In 2016 I was about to graduate with high honors from a top university. I had mastered Mandarin. Eleven months before graduation, I had secured a job from a reputable accounting firm. I was in a stable relationship with one of the most gorgeous girls on campus. Life doesn’t get any better than this for an international student 1o,000 miles away from home.
Slowly, things began to change. Three months before graduation all three members of my family fell gravely ill. When I wasn’t awake talking on the phone with them, I was awake worrying myself into insomnia, anxiety, and stress.
Two months before my graduation, the recruiter who’d agreed to hire me wasn’t returning my calls nor replying to my emails. I started to entertain loads of self-deprecating thoughts. Little by little, I was descending into oblivion.
Finally, the big day had arrived. It was my graduation day. Pretending that everything was fine, I put on a big smile and went to the ceremony. Needless to say, there was a fire of frustration and anxiety raging inside. Soon I wouldn’t be able to conceal it any longer.
The atmosphere of the auditorium was filled with laughter and excitement from relatives, teachers, and students. Deservedly so. That day marked the end of countless sleepless nights, embarrassments, exams, and reports. To everyone, it was like the end of a forty-hour marathon in the Himalayas.
Paradoxically, the smile, chatter, and exhilaration of my classmates and their loved ones only added to my woes. I became more and more anxious with each minute that passed.
Suddenly, I was reminded of all the pains my mom had gone through to get me to where I was. When my dad left her because she didn’t agree to abort me, she took it upon herself to move forward with the pregnancy and raise me.
Without a proper job nor a stable source of income, she did everything in her power to ensure that I had a solid education. I would have given anything to have her celebrate such a happy moment with me.
Fearing that I may embarrass myself and spoil my classmates’ happy moments, I left in the middle of the ceremony and rushed back home. I locked myself in my room and cried my eyes out for hours on end.
I came to a point when I couldn’t eat, sleep, or enjoy any activity. For the first time, I was experiencing what psychologists call “anhedonia.” No beautiful movies, social gatherings, or sports appealed to me. As I isolated myself, I became more and more lonely.
On November 10, 2016, at 10pm, the only person that was around during those troubling times decided to put an end to our relationship. Normally, that would have been just another breakup. But to me, it was a breaking point!
Given the grief and pain I was enduring at that time, I had no mental steam to cope with another rejection. The pain that was already eating my soul became even more unbearable. That night and the seventeen days that followed, all I could think of was to simply end it all.
The Turning Point
Eighteen days later, on November 28, 2016, I decided to open up to a pastor and her wife. For the first time, I counted all my pain and griefs to this couple who gave me their undivided attention for three hours non-stop.
That night, I went home with a renewed sense of hope. It felt like a big weight had been lifted off my shoulders. For the first time in eighteen days, life seemed to have more potential for joy than it ever did.
Back to my room in front of my computer, a video by Nick Vudijic on how to overcome hopelessness made its way through my screen as if by magic.
Halfway through the video, a feeling of resentment and shame was washing all over me.
How could someone without limbs have such a positive outlook on life? I understood that there must be more to happiness and peace of mind than the challenges of life.
I was determined to find out what I needed to do to help me navigate life’s difficulties without losing any sense of pleasure or hope. In the subsequent months, I would discover what it takes to turn disappointment into achievement, desperation into inspiration.
Focusing on Your Blessings
I’ve heard it said that counting your blessings is an effective way to deal with challenges of life. It sounded too good to be true to me—and incredibly difficult. How can someone count their blessings when they’re obviously in a total mess?
Still, I took a piece of paper and challenged myself to write ten things that I was grateful for. Within minutes I was all worked up writing positive aspects of my life that had previously eluded me. I may have been anxious, but I wasn’t hospitalized, I had a roof over my head, I had friends that cared for me. My mom may have been sick, but she was alive.
It became clear to me that my attitude toward my problems was clouding my judgments and preventing me from seeing the beauty of life. I realized that no matter what you are going through there are always a thousand reasons to be happy.
I’m not saying that feeling down or frustrated is unnatural, that you shouldn’t feel sad when you are going through hardships. Rather, regardless of how dark a situation is, there is always a silver lining. You simply have to search for it.
I don’t expect you to agree with me. All I’m asking is that you put this claim to test and prove me wrong. You have nothing to lose but a world of peace and relief to gain the minute you put pen to paper counting your blessings.
Put Your Problems in Perspective
As I continued to write my blessings first thing in the morning and before retiring at night, the happiness and peace of mind I experienced became contagious to anyone I came in contact with.
People from all walks of life became attracted to me in ways I never dreamed of before. They were looking for my advice on how to cope with their own life challenges.
Gradually, it dawned on me that some of these people were going through troubles that were way bigger in magnitude than my problems.
I will never forget how much pain one young student felt when she told me the story of her parents. At twenty-four, she found out that her parents had an open marriage and her mother was seeing another man aside from her father. Neither of her parents dared to tell her until she found out herself.
People in Asia, where I live, are very conventional, and most families would not openly live this type of arrangement because of how it would be perceived by society. The shame and betrayal she felt were so disheartening that it affected her studies, her mood, and her sense of self. She was devastated!
As she counted the story, I got overtaken by emotions, lost all professional composure, and began to cry right in front of her. After this incident, it became clear to me: No matter what problems you are going through there are people with similarly painful or even bigger problems out there.
I decided to put my own realization to the test. In addition to counting my blessings, I began to experiment with two additional ways to put my problems in perspective.
First, whenever I feel overwhelmed by a problem, I put the problem I’m facing at number ten on a piece of paper. I then strive to find nine worse problems that I could be facing right now.
Similarly, when I’m facing a problem that feels insoluble, I put my problem at number ten on a piece of paper and strive to find nine others who are going through much bigger problems.
Looking at my problems in this light provided me an excellent and effective way to build a strong sense of humility. Yes, it is absolutely important to see the light that shines through the darkness, but it’s equally important to acknowledge that the darkness may not be as dark as you imagine it to be.
Putting your problems in perspective and realizing that you are not as unfortunate as your distorted thoughts make you believe, will be a valuable asset in helping you take constructive actions toward solving your problems.
The Power Question
As I developed a sense of gratitude and humility, I realized I needed to do more to come out stronger from those challenges. Counting blessings and putting problems in perspective may be effective in the mental plane, but they won’t make problems go away.
As I continued my journey reading, reflecting, and finding means to solve my problems, I came across a famous quote by Epicurus: “Skillful pilots gain their reputation from storms and tempest.” The depth of the meaning of this quote made an immediate and profound impact on me.
I became convinced that everyone must have a set of skills to respond to life’s challenges. I asked myself, “What inner strength do I have, or do I need to develop, in order to face this problem?”
Oftentimes, when the going gets tough, we ask ourselves blame questions such as: “Why me?” “Why is this happening to me?”
Or we may simply criticize ourselves by discounting our strengths. “I must be really stupid.” “I’m doomed.” “I’m never gonna make it…”
By asking yourself this power question, you change your perspective and find what it takes to help you out of the rut. You don’t blame, whine, or criticize—you get going!
Asking myself this simple question helped me understand that I could use my life stories to empower others, either in writing or through my speeches, workshops, and seminars.
At the time of this writing, I’m proud to have impacted the life of thousands of young people throughout Asia. I’ve witnessed students, new hires, and even managers develop a positive outlook on life as a result of those stories.
I never would have done any of this had I asked myself the power question.
No matter what you may be going through, I challenge you to ask yourself: What inner strength do I have, or do I need to develop, in order to face this problem?
Does this mean I’m problem-free right now? Absolutely not. Much like the clouds in the sky, problems come and go, but I’m no longer tossed around like a piece of wood on a stormy sea.
I’ve developed the mental maturity that allows me to bend without cracking, and to adjust my sails with the whirling wind of anxiety, worry, and stress.
Today, I’m living a life of meaning and boundless joy. I’ve regained my appetite for living. The most meaningful of all my gains is the utmost satisfaction I experience helping others awaken their inborn geniuses. Writing this article is a direct example of this commitment.
It took me three years of applying these principles before I could see any tangible results. Beware of the get-happy-quick scheme. Anything valuable takes time. Your happiness is no different. A combination of a willing heart, a bias for action, and patience are all you need to live your life of happiness and meaning.
If you count your blessings, put your problems in perspective, ask yourself the power question, and take consistent daily actions to strengthen your mind you will get results beyond your wildest imagination.