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Reflecting on Your Current Life

If you don’t mind, take a moment and just think about what’s happening in your life right now. Where do you live? Who’s in your life? What do you do for a living? What type of car do you drive? What type of home do you live in? What type of friendships do you have? How’s your health? Just think about your life right now and how it’s going.

Different Perspectives on the Same Situation

And then think about if there is someone on the planet that would do anything if they could be in your shoes right now? That they had the same situation that you are in based upon where they’re at, that they would think they are so blessed by what you had if they had that. And the reverse is true. Do you think there’s someone on the planet who, if they had to trade places with you, wouldn’t do it for a million dollars, even a billion dollars, because they would find your life as deplorable, despicable, and not something they would want? Maybe it wouldn’t be that bad, but they wouldn’t want to trade places with you. And then there’s you. What do you think about your current situation? How do you feel about it? Do you feel lucky? Do you feel unlucky? Do you feel blessed? Do you feel like someone’s trying to get you and you just had all the bad breaks of life? I’m hoping with this little exercise that if you actually do it and believe that it’s true that there actually would be people that would love to be in your situation and there are people out there that would not want to be in your situation and yet you have your situation and you view it however you view it, that that’s three different ways to view the exact same event.

Our Minds Shape Our Reality

But how could this be? How could three people view the exact same event and see them differently? It’s because our minds shape our reality. How we see things affects the way how we feel about them and how we experience them.

Examples of Different Perspectives

Think about one of your favorite places on the planet that you really like to visit. One of mine is Yosemite National Park. It’s here in California and it’s beautiful. If you ever get a chance, please come visit it. I think you’ll find it spectacular. Since it’s a national park, no one can live there full time. So, everyone visiting the park is on vacation and you would think they’d be having a great time. Well, I’ve been there many times over the years. I remember two events that were incredibly distinct and their premise for being there was the exact same. They were there to get married in this most beautiful place in nature and you can have weddings there if you ever want to have one. It’s a really great place to have one. Anyways, the one couple I saw, the first one, was this younger couple and they were so happy. They looked so beautiful together. They didn’t dress in typical outfits. They more wore kind of nature outfits, the best way I can describe it, very natural, and you could just see the joy and bliss in their hearts, and they were just truly a joy to see. Well then, another time I was there, there was another couple that I saw also who had just gotten married, but the experience they were having was very different than the first couple. They were not very happy. I don’t know what was going on, I wasn’t privy to their conversation, but the wife was very angry at her just newlywed husband and was screaming at him. I thought, oh, this place is so beautiful. What could possibly cause you to be so angry? Now, I know there’s a lot of circumstances that could cause these two types of weddings to be experienced very differently, but this was the first day of their lives together, and they were in a particularly gorgeous environment that there should have been so much joy and happiness and yet on one hand there was and on the other hand there wasn’t. If you’re still not convinced by my examples think of someone that you know that has so much more than you do. I mean a lot more. Perhaps you’re more beautiful than you are, perhaps have more money, perhaps you’re more famous, perhaps you’re more intelligent. And then study the lives of these type of people that you look up to. And are all of them equally happy and joyful and their lives are going wonderful or better than yours? I bet they’re not. Now some may have good lives, but some may not have good lives. I mean don’t we all know people that seemingly had everything and then they do something that’s very destructive in their lives. Our thoughts are so incredibly powerful. They shape the way we interact with our world. And perhaps one last example can help illustrate this point. We’ve studied, greatly studied, people have won a lot of money in the lotto. And we look at their lives pre and post winning the lotto. And I think most people on the planet would say, if I won 10 or 100 million dollars in the lotto, my life would be great. And we’ve studied their lives extensively. And within three to six months, they’re not any happier than they were before they won the lotto. And sometimes they’re less happy. How can that be? Because what happens with it is we take us with us and our worldview and how we see the world through our filters everywhere we go. So for one person a beautiful sunset for another person it can be the end of a very long day.

The Power of Thoughts and Cognitive Biases

We have our thoughts which are called cognitions, and we have our cognitive biases that shape the way we see our world. Some people have negative biases. Don’t we all know people that see things as a cup half empty, and this skews their view of the world without them even realizing it. If you assume that people out there are bad and want to hurt you, then everywhere you go you’re going to be on your guard and be fearful and it’s going to be exhausting but that viewpoint will shape the way you interact with the world.

Emotional Coloring and the Power of Beliefs

And then we have what’s called emotional coloring where our moods affect our perceptions. For example, a sad person is much more likely to notice negativity in their environment than a person who isn’t sad or is even happy. And then there’s a power of our beliefs. When we have expectations of how things are going to work out, our expectations can manifest in reality. For example, if we call up customer service and are hoping for a good response, we probably will get a nice, pleasant person. And though they may not be able to solve all our questions or help solve our problems, they often will work towards helping us find someone who can. If we call up angry with the expectations that they’re just jerks and aren’t going to do anything for us, they may not. Our expectations, our beliefs, can shape our reality, and they do.

Understanding and Changing Our Thoughts

So, understanding what they are is one of the key components of saying, okay, how are my thoughts? How are my beliefs? How are my emotions coloring the way I interact with the world and shaping the way I see it? Because even if it doesn’t impact the other person, it’s impacting me whether in good ways, whether in harmful ways, or whether in ways that are just neutral, but it is going to impact my life. And that’s the one thing I can control is me. I can work on changing my thoughts, so I change my world. For example, if we text a friend, a dear friend, and they don’t text us back, we at that point have cognitive choices that we can make. We can say they’re a jerk, maybe they’re not as close a friend as I thought they were, maybe their other friends are more important than I am. Or we can say, oh, I wonder if they got that message. I’ll send them another one, because they may have forgotten. I get busy sometimes, too, and don’t remember to text people back. So I’ll text them again. We have choices that we can make and do make throughout the day. And the way we see the world shapes our world.

The Impact of Our Minds

Our mind clearly affects how we’re interacting with the world. Do we see metaphorically the world is a cup half full or half empty? It’s half either way, but we have choices all along the way to change the way we see it. And what I want to argue, if we see it from more positive, loving, kinder, gentler, happier place. That’s how we shape our world.

Shaping Our Thoughts and Our World

I think there’s a tendency to think that life is just objective. There’s one truth and that’s the truth that I experience and everyone else sees it the same way. That is not true at all. Our thoughts shape the way we interact with our world. So if you perhaps agree with me that our thoughts do shape the way we see our world, then what can we do to make our thoughts help us in seeing the world as a better place, a place that we want to live in and are happy with? I want to conclude with three activities that can be helpful for changing our thoughts and the way we see the world.

Mindfulness: The First Step

The first one is called mindfulness. You may have heard of it before, but it’s basically a simple technique of being mindful and aware of our thoughts as they happen throughout the day. Instead of watching the world and constantly engaging with it, we watch ourselves and the thoughts that we have going on inside of us and ask ourselves, is this a good thought? Is this a helpful thought? Is this a productive thought? Or is this a negative thought? Is this a depressive thought, and one that will lead to me becoming an unhappier person?

Cognitive Reappraisal: Reframing Our Thoughts

So, we start with mindfulness. And then when we discover that some of our thoughts aren’t good thoughts, our thoughts leading us down the path of despair and sadness, then we do a thing called cognitive reappraisal. And that basically means is to reframe the negative thoughts into more balanced, realistic light. So, let’s say, for example, someone we love or we care about, or even a stranger, is doing something that we find somewhat offensive, that bothers us. What we can do is begin to ask questions, see if we can change their mood, look at it differently instead of getting angry at them and saying they’re a bad person or what’s wrong with them, we can instead work towards changing the situation by being kind, by staying calm, and sometimes I find often if we just ask a few questions and we actually care about them, they become softer, they become gentler, and our interactions with the world then become softer and gentler too. It’s the way we see the world. Instead of seeing it as a place that we must fight and protect ourselves from all the bad people out there. Instead, we see it as a wonderful adventure that we get to enjoy, and most people care about us. Not everyone of course, but enough people out there do. Now of course if we adopt this attitude that people care about us and we’re wrong, the one thing that’s going to change is how we see the world. That person would still be nasty towards us, but we’re going to see it differently. We’re going to see it as they’re just having a bad day and I know I didn’t do anything to hurt them and if I did, I’ll apologize.

Gratitude Practice: Shifting Our Perspective

What begins to change in us, which is the third step we can do besides mindfulness and cognitive reappraisal, is we develop a gratitude practice. And this is where science has shown that by focusing on gratitude, we can shift our overall perspective of our world. Because when we’re grateful and someone does something that’s unfair to us, instead of fighting them or saying we’re going to stand our ground, instead we say, well I’m blessed in so many ways, I don’t mind if they cut in front of me, it’s no big deal. Or when we don’t get the promotion that we wanted, or we don’t get into the school that we are hopeful for, or if someone we thought we loved doesn’t love us back, we’re grateful for all the other things we have in life and realizing tomorrow’s a new day. And perhaps in a few years we will get a promotion. And perhaps in a few weeks we’ll get into a different school that will be okay. And perhaps someday we will find the person that we want to spend our life with. It’s all about gratitude and realizing that our thoughts, whether they’re negative or whether they’re positive, shape our world. Our thoughts shape our reality. And we can change our thoughts through mindfulness and through cognitive reappraisal and through gratitude practice.

Changing Our Thoughts to Change Our World

When we do these things, we’ll begin to see that our world is changing because we are now seeing it through different eyes. Through eyes of love, kindness, thankfulness and gratitude. When we do this, we will find that instead of struggling every day and fighting life, we begin to flow with life and find joy and happiness. Instead of being an occasional occurrence, it becomes a regular practice in our lives. We can truly have beautiful lives. This does take work. This does take effort. But if we work at it and we practice it, we will find that each day will be getting better, and each day will be thankful for that day as our lives continue to improve.

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