On too many occasions, I’ve fallen into the trap of being the negative veteran.
I’ve cursed Veterans Affairs when I felt they weren’t acting quickly enough; I’ve felt misunderstood by friends, family and peers; I’ve even chosen to stand apart from other veterans at times, angry at them because they reminded me of the tough times in my life.
And with each of these choices — and I strongly emphasize the word “choices” — I was leading myself away from who I was capable of being: a happy, positive member of my family, my workplace and my community.
Why did I choose the path of negativity when I could have just chosen to be content from the start? The answer is simple — fear and pride.
Overcoming Myself Despite My Best Efforts Otherwise
I was scared to accept that things would be OK after the military. More than that, I was apprehensive about living in a world without rules and guidelines. There was no “wake up at this time,” “do this job,” “go home.” There was only me, raising two kids alone after a rough divorce, being scared to trust in family or friends and afraid to take life in stride.
There was also my overpowering sense of pride. I was unwilling to accept help, let alone admit that I needed help in the first place. I was so sure that I could “do it on my own” that I pulled away from anyone who could have improved my life. I cursed and fumed, determined to show everyone that I didn’t need their help.
And while the military gave me the tools to be an “Army of One,” it wasn’t the best way to live my life.
Turning Points Apparently Don’t Have Signs
After years of struggling to enjoy things I kept working toward — education, homeownership and a strong family — I decided to choose another route. I married someone smarter than me who knew how to enjoy life. But even then it was a struggle. It took her prodding, along with that of a coworker, to lead me to see a therapist.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that you need a therapist to help make you positive or find success; it’s just what worked for me. You might be able to do it on your own or with the help of a good dog, but that just means you’re one step ahead of the curve. While it may have taken the three of them to get me started, it’s my now my choice and goal to live a happy and positive life.
Now, I know you’re thinking, “You’re dumb, Levi. Just choosing to be happy doesn’t make you happy.” And you’re right. Maybe simply saying, “Today I’m going to be happy” isn’t enough. It’s not easy to wake up every day and decide to overlook the bad and focus on the good, but it’s a choice.
Happiness and contentedness are decisions like anything else in the world. Do you want McDonald’s or filet mignon? Do you want to dwell on that jerk who cut you off on the freeway, or are you giving your best smile to the hottie in the Camaro that just pulled up beside you? True happiness is like trying to find a land navigation point in North Carolina in the dark: it’s not easy, but not impossible either.
Bumps in the Road
The transition from angry, negative veteran to happy, positive veteran is not easy. Some people in this world will never be happy, no matter if they won the lottery five straight times. These people will constantly try to drag you down to their level. Counteract that by surrounding yourself with like-minded, positive people. And if you’re unable to avoid these types of people, give every effort to bring them up to your level of happiness.
Bad things will also happen in your life, or to people you know. For instance, there’s nothing positive about cancer. My grandmother, who displayed unrivaled sarcastic wit, defied cancer’s negativity until the very end. And my mother, a breast cancer survivor who received a double mastectomy, always stayed positive about her situation. But they aren’t alone in their decisions.
Think of every wounded warrior you know, or even those you don’t. How many make the choice to not only be positive, but continue to make a difference in the lives of others?
It was their choice to look fear in the face and say, “Life’s going to be OK, no matter the outcome.” It’s naive to say they weren’t scared, but they still made the conscious decision to be positive.
It’s All Going to be OK
There’s a cheesy quote I love to tell my children: “Everything will be all right in the end. If it’s not, then it’s not the end.” (I think heard it in the movie “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” — stop judging.)
Just the thought of that makes me happy. It’s a little Disney-esque, but that’s the point. Why not live life every day as if old Walt himself planned it all out for you?
I may never have the fortitude of my mother, but I know I will do my very best to live as positive a life as possible. I will strive to have a positive influence on others, and even though I’ll have missteps at times, I will choose to be happy.
I hope you also make the choice to be happy. The world needs more of us.
Photo courtesy Emmaline