Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about beliefs, and how they filter our experience of the world. It continues to amaze me how our interpretations of the world around us have such an incredible impact on our happiness and well being.
Each of us experiences a different world – namely, the one constructed in our minds. Our experience of the world is a story made up of what our senses perceive, and the distortions that our thoughts, emotions and beliefs apply to the signals from our senses. By consciously choosing different filters, we are able to literally experience a different world. In that spirit, here are a few strategies that you might like to try out and see if they work well for you.
Anything that happens in your life, regardless of whether you wanted it or not, say “thank you”
If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough. (Meister Eckhart)
This is pretty easy to do in the case of “good” things happening – broadly speaking, when you get what you want. Even in this situation, though, some people aren’t in the habit of expressing gratitude for the good things in their life. This is a good place to start. The entitlement mindset is antithetical to happiness, because even when you get what you want your attitude is “Yeah, so what? – I expected that”. If you aren’t in the habit of expressing gratitude for all the good things in your life, then start doing so now. Seriously. It will make an amazing difference in your baseline level of happiness.
Expressing gratitude is much harder when you don’t get what you want, and especially when you get something that you really don’t want. However, through facing these challenges and exercising your power to choose your thoughts, you can develop the ability to reframe almost any kind of situation.
Instead of looking at the surface meaning of a situation – something “bad” happened and your life is worse off because of it – could you make an honest attempt to trust that whatever happened is something that is actually for the best? This is relatively do-able for small situations – someone cuts you off in traffic, the waiter mixes up your order at lunch. It’s a little harder for bigger and more challenging situations – the loss of a important job or a costly fender bender. And it’s downright painful and difficult for life’s big challenges – the loss of someone close to you, or a diagnosis of a serious illness.
That’s the whole point, though. Instead of assuming that you know the absolute truth of what something means (“it’s terrible“) and how it will impact your life (“definitely for the worse”), why not assume that literally everything is for the best, even if it doesn’t appear that way? After all, reality is always present. You can either have reality, plus an interpretation that brings sadness, or else reality, plus an interpretation that is more flexible, and could potentially bring you happiness. Why not choose the latter?
Assume that everyone and everything that you encounter in your life is an enlightened master who here to teach you a lesson
This is an interesting thought experiment due to the author Richard Carlson, who wrote Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff – and it’s all small stuff, among other books. The exercise consists of reframing your point of view by 180 degrees. Instead of assuming that (1) you are right and (2) you really know what’s going on – the usual state of mind for most people – you instead assume that you don’t really know what’s going on and that everyone else does.
Most people look “up” to those they believe are above them, and “down” to those they believe are beneath them. We’re evolved from apes who operate in very hierarchical tribes, after all. 😉 But what if your greatest hero and that homeless crack addict on the street were both equally enlightened, and were both here on Earth to teach you something about how to live? How would this change your response to others? The lesson is to look down upon no one and up to no one but instead to learn whatever you can from their presence in your life.
When you are faced with a choice between love and fear – always pick love
When you’re in a situation where you would typically respond from a state of fear, make a conscious decision to step back and approach the situation from a standpoint of Love instead. Ask yourself “what would Love do?” – that is, the big-picture, universal, cosmic version of Love, not the interpersonal, human version of love that we typically talk about when we use that word.
What does this mean? Visualize the universal concept of Love, as a force field permeating all of existence. This is the Source of all peace and happiness. If this universal force were personified in you, right at the moment of your choice, what would you do?
One way to start putting this concept into practice to mentally say “I love you” in your mind to every person you pass on the street. It may feel very weird at first, but it helps you internalize the concept and habit of choosing to operate from the standpoint of Love rather than fear. It’s reminiscent of the common practice at the close of yoga classes, where the students and teacher all bow and recite the Sanskrit word namaste – loosely translated as “the light in me bows to the light in you”. This is an acknowledgement of our common origins, equality, and ultimate Oneness.
Believe that you are the ultimate cause for everything in your reality
All “It was” is a fragment, a riddle, a dreadful change – until the creative will says to it: “But I willed it thus!” (Friedrich Nietzsche)
“Always at cause, never at fault” is a good way to describe this strategy. Assume absolute responsibility for everything in your reality. Like, literally, everything. This is a powerful frame of mind, because it cuts through blame and hesitation. Instead of a victim mindset, in which you’re set upon by other forces in your life, you adopt a powerful creator mindset in which you are responsible for everything in your life.
Some people incorrectly interpret this to mean that their cancer (or other tough situation in their life) is their own fault, and set about hating and blaming themselves, but this is really not what we’re aiming at here. Remember, never at fault. The intention behind this belief is that you can take charge of any situation, and assume responsibility for changing it, if you’d prefer to have a different situation in the future. As the psychotherapist Nathaniel Branden reminds us, “no one is coming”. We’re ultimately responsible for our own lives and our own salvation. Nothing happens, and nothing changes, unless we individually take action to make things happen, and to change things. Would you do things differently if you knew that you were absolutely at cause for everything in your reality, and took complete responsibility for everything in your life?
Admittedly, each of these beliefs is, in its own way, kind of “crazy”. But ultimately, it doesn’t matter if they are literally true or false, crazy or sane – what really matters is the results that they create in your reality. If they work, doesn’t that make them worthwhile and “true enough to use”? 😉 And if they don’t work for you, try something else. There are a lot of possible beliefs out there – pick the ones that empower you.
If you enjoyed reading this article...
1. Please get my premium personal development tips here, featuring special content not published on the blog.
2. Please follow the thirtytwothousanddays RSS feed here for up-to-date, practical, and inspiring resources that will put you on the fast track to personal growth and happiness.
3. Please follow me on Twitter here.
4. Please share this article with a friend, or anyone else you think could use a little extra peace and happiness today! 🙂