I know from firsthand experience that happiness is about choice and perspective.

Based on my extremely tragic childhood, I could have chosen to live a life of complete irresponsibility, and many people would probably understand after hearing about my past circumstances.

When I was very young, my mother and father divorced due to domestic violence, among other things. After several years of my mother struggling as a single parent with two children, she married my stepfather. Things seemed to go very well for a while. It was almost like a dream come true, and I was glad to see my mother happy again. Unfortunately, her happiness, along with mine, was very short lived. The physical abuse began again; except this time, he not only abused my mother, but he tortured me as well. Whipping me with extension cords until blood was drawn, punching and kicking me. He would even force me to eat overly hot peppered food with no water.

My life was a living hell, and I didn’t think that it could get any worse. I soon learned that sometimes life does get worse before it gets better.

At this point in the story, I am eight years old, and my family is at the recreation center where my stepfather works and teaches martial arts. It is a sunny but windy day in October, and as I am about to climb up the steps on the sliding board that is on the rec-center playground, I hear a distinct pop-pop-pop sound in the immediate background. I look around. I don’t see anything, so I continue to play. When I reach the bottom of the slide, there is a large, deranged looking man standing about fifteen feet directly in front of me. He and I make eye contact, and I then see that he is carrying an M-16. I immediately realize that this is where the pop sounds came from earlier. In a flash, my stepfather, who was at the top of the ladder working to unravel the playground’s swing set, leaped off the ladder, picked it up, and tried to charge the gunman. On that day, I witness that a ladder is no match for an M-16.  The gunman shot my stepfather three times in the chest, as I stood frozen watching. My stepfather was probably dead before his body hit the ground.

As the gunman slowly turned and walked away, I remember trying to feel some sadness for my stepfather as I watched the blood slowly stream from his body, but all I could honestly feel was relief until moments later when I realized that the first three pops that I heard when I was climbing up the slide were directed at my mother’s abdomen. My mother died a few days after.

Why am I so open about sharing this painful story? 

Because, fortunately, I have chosen to take responsibility for my attitudes and actions and live my life as an example of the positive choices we can make as we overcome difficult life challenges. Since those incidents happened, I have gone on to live a very successful and productive life. Whether it be abuse, loss of a loved one, or some other hard times, we can choose to let it break us or use the situation to make us stronger. I’ve chosen to let those things make me stronger. We may not be able to choose what happens to us, but we can always choose our reaction and our perspective. With those two choices, you have the ability to affect your emotional state in an instant. Yes, it takes practice and time, but it is well worth the investment of effort.

Until next time, live and love fully and, of course, stay Positively Positive.

Chappale Burton is an international motivational speaker and coach with a degree in Psychology from the University of Pittsburgh. He is the author of How To Choose Happiness…Most of The Time, an inspiring and autobiographical book, which not only details his life story but gives the reader practical steps to help themselves through any kind of adversity. To learn more about Chappale, please visit his website.