I recently interviewed a motel housekeeper in Miami for a project I’m working on to support our New York Times bestselling book, Getting Back to Happy. “Do you like your job?” I asked her. To my surprise, she smiled from ear to ear and was breathless for a couple moments. She finally collected herself and said, “I can’t believe how much I love my job! I get to make dozens of our guests happy every day and feed my two beautiful children at the same time…”
Then, at that same motel 30 minutes later, I met a family of six in the lobby. They were just hanging out, sharing stories, laughing and taking turns reading excerpts from a book. Their joyous presence caught my attention, so I asked them where they were from. “Oh, we’re from here,” the father said. “Our house burned down last night, but miraculously all of us got out safely. And that makes this a pretty darn good day.”
Let these people’s stories be your wake-up call today.
Let them remind you that, to a great extent, we make our own life stories by our thoughts. The reality we ultimately create is a process of our daily thinking. And when we think better about our lives, we live better in spite of the obvious challenges we face along the way.
Thus, the goal isn’t to get rid of all our negative thoughts, feelings and life situations. That’s impossible. The goal is to change our perspective, so we can respond more effectively to them.
And that’s exactly what I want to discuss with you today: three perspective shifts that aren’t exactly easy to make, but worth every bit of effort and practice you can muster. Because, when we think better about our circumstances, we live better in spite of them
1. See your fantasies for what they are.
“A 10-year-old patient of mine will be undergoing her 14th surgery in three years’ time to combat a rare and aggressive type of cancer. Even after all the medical procedures and surgeries, I’ve never seen her frown—I’ve never seen her skip a beat. Although the odds continue to work against her, I’m certain her attitude, acceptance and presence are the principal reasons she has lived so well to this point. She’s still positively engaged in living her life to the fullest. She laughs and plays with her friends and family. She has realistic, intelligent goals for the upcoming year that she’s already working on. A kid like her who can go through everything she’s been through and wake up every day with enthusiasm for the life she’s living, is the reason I’m enrolled in your course and bought your new book.”
That’s the opening paragraph of an email I received this morning from a new course student and book reader named, Michelle. It caught my attention for obvious reasons. (Note: I’m sharing this with permission.)
Michelle went on to say, “My conversations with this incredible little girl have opened my awareness to all the self-destructive fantasies I have in my head. I have it so good—I am incredibly fortunate to be alive and healthy, for example—and yet I sit at home most nights thinking the opposite. I don’t necessarily do this consciously or intensely, but I do it. I fantasize about how my life ‘should’ be different than it is—how everything should be better, easier, more enjoyable, and so forth. And these fantasies are slowly spoiling my attitude and my ability to make progress on the things that are important to me.”
Wow! Talk about a great reminder for all of us to get out of our own heads.
And the truth is, most of us come to similar realizations at some point. The older we grow, and the more real-world tragedies and challenges we witness, the more we realize how incredibly blessed we are, and how frequently the fantasies in our heads hold us back from these blessings. In fact, you’ve likely fantasized your way into headaches and heartaches hundreds of times in the past. We all do this to a greater or lesser extent…
We stress ourselves out, because of fantasies.
We procrastinate to the point of failure, because of fantasies.
We get angry with others, with ourselves, and with the world at large, because of fantasies.
We miss out on many of life’s most beautiful and peaceful moments, because of fantasies.
So today, I challenge you to move through this day and practice seeing and accepting life as it truly is.
Do what you have to do without fantasizing and fearing the worst, lamenting about what might happen, or obsessing over how difficult your work is. Be present, take it one step at a time, and do the best you can.
If you don’t know where to start, just…
And be thankful right now.
For your health,
And your home.
Nothing lasts forever.
Replace your fantasies with full presence.
And invest your best into what you’ve got, right in front of you.
2. See the extra weight you’re holding for what it is.
(Note: This is an excerpt from our new book.)
Twenty years ago, when Marc and I were just undergrads in college, our psychology professor taught us a lesson we’ve never forgotten. On the last day of class before graduation, she walked up on stage to teach one final lesson, which she called “a vital lesson on the power of perspective and mindset.” As she raised a glass of water over her head, everyone expected her to mention the typical “glass half empty or glass half full” metaphor. Instead, with a smile on her face, our professor asked, “How heavy is this glass of water I’m holding?”
Students shouted out answers ranging from a couple of ounces to a couple of pounds.
After a few moments of fielding answers and nodding her head, she replied, “From my perspective, the absolute weight of this glass is irrelevant. It all depends on how long I hold it. If I hold it for a minute or two, it’s fairly light. If I hold it for an hour straight, its weight might make my arm ache. If I hold it for a day straight, my arm will likely cramp up and feel completely numb and paralyzed, forcing me to drop the glass to the floor. In each case, the absolute weight of the glass doesn’t change, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it feels to me.”
As most of us students nodded our heads in agreement, she continued. “Your worries, frustrations, disappointments, and stressful thoughts are very much like this glass of water. Think about them for a little while and nothing drastic happens. Think about them a bit longer and you begin to feel noticeable pain. Think about them all day long, and you will feel completely numb and paralyzed, incapable of doing anything else until you drop them.”
Think about how this relates to your life.
If you’ve been struggling to cope with the weight of what’s on your mind, it’s a strong sign that it’s time to put the glass down.
It’s time to let GO…
In our new book, Marc and I guide readers through this process of perspective change—and letting GO.
And again, it’s not easy. One of the hardest lessons in life involves the ability to change your perspective and let go—whether it’s guilt, anger, love or loss. The change is always tough—you fight to hold on and you fight to let go. But letting go from the inside out is oftentimes the healthiest path forward. It clears out toxic attachments from the past and paves the way to make the most positive use of the present.
You’ve got to emotionally free yourself from some of the things that once meant a lot to you, so you can move beyond the past and the pain it brings you.
3. See the distractions you engage in for what they are.
One of the most gratifying aspects of the work we do is hearing from people who have actually benefited from it. And, one good example is the thank you email we received recently from a new book reader named Hope.
Hope told us how our book is helping her stay strong and mindful through a very grueling recovery process following a serious car accident.
Hope’s entire story was heartbreaking and inspiring. One line in particular, though, stopped us in our tracks:
“The happiest moment of my life is still that split-second when, as I laid crushed under a 2,000 pound car, I realized my husband and 9-year-old boy were out of the vehicle and absolutely OK.”
What a remarkable and unlikely perspective to embrace under such debilitating circumstances.
It’s sometimes the most awful moments that give us a golden chance to acknowledge what’s truly important to us. In Hope’s case, it’s her husband and son.
In the rest of her email, Hope talked about how in the wake of the accident, her family spends far more time together now, doing simple things while she recovers—sharing stories, telling jokes, and sincerely appreciating each other’s company:
“The accident made us realize how much time and energy we had been wasting every day on things that weren’t important, which prevented us from communicating and spending quality time together.”
It’s hard to think about a story like Hope’s and not ask yourself:
- Where could my perspective use a healthy shift?
- What do I need to stop wasting my time and energy on?
For many of us, there are plenty of opportunities to shift our focus away from meaningless distractions and adopt a healthier perspective on our present circumstances. Perhaps it’s by stopping the endless comparison to everyone else—worrying about what they have that we don’t. Or maybe it’s by deciding not to worry incessantly about mistakes we made in the past that we can no longer do anything about. Or perhaps, like Hope, it’s to choose to stop focusing on the daily distractions that keep us from paying attention to the people in our lives who matter the most.
Start Your Days with a Perspective Shift
If the points above resonate with you, I encourage you to practice shifting your perspective first thing every morning this week (I’ll be practicing too), just to set the tone for each day. Because when you start the day feeling whole and centered, you tend to carry this mindset into everything you do and every conversation you have. This is especially helpful when you are forced to work through a difficult life situation, or deal with difficult relationship matters.
As we’ve discussed, although you can’t change every situation you’re involved in, you can always change your response. And that’s where a morning loving-kindness meditation works wonders! This is how it works:
Read through these statements silently (or out loud) to yourself:
May I be happy
May I be healthy
May I be safe
May I be at ease
May I be loved
Then read it again at least two more times. Let it sink in.
Now use someone you love (perhaps your mom) as the subject:
May my mom be happy
May my mom be healthy
May my mom be safe
May my mom be at ease
May my mom be loved
Again, let it sink in. Embrace these statements. Visualize them.
Now, for the hard part. Use someone you have a difficult relationship with as the subject (let’s say his name is Joe):
May Joe be happy
May Joe be healthy
May Joe be safe
May Joe be at ease
May Joe be loved
Remember, what you focus on you see more of in your life. The very first morning I did this loving-kindness meditation with my biological mother (who I don’t have a good relationship with) as the third (hard part) subject, tears poured down my face. But by the time I was 30 days into practicing this consistently as a daily ritual, I felt a lot better—a weight had been gradually lifted within me—and her indirect presence in my life no longer drove me to tears. And, of course, I felt more love towards myself and others, too.
My perspective changed.
And yours will too.
If you’re feeling up to it, we would love to hear from YOU.
Which point discussed above resonates with you the most today?
Anything else to share?
Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.
Finally, if you haven’t done so already, watch what happened when Marc and I stepped into the Today Show studio a couple weeks ago to discuss the painful personal journey that inspired us to change our perspectives and write our New York Times bestseller, Getting Back to Happy.