I was speaking with a friend recently who is experiencing stress at work. For quite some time she has been unhappy and having difficulty adjusting to her work environment. Unfortunately over the past years nothing much has changed at her job in a positive manner and she continues to dread going to work and is frequently upset. It is common to hear therapist say that we can't change other people and that we can only change ourselves. This statement is easily said and intellectually understood, however, in reality many of us continue to put our energy into changing an often unchangeable situation, and continue to hold onto unreasonable expectations regarding our situation.
When I was in graduate school I was shown a diagram which has stuck with me through the years (Event - Interpretation - Emotional Response). Often it is not so much the situation but the way in which we perceive the situation and our beliefs about the situation that determines our experience and emotional response. Sometimes we can have some influence on the environment and can change things so that we become more comfortable. At other times we are unable to influence the environment and need to adjust to the situation. When we put too much energy into trying to change an unchangeable environment we exhaust ourselves, become frustrated, and ultimately become even more stressed and unhappy. Sometimes if we make a change in ourselves the environment may respond differently to us and we have successfully changed the interaction. At other times we may change something within ourselves and the environment does not change but we have made a more positive adjustment to the situation. In either case our power lies in changing ourselves to adapt to the situation.
Dr. Victor Frankyl the author of "Man's Search for Meaning", talked about adjusting to difficult situations. Frankyl was a prisoner of war in Nazi Germany for several years. As a result of his experience he concluded that people could adjust to almost anything if they could find meaning in their experience.
I would assume that Dr. Frankyl believed that it is our belief's and perceptions that determine our experience. For most of us in less extreme situations it is likely that it is our beliefs about the situation, our beliefs about ourselves, and the expectations we have toward the environment and ourselves that determine our experience and sense of emotional well being.