Do you ever find yourself frustrated with your life, bemoaning to yourself—or to anyone who will listen—that it isn't fair that life isn't fair?
When I was in graduate school, writing my clinical psychology dissertation on this topic, my mother sent me a cartoon of Hagar the Horrible. It was a two-framed comic strip. In the first frame, Hagar the Horrible is standing tall in his boat during the middle of a thunderstorm, outraged and looking to the heavens, shouting, "Why me?" And in the second frame, the heavens thunder back, "Why not?"
That comic strip hits home for many of us. If we didn't laugh, we'd cry.
Most of us struggle with accepting the reality that life isn't based in fairness. We don't understand why people don't always get what they deserve. We expect the good to be rewarded and the bad punished. But it doesn't work that way. Sometimes, shit just happens.
This reality is hard to accept. We want to believe that if we are good, we will be rewarded. Isn't it the American dream to expect that if we work hard, we will succeed? We want to maintain an illusion that life is much simpler than it is and that we have much more control than we actually have.
Now, I'm not saying that we don't have any control in our lives. Of course, we do. People who work hard tend to be more successful in life than those who do not; but even hard workers lose their jobs or their marriages or their dreams. People who eat well and exercise regularly, statistically speaking, have better health and longevity overall; but illness sometimes has no rhyme or reason. Even the good die young.
So I'm not saying that we don't have any control in our lives. What I am saying is that life is about as fair as the weather.
Generally speaking—at least in modern times—we do not think about matters of fairness when it comes to sunny or cloudy skies. While we relate to Hagar's feelings, we understand that the rain comes or it doesn't come. It is not a punishment for bad behavior or a reward for good behavior. In fact, just like life, weather has very little to do with justice or fairness. Although we humans certainly have some influence on the environment—for good or for ill—weather is mostly about a host of natural factors that are much bigger than we are. From the vantage point of our daily lives, the weather just comes. Like it or not, we must deal with it—as it comes.
Here is the good news. While there are some things that happen in life that we don't bring on ourselves, we always have choices about how we respond to them. Rather than shouting to the sky,"Why me?," we can resolve to do what we can to enjoy the sunny weather and cope with the storms. A rainy day is much better if we remember to bring our umbrellas, side-step the puddles, and drive carefully. If we can begin to relinquish our omnipotent fantasies that we can control more than we can, we even can try to make the best out of the difficult situations that sometimes come our way.
So grab your umbrella. Live your life. Take it as it comes. And deal with it as best you can.
Copyright 2011 Jennifer L. Kunst, Ph.D.
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