Creating Great Days

Creating Great Days

Most people have heard some variation of “Have a nice day.” For decades, it’s been our most popular way of saying good-bye, especially to those we meet casually throughout the day. Truth be told, I’ve used that phrase thousands of times. Now, however, I use a different phrase. The change is seemingly small, but I think it gives the phrase far more power:

Create a Great Day!

Think about it for a minute. There’s a vast difference between wishing someone a nice day, and suggesting they can create a great day if they choose to do so. Create a Great Day encourages the recipient to choose the proactive path, accepting responsibility for the overall tenor of their life instead of abdicating that control. It urges others to see the good in things instead of focusing on the bad, and reminds them that it’s within their power to influence the overall impact of an event that – like it or not – is now a part of their lives.

There’s another benefit to urging others to create a great day. I’ve noticed that it encourages me to create a great day for myself as well. It becomes a constant reminder of a behavior I believe will help me have a more fulfilling and productive life. That’s a lot to get across in four words, don’t you think?

I first discovered the phrase “create a great day ” in Sacred Journey of the Peaceful Warrior, Dan Millman’s sequel to Way of the Peaceful Warrior. Since then I’ve incorporated not only the phrase, but, more importantly, the concept behind it, into my daily life. Certainly there are external forces at work in our lives, but there’s also truth to the saying that we control our reality. Two thoughts come immediately to mind:

1. Our mental response to external forces will color our day. How we think about potentially negative occurrences (rain, traffic delays, an overcrowded restaurant, e.g.) contributes significantly to the impact those events will have on our day.

2. Our physical reaction determines our productivity. If we allow “negative” occurrences to stain our actions, we have made a choice, conscious or otherwise, to tune into the negative. Another, more positive choice would allow us to overcome, circumvent, or simply ignore the problem, resulting in a better overall day.

We can’t always choose what life will bring, but we can choose how we’ll feel about it. For example: This past Spring brought an excessive amount of rain to our area. While most people complained, I delighted in it because I remembered the drought of the previous two years. I knew much of this water would refill the aquifer feeding my well. The first step in my own process, then, was to recognize the benefits of the extra rain. This shift in mental attitude allowed me to see the rain as a positive event rather than a negative one.

Having completed the first step of keeping my mind positive, I continued with productive action. For most of an entire month, I couldn’t go beyond my porch without getting wet. This took away one of my evening activities: puttering around my yard dreaming and planning future landscaping projects. So instead, I spent a great deal of time sitting in my favorite porch chair watching the rain.

Where most people saw a gray, dreary monotony of activity-altering wetness, I saw a subtle beauty – in the movement of the clouds and the way the sunlight would color them from above, in the way the trees seemed to huddle together. In a few months’ time I got to know my yard in an entirely new way. I learned where the water runs and where it collects. I learned more about the trees and other plants in my yard. By creating a positive response to a potentially negative situation, I not only discovered a new facet of my yard’s beauty, I also gained important information that will ultimately improve my landscaping vision.

You can see that, having focused on the positive, having created the best I could in a given situation, I was able to enjoy a happier life during those soggy weeks of Spring. I’m sure you’ll agree that my chosen way of coping with the rain was more productive than complaining about it, hiding from it, and letting it sour my outlook on life. Just think of all the things you could achieve by adopting this mindset!

Often, when I give talks about positive living (and isn’t that all about creating better days?), afterwards someone will point to more serious challenges and express doubt about creating great days in the face of tragedy. While I admit this concept isn’t the “be-all, end-all” of living happily ever after, it still has significant power, even in the face of extreme circumstances. Consider my father’s decades-long ordeal with cancer.

Have you ever heard the adage about making lemonade when life gives you lemons? My father once told me he’d made so much lemonade, he’d developed a secret gourmet recipe. His repeated practice of making the best out of whatever came his way taught him he could will his way past almost any obstacle. He created great days.

When Dad first contracted cancer, he refused to let it ruin his life, to allow it to keep him from creating great days. He rebuffed the depression that attacks so many cancer victims and their families. Instead, Dad set his mind on making the best of things, and doing everything in his power to ensure a positive outcome.

Dad soaked up every piece of advice or information offered and used it to the best of his ability to create the best life he could while facing the hurdle he’d encountered. When the doctors told him walking the corridors a few times a day would speed his healing after surgery, Dad transformed it into a challenge to set the record for most miles walked before release. When they suggested he join a support group, he did, and eventually volunteered hundreds of hours helping other cancer patients learn to deal with it. Even his doctors agreed he virtually willed himself well, and that his mentoring of others helped them significantly.

Thanks in no small part to his attitude, Dad survived his first brush with cancer and lived another twenty-five years. When his pancreas began to give him trouble, he surmounted the problem with aplomb and continued to live a full and fulfilling life. Every time his medical condition intruded on his daily activities, Dad faced it head on, dealing with it quickly and efficiently. Most importantly, he did so with a positive mind, determined to keep creating great days.

Finally, after almost twenty-five years, he came to the end of his road. Facing news impossible to ignore, Dad came to terms with an insolvable situation: this cancer was terminal. The doctors could slow it down, hold it off for a matter of months, perhaps a year or two, but they could not eradicate it. This time, cancer would take his life. Still, he didn’t give up, choosing instead to take advantage of this final opportunity to create a few more great days.

Dad kept the secret as long as he could. He did everything the doctors told him to, and otherwise went on with his life, firm in his commitment to create great days. Having learned the news in Autumn, he wanted to get through the holidays before telling anyone. He made it through the holidays but, sadly, didn’t reach Valentine’s Day. Even then, he didn’t wallow in sorrow, and made the best he could with what he had.

Determined to continue creating great days until the end, Dad used the last weeks of his life to reaffirm his love and pride in his family, and to encourage us to continue on as he had. Essentially, he admonished us to create great days. In the hour before he crossed over, he cracked jokes with us, and sang to my mother a song they’d used as a running joke for decades. Then he sighed and smiled. “It’s time,” he said. “I’m ready.”

Dad reminded us of one of his favorite quotes from the Bible, his book of faith:

For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.

The King James Bible, 2 Timothy, 4:6-7

Then he smiled again, took my hand and said, “Take care of them for me. I’ll see you on the other side.” Comforting me with a subtle reminder, he quoted a line from a poem I’d written for him a few years earlier: “The fire never dies.”

Within an hour, Dad was gone, leaving us to reflect on the example of his life. And through my tears and pain, I came to realize that my father had set a barb in me during our last conversations. His entire demeanor during his last days had been a challenge to me. More than anything, my father wanted me to get beyond the grief and the sense of loss so I could get back to the most important thing in life: creating great days – for myself and for those around me.

Yes, I still miss my father. Sometimes it still hurts very deeply. In fact, I cried several times while working on the section about him in this essay. But I have accepted his challenge to face each day with a firm commitment to make it the best day I possibly can, to spend my life creating great days. And even now, as I write this, I realize that facing the pain of discussing my father, rather than hiding it deep within me, has helped me make a stronger case for my point. In a sense, it has also brought me closer to my father, and helped me to remember the lessons he taught me.

This is proof that great days aren’t always what we might think of as “perfect” from beginning to end. They are what you make them, one moment at a time. The more wonderful moments you collect – the more you are able to make gourmet lemonade instead of choking on the sourness of your life – the greater you days will be. So the next time the opportunity arises, follow Dan Millman’s advice and encourage someone to create a great day, instead of simply having one if it happens along. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the results over time.

©2003 – Lane Baldwin

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