Three Years Among the Comanches is an amazing book. I was just reading it tonight. The story is a first-hand account, published in 1859 by Nelson Lee, who was captured by the Comanches on his way from Texas to California.
part I read tonight was how two of his companions died. Most of the
people he was traveling with were killed on the spot, but four were
taken prisoner (Lee and three other men). One day, all four of the
prisoners were tied to poles, facing each other. Two prisoners were side
by side, and Lee and another prisoner were tied up facing the first
two, who were then slowly tortured for two hours.
was too painful to watch their friends suffering like that, so Lee and
the other prisoner-witness tried to look away, but the Comanches forced
them to watch as one by one, warriors came up to the two tortured
prisoners to slash them with an arrowhead or take a small piece of their
scalp. They sliced deep enough to bleed but not enough to kill the
prisoners. One warrior after another came up and sliced in a different
place. The prisoners screamed, moaned, begged, and bled for two hours.
Finally they were put out of their misery with a hatchet through the
As I was reading this horrible, graphic account
by someone who witnessed it, I was struck by the pettiness of my own
problems. I said out loud, "I think I have problems!" The comparison made me feel that my unhappiness at my own little problems was pathetic.
And it occurred to me that this perspective is true. It is not only true, but it is valuable. Pessimism is a violation of your own integrity, and the perspective here — that things could almost always be a lot worse — is the honest truth and a powerful insight.
The truth is, your circumstances are only really bad in comparison to something better. And the truth is, you have a choice about
what you compare your circumstances to. If you choose to always compare
your circumstances to something more ideal, it will prevent you from
being as happy as you could be or as satisfied with your life as you
could be. Read more about that.
And think about this: Any unhappiness caused that way is directly attributable to your deliberate refusal to
see an obvious truth: That things could be worse. For many people, now
and in the past, it is a plain fact that things have been much much worse.
you ever want a reality-check, remember those tortured prisoners.
Compared to circumstances like that, your problems are petty. In fact,
compared to circumstances like that, your problems probably seem
It's also true that you would like better circumstance. But if you're going to tell the truth, tell the whole truth, and that includes the facts that puts your problems into perspective.
Adam Khan is the author of Antivirus For Your Mind: How to Strengthen Your Persistence and Determination and Feel Good More Often and co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English).