by Anita Cheung
Have you ever noticed that in your daily life when mixing with friends, family and colleagues, there are some who are constantly negative about whatever circumstances need to be faced (even though those circumstances cannot really be considered ‘trials’) and others who always seem to be cheerful no matter what life has brought their way? So which one defines us? The one who sees the silver linings in all situations or the one who sees the clouds?
A long time ago I learnt that a good way of being constantly dissatisfied was to compare myself to others. The reality is that there will always be someone nearby who is better off than myself, as well as someone who is worse off. If my benchmark is those who are around me, I am in for a bumpy ride on this journey called life. Let me give you an example. Currently, we have all been dealing with the pandemic and the various restrictions that this has placed upon our lives. According to the country that we live in, we have had to deal with either more restrictions, less restrictions or relative freedom. In Spain, this has meant a period of ten weeks (from mid-March - end of May 2020) of being in lockdown, followed by various phases of restrictions and curfews. Happily, I can report that the vaccination programme is now well under way and that this is having an impact on our society, our freedom and what we are able to do.
Let’s move across the world to New Zealand where my mother, sister, nephews and all of my mother’s family live. Right from the beginning of the pandemic, New Zealand took a hard line on the pandemic and closed down the country for a period of two months. Like Spain, people were in lockdown and in the case of New Zealand, this included their international borders and airports. From there, life in New Zealand pretty much returned to normal whilst Spain and the rest of Europe endured various waves of the Coronavirus and various degrees of restrictions. Although life in New Zealand returned to normal at some point in the middle of 2020, there are still quarantine periods for anyone upon entering the country.
Moving across to Malaysia where a close friend lives, I have followed my friend through a period of around 18 months of lockdown. This was broken by a period of allowing everyone out to do solitary exercise. Since then, the country has returned to strict lockdown which means that people are only allowed out to buy medicines and to pick up groceries from the nearest supermarket. There’s no chance of going to the supermarket on the other side of the city just to have a change of scenery. At the same time as things have begun to calm down in Spain, the number of cases has risen particularly within the migrant groups including the Nepali people. My friend has lost various friends to Coronavirus as well as having many friends in ICU and on oxygen. On top of this, the strict regulations have meant that most of the expats have left the area of Malaysia where my friend lives.
Across the Pacific Ocean in the United States, the pandemic has presented a variety of conditions for all, depending on the state and personal perspective. From the crisis in New York in March and April 2020 to the states that were forced to go into lockdown as a result of the number of daily cases spiralling out of control, individual freedom has either been restricted or in the case of the lucky few, untouched.
Moving back to Europe, Britain was in lockdown three times in 2020. Social bubbles were reduced to having one other person that you could meet up with and everyone took the regulations and social distancing very seriously. I read of one incident where two friends, who had made the decision to have each other in their social bubble, picked up take away coffees at separate locations, drove in separate cars to a park and were walking with a distance of two metres between them when they were accosted by the police for ‘not having a spirit of collaboration’. When they questioned what restriction they were disobeying, they were simply told that they were not collaborating.
If I chose to compare myself to my friends and family in New Zealand, I would feel dissatisfied and frustrated at my lack of freedom. If I chose to compare myself to my friends and family in England, I have much to be grateful for in the sense that the social bubbles permitted in Spain always included a maximum of six people. If I compare myself to my friend who lives in Malaysia, I can be grateful that I have not had to endure having many friends in ICU at the same time as well as losing some of those friends.
The reality is, that no matter where we are in life, we have a choice about how we perceive our personal set of circumstances. Of course it is possible to just see the grey clouds on the horizon and the storm that is brewing and sometimes this seems to describe life perfectly. However, if we look a little harder, we will see that there is a lining around those grey clouds and that the sun is still present and still shining. Let 's face it. We all know that life can be tough at times, but we also know that those periods do not last forever. Life also offers us moments of love, laughter and lightness of spirit, but on days when the skies are grey, it is easy to forget that.
So we get caught up in ourselves, in our busy lives filled with our issues and responsibilities and we forget to offer a kind word to a friend who is struggling, sick or in need of encouragement. But what does that cost us? Not that much to be honest. And if we are being honest, we know that in our times of need, we all value someone who has taken the time to be kind and considerate. We know that they are not likely to wave a magic wand and make our circumstances disappear, but sometimes a kind word, a thoughtful gesture or a smile is enough to lighten the load and make our journey just a little bit easier. And we are all on a journey. Sometimes it is easy and we enjoy green pastures and sometimes we walk through the Valley of Difficulty, but whatever stage we are at in life, thoughtfulness and kindness always has a place.
Can we change the world? Of course we can. But not before we change ourselves. So my challenge to you is this. This week, smile a little more. Find the time to contact those who you know are going through trials. Listen to them without fulfilling your own need to be heard. Speaking kindly to those who are around you. Remember that they also have their fair share of trials and challenges, albeit those may be a different bag to yours. Make the most of every opportunity to bring love into people’s lives. Fair enough, that’s easier to do for some than others. There are benefits in reaching out to those who are not expecting it, but those benefits lie on the other side of being proactive.
My last challenge to you this week is to see your cup as half full and not half empty. If you start doing this, you will also find that suddenly silver linings will appear around your clouds and that the sun is still shining.
‘Every cloud has a silver lining.’