Civility is in Decline
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Focus On What You Can Do Rather Than On What You Can’t Do

You Cannot Control What Happens on the Outside

Many of us obsess over the things we can’t change. One of the worst things in life is for something bad to happen to you and you can’t control it. It’s happened to me many times before. Typically, I obsess for a day or two and then I regain control of my emotions. The purpose of today’s blog is to provide advice about how your attitude, mindset, and energy can help you through these challenging times.

The Pathway to Wellness

Let’s face it, life doesn’t always go the way you want, and there will be things that you can’t control. As Sarah Barkley points out: “Learning to let go and focus only on what you can control can make all the difference in your well-being.” It can help you to counteract the unhappiness of the event, as I point out in my book, Beyond Happiness and Meaning: Transforming Your Life Through Ethical Behavior.

Learning how to let go is a skill that can be developed. But, like most skills, you need to practice it time and time again. Your mindset can determine how to deal with the misfortune of an external event that brings unhappiness to us. You should focus on the things that are within your power to find happiness, peace, and acceptance.

Barkley provides useful advice on how to deal with things we can’t control.

  • Focus on what you can control: your own thoughts, words, and actions.
  • Focus on your attitude.
  • Find the courage to let go of what you can’t change.
  • If you can't do anything about it, don't worry about it.
  • Decide to take control of what you do have power over instead of longing for control over what you don’t.
  • Shift your focus on getting where you need to be and not worry about what could have been and what should have been.
  • Go with the flow of life and trust the process.
  • Success comes down to focus and effort, which we can control.  
  • Learn to be grateful for what you have rather than disappointed and stressed over what you don’t. This too shall pass

Moral Advice

My dad was a moral person and always told me to do good things, help others, and learn to control my emotions. I also recall the prayer from my childhood: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” This saying is quite appropriate to learning how to let the things go that are out of our control.

My dad always told me that: “This too shall pass.” It’s something Abraham Lincoln liked to say. He said it was applicable in any and every situation one could encounter. Another useful expression to keep in mind is: “Time is the healer of all necessary evils.” In other words, time heals all wounds.

What Can You Do?

I have found that by living a life that puts moral behavior front and center, I can better control my emotions, temper, and acceptance of when things go wrong. I’ve learned to take the long view of activities and events that inform my life. You may be familiar with this famous quote of Ralph Waldo Emerson “It’s the not the Destination, It’s the Journey.

In other words, it’s the journey that brings us happiness not the destination. This helps me to deal with events that bring unhappiness, because at the end of the day, if I can focus my attention on what I can change, the destination will work out to my advantage. My journey may be a mixture of the good and the bad, but I know that by adjusting my attitude I can more effectively deal with the latter.

I would like to leave you with a quote by Tal Ben-Shahar: “Attaining lasting happiness requires that we enjoy the journey on our way toward a destination we deem valuable. Happiness is not about making it to the peak of the mountain nor is it about climbing aimlessly around the mountain; happiness is the experience of climbing toward the peak.”  

Blog posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, The Ethics Sage, on May 9, 2023. You can sign up for Steve’s newsletter and learn more about his activities on his website ( Check out professional recommendations on LinkedIn: