It is an easy and perhaps natural human reflex to speak of what happens to us as being somehow out of our own control. “If only I had had the same opportunities as so-and-so,” we might say, “then my life would have been so much different.” Or, conversely, we may attribute our good fortune to divine intervention, or plain dumb luck, “there but for the grace of God go I.” What is it, really, that we are subscribing to when we say things like this? The truth is, we are voluntarily giving up control of our lives, telling ourselves that we have little or no influence over the good and bad things that happen to us.
In my experience, nothing could be further from the truth. I would go so far as to say that, given the good fortune of living in a relatively peaceful, stable and wealthy society, there is little or nothing that befalls us — negative and positive — that we are not ultimately personally responsible for. I think that most of us have, from time to time, had the experience of feeling that there is a black cloud hovering over us. People treat us badly, for instance, or we have a bad day at work. There are two ways of dealing with this black cloud. One of these ways is to blame our unhappiness on outside forces, thus we are unlucky; the city we live in is unfriendly; and our friends, relatives and co-workers are a bunch of jerks. The other approach is to acknowledge the fact that we contribute to every situation we find ourselves in. If we have a bad day, it is because we decide (consciously or unconsciously) that we will have a bad day.
Of course, many of us have some cross or other to bear. Perhaps we have health issues or a bad upbringing. Maybe others have treated us poorly. When one looks, though, at the numerous examples of people who have risen above potentially devastating personal challenges in order to live rich and meaningful lives, it should be apparent just what the human spirit is capable of. For every middle-aged person who sits around cursing the darkness that fate has sent their way, there is a person creating a destiny for themselves that few other people would have believed possible.
What constitutes a good life for each of us is as individual and unique as we are, and it is influenced by certain individual circumstances. In the end, though, a good life is possible for all of us, and it is our own individual responsibility to ensure that we attain it.