How to Become a Happy Adapter

In most cases, life doesn't end up as we thought it would.

Posted Jul 25, 2018

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Think back to a significant event in your life. Perhaps it’s your high school or university graduation. Or maybe when you married. Or perhaps when you started your first full-time job. Back then, what did you think the future held for you? What were your goals and how did you believe life would turn out? 

Now fast forward to the present. Did life unfold the way you had envisioned it so many years ago? In rare instances, events take place exactly as you had predicted. You planned on having two children and now you have two little ones. You anticipated graduating from a particular college and working within a specific industry and that’s precisely what happened. 

But in most cases, life didn’t wind up as we had thought it would. In fact, it may bear little resemblance to anything we could have ever predicted. I’m sure many of you would agree that the twists and turns we’ve taken are downright astonishing. 

The major lesson this exercise in looking back teaches us is that life changes. It’s in constant flux. We think one thing will happen. Then bam! We encounter the unexpected. Sometimes we adapt skillfully. While other times we act, as the saying goes, “like a bull in a China shop.” In this post, I’ll provide tools for you to be a happy adapter. 

What Gravity Teaches Us About Happiness

Imagine holding your smartphone in the air and then letting it go. We all know that the rules of gravity mean that the phone will instantly make a downward descent. If we fought against this phenomenon and told ourselves, “The phone will not drop,” we’d be setting ourselves up for disappointment and being downright wrong. 

While none of us would seriously think we could will our way into making the phone float in midair rather than fall, many of us hold a similar anti-gravity-like perspective in our lives. Change, like gravity, is a constant in our lives. When we adapt to it, life goes well. When we fight against it, our lives will be filled with disappointment. 

Some changes happen quickly such as a car accident or sunset. Meanwhile, others can take years such as our bodies’ aging. Take professional athletes for example. In their 20s, most athletes have reached the height of their physical prowess. They may continue to compete in their 30s, but rather than rely purely on strength and speed, they use skill gained through experience to maintain peak performance. 

But in the fourth decade of their lives, no amount of brain power can make up for a 40-year-old body. Age and injuries eventually result in retirement. From the start of their careers, athletes realize this and while they may not like it, the vast majority accept this career trajectory. Any athlete in his or her 40s who rejects retirement will surely be disappointed with reality. 

So how do we adapt well in order to experience happiness no matter what? Imagine you were laid off from a job that you enjoyed. The path to suffering would be telling ourselves, after the initial surprise and disappointment, “It was my favorite job. I’ll never have one like it again. I need it back!” Meanwhile, a happy adapter approach would be, “I really liked that job. But something else will come along. And whatever that may be, I’ll work toward enjoying that too.” 

If our goal is to adapt to change rather than cling to what we had hoped for, we set ourselves up for happiness rather than suffering. 

This doesn’t mean we accept every change unquestioned. If our spouse is abusive, we take action to protect ourselves. If we’re presented with bad health news, we do our utmost to care for bodies. But life doesn’t always offer us a straight-forward solution to adapt to change. 

Becoming Happy Adapters Is a Two-step Process 

To adapt well, first, we need to reflect. We must identify if we are clinging to the past. If we’re hanging on to what we had hoped for, rather than what life is presenting us now, we must acknowledge this. Until we realize we’re struggling with and fighting against events as they are unfolding before us, we will continue to suffer. 

Second, we must learn to adapt to change. One way to do so is to acknowledge how it will benefit us over the long term. When we commit to happy adapting, life goes well, no matter what. When changes happen, even difficult ones such as the death of a loved one to cancer or bankruptcy, we realize that there is always something beautiful to focus on. 

If we commit to leading happy lives, no matter what, then we will focus our energy on finding the beauty in every moment. No doubt, shifting our perspective from clinging to adapting well will require work, particularly when we’re confronted with challenging events. But with a steadfast commitment to adjust to change, we can truly lead beautiful lives. 

Change, like gravity, is unavoidable. So rather than fight it, why not flow with it? When we accept both and adapt well, we learn to embrace events as they are rather than as we would like them to be. Instead of fearing what the future holds for us, we live life full of curiosity and optimism knowing that, no matter what, happiness is in our hands.