By: Greg Harms
When trick-or-treating as a child, how often did you come home with a bag full of candy, dump it out onto the table, and discover your most-hated type of candy sitting right there on top? For some that might be candy corn, for others circus peanuts, or worst of all for many of us, a box of raisins. What was easier to focus on, all that great free candy, or the candy that you couldn’t stand?
While the obvious answer now is that we should have focused on the good candy that we got for free, many of us likely obsessed about the candy we didn’t like, wondering why we got that instead of the good stuff. We may have felt obligated to eat the candy we didn’t like and may have become resentful or angry about it instead of appreciating the candy we did like
As we grow up, we often retain this habit, focusing on things that go wrong for us rather than on what is going well.
Instead of candy now, we get upset about jobs that aren’t what we thought they would be, relationships that have gone in a direction we’re not happy with, and personal choices that didn’t work out the way we wanted them to.
While the stakes are often much higher, the concept is still the same. For the vast majority of us, there is still a lot of good in our lives, but instead of appreciating it, we focus on what is not so good and spend a lot of emotional energy feeling angry, depressed, or anxious (see our depression and anxiety post).
As a child, the obvious solution was to take that candy we didn’t like out of the pile and give it to someone who did like it, or at least drop it in the bag of the next trick-or-treater who showed up at your house. As an adult though, we often can’t just give away a job or relationship, and often wouldn’t want to even if we could.
So, what can we do about this job, relationship, or choice that turned out to be a box of raisins in our candy stash? Staying in it out of a sense of obligation is not satisfying or productive, just as eating the raisins just because you had them may have not been very enjoyable. But, just like when we were children, this unsatisfying aspect of our lives may be surrounded by a lot of good that we are ignoring. We may hate the job, and even our boss, but enjoy our co-workers. We may not always get along with our significant other, but there are still times when we do enjoy each other’s company.
Why not focus on those and take the enjoyment that they provide? As we shift our focus, we are more likely to notice other good things in our lives. And, unlike the candy, once we enjoy something, it’s not gone for good. We can come back to it over and over, continuing to get that enjoyment and positive mental energy. As our mental energy improves, it becomes easier to take control of our lives.
It might be time to start looking for a new job, see a marriage counselor, find some new friends, or even stop addictive behaviors.
As we do this, we might even look at the box of raisins differently. We might come to appreciate the variety that it provides and see the good in it. At the very least, we might appreciate that it spurred us to make some changes that have improved our lives and have some gratitude for the fact that we got it even when we didn’t want it.
As Halloween approaches and we start planning our festivities, I would challenge you, first, don’t be the person who gives out raisins to trick-or-treaters, but second, take this opportunity to take a new look at the metaphorical raisins in your life and make the choice to do something about them rather than let them get you down.