Monday, September 13, 2010

Happiness and unhappiness

Patients come for healing because they don't want to suffer.  Humans naturally want to avoid things that make them feel bad and want more of or to hold onto the things that make them feel good.  Most people think that the cause of their suffering is the things that happen to them in their lives, things they don't like, things that don't make them feel good.  But the real cause of suffering is how we think about the things that happen to us.

For example, parents see their children grow up and ultimately leave them.  One parent might look at the situation and feel abandoned, might feel the child ungrateful to go off and now think of their own needs instead of the needs of the parent.  Another parent might look at the same situation and feel terribly proud of how they have raised that child, allowing them to develop into a strong and independent young adult who has the courage and self-confidence to venture out into the world on their own, ready to discover their own path through this world.  Same situation, looked at in an entirely different way.  One parent is angry and resentful, the other proud and rewarded.  What a world of difference in how they look at the situation!

Health is affected more by our thoughts and feelings than by outside physical events and circumstances.  Because that is such a radical statement, I will repeat it, so you don't think I made a mistake:  Health is affected more by our thoughts and the feelings than by outside physical events and circumstances.  That is saying a lot!  Think of all the ways our physical environment affects our health:  weather conditions is a big one, but also the things people say to us, the events that happen to us during the course of each day including cars that cut us off on a busy street or our boss not seeing the point we just tried to make in an important meeting.  But these things that happen to us are not the source of stress.  The stress comes from the way we look at things, the way we interpret them, the way we take it.

As an example, my boss reads the memo I have been preparing for the past two days.  I did careful research, I laid out the arguments thoughtfully, and yet he put me down in front of all my colleagues by glancing at the memo and tossing it on the table, with only a "Thanks, Karen, I think we've already made our decision on that issue."  Now, I could feel hurt that he made no notice of all the hard work I did, I could feel put down because he seemed to dismiss my contribution in front of all the department heads, and I could feel angry that all my hard work was for no purpose.  On the other hand, I could also be perfectly fine with it, not caring whether he took my contribution into account or not.  If I truly believe what I have to say might affect his decision, I can go into his office later and explain why it's to his and the company's benefit that he read my memo, or outline it quickly for him on the spot.  I could also not care one way or the other whether he reads it, having done my job to the best of my abilities, since I have no control over whether my boss has the time to read my memo or not.

Do you see the difference here?  We don't have to interpret everything in the worst possible way.  There is always a positive explanation for what other people do, and most times it has absolutely nothing to do with us.  It is usually a reason pertaining to their own personal situation.  My boss could have just been served divorce papers by his wife, and doesn't have the energy to deal with my detailed memo.  My boss could have just gotten some bad news from his doctor, and his mind is on how he is going to deal with his health problem quickly and thoroughly.  My boss could have just been engaged in a big internecine war with its biggest competitors, and the issue in my memo is really very unimportant compared to the big problem he has to solve right now.  None of those reflect on me and the quality of my work, nor whether he values my opinions and needs me in his organization.  When we are unhappy about what someone else has done, we assume the other person has done whatever it is we don't like for some reason that has to do with us.  However, the reason people do the things they do does NOT have to do with us.  Their behavior reflects something about them, not something about us, so we never have to take what they do personally.  It is not about us, it is about them.  And it is our business to pay attention to our business, not to stick our nose into the business of others.  "Take the beam out of your own eye before you try to help others take the tiny sliver out of theirs," a quote from Jesus of Nazareth.

So the secret to happiness is to focus on your own stuff.  You can choose how you look at things, you can decide to make positive interpretations about what happens instead of negative interpretations about what happens.  Happiness is just that simple.  To be continued.

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