Over the past few years, I’ve learned and relearned a very important lesson: you can’t always control your situation, but you can always control your attitude. Actually, I think it’s safe to say that we usually don’t have control over the situations in our lives, if we think we have control over a situation, we probably have control over one element of that situation, not the situation as a whole.
Back to the point. There are situations in our lives when we can choose to wallow in self-pity, let our anger fester, or make the decision to be happy and look on the bright side.
The first example of this comes from my trip to Thailand last September. (Wow, huge shocker, she’s using another travel story. Yeah, I know. I can’t promise that I’ll ever stop talking about traveling. Sorry if it’s getting old. Actually no, I’m not sorry. #sorrynotsorry.)
Anyway, we were a few days into our trip through Thailand, and our plans for the night were to stay in floating bungalows in Khao Sok National Park.
It was a really incredible experience, but I’m jumping ahead a bit. At this point, a half-hour boat trip stood between us and the floating bungalows. This requires some explaining: our boat was nothing fancy, it had maybe five or six benches that sat three across and was covered with a very weathered tarp; it served the purpose of ferrying guests from the docks to their accommodations on the lake. We set out from the docks, and within twenty minutes, what had started as a partly cloudy day ended up looking like something like this:I LOVE extreme weather so at first I thought it was pretty cool, but pretty soon, the combination of pouring rain and incessant wind made for some cold, unhappy campers. I was still enjoying the experience until I realized that the deluge was soaking my backpack, and although I had tied my DSLR in a grocery bag and buried it deep (or what I thought was deep) inside my luggage, I feared for its safety. I did my best to keep my backpack dry, but when rain is barraging you from every angle and water is pooling in the bottom of the boat, that’s a difficult task. At this point, I was just grateful that I had left most of my other electronics behind. Long story short, the above photo was one of the last ones taken by that camera. Fortunately my memory card was water-resistant, so all my pictures were undamaged, but the same couldn’t be said for the camera.
It’s probably obvious that at this point that I was pretty bummed out; I had saved for a long time for that camera, and although I’d had it for nearly three years and had used it to take thousands of pictures, I wasn’t ready to say goodbye. I was faced with a decision at this point, I could mope about losing my camera and be a Debbie Downer for the rest of the trip, or I could use my old, dented, little point-and-shoot, which somehow worked despite having a cracked screen and having been subject to the same conditions, and enjoy the rest of the trip. It was difficult, but ultimately relieving to choose to enjoy the rest of the trip, rather than dwelling on the loss of a material possession.
Well, that’s not hard, right? Right. I had travel insurance, and at that point I still thought my camera was covered, (which it wasn’t. Thanks Allianz.) I like to think that this was just a warm-up for what was to come in New Zealand.
It’s necessary to make another side note here: I’ve been dreaming of visiting New Zealand since my obsession with Lord of the Rings began, which was nearly a decade ago. I’ve read the books, seen the movies (extended editions, of course) hundreds of times, and watched all the bonus footage, behind the scenes stuff, and commentaries. I may have had a problem, but that’s beside the point; traveling to New Zealand was a dream come true for me.
After our finals, three of my friends and I embarked on our long-anticipated trip to the north island, home of Mt Ngauruhoe (Mt Doom in the films) and more importantly, the Hobbiton movie set. Needless to say, I was more than a little excited. Our first day went according to plan, we had a rather relaxed day exploring Auckland, with a lot of walking and sightseeing. The second day began with the four of us walking from our hostel to a car rental place, where we picked up the small, white, hatchback that was to be our transportation for the rest of the trip. We drove a bit out of Auckland to see the famous black sand beaches, which were beautiful, and then after getting groceries and some much-needed coffee, we decided to visit a monument called One Tree Hill. Honestly, after what happened next, I don’t even remember why it was important.
I feel like I go into unnecessary detail every time I tell this story, so I’ll skip over the details for brevity’s sake. We walked up to the summit of the hill, where the monument itself stood, and spent a good ten minutes or so taking pictures before a surprisingly sudden and also surprisingly brief rainstorm sent us running down the hill to the shelter of our car. When we got to our car, we discovered this:
After a few moments of panic and several pricy phone calls from the only remaining, and fortunately internationally enabled iPhone, we made a list of what was missing. The list consisted of three iPhones, two iPads, a MacBook Pro, a telephoto lens, my wallet, and two passports. Another side note: this happened on Thanksgiving, so the embassy was closed; we had called the police and the car rental company, but as far as the biggest issue, the passports, there was nothing more we could do that day.
The events of that day left us all emotionally drained and defeated. I vividly remember sitting in a Wedny’s in Auckland, dipping my fries in my frosty, praying that I would eventually make it back to the states, and wondering what the heck we were going to do. After a good deal of silent, defeated stress-eating, one of my friends pointed out that everything that had been stolen could be replaced, no real damage had been done, and nobody had been hurt. In any other situation, I would have considered the following conversation incredibly cheesy, but we sat there talking about what we were thankful for. What stuck with me was: “Well, at least this sets the bar pretty high for the worst Thanksgiving ever.” and “At least this didn’t happen in Thailand.” That conversation set the tone for the rest of the trip. With a little rescheduling, we were able to fit in almost all of our planned sightseeing and activities, and the next day we got our passports and continued on our way. We accepted the fact that our belongings were gone, but didn’t let it affect the rest of our trip. There was no way I was gonna let some jerk ruin my Hobbiton experience (which was awesome, by the way.)
Now, I’m not saying that it’s easy to look on the bright side and embrace a positive attitude, or that I’m always able to simply choose happiness regardless of my situations. I also understand that there are circumstances in which having a positive attitude is incredibly difficult. What I’m saying is this: next time you find yourself wallowing in self-pity or getting irrationally angry, just think about how it’s affecting you and try to approach it differntly.
Or try getting a snack, I know I get pretty cranky when I’m hungry.
Just an aside about what happened in New Zealand: I could not believe how kind and apologetic people were when they heard about what happened. One woman, after overhearing one of my friends talking on the phone to his parents, offered us free accommodation for two nights and was absolutely wonderful to us. Despite the robbery, we had an incredible time there and I would go back in a heartbeat.