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man and woman in argument

Life’s not fair. Just ask anyone who gets seriously ill or injured through no fault of their own. Or those who lose their house to an earthquake, tornado or other “act of God.”

All manner of difficult, painful or tragic things happen due to circumstances beyond our control. If we base our happiness on the fairness of life, we are absolutely doomed to misery.

Very few of us get through the length of a lifetime without having our share of random events knock us upside the head. Dealing with the pain and upheaval such events create is hard enough without creating the added expectation that life should not treat us this way.

When such things happen, it’s not personal. The world is not out to screw us over. We just happen to be in the path of the oncoming car. All we can really do is treat ourselves kindly as we take stock of the damage and figure out how to move forward as happily as possible under the circumstances. When we expect to demand that life be fair, we impede the process toward resolution and/or healing and therefore get stuck.

Are you missing a chance for happiness right now by clinging to the belief that life must be fair? How might you look at the situation in a way that increases your freedom and happiness? Even though it doesn’t feel good, could you see it as a learning opportunity? A way to grow your patience, your empathy, your compassion toward others?

Life isn’t fair, but it sure is full of opportunities for growing our adaptability, resilience and self-reliance. And for cultivating an inner, unshakable core to see through hard times. That stability alone is happiness in my book.

Very few people’s lives travel a straight line from a particular dream to its fulfillment. Life is always throwing us curve balls that we must learn to respond to with grace and grit. Indeed, it is in the curves themselves that we often find the open door.

The musician Julio Iglesias, for instance, wanted to be a professional athlete. He took up the guitar only after he was temporarily paralyzed while playing soccer. The artist James Whistler took up painting as a treatment for depression after he flunked out of West Point and had to give up his dream of becoming a soldier. Framing our experience in terms of open and closed doors helps us not feel like failures and asks us to engage passionately with what life is calling us to next.

No one exemplifies the power of searching for the open door better than Helen Keller. She could have spent her life bemoaning the fact that she was blind, deaf and mute. Instead, she attended Radcliffe College, lectured on her life with the help of companions such as Anne Sullivan interpreting, and did fundraising and consciousness raising on the plight of blind people throughout the world.

When people tired of her lectures, she developed a lighthearted vaudeville show of her life, which was enormously successful. In midlife, her house burned down, and the book she had been working on for years was destroyed. She rewrote it.

In a way, happiness can be defined as the wholehearted willingness to seek and find the open door, again and again, as our lives unfold.