Living Life on Life’s Terms – Lessons for Addiction Recovery
One of the principles of living that we teach in our program is to “Live life on life’s terms.” This is a common comment in 12-step programs, and it is also found in psychology. But what does this mean? We’ll take a look at the psychology behind this idea.
The great psychiatrist Viktor Frankl had a lot to say about living on life’s terms. He said that if you want to suffer, then you go about your life demanding people and things be a certain way. Many people suffer unnecessarily in their lives because they think life should be the way they want it to be, rather than how it actually is.
Some examples: Lots of people who suffer from addictions demand that recovery be the way they want it to be. Perhaps they tell themselves that they will get recovery only if their families support them, that they can use drugs as long as it is not their drug of choice, that they really don’t have to take any big risks such as facing their fears, and so on.
But reacting to life as you want it to be won’t make you happy. If you try to recover from addiction based on what you want it to be, rather than what recovery really is, then you will soon discover that reality wins. Frankl said that one of the keys to living a contented life was not to make demands on life but to listen to what life demands from you.
Life makes all sorts of demands on people. Some examples:
What does being a father demand of you?
What does being a lover demand of you?
What does being part of a community demand of you?
What does being given a diagnosis of terminal cancer demand of you?
What does the government tax department demand of you?
What does driving on a public road demand of you?
In psychology, we have discovered a great deal about what makes people contented in life. For example, living a good life seems to make the following demands: be humble, accept your strengths and limitations, recognize that you and everyone else is imperfect, forgive those who hurt you, be grateful for your life, practice courage and perseverance to be true to what is important to you. It may be that you don’t agree with some or all these things, but you have to ask yourself whether your disagreement really boils down to making demands on life. Perhaps you don’t think you have learn to forgive others. If so, are you really saying your ideas are better than those discovered from systematically studying how actual people live a good life? Are you saying that you are special, not like everyone else? Are you saying that you, personally, don’t like the thought of forgiving someone who hurt you, and therefore you don’t think it’s true?
If you are to live life on life’s terms, then awareness of those terms is obviously necessary. In our next few articles we’ll look at a handful of life’s terms that have a basis in psychological research (and common sense).