Have you read the words of Robert Frost, in the last verse of The Road Not Taken?
“I shall be telling this with a sigh, somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference.”
It deals with my favourite philosophical question: Choice.
What choices do we have and what do we do with those choices?
We can ponder endlessly how much of life is predetermined, how we are limited by heredity, intellect, social status, environment or economics. That’s not the issue here; nor do I believe that it’s important.
However limited our choices may be, what matters is what we accomplish through the choices we make.
Victor Frankl survived the death camps of World War II and wrote in his book Man’s Search for Meaning:
“We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing, the last of the human freedoms: to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
I believe we have a great deal of choice; that most of us do not make the most of these choices and that we tend to live our lives based on other people’s decisions and expectations.
I believe that, too often, we lack the courage to act on our decisions.
Not to decide is to decide. I believe this freedom to choose is one of the most important aspects of our lives, and that to act responsibly on those choices determines the success or failure of our lives.
It’s important to differentiate between freedom and license. Make no mistake, this is not the concept of “if it feels good, do it.” All choice combines freedom with responsibility; they are inseparable.
We pay a price for all our decisions and our indecisions, but we’ve the individual freedom to determine for ourselves when that price is too high.
Each day brings new choices and multiple decisions have to be made. All choices matter and the potential for a better life is all around us. No matter how trivial our choices may seem to be, the decisions we make determine who we become and what the quality of our lives will be.
We become in a very real sense the consequences of our choices, or rather our decisions to those choices.
So, let me present some areas in which we can exercise our freedom to choose.
Our freedom to choose
We can choose whether or not we believe in our inner light
All living things seek light and through it life; neither plants nor animals can survive long without the beneficial effects of light from our resident star, whether they receive it directly and visually, or indirectly through the energy it provides. And beyond the physical light that we humans absolutely must have in order to survive, lies the ‘inner light’ which is equally essential for our survival.
We can choose to move into the shadows, away from light and life.
However, denial of the inner light does not diminish its existence in the warm glow of actuality, and choosing to avoid it, and thereby avoiding life itself, merely changes us for the worse. Better then to choose light and thereby life, and to do so positively, enthusiastically and above all willingly.
We can also choose love.
We can choose which people and what creatures matter to us, and then nurture our relationship with them tenderly as treasured parts of our own being. We can choose to make time for the people and animals we love; and where we initially have none to love, we can choose to go out and seek people and animals to care about.
We can also choose health, both mental and physical.
We can choose a positive approach of holding on to and treasuring the areas of health we have. We can choose not to abuse our bodies and nurture them with healthy exercise, healthy food and sufficient rest. The same goes with our minds. Choosing a positive, can-do attitude is essential in maintaining your mind and body in as healthy a state as you can.
Remember too, that we can choose to surround ourselves with beauty.
We can dream of better places, more beautiful surroundings, and then go about creating our little corners of paradise.
Even a plant on a windowsill can bring beauty and grace into an otherwise drab existence.
Simple pleasures such as a walk around the block, fresh flowers on the mantelpiece, light streaming through the stained-glass windows of my local church, music, candlelight, poetry….so many small things are there just for the taking, even if our circumstances are humble.
Seek out therefore the beauty that brings you refinement and happiness.
And finally, we can choose happiness.
I know…it isn’t at all to just ‘be happy’. But there are small things we can do to increase happiness in our lives. The easiest way for me is to choose to be grateful – even for the small things in life.
Even if you have to pretend to be grateful, do so. For that pretence will, when sincerity is added, turn into genuine gratitude.
This may seem like cold comfort, but please believe me: choosing to experience gratitude, and doing so with sincerity, is one of the most important choices you will ever make.
For from that gratitude, no matter how small it is at first, a whole universe of happiness will open up.
If someone makes you unhappy, remember that you can choose the opposite state merely by counting your meagre blessings one by one, and amplifying them to the point where happiness returns.
So, choose to be happy, and begin the process of by choosing to be grateful.
I have a small fridge magnet which reads: “Life is not a dress rehearsal.”
Yes, I know life is also like a big classroom, and yes, we are here to learn our lessons; but if we have the power of choice, why not use it to our advantage?
In other words, choose to succeed and choose to dream big. Don’t treat life as a mere dress rehearsal.
Create your own ideals, make your own dreams, and then make them come true.
Have the courage to choose and to live with your choices, no matter how they turn out.
You are the pilot in command and there is ultimately no one else who can take responsibility for your life.
If someone consistently makes you uncomfortable or unhappy, why are they a part of your life? You don’t have to answer the phone every time just because it’s ringing, and if you don’t like your life, look for honourable ways of making it better.
Where unhappiness exists, choose a strategy to change things.
The most important step is simply to choose to take that first step out of your dungeon, even if you can’t see immediately how to escape.
Choose to change things, and accept nothing less than a complete transformation.
Make a list of the things that bring you comfort and support, and those that detract you from peace of mind and happiness.
I have made some changes in my life.
I no longer make room for plastic flowers in the home, wine in paper cups, chronically negative people bothering me, restaurant meals that cost more than I earn in a day. They’re all gone and I haven’t missed any of them.
I now have more time for the things that matter to me, and I pursue happiness without hurting others in the process.
All choices involve consequences, and responsibility for those choices.
We have to pay our dues, but what a small price there is for true freedom! We are the sum total of our choices, and our lives are lived out living with the consequences of what we have chosen.
So choose life – and choose one full of happiness!