant pain. But she’s engaged in life and work and maintains a positive view of the future. (Karen, I admire you so much.)

I don’t mean to minimize the pain and difficulty that we all live with, and some people have more than others. I do want to underscore the choice we all have as to how we respond to difficult times and situations.

I have little patience for people who are perennially negative and pessimistic. I admire and enjoy being with people who are positive and optimistic.

16 Replies to “Attitude is (almost) everything”

  1. Amen❣️ I truly believe this is fundamentally imperative in regards to family, friends, co-workers, and like you said our circumstances. I have strived to approach life with the glass overflowing❣️ William Penn states, true happiness comes from counting your blessings while others are storing up troubles. I think I’d paraphrase that to say…a positive attitude comes from counting our blessings. PTL for all he does❣️

    Thank you.

  2. Don, I drilled this phrase into all my kids as they were growing up: “I may not be responsible for someone else’s action, but I am ALWAYS responsible for my REACTION”.

    That may not speak directly to your point, but it does speak to the truth that we have a choice of response. You might change it to read ” I may not be responsible for my circumstances, but I AM responsible for my response”. Thank you for the reminder.

    Btw…Yes, my kids have quoted that back to me plenty of times…which tends to keep me on my toes :-).

  3. Wonderful words/thoughts. Years ago (but far after 1667), I began each morning with my first-graders with a similar greeting. I told them they could choose to be happy or sad for the day. Even 6 year olds caught on to idea … well, some did! Thanks!

  4. WOW Don, how very important attitude is in Life’s choices.

    I believe God’s guidance is to view all choices with a positive attitude.

    A prolonged negative attitude can send a person’s life spiraling into a life
    not in God’s plan.

  5. I have been struggling with being happy lately, which is unusual for me. Reading this today has helped me see that I need to get back to who I was and be happy. I am very fortunate.

  6. My mom used to say: ‘Think good thoughts’ all the time when I was growing up. At the time, I used to think it was so simplistic. I’ve studied meditation, positive psychology and many forward thinking leadership principles. At the end of the day, it does come down to attitude and our chosen responses…including thinking good thoughts…thanks Mom, you were right!

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