What would you choose to feel…

by Jack on January 2010

…if you could feel anything you wanted?

Happy? Energized? Inspired? Joyful? Generous?

What if you could control how you felt, and experience a state because you decided to experience it, instead of because of the specific circumstances of your life situation?

So many people give away all power over their emotions to the circumstances of their life, and permit their life situation to have complete control over whether they feel good or bad. This is a mistake. If we examine this phenomenon we reach a inescapable conclusion – given the reality of our life situation at any given moment, it is better to feel happy than to feel sad at that moment, regardless of the objective nature of that reality.

Which would you prefer – to have lost all your money and also to feel happy, or to have lost all your money and also to feel sad? To have a valued relationship end and also to feel happy, or to have a valued relationship end and also to feel sad? One of these is a reality of your life situation, and the other one is an internal state. For most people, these things are tightly coupled to each other, but they don’t have to be. To believe otherwise is to give undue power to external circumstances, and to leave untouched your powerful ability to create within yourself the emotions, feelings, and states of mind that you desire.

Many of us place conditions on our mental states – “I’ll be happy when…” or “I’ll be able to relax when…” or “I’ll be satisfied when…”. This is a huge mistake because we are very likely to carry this mindset forward with us into whatever future we experience in reality.

This is a very common experience with money and material prosperity. Lisa, a new college graduate earning $50,000 per year, says to herself, “I’ll be happy when I’m a vice-president earning $200,000 per year” because she envisions the pleasure that she will experience by consuming at a much greater level – a nicer car, a more luxurious residence, higher quality food and drink, and so forth. Five years later, she’s reached that point – her dream has come true! What is she thinking then? “I’ll be happy when I’m a managing director earning $2 million per year!” Uh oh. Do you think she’ll really be happy as a managing director?

What happened to Lisa? She made the mistake of believing that her internal state inevitably had to depend on circumstances outside herself, that she did not have the power to give herself happiness regardless of her income level. She gave control over her happiness to something outside herself, in this case, to her job, income, and level of material comfort. And unfortunately, she quickly habituated to changes in her external circumstances – the new income that was so exciting for the first couple of months became an entitlement soon after.

How can we avoid the common mistake of basing our emotional states on our external circumstances? How can we establish a greater level of influence over our internal emotional states so that we experience more of the states that we desire, and more often, and fewer of the states that we want to avoid, and less often?

Here are some ideas:

  • Observe. Work to develop an awareness of when and how you give power over your emotions to external sources. When thoughts like “I’ll be happy when…” arise, interrupt them, and remind yourself to return to the present moment.
  • Meditate. 30 minutes of meditation daily is enough to begin the process of decoupling your internal state of happiness from your external life circumstances. By meditating, you begin to observe your thoughts and recognize that those reactive thoughts of criticism, dissatisfaction and anger are things you have, not things that you are. And this gives you more and more power to decide consciously and deliberately not to have them in the future.
  • Choose. Consciously create within yourself the intention to be happy regardless of the details of your life situation. I have found that whenever I feel dissatisfied because some condition of my life is not exactly what I want, I can restore a feeling of peace by reminding myself that my most fundamental wish is not for that condition to change, but instead to be happy regardless of conditions. “I intend to feel happy regardless of my life situation” is a good phrase to repeat, but you may wish to develop a personal mantra in your own words, that resonates with you.
  • Believe. Perhaps you don’t believe that you really have the power to influence your emotions like this, to feel the emotions you want to feel regardless of your life situation. In this case, there are two approaches you can take. First, you can try out some of the other methods first, in order to satisfy your critical, rational mind that, yes, in fact this is possible. Second, you can work, through visualization, affirmations, and other belief-changing methods, to install the belief that you truly can create within yourself the emotions and states that you wish to feel.
  • Reflect. Is something blocking you from feeling the emotions that you want? Do you feel like you don’t deserve to feel happy, or at peace, or relaxed? Do you believe that feeling happy even in the face of a negative situation, such as the loss of a loved one, is disrespectful or demeaning to others? Do you hold a belief that life needs to be painful in order to have meaning? Examine what lessons you have absorbed from the people and events in your life. Are they lessons that you want to hold on to?

The ultimate question is this: are our internal emotions, feelings, or states under our conscious control, or are they uncontrollable like the weather? I say that we have a lot more influence that we think, but you don’t have to trust me. Try an ’emotional change’ experiment for yourself – I think you’ll like the results.


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