It seems to be such a small thing, but over the years I have become more and more convinced that the right attitude is an essential component of a meaningful and fulfilling life.

Glass-half-full-webBy attitude I mean the way we look at and perceive the world around us. Let me try to first  illustrate that with a humorous example.

A man goes to the doctor, saying ‘Doctor, Doctor I am seriously ill! I am in pain all over my body. When I touch the side of my head it hurts. When I touch my neck it hurts. When I touch my shoulder it hurts. When I touch my elbow it hurts. When I touch the side of my chest it hurts. When I touch my stomach it hurts. When I touch my hips it hurts. Even when I touch my knees it hurts.’


The doctor is seriously concerned and arranges a series of blood tests, X-rays and even a CT and MRI scan. He then calls the patient back after 2 weeks. When the patient returns he tells him I have found the reason for all your body pain – you have a broken finger!

A bad attitude is like that broken finger! It can have a disproportionate effect on every aspect of our life.

William James (1842-1910) who has been described as the father of modern psychology, with enormous insight wrote:

“The greatest discovery of my generation is that human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitude of mind.”

Our attitude controls our thinking (see initial thoughts on thinking and the post Thinking with John Maxwell).There is a process by which your attitude affects your thinking. This in turn will determine your actions that will go on to determine your accomplishments. In many ways this has been particularly well understood in the world of business and politics.

The great industrialist John D. Rockerfeller (1839-1937) is reputed as saying, “I will pay a man more for his attitude and ability to get on with others than any other skill that he may possess.”

How much Rockerfeller felt about right attitude is reflected in a short poem he wrote at the age of 86:

I was early taught to work as well as play,
My life has been one long, happy holiday;
Full of work and full of play—
I dropped the worry on the way—
And God was good to me everyday.

Such an attitude of positive joy and and thankfulness is truly remarkable (we touched on that in our posts on Wonder Filled Bold Humility along with defining success). But perhaps what is even more relevant is the realisation that my attitude in any given situation is a personal choice. It often does not feel like that, but the fact that different people going through the same experience can respond in completely different ways gives a clue that we have much more control of our lives than we give ourselves credit for. (There is more on this in a video on handling stress that can be found here. Also see part 1 and part 2 on articles about stress)

Victor Frankl articulated this in the following sentence:

“One’s ultimate freedom is the ability to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.”

This was personally experienced and articulated  by Frankl, a Jewish psychiatrist who survived the harrowing ordeals of the holocaust. He was able to write about this in his book Man’s Search for Meaning.

In the book he describes the pivotal moment (in effect a paradigm shift) in the concentration camp when he understood this. One day on the way to work he found himself worrying about whether he should trade his last cigarette for a bowl of soup. He then wondered about how he was going to work with a new foreman who he knew to be particularly sadistic. It was at this point he suddenly became aware about the disgust he felt at how trivial and meaningless his life had become. He realised that he had a choice. To survive he had to choose to find some purpose to his life. He did this by imagining himself giving a lecture after the war on the psychology of the concentration camp, to help future generations understand what he had been through. Remember that at this stage he was not even sure he would survive, but he chose to create some concrete goals for himself. Making this choice of changing his attitude allowed him to rise above the sufferings of the moment. This is how he put it in his book:

“We must never forget that we may also find meaning in life even when confronted with a hopeless situation, when facing a fate that cannot be changed.”

Challenging words for all of us in our much more ordinary lives, but worth pondering over as we face the struggles and difficulties of our own personal circumstances. (I discuss an application of this to the world of work in the post Do You Live to Work or Work to Live?)

What questions and comments do these illustrations and insights raise for you?

What safeguards do you have in your life to ensure that your attitude is not like that broken finger?

It would be great to have your comments below.