The Power of Perspective

Posted on June 5, 2018 by Robert Ringer


I take nothing for granted.  The tragedies that monopolize our TV screens day in and day out — volcanic eruptions … gang violence … floods … school shootings … et al — constantly remind me of how blessed I am.  This daily barrage of depressing news also keeps me on my toes when it comes to not losing sight of the fact that all problems are relative.

It’s a source of never-ending fascination to me how so many people overreact to normal, day-to-day problems.  It’s as though they can’t mentally differentiate between a fender-bender in a parking lot and a terrorist attack.

Maintaining a healthy perspective starts with recognizing the reality that, when you get right down to it, life consists of a never-ending string of problems.  Once you intellectually and, more importantly, emotionally accept this reality, the fundamental question becomes:  problems relative to what?

A person may fret over turning sixty-five, but sixty-five is relatively young compared to eighty-five.  Likewise, eighty-five is a pretty good number compared to the alternative.  In fact, to men and women in most African countries, even sixty-five is a Methuselah-sized number.  The ten lowest life-expectancy numbers in the world are in Africa, ranging from 31.9 years in Swaziland to 44.5 years in the Central African Republic.

Then there are health problems, to which most adults — and, unfortunately, many children — can relate.  While any illness is unpleasant, if you’re not afflicted with a life-crippling condition or terminal illness, you have a lot to be thankful for.  As tough as it is to accept at times, the fact is that most health problems are relative.

While people are often upset about out-of-control food prices, no one in the United States goes to bed hungry (contrary to what some might like us to believe).  In many parts of the world, however, thousands of people die every day from starvation and malnutrition.

Likewise, millions of people in Western countries are unhappy with their financial situations, but millions of people in Third World countries would probably view those same people as wealthy.  While we fight ferociously for our places on the social–status ladder — buying a bigger house, a more prestigious car, or an attention-getting piece of jewelry — the world of misery moves unmerrily along.

There’s no question about it, human dilemmas such as loneliness, financial problems, and government oppression at times overwhelm us.  They prod some to drink, others to resort to drugs.  If not viewed in a relative light, they can cause conditions such as ulcers, high blood pressure, and emotional disorders.

The more your perspective is restricted to your own little sheltered environment, the more likely you are to perceive minor difficulties as major problems.  And when that occurs, it results in the hemorrhaging of your two most precious commodities — time and energy.

Periodically, it’s healthy to step back and ask yourself, “What if, in the overall scheme of things, my problems don’t even matter?  What if I’m allowing myself to become stressed and anxiety-ridden when, with just a slight reorientation of my perspective, I could experience tranquility and contentment?”  It’s part and parcel to the art of letting go.

About 300 years before Jesus appeared on earth, at a time when people’s minds were not cluttered by such high-level concerns as the NBA Finals and NFL player protests, Taoist philosopher Chuang-tzu had time to reflect soberly on life:

Once upon a time, I … dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly.  I was conscious only of following my fancies as a butterfly and was unconscious of my individuality as a man.  Suddenly I awoke, and there I lay, myself again.  Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming that I was a butterfly or whether I am now a butterfly dreaming that I am a man.

Think about it:  You’re stressing yourself over unpaid bills, the never-ending onslaught of depressing news, or a job you dread going to every day, and for all you know you’re nothing but a butterfly having a bad dream.  Or maybe our whole universe is nothing more than a ping-pong ball that has fallen off a table in a world of giants.  Even worse, what if you and I happen to be living at a time when that ping-pong ball is about to hit the floor?  Now that would be something to be upset about.

That said, it’s nice to know that when you cut problems down to their true (i.e., relative) size, it’s amazing how much easier they are to handle.  And here’s the important question to bring that about:  “Is the problem that is causing me so much stress at this particular time really all that important when juxtaposed against the problems of billions of other people around the world?”

Most people carry far more baggage than necessary on their journey through life, and, like the airlines, nature charges us for excess baggage.  But the odds are pretty good that you can’t afford the cost of that baggage.

Which is why you would be wise to lighten your load by reflecting on your problems in a relative light rather than pressure-cooking them.  Learn to keep things in proper perspective and master the art of taking them one step at a time so they don’t overwhelm you.

With a bit of rational analysis, you may even find that many of your problems are not really problems at all.  Whenever the word problem pops into your mind, quickly ask yourself, “Problem relative to what?”

Even when I’m faced with a legitimately serious situation, the vast majority of times it either turns out not to be nearly as bad as I thought it was … or I figure out a way to handle it much more easily than I believed was possible … or, quite often, it simply fails to materialize.

Understanding and intellectualizing this reality is guaranteed to save you a great deal of wear and tear on your brain and body.  Perspective is like a magic wand.  Learn to use it.

Robert Ringer

Robert Ringer is an American icon whose unique insights into life have helped millions of readers worldwide. He is also the author of two New York Times #1 bestselling books, both of which have been listed by The New York Times among the 15 best-selling motivational books of all time.

28 responses to “The Power of Perspective”

  1. kauai_mike says:

    Perspective + Alternatives = Personal Success

  2. Jon says:

    Spot-on as usual, Robert. Your essay reminded me of two of my favorite admonitions: What other people think of me is none of my business and You'd never ever worry about what other people thought of you – if you realized how seldom they do.

  3. Scott Theczech says:

    Wow, thank you for this lesson about perspective! These are encouraging words indeed. I intend to ruminate about this one often. It is a subject I “preach” to family and friends often – many times to eye rolls and “here he goes again,” comments. But my sons, now grown, will occasionally tell their mother that when they are experiencing times of perceived or real trouble, they’ll remember dad’s “lectures” about perspective.

  4. TheLookOut says:

    Robert, what a great perspective on life, Thanks

  5. Sandy says:

    Robert, welcome to the world of Stoicism.
    Now go and read Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

    • Richard Lee Van Der says:

      Many years ago, I read the MEDITATIONS by Marcus Aurelius once a year, maybe for 5 or 6 years running. Good that you bring it up so more people will read it and learn from it.
      Excellent philosophy!

  6. Rick G. says:

    I remember reading this in Looking Out For Number 1, The Theory of Relativity. I catch myself feeling as Poor Pitiful Me, then I see someone else's plight. Then I mentally choose whom I would rather be. I always choose me as the other guy always looks worse. I guess things are not really that bad for me afterall.

    • Jim Hallett says:

      This reminds me of a quote I learned in 8th grade, but is good to revisit, "I cried when I had no shoes, and then I met a man who had no feet!" Perspective, indeed.

  7. Marshall says:

    There is the old saw about stressing over not having shoes until meeting someone with no feet.

  8. Richard Lee Van Der says:

    I believe in REINCARNATION. And, as J. Krishnamurti teaches, I believe everything that I believe TENTATIVELY! (What do or can we really KNOW? Mostly we have "beliefs", not knowledge.) So, I believe we are in life TO GROW, TO EVOLVE PERSONALLY. How? As suggested in this essay, BY OVERCOMING!
    I also like the point that AA teaches: ONE STEP AT A TIME. Back in '85 some really helpful guys helped me get off a 20 year "pill" habit, Valium. Fortunately I took small (very addictive) dosages by day, and then my 6 pak of Bud at night. A person's body can only do that for so long, until! I am 82 now and AA and my friends there helped me to reach this age! (Some elements and types turn certain attendees off, but OVERALL, AA IS OR CAN BE extremely helpful!

  9. Marte says:

    We're better off reflecting on the benefits in our lives – and feeling gratitude for all that's going well.

  10. notpropagandized says:

    So appropriate as some of have been around long enough to become acquainted with charlatans (mostly socialist communists) who possess a magical power of emotionalizing a rock's plight in the universe to a listening and engaged audience. Soon enough, that fawning audience comprises a mob of useful idiots exhorting the government to expend the taxpayers treasury to mitigate the suffering of a disenfranchised and disabled rock that is deserving of focused and customized assistance depending on the rock's color, shape and origin among other protected characteristics.

  11. Rick G. says:

    This article is pure vintage Robert Ringer. As a Robert Ringer Fundamentalist, which I am, I highly urge everyone to buy, read, and religiously PUT INTO PRACTICE Robert Ringer's philosophy. It is a philosophy of pure Realism, a philosophy for living YOUR life on earth, and his works are all you will ever need to accomplish this. You don't need tobacco, alcohol, energy drinks, and/or illegal drugs……all a major distraction and a complete waste of time and money. And the beginning of this for me was way back into the seventies when I first read Looking Out For Number One. At times it can get difficult, because one can get laxed, get unfocused, deviate off the road and forget a principle. So with all the distractions out there, it is important to stay focused and forge forward. This book started it all for me. It is a bible on what life is really all about and how to do your life. A pure masterpiece by a pure genius to say the least.

  12. Tom B. says:

    Most people don't believe in looking out for number one, but rather, they waste most of their life looking out for and involved with number 2, and we all know what number 2 is. Have a nice day.

  13. Paul Herring says:

    When I was young my Mother would tell me: “count your blessings”. We do have to keep it positive even if the circumstances aren’t like that at times.

    The alternative isn’t good. I’ve just come back from a short holiday in Bali. There the people have very little in the way of this world’s goods, but a pleasant, more smiling, serene and gracious people I’ve seldom seen. I can learn from that.

    As Robert has indicated here, it comes back to attitude, coupled with a mature point of view. With those things properly in place life isn’t as bad as it’s often viewed.

    However, there is one as-yet irreplaceable factor which contributes massive negativity to people’s lives. It’s this: the oldest and wisest of all books tells us at Revelation chapter 12 verses nine and twelve that the great dragon was ousted from heaven and his influence now on earth’s inhabitants is greater than it’s ever been. It also says there that his (the "great dragon" – the Devil) dominant mental inclination is “great anger”. So it’s no surprise that this emotion is now much more prevalent in individual humans than it was in the past.

    The good news is that this is temporary.

  14. Ann says:

    Life is radiant when we choose "perspective" over "comparison." Perspective is generous, comparison leaves us
    feeling cheated. Then add gratitude for "what is" to complete the circle.

  15. Milo Minderbender says:

    Is anyone else getting tired of the ping-pong ball and butterfly/man type of nonsense?

    • Serge says:

      Not really, if the ping pong ball is ready to fall off and hit the floor I hope i'm a butterfly and able to fly to another ping-pong ball. Then I can start a new life dreaming of being a man, and possibly a successful one at that.

  16. Sean Kerry Baltz says:

    Masterful writing to be sure.

  17. Jo Dumire says:

    Truth=Peace… Keeping PERSPECTIVE ?
    Ty Robert

  18. patg2 says:

    Well said. And Jesus made a similar comment, Take no thought for tomorrow. Consider the lilies of the field, they toil not neither do they spin but even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. I count my blessings constantly. I am glad to see you do, too.

  19. Rick D'Amico says:

    "The more your perspective is restricted to your own little sheltered environment, the more likely you are to perceive minor difficulties as major problems. And when that occurs, it results in the hemorrhaging of your two most precious commodities — time and energy." ….Robert Ringer
    This is such a profound statement, I'm going to copy it and hang it on my office wall!
    Thank you again Robert Ringer

  20. Christopher says:

    What an amazing piece! It got me ruminating and pondering! Thumbs up Robert! Perspective is really a magic wand!

  21. RealitySeeker says:

    "Maintaining a healthy perspective starts with recognizing the reality that, when you get right down to it, life consists of a never-ending string of problems."

    Good article, but on the other hand: details do matter — even the small ones. The reason I'm such a perfectionist on some things is that if you screw up a lot of little details they begin to add up to a sum total of failure. And I don't like failure. My success in life can be partly attributed to successfully dealing with the "never-ending string of problems". Yeah, my little world doesn't mean much in the overall grand scheme of the universe, but it damn sure means something to me — which is why I put such a high value on what others view as trivial, e.g., punctuality, accountability, professionalism .

    Moreover, I don't care whether or not I'm in a bad dream or not: because when the liberal "butterflies" start flapping around and going totally meshugaas ( i.e., mad or idiotic ideas or behavior) by demanding a "few pennies more in taxes for the children" and "open up the U.S. borders to tens of millions more third-world immigrants" and "ban all the guns" and "global warming means the government get to decide how many times I can flush my toilet per day" —- yeah—- that's when things get really put into "perspective".

  22. thank you for posted this article. Very useful

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