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Elizabeth Scott, M.S.

Comedy or Tragedy?

By April 4, 2013

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I recently re-watched one of my favorite movies, Stranger Than Fiction, where the main character realizes that he is actually a character in a book. Harold (said main character) tries to figure out what kind of story he's in--a comedy or a tragedy--to figure out whether things will end happily for him or he has to make some drastic changes in an effort to save himself. He goes about this by carrying a notepad and recording the events that happen to him in a day--if something good happens, he puts a tally in the 'comedy' column; if something bad happens, a mark goes under 'tragedy'.

I won't tell you anything else about the movie (other than that I do recommend it), but I will tell you that Harold seems to record random events in his day in the tragedy column, when they could easily go in the 'comedy' column if he were to change his perspective just slightly. There are also events that occur that could be filed as 'not positive' that could easily be turned around.

This got me thinking about how often this happens to many people throughout the day. Much of what we experience can be seen and experienced as 'stressful' or not, depending on how we look at things. Similarly, more positive events can happen to people who make them happen, or even just expect them to happen, whereas more negative events (and, thus, more stress) can be the result of pessimistic expectations and missed opportunities. And a sense of humor can go a long way in turning a bad day around, or preventing one in the first place.

If you find yourself living a different 'story' than you'd like to be living, there are a few things you can do to change the tone, and perhaps the plot. First, everything can shift if you find a way to relax. These top relaxing strategies can help with that! Also, why not take a few minutes to learn the tricks of learned optimistic thinking? These tips can help when you're having just one of those days. Finally, take a few more minutes and read about maintaining a sense of humor throughout the day, and you could find yourself (and those around you) having a great day--or at least a less stressed one!

More Resources From Elizabeth Scott

Has there been a situation you've experienced recently where it could have gone either way? How did you respond? (Put your answers in the comments; we'd love to hear!)

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January 7, 2009 at 6:17 pm
(1) jh says:

Thanks for the great column. You know, I think you hit it right on the head when you said it is a story we tell ourselves. Everything is, even our pasts, who we are etc. If we can begin to let go of the story, life becomes easier.


January 7, 2009 at 6:51 pm
(2) stress says:

Thanks! Yeah, I guess a lot of life is just about getting out of our own way, huh? And the story is never ‘over’. ; )

January 7, 2009 at 8:42 pm
(3) dianeinjapan says:

I totally agree about the importance of a sense of humor! Sometimes it’s good to have a hearty laugh when things around us just seem so ridiculous!

January 9, 2009 at 12:41 am
(4) Sandra Foyt says:

I wonder to what extent we’re capable of changing our perspective. Can a negative person discover how to be more positive? Some studies claim that people have a happiness set point that can only be changed through extreme measures.

Personally, I’d like to think that we are all capable of developing a joyous outlook.

January 9, 2009 at 1:26 am
(5) stress says:

You bring up an excellent point, Sandra. There’s ‘state optimism’, where you feel optimistic in a certain situation, and ‘trait optimism’, where you naturally tend toward optimism. While there is some evidence that we have a natural set-point for optimism and happiness, it’s more of a range with a set of possibilities, rather than an unmovable point. That means that there’s a lot of room for improvement. In addition to the piece above on optimism, I have a few resources for happiness designed to help people assess and raise their level of happiness. Here’s a good starting point: http://stress.about.com/od/selfknowledgeselftests/a/happy.htm

Do you tend to be more of an optimist, or more of a pessimist?

Thanks for the comment!

October 31, 2013 at 12:12 pm
(6) raheleh teimourpour says:

As a mother recently I have been challenging some sort of NATURAL tragic situations where my young children have been dealing with.I could manage stress by relying on optimistic thoughts and getting help from Elizabeth ُs news letters.I think comedy and tragedy are going along interactively through the life.thanks for all guides.

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