“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” – Victor Frankl
In a recent interview with Tim Ferriss, author and business strategist Greg McKeown talked about a concept he called, “The Lighter Path.”
The Lighter Path, in essence, is the ability to cultivate a spirit of hope and ease even in the most difficult of times. Its antithesis is not the darker path, but the heavier path; the path that creates more chaos, more hurt, more work.
McKeown developed this idea after his bubbly, chatty 14-year-old daughter, Eve, began to turn morose and awkward. Her personality change was originally written off as typical teenage behavior, but after Eve failed a basic physical therapy test, she was taken to a neurologist. Despite a battery of inconclusive tests, her condition worsened to the point where Eve could no longer talk or write her own name.
“Everything came back negative, sort of good news, but bad news because you’d have no idea what’s going on,” McKeown said. “And she is fully on the way to becoming comatose and then dying in a coma…this is the stuff that agony is made of, right?”
McKeown realized that despite his daughter’s grim condition, he had two choices: he could take the lighter path and make this already awful situation easier on himself and his family, or, he could take the heavier path and make it more even more difficult.
In a crisis or as a response to trauma, the heavier path is tempting and easy to fall into. It starts with complaining or trying to solve the problem through sheer effort. Focusing all that energy on one person or problem can take the air out of the room for everyone else, leading to destroyed marriages and families.
“All of these things weren’t just hypothetical,” McKeown said. “They were right there. There was that opportunity.”
The lighter path, though, creates a space of trust and hope. While it “doesn’t feel super light,” it is lighter than the heavier path. And in times of crisis, we need all the help we can get.
McKeown said, “We would get around the piano and we would sing. We would read together at night. We would do the small and simple and even enjoyable things. And so, what was at times agonizing, but could have been seriously worse, even, was actually punctuated with joy.”
Despite never getting a formal diagnosis, Eve McKeown fully recovered. Though her story creates a poignant container to explore the idea behind light and heavy paths, it’s important to note that we don’t need a crisis to choose the lighter path.
Take a moment and think about the topography of your life. Are there any burdens, grudges, or transgressions you haven’t forgiven? Are you in a constant state of anger and defensiveness over the injustices of the world? Is there clutter, literal or figurative, that simply makes life harder?
All of this leads to a life lived on the heavier path. To become aware of the heaviness and to consciously choose to rewrite the stories around this heaviness—that is the work. That is your job. And it isn’t all or nothing. Removing even 20% of your psychic drag could have a huge impact on your life.
Start small. Maybe it’s saying “no” to a draining project, smoothing things out with an old friend who voted for the other guy, or pausing before you write a knee-jerk text message that’s sure to cause more chaos.
Simply ask yourself, before you make a choice, “Does this have to be difficult?”
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After 15 years of depression and antidepressants, my mission is to help people find hope in the name of healing. My memoir on the subject, MAY CAUSE SIDE EFFECTS, publishes on May 10, 2022. Pre-order it on Barnes & Nobles, Amazon, or wherever books are sold. For the most up-to-date announcements, subscribe to my newsletter HAPPINESS IS A SKILL.