How to Make Good Choices

Salty Snippet, May 2021    

“Each step leads to the next in our lives.”  -Ambrose Worrall, in The Gift of Healing 

   All my life I’ve had difficulty making decisions.  I consider too many things – how will this affect others? will I be happy with this choice? what if it’s too difficult?  what if what I want isn’t what “God” wants? what will people think?  Maybe I can’t even see how to proceed towards something I want – it looks impossible.  The best book I ever found on this topic, a book that changed my life, was/is called Elegant Choices, Healing Choices, by Marsha Sinetar.

   Here is the line that helped me most:  “As we are able to stay centered on the present, as we focus ourselves in all purity and with full attention on the now moment, we can see that one thing is better than another.”   Using this as a guide, I began changing what I was saying to myself.  Instead of saying “I don’t know what to do,” I would say “I DO know what to do,” and I’d see what arises inside.  I do know what I want to do, what I feel would be the best choice, but there are factors influencing me. 

    Ms. Sinetar has a nice quote from Augustine of Hippo:  “the only difference between the happy and the unhappy is that happy persons love their own good will.  They enjoy doing what is good and what is good for them.”  As Augustine was big on the sinfulness of human nature, I’m not sure from the quote alone what he meant here; it brings up one problem in decision making: trying to impose ideals on ourselves – oughts, shoulds, etc. and calling them the good.  Ms. Sinetar’s position is that “willpower” is something we can choose to use gently, step by step, to increase our freedom in choosing.

   For me, the very notion that it is okay to seek happiness took some learning!  I was raised in a religious atmosphere which taught that suffering is good!  We demonstrate to God that we love him by courageously suffering!  Perhaps this is a kind of Puritan stoicism that says “too much happiness goes with not being serious enough, with self-indulgence.”

   Actually, suffering takes a toll on our bodies and spirits; it does not feed vitality, the impulse Mother Nature puts in us to stay alive and thrive.  Nothing in Nature tells us to choose a dangerous and difficult path for the mere sake of being noble.  Occasionally a life situation calls us to sacrifice but generally we see in Nature that the impulse inside each life is to take care of itself and thrive.

“If we are to be happy, we must first decide what we want to do with our lives, intend to make it happen, and then we must begin to work on our intention,” says Sinetar.  Sometimes we use worries, concerns for others, distracting thoughts, to keep us from seeing and doing what we want!  That is because happiness is not the same as pleasure.  Making the vital choice, going with the deep enthusiasm inside, might require the work of clearing out the garden bed so the dream of our life can grow.

   Choosing momentary pleasure, e.g. feeling good by consuming a substance to feel good, is not a choice that gives long life and ongoing vitality. True happiness is the same as enthusiasm, the Greek word for the breath of the gods inside us.  Enthusiasm gives us the energy to do even difficult acts.

   “We have the power and the responsibility to choose on our own behalf,” says Ms. Sinetar.  This is the love we look for outside ourselves!  Taking care of our life is our own first responsibility, and choosing what gives us vitality and enthusiasm blesses the life force inside us with peaceful long-lasting happiness.

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