Everything that has ever happened in your life, good or bad, has had an impact on how things are for you right now.
Some things are very obvious - A significant loss. A traumatic experience. An uplifting event.
Other things are less obvious - A conversation with a stranger. an argument years ago. A piece of good fortune.
Every interaction you've ever had is another piece in the jigsaw that makes you the person you are, right now, at this second. If any of them had been different, you would be different in some small way.
If you accept this then surely it follows that if you feel your life is not good just now, it's because of certain important events in your past?
If you have lost somebody that you loved, that event is the reason you are feeling sad or lost. Of course this is true. If you just found out you won a large sum of money on the lottery, that's why you're feeling happy.
The event influences the person.
However, when you look at your life from a broader perspective, rather than focus on your immediate emotions, consider how you feel about your life and the direction it is heading. It is possible to feel a strong emotion like happiness while at the same time feeling generally dissatisfied with how your overall life is panning out.
Those that are happy and content with their life are not people that have had only positive events happen to them. They are not even the people that have had more good than bad in their life.
They are the people that react in a certain way.
Take the happiest person you know and there is a high probability they will have had a number of bad events happen to them in the past. So why are they so happy.
A lot of a person's happiness, I believe, comes from how they feel about themselves and their life. If a person feels ok about themselves and is generally content with how their life is and the direction it is going, those traumatic times in their past will impact their happiness much less.
Alternatively, take the person that seemingly has everything that society assumes should contribute to happiness. Wealth, success, love, good looks, health, friendship. If this person has a significant event in their life that they cannot make sense of or recover from, all of those things mentioned will mean nothing. They will not feel life is that great if they cannot see a way past their problem. It's hard to be optimistic about the direction of your life if all you can envisage is more struggles ahead.
So if you have two people with similar sorts of trauma or intensely negative events in their life, how can one still be happy but one not?
They answer could be found in their reaction.
We are all going to suffer setbacks, losses or challenges in our lives. These events can make a person softer, harder, angrier, calmer, more affectionate or more distant, all depending on the extent and type of event that occurred. These will all, unquestionably, impact on the person we become.
But the direction your life takes is all about how you react to these events.
For example, you lose a loved one. They were maybe the source of your greatest love and friendship. You are not going to be the same person as a result of the loss. So what if your reaction to this is to refuse to believe that the person is gone? What if you cannot accept that life could possibly be any good now that person, and all they brought to your life, is gone forever? What if you react by thinking that you are somehow less of a person because they are not there to encourage you?
The direction these reactions take you could feel quite dark. Maybe very lonely and hopeless.
However, what if the reaction to the loss were different. It's still true that you are not going to be the same person. But what if you accept the person is gone. You remind yourself of how important a part they played in your life and the positivity they brought. Of course you are sad but you realise that the person would not want you to feel like that forever. You resolve to make the person proud.
The direction these reactions could take you seem to be lighter. There seems to be optimism there and self belief.
Of course, it takes time to see the light at the end of the tunnel after losing someone you saw as so vital to your well-being but the difference between the two outcomes was the reaction. The event was the same.
It may take months or even years, in some cases, to be able to admit that the intense hurt of the loss has subsided. That can be the same in both examples. Crucially, it was the eventual reaction, after the hurt had lessened, that dictated whether the direction taken was positive or negative.
Even if you were to accept that this is all true, a person can still not simply 'decide' to have a positive reaction and everything will be great. People react how they feel. But so many people reach the point where they know life has gone down the wrong path and they want things to be better. They want to react differently. They just don't know how.
Somebody that suffered something significant as a child may realise that they are still affected by it decades later. They are still reacting to it in a way that does not help their overall happiness in life. So they seek help. It may mean confiding in a friend or family member. It may mean talking to a professional. But the important thing they are doing is trying to change things to allow them to react differently to the past event. Just talking it through with someone may be all that is needed for some people. For others it requires more in depth examination of thoughts, feelings and perspectives surrounding the event.
Remember, the event has made them who they are. But if they change how they react to it, their life could take an entirely different direction.