Posted by Tim Stobbs on May 12, 2014
Ok, I get I appear to live a rather charmed life. I’ve got wonderful wife, two great kids, the dog, good job, and the paid off middle class home which is only missing the white picket fence to make the postcard image complete. It’s sort of sickening at times, I know. Yet the real reason I’m happy the majority of the time has nothing to do with all of that.
I’ve understood for a while know that where your life circumstance only accounts for about 10% of your happiness. So regardless of if you live in a slum or the penthouse apartment 90% of your ability to be happy remains the same. Yet how does that really work in practical terms…well I struggled to explain that at times to people until recently when I came across a little book on philosophy, The Art of Living, which was actually damn helpful .
The real secret to being happy is understanding what you can really control in life. You can control your thoughts, and your reactions to events around you. Yet you can NOT control the external events themselves. Bad stuff just happens, we only call if bad because most people really don’t want to be sick, have an accident or lose something precious to us. You can’t control the external events, but you can control how you react to them. So when I get sick, I don’t bitch “Oh this is awful.” Instead I consider “Oh, I guess this is my body’s way of telling me to take a break for a few days to get better and hey I can finally finish reading that novel. Great!”
Doing this isn’t easy. In fact, it takes a fair bit of work to keep reminding yourself of what you can actually control and practice adjusting your expectations of others. For example, my son did something minor the other day to piss me off and I was about to give him heck and raise my voice (my usual reaction) when it dawned on me I was letting myself react this way. In fact, this reaction was only a bad habit. It didn’t help my son learn not to do something, it didn’t really make me feel better in the long run (since often afterwards I would feel a bit guilty for raising my voice). So why raise my voice at all? So I took a deep breath and calmly explained what my son should have done instead. In the end, I did feel better about doing that way, but it certainly wasn’t an easy response.
So now consider that in everything you do. Why do we get upset about the guy that cuts you off in traffic? Why do you get upset at the annoying guy at the office? Both are beyond your control, so why get upset? Perhaps different reaction is called for from yourself. Perhaps feel pity for the guy that cut you off, is his life so bad that he feels he must cut you off to get to work an extra minute early? I pity his life if he believes that. Or maybe the annoying guys at work is really nervous about being new and this causes his annoying behaviour, so perhaps if you were nice to him it would stop.
Stop trying to control that which is beyond your control and suddenly life gets a LOT better. You realize that you being upset is a lot of the time just a pattern in your mind, you can choose to consider the situation differently and perhaps be a bit more happy doing it. While this isn’t an easy thing to do, learning it can be very rewarding.