It’s always been interesting to me that the average person (go ahead and ask them), spends ten times (or more) the amount of time watching television than he or she does even considering happiness.
In fact, in one pole that I conducted, not a single person out of more than 30 people admitted to spending even one second thinking about how they might go about becoming happier!
Some of these people spent anywhere from 2-7 hours a day in front of a television set, yet not one minute contemplating what could amount to the most important question of one’s life—how can I be happier?
One of the first rules of any venture is that in order to get somewhere, you need at least a general idea of how to get there and, at the very least, where you are going!
We’re really lucky in a way as learning to be happy is a very easy thing to do. In fact, happiness is our natural state. If left to our devices and if we could find a way to stop interfering with the flow, we’d be extremely happy right now. So while life did not come with a instruction book on happiness, it really didn’t have to. By following some really simple principles and also knowing how to get out of our own way, we can become extremely happy, regardless of our present circumstances.
Most people would agree with the notion that when a baby is born, he or she is a fairly clean slate. In other words, they aren’t vicious, reactive, judgmental, dissatisfied, prejudice, jealous, or angry. Instead, they are simply little beings who are curious and open to learning. Unfortunately, most of the time they eventually learn some pretty negative thinking which leads to some pretty unhappy times.
We are taught that our thoughts are real and that we should pay attention to them. Problem is, they aren’t real, they are just thoughts.
Think of a time when you were, say, driving home from a baseball game and on the last play of the game, your favorite player, dropped an easy ball and blew the game and the season for your team and all the fans, you being one of them. You’re now in the comfort of your own home and the outcome of the game is brought up by other members of your family. You start to think about the dropped ball and you start to get depressed. You launch into a lecture about how the team needs new outfielders! Yikes, it’s happening all over again!
It’s as if the dropped ball is happening all over again in your living room. As you think about it, you get more and more distressed, after all, you rationalize, he “did” drop the ball!
That’s true he did drop the ball. But let me show you how easy it is to dismiss that thought now that the event is over. You’re about to see that while the unfortunate event did occur, it’s now only a harmless thought with no power over you other than that which you give it. And once you realize this, happiness will be moments away.
Have you ever been driving and some other driver nearly knocks you off the road—maybe even comes within a foot or two of killing you? It’s happened to me a few times in the almost 30 years that I’ve been driving. Whether it has ever happened to you or not, pretend for a minute that it did.
Imagine the thoughts that would be running through your mind while you were still heated. I can imagine the thought “I should kill that guy,” being one of your thoughts, or something similar, relating to some sort of revenge. Now the question becomes, “would you do it?” I mean it. Would you kill the driver? Of course you wouldn’t.
And other than the fact that it’s against the law and that you’re a moral person, why wouldn’t you act on that thought? The reason is simple: The thought was just a thought—like the thousands of other thoughts that run through your mind every single day. You realize it was just a thought and you promptly dismiss it.
This doesn’t mean you aren’t a little spooked or that you don’t care—of course you do. But by dismissing the thought, you put the event behind you, opening the door for you to move into the present moment and be happy in this moment instead of caught up in a thought that is just a thought, like all other thoughts—including the thought of the baseball player dropping the ball.
Today, as we live our life, that event is merely a thought carried through time, via our own thinking As long as you see it, not as a reality to contend with, but as a simple thought, you are free to live right now, in this moment. Because thoughts are just thoughts (all of them) you have the power to drop any thought, at any time. You are absolutely in charge and have the last say! This is the ultimate in taking responsibility for your own thoughts and feelings.
Here’s a little more food for thought. Let me ask you a funny question. Would you ever, even for a moment, consider writing yourself a nasty, mean-spirited letter and then mailing that letter to yourself? Then, when you get the letter you open it and you’re immediately offended by the mean and obnoxious content! You storm around the room and act all out of sorts!
Of course this would never happen in a million years, but why? The reason is that you would be aware that it was you who wrote the letter. How silly would it be to write a letter and then become upset by that very letter?
Well that’s the exact same logic we can apply to our thinking. Think about it carefully. Why would you ever have a thought—any thought, no matter how negative or scary—and then become nervous, reactive, angry or in some other way bothered by it? Remember, it’s just a thought you’re having, just like all the others. And what’s more important, you’re the one who produced the thought to begin with.
Being upset by your own thoughts is a little like smashing your head against a wall and wondering why your head hurts. Remember, you wouldn’t act on a scary thought like killing another driver, no matter how bad he or she was—why? Because it was just a thought. The secret to a happy life is to realize that all of our thoughts are just thoughts. True things happen all the time, but once they are over—or if they haven’t happened yet, they are just thoughts.
Before I close, take one last look at that ball player who dropped the ball. Regardless of how high the stakes were, it’s now, today, right now, nothing more than a thought—no more or less important than any others! Try applying this logic to all of the thoughts that run through your mind and, pretty soon, you’ll be dropping any negativity you’ve been burdening yourself with—and what you’ll be left with is, you’ve got it—happiness!!
Richard Carlson, PhD, was considered one of the world’s foremost experts on happiness and stress reduction. As the author of thirty popular books, which have sold more than 26 million copies worldwide, including the #1 New York Times bestseller Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, he showed millions of people how to not let the small things get the best of them.
* Based on the book You Can Be Happy No Matter What, 15th Anniversary edition Copyright © 2006 by Richard Carlson, PhD, Reprinted with permission from New World Library, Novato, CA USA 94949, 1-800-972-6657, www.NewWorldLibrary.com.