“What we see depends mainly on what we look for.”
~ John Lubbock.
Have you ever wondered what makes some people able to be happy all the time, despite having to deal with significant challenges? I have often been in awe of those who are able to see the bright side, no matter what life throws at them. On the other hand, there are those who see nothing but misery and despair, clouding your day with their worries. What is it that makes the difference, and does it change the quality of your life?
We often learn to relabel situations in order to convince children to try something new. We motivate them to participate in an activity by calling it an adventure. A study showed that when some African American teenage students were tested, if they were told they were completing some puzzles they scored higher than if it was called an intelligence test. Merely changing the name of the activity changed their perception of their own ability. In the same study, White teenagers scored lower if they were told that they were being tested on their athletic ability. In both cases, the teens were buying in to a preconception of their abilities based on a label.
There are times when we get caught up in the drama of our lives, and convince ourselves that we are under so much stress. Unfortunately, our brain is not able to distinguish between actual stress and perceived stress, and it sets off a chain reaction in our bodies. Our stress response is crucial in times of a physical assault, but on a daily basis it takes a toll. Those hormones circulating in your bloodstream send your blood pressure up, make your heart work harder, increase your blood sugar and decrease your immune response. And all because you convinced your brain that there were battles to be fought.
Most of the things we dread do not come to pass. We often see temporary challenges and setbacks as far larger than they actually are. Up close, and especially in the middle of the night, challenges loom large and overwhelming. If you can take a step back you may see those challenges begin to shrink into perspective. And once you pass through the challenge successfully, all of a sudden it diminishes in size and significance; it was ‘no big thing’! I often use the example of toilet training little kids. When you are going through it, you imagine the child will never attain the goal. You see them going off to college in diapers! And then one day you realize that it has been weeks since the child had an accident! And that period of your life when all you could talk about was your poor child’s habits seems like nothing.
Buddhists teach that the secret to passing through this life more successfully is to look on the flip side. When you are facing a particular challenge, see how you can see the positive in the situation. If you have found yourself a victim of the economy and suddenly have more time on your hands, what opportunity does this give you? Is life giving you a chance to pursue a dream, an education, something you have been putting off because you have always been working? If your child takes a wrong turn in life, and ends up being arrested, is there a bright side to the situation? Wouldn’t it be much worse if his path had been obstructed by a bullet? No matter how dire the situation, you can always change your perspective, reframe the challenge, and find a new way to cope with it.
When you are tempted to feel sorry for yourself because of the things you have not accomplished, or the treasures you have not managed to pile up, stop; reframe the equation and look at all you have. You only have to glance at the news to hear about suffering that makes your inconveniences dwindle in size. Take time to count your blessings, and then give thanks for them and all of a sudden your life seems sweeter.
On this Friday morning I hope that you can laugh at your troubles, give thanks for your blessings, and set your brain and body onto a healthier path. If you analyze your thought processes and catch yourself, you may find that you have been guilty of making your brain think that you are under attack. Change your perspective, reframe your thinking, and reduce the stress hormones that damage your health. Not only will it add years to your life expectancy, it will make those years more enjoyable!
For those of the Clarendon College family that are about to set sail on a cruise, may the seas be smooth, the scenery amazing, and the camaraderie complete.
Have a wonderful weekend, family!