Couple-Jumping with Joy above their circumstances

How to Live Your Life Above Your Circumstances

Her letter was long. Page after page she went on about every aspect of her miserable life.

In between the accounts of her husband’s unemployment and her high blood pressure, this woman managed to weave each and every detail of their broken down cars, leaking roof, busted faucets, ungrateful children, delinquent taxes, nosy neighbors, empty retirement account and unpaid bills.

I’m telling you, by the time I reached the word that for me spelled relief (Sincerely), I was nearly worn out.

Couple-Jumping with Joy above their circumstances

My immediate reaction was a sympathetic, “Oh, you poor thing!” I mean really, the way she carried on I was nearly convinced she was enduring troubles and pressures way beyond the legal limit. Her situation as she described it did appear to be without solution.

I couldn’t help but wonder how things would be if she won the lottery, which according to her hastily written postscript was her only source of hope. That would certainly let me off the hook because the point of her letter was for me to fix her, her family—her life.

She was looking for a fairy godmother, complete with wand, who would magically return everything to normal, whatever that is. I’ve read about fairy godmothers and I can assure you, I’m no fairy godmother.

Some people allow their problems and pressures to control their lives. Whether they live under their circumstances or above them has nothing to do with the troubles themselves, but how they view them.

Those who live under their circumstances see every calamity as a catastrophe. They choose to be victims; they whine, complain and carry on.

Those who live above their circumstances are not in denial. They simply choose to see these times as hairpin curves on the road of life that will straighten out soon.

RELATED: How to Survive an Income Crisis and Come Out Better for It

While you live and breathe on Planet Earth you will experience troubles and pressures from time to time and in varying degrees. It doesn’t matter how wealthy, educated, noble, or good you are. Life cannot be separated from periods of adversity.

Here are basic steps to help you gain control of your circumstances:

Choose your attitude

One thing that distinguishes you from the animal kingdom is your ability to control your attitude. You choose your thoughts, so for today choose joy.

Smile on purpose

Regardless of how you are feeling, greet the next person you see (even if it is a family member) with a smile and sincere pleasantry such as, “Isn’t this a wonderful day?”

Don’t dwell on problems

Refuse to worry unless you have a pencil and paper in front of you. With those tools in hand, your worrying automatically becomes a planning session. Write down creative and positive ideas.

Don’t let disguises fool you

Your troubles are brilliant opportunities disguised as impossible situations. Those who recognize this truth are experts at turning lemons into lemonade.

Choose joy

Kay Warren, in her book Choose Joy, says that joy is something we choose in spite of our circumstances. Happiness, she contends, is what happens to you, and it can come and go. But, says Warren, “If you’re going to experience joy, you must choose it—in spite of, even if, and in the middle of everything else.”

MORE: The Difference Between a Life of Joy or One of Misery

What you can do matters much more than what you can’t. Focus on getting through the mess or if it’s not going away, find a way to joyfully persevere.

Your greatness will never be measured by wealth or position but by what it takes to make you quit. That’s why you must never, ever give up. No matter what.

First published: 8-7-13; Updated & Republished 3-31-19

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32 replies
  1. Cynthia Huntington says:

    I find if I can think of just ONE thing to be happy about or grateful for, it can nudge my mind toward a better place when I start getting overwhelmed with problems or worries. It’s one thing only, and it’s only a start, but I can usually come up with at least that much and then try to build on that.

  2. Jan New says:

    We went through a time period where we lost a third of our income. Someone stopped making payments on a business we had sold him. For the first few days, we cried, prayed and “crashed and burned.” Then, we realized that none of this was a surprise to God and every time we worried, we tried to remember to pray and ask God for help. He supplied a lot of odd jobs for us –we trimmed palm trees, cleaned up overgrown lots and hauled lots of tree trash. We were extremely tired on most days, but our bills got paid and we didn’t lose our house. I was so grateful for Walmart that I personally thanked the manager when I saw him in the parking lot. We learned to live on a lot less. About a year later, we were more comfortable but always aware of where our money was going. God did provide and gave us hope to see it through. We have no long term contracts and can cancel our cable at any time. We enjoy our lives but we’re very careful even now about how we spend our money.

  3. Linda says:

    People today live like they are not accountable to God or anyone for that matter, therefore, WE NEED an accountability system at every level of government in place.
    I taught in the public schools for 28 years, and I witnessed more abuse of welfare than honesty. Parents lied about their income so their children could receive free breakfast and lunch. They told each other, “The district doesn’t ever check our income!” They signed their 3 and 4 year olds up for Pre-k. You only qualify if you didn’t speak English or showed low income. Parents lied and no one in the district checked.
    Many students, not all, who received free lunch, had extra money to purchase dessert, chocolate milk or chips daily. They threw most of their free lunch away and ate their chips, etc. Many of those students bragged about their cable TV and other technolgy in their bedrooms at home. Single moms came to school with tattooed bodies and nice pedicures to pick up their 4-6 children. (Aren’t tattoos expensive?) We fed our students free breakfast and lunch and sent home a bag of food on the weekends. We provided free school supplies, coats, shoes, and free after school care to some students. All summer, without any proof of need, students came to campus and ate free.
    What I witnessed over the years were parents taking advantage of free meals at school, so they could use the extra cash to spend on cable TV, technology, cars, name brand athletic shoes and clothes, eating out, etc.
    I do believe there are sincere people who need assistance for a time. I’m all about helping those in need, however, there must be accountability at every level of government. I was held accountable in my job.
    Also, nothing is free, someone is paying for it…

  4. vicki says:

    I work for an agency that provides assistance to “needy” by the way of rent, utilities and food. Most of these people have smart phones, manicured nails, namebrand clothing and plenty of money for beer and cigarettes. I’ve had to move several cases of beer in order to put their groceries we provide in their car. They feel entitled and seldom say thank you. I started this job thinking that I could help people that needed it. After 3 years, yes I’m bitter and in favor of anything the government can do to stop this mess. It’s a disgrace and it will bankrupt our country. I thought that 90% of people actually needed help with 10% being lazy and fraudulent. You can reverse that number. If you don’t believe me, get out there and see for yourself by volunteering. It will be an eye opening experience.

    • Michele says:

      Let me say Thank you. I received assistance a couple of different times in my life. I did smoke and they were around $1 a pack then.I’m ashamed to admit that but have since quit. Cell phones didn’t exist. I paid all my bills every month in full. I lived in the projects and I hated it. I was very motivated to move out as quick as I could. I did go to school but it was just too much but I got enough of an education that I was able to procure an office job. I worked hard (always willing to do that and still do) and steadily and was able to get off welfare, and move out of the projects. It was a process but I got off all Gov’t assistance. So glad it was there for when I needed it. There were times I was eligible for things like LIHEAP, etc. but didn’t even apply since i figured i was doing ok. Just didn’t want to be on Gov’t assistance but if I had to again I would. Hopefully I never have too. I’m just thankful for all the opportunities that God provided for me and I hope to continue to do His will. I’m sorry most of the needy were not thankful but I was and still am. Again, thank you!

  5. blazzar8 says:

    I work in a grocery store and can always tell who is getting too much in the way of foodstamps.They have carts piled full of every junk food imaginable-5 bags of cookies, sugary cereals,chips, cokes, bags and bags and bags of candy.I have a neighbor getting gov’t assistance of Section 8 which pays her rent.She cant keep a job because of her nasty attitude,has a smart phone which she is on constantly complaining about her horrible situation while she smokes heavily ,drives a very late model car, takes in renters (not allowed), has food stamps and her boyfriend has a very active business selling and smoking dope in the garage.She goes out to eat constantly because she cant cook and will drive 45 minutes each way to put her kids in a better school (fraudulently) and leaves trash and cigarette butts by the hundreds all over the porch.She also has gotten out of paying court costs and tickets claiming indigence- what a joke.Laziest person I’ve ever seen.

  6. kaetra says:

    There are those who embrace “the comfort of being sad”. They are the Eeyores of the world. The company of Tiggers can be beneficial to them, but we Tiggers must be careful not to let them bring us down. 🙂

    • Gracey says:

      When I had depression I sure didn’t embrace being sad. It is a real medical condition. Even now at times. It isn’t easy waking up every morning feeling really sad and low for no reason. It is as real as any sickness including flus and colds only sometimes it can go on and on.

  7. Maxi says:

    You all seem to forget/overlook the fact that some people are not in difficult circumstances by choice. My daughter has had two strokes and two brain surgeries. To talk to her you would not suspect anything wrong. But she is now blind in one eye, went from college math to fifth grade arithmetic, has problems with impulse control, and is unemployable. She doesn’t receive housing assistance because she can’t work 20 hours a week. I do try to help her, but I am a widow on a fixed income. What would you suggest she do other than receiving welfare and food stamps?

    • Anne says:

      Nothing, she is in a position, not of her own making, to need help. No one should begrudge her that nor jump to conclusions without all the facts. I think Mary may know more than we do about this situation, she can spot the difference between the “poor me” and those who ask “what can I do to make things better.”

    • Michele says:

      I’m so sorry about your daughter and she is so fortunate to have a mother like yourself. She is not in a position where she is trying to rip off the government. Any of us could end up in her position one day and we all need to remember that. It’s not wrong to ask for help when we truly cannot help ourselves like your daughter. I’m sure she’s doing the best she can.

  8. Anne says:

    Not sure about the description of those who live above and below their circumstances. I think those living above are in denial because when the car breaks down they are not prepared nor do they have a contingency plan. We used credit cards and got ourselves into debt doing this. Those living below may not have the cash on hand but know that cars break down and these things are just a fact of life. They know how to handle it and view it as a glitch in the road not something to derail them for life. They may complain about it but it’s not a catastrophe, If this woman won the lottery she would blow it in no time flat and be back in pretty much the same place unless she very quickly learned how to handle money.

  9. Kayla says:

    Excellent article today. I totally agree with personal responsibility. We all have difficulties from time to time. The difference is in how we handle it.

    I’ve been going through a rough time myself, after the death of my father this year. Been spending the majority of my time, and dragging young kids with me, working on my mom’s house to get it ready to sell, finding her a place to live, taking her to various appointments, etc, etc. All the while, my sister sits in her oversized, expensive home only an hour away, doing nothing to help, but constantly pointing out how hard her life is, how her time is limited, and how she isn’t “able” to do the tasks needing to be done.

    Sometimes I get really angry at her attitude and lack of help. But it does show the difference between us. Yes, it’s a rough time, we lost a dad we adored, and that is painfully obvious to me each and every time I make the drive to their empty house and step inside. But life does go on, things need to be taken care of, and I didn’t consider any other choice but to jump in and get started. And I have to say, it’s been somewhat of a “therapy” for me, working through my grief. She chooses, week after week, to sit at home and do nothing but mope about how this is all harder for her because her life was already in such upheaval. Well, she does have other problems, but all brought on herself as far as I can tell.

    It’s all in your attitude and the strength to stand up and do something, no matter how little. Just get started.

  10. Whithered Belaglik Von Poobah says:

    I can relate to this woman’s situation because I’ve been there and am still somewhat there with some of those problems. Partly it was because of my own mistakes and lack of judgment, party because of someone else’s, and partly because **** happens. I do my best, however, not to dump it all in someone else’s lap (though I have to say I have not always been successful!) When I start to feel down about my circumstances, I try to think about people who have suffered truly horrific situations and tell myself if he or she could survive that, then I can deal with what I’m going through. Just yesterday, I was watching the story of the young woman who was one of Ariel Castro’s prisoners and saw how she has become an advocate for other missing people. Or Malala, the girl who was shot in the head because she wanted herself and other girls to be able to go to school. No one would expect either of these young women to give anything back, but now they are inspiring people the world over. They also remind me that there are much bigger problems than financial problems. Much bigger!

    • Grace Spence says:

      I think we need to keep things in balance. Financial problems can be very scary. I remember when I was first married we had our hydro turned off because we couldn’t pay the bill. I have learned much since then about saving and reading Mary’s book gave me a lot of ideas. I raised 4 children being a widow in my 20’s and I was on Mother’s allowance here in Canada. Similar to food stamps. But I am grateful to this day because I was able to raise my young family and they are all working now and the government is being paid back many times over in the taxes my kids are paying. Now if I had not been on the system I wonder how well they would do without at least one parent home. I know many parents work but I had no education.. I returned to school as an adult. I think the answer is to have a goal. Being a christian I did have the Lord’s help. I often wonder even looking back lately how I ever did it even this year. Hours are cut and the oil has not run dry. That is the whole solution. He has said I will never leave you nor forsake you and he never has. Life can get scary though. No one wants their family to go homeless and yet is seems to be getting more popular everyday.

      • debra says:

        Education is THE most important thing the government can give to people on welfare. We need to have free education.

      • Grace Spence says:

        Sometimes I have noticed when something is free, people don’t value it as much. For example, when parents have paid for college some of the students were goofing off and even admitting Oh well my parents are paying for it. Of course this is not true in every persons case. I think the people that work for things and have to pay are much more likely to succeed. I don’t know about the USA but in Canada school is paid through taxes. So it is free for anyone who wants to go. That is up to high school. After that we have to pay tuition for college and university but it is a worthwhile goal.

      • Michele says:

        i have to agree that people tend to not realize the value of a free education in a lot of cases, but not all. I’ve watched kids waste their parents $$$ but when it came time for them to spend their own money on schooling it was quite the change. I just started back to school as an over 50 adult and it is difficult and very different from my younger days. Glad for the opportunity and am not going to waste it.

      • Grace Golden Spence says:

        Thank you. I had forgotten all about this writeup. It was 6 years ago. Time sure flies. God is still faithful even though I am not always. It is nice going back and reading all the comments over again.

  11. jaylee says:

    I needed this article today, as I’ve been having some difficulties and was having a hard time seeing beyond the problems. I had been trying to stay positive, but lately as things continued to build I had gotten discouraged and negative. I shared some of my concerns to a friend. She did express sadness I was going through these troubles, but then she immediately began giving me some creative ideas that might help my situation. I think she realized I had needed to vent, and that I was whining to her because I had gotten to a point that I felt stuck. Her response was just what I needed to give me the motivation to fight another day. If she had just felt sorry for me and left it at that, it wouldn’t have helped. If she had just launch into a list of what I should or could do to improve my situation, it may have felt like she was being patronizing. But, she gave the perfect balance of concern and suggestion of ideas to consider. My friends thoughtful response plus this timely post are just what I needed this morning. Thanks, Mary.

    • GaelicWench says:

      Oh my! Like jaylee, this is so timely. I am in a situation not of my liking and letting it affect my day-to-day chances for betterment of self. I DO have an out, but am so focused of being in the now that it’s preventing me from moving forward to do what is needed.

      You can bet that I will pay very special attention to my attitude by not letting it derail me in a negative way. Thank you, Mary; thank you, jaylee.

      We ALL have one or many issues facing us; it’s all in how we CHOOSE to address them that can make or break us. So, by keeping this in mind, when talking to someone about our issue(s) will get us further ahead.

  12. Sandra says:

    You give some good advice and, mostly, I’m in agreement. After learning many, many hard lessons about people who want help…I’ve determined the best way to help them is figure out solutions to a few of their problems. Diminish the problem load and the overall problems don’t seem as horrendous.

    Unfortunately, too many people want a fix and they want someone else to do the fixing. If a person isn’t willing to accept personal responsibility and take what action they can…now…more than likely, they aren’t willing to do what it takes for the long haul. People make poor choices and then claim victim mentality…two words for them…grow up.

    Sometimes troubles are just that…troubles and if one can’t deal with them immediately, shelve them until attitude is better. Refusing to acknowledge bills leads to more troubles so deal with bills asap.

    On the other hand, I’m rather tired of listening to people talk about their poor health, their lack of money, their unpaid bills and they’re sporting an expensive mani-pedi, new clothes/shoes, just got back from buying junk food with tax payer funded food stamps, etc. Further, some of these clods see no irony in their talk/walk.

    I’ve had one manicure in my entire life and I’m 60+. I couldn’t tell you the last time I had a new dress and those are MY choices. I much prefer wearing clothes that are mine, free and clear, than putting them on the excitement plan, which is what Daddy calls charge cards. There are a LOT of debt slaves in the USA and that leads to a LOT of problems. The library is full of books that will teach you most anything…how to cook from scratch will save a lot of money and be more healthful.

    I’d add…do NOT lend money to anyone for any reason. Give them money, if you must, but do NOT lend money, especially to relatives. It’s a sure fire method for hard feelings, now and in the future and you might as well have a forehead stamp that says “pushover”.

    Sorry for the rant but this is a hot button with me. I am sick and tired of listening to the victim mentality and am sick and tired of funding it. If a person receives government assistance, they should have urine tests; the rest of us have to have urine tests to keep our jobs to keep them in free money…let’s all play by the same rules!

    • that_girl says:

      I was kind of with you — personal responsibility is definitely important. I agree that people who make poor choices should take responsibility for them.

      But urine testing for government assistance? I don’t know about you, but the only time I’ve had to do drug testing for a job was right before being hired — not every week, month, or even year after that. Assistance programs are not the problem here. You sound a little bitter, but I promise you people who receive SNAP or TANF are trying to feed their kids, not live on the high horse.

      • debra says:

        I see many people on government assistance with smart phones. My husband makes good money and we can’t afford smart phones. So I am all for urine testing for welfare moms and dads and even children! We are turning into a welfare state especially with Obamacare…Take control of your situation YOU made it. Heal and integrate it and move on. Don’t depend on the hardworking middle class to pay and keep you in hog heaven! I am in agreement with Sondra.

      • that_girl says:

        It’s perfectly fine not to spend your money on smartphones, but I assure you, you could probably afford one if you wanted to.

        I’m thinking you don’t actually know anything about SNAP, TANF or real welfare states. Easy to be judgmental when you’ve never been in the working poor’s shoes.

      • PomMom1 says:

        FYI, most cell phone carriers give the phones away for FREE to get you to sign up for their service. There are also phones where you have to buy the minutes as you use them. In addition, even if those people ARE on drugs, how do you plan to feed their children, once you’ve yanked them off welfare? Or are you proposing we just let innocent children STARVE, simply because their parents are doing something stupid? Oh, and one more thing…HOW do you expect them to “get a job” without a phone??

    • Grace Spence says:

      I never knew that people had to have urine tests to keep a job. That is a lack of privacy. If you are doing a good job they should leave you alone. Who do they think they are? I would be looking for another job if that were the case or maybe they should take a urine test to remain an employer.

      • Linda says:

        If you have a chauffeur’s license for your work you do have to submit to random drug testing. The truth is there are people who take advantage of any situation, including assistance programs from unemployment to Social Security. There’s also an attitude and perception shift that needs to be addressed, and personal responsibility is key in all of this discussion.

      • Grace says:

        You’re probably right but I would still not want a job that wanted urine testing. There are people that take advantage but I am grateful for the chances I have been given to prove myself. I think it is too bad that things have gone this far.

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