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.
Janice Daines says
I love the story of the professor — the excerpt from your new book — in number 2. Wow! Such a useful perspective shift. I really needed that!
I just ordered your new book too and I’m looking forward to making it one of my primary summer reads. Also, congrats on making it to the New Work Times bestseller list. That’s a huge accomplishment!
Marc Chernoff says
Thank you for ordering our new book and supporting our work, Janice. That helps us out a bunch. We appreciate YOU. 🙂
Natasha F. says
Boom! Another Marc & Angel email arrives in my gmail inbox at the perfect moment. I have been struggling really hard to respond effectively to a family-related issue I’ve been caught in the middle of over the past couple weeks. Your loving-kindness meditation here is wonderful. I just did a run through with it and I can see how it’s going to help me cope and respond better. Thank you.
Your new book has just been ordered too. I actually went through your getting back to happy course a couple years ago when I was in a. dark place … you two helped me immensely I might add. So, I’m really looking forward to the book too, to help refresh me on some key things I need to be reminded of.
Truly, life changing!
Marc Chernoff says
Natasha, I remember working with you. It’s great to hear that you’ve continued to thrive since we last spoke. Well done on investing in yourself and making yourself a priority. And thank you for ordering our new book and supporting our work, too. We appreciate YOU.
See the extra weight you’re holding for what it is! Yes 100%! Thanks Marc and Angel. I’ve been a student of yours in the past and I’ve even attended your Think Live Better conference in San Diego, and yet, you still never cease to give me the perspective I need at the time I need it. Thank you yet again for being here.
Marc Chernoff says
It was so nice to meet you in San Diego, Don! Thank you for the continued support.
Ajay J says
A profound story in #2.
What we focus on expands! The more we focus on our problems, disappointments & frustrations, the more painful it is and the more miserable we become.
Clearing out the toxic emotions of the past is a must if we want to create a new and rich future.
And the loving-kindness meditation is awesome! I’ll make it a part of my morning routine.
Susan Corey says
I ordered your new book I can’t wait to start reading it. I need to change my negative thoughts, I just recently lost my job I was only working there for 6 wks they let me go because of being too slow. That really bummed me out, of course it runs through your mind you feel unimportant, and not smart enough. That’s why I have change the way I think I know I will get another job but it’s frustrating when you have to start over again.
paul guto says
Hi ,please give an advice on how to find a book here in AFRICA-KENYA
Marc Chernoff says
Amazon UK is likely your best bet at this point—and they will ship it to you. We don’t have publishing rights/deals lined up in Africa at this time. Sorry about that.
Marc Chernoff says
Stay strong, Susan. Most job losses give us a chance to begin again stronger than before. It doesn’t happened instantaneously, but it does happen gradually and the journey is worth it. Thank you for buying our new book too.
Hi Marc & Angel,
I love your blog. Im a devoted reader and your posts are what helped me through a difficult time in life. I have started appreciating small things in life and accepting things for what it is.
I really want to buy your new book. Is there going to be a ebook version available. I really hope there is as I’m unable to buy the hard copy.
Kind request to make the book available as ebook for some of us who aren’t able to buy the hard copy.
Barbara von Normann says
I just read your question about wishing Marc and Angel’s new book be in the form of an ebook. I have good news for you! It ALREADY is!!!
I live in a very small country in Northern Europe, and so I ordered the ebook through Amazon.
Blessings on you!
Marc Chernoff says
Thank you for supporting our work, Barbara. 🙂
Bill Bernhard says
Compatriots ! Clearly written and stated, this meditation and its purpose. As we turn the spotlight and focus the meditation upon others, we make filling our own cup to the brim a new possibility. The feeling of calm is unmistakably pleasant. It all begins with calm. The target is self care, and that includes the ones for whom we care. It’s odd how we fail to see this crucial task, every day ! Good one !
Letting the glass go and the meditation tips, thank you soo much, life changing
paul guto says
I really enjoyed the story ‘glass of water’, please give an advice on how to find a book here in AFRICA-KENYA.
Thank you Marc and Angel! I needed to hear your words. I am holding on to a toxic extra weight that sometimes makes me happy even though I know it’s not good for me. How do you walk away from something you want and like when you know it isn’t the best thing for your life? I spend way too much time and energy on this toxic thing. I know in my mind that it is a meaningless distraction.
Michael J Bonnell says
This is an awesome post. Life isn’t about having all of the fancy things, it is about making the most out of the things that we have. We think that in order to be happy we need to have all of the very best. It’s just not the case. Often, the ones who have less are the ones who are happier. Why? Becuase they have an easier time seeing everything as a blessing and stay true to their beliefs.
I have heard and read multiple times today what we focus on will manifest in our life. Thank you for your message. Your emails have been so helpful in my transformation process after getting out of an emotionally abusive relationship that still seems to have a bit of stronghold on me. Thanking God for His guidance and working in me.
As always, your words come at just the right time… thank you for your commitment; you can have no idea how many lives you are touching and helping.
“the self-destructive fantasies I have in my head”
So true. The stories that we tell ourselves can either bring us down, or move us forward and help us have a life well-lived.
I think it was Dr. David Burns that referred to our distorted negative thoughts as the best conman we can ever fall prey to.
Wow! It’s a great time to read this article.
Perspective shift and the professor’s experiment resonates and would bring a good me out now.
Think your articles now delay….but it’s great, sometimes to go back and read old articles of yours as a reminder of moving forward.
It is a pleasure and I can say my luck to received your daily script that was so inspiring and really applicable and related to my journey of my everyday living. If only I could afford your books I would be more lucky.
For now I was and everyday looking forward for your best words.
I gained perspective from the second point – “See the extra weight you’re holding for what it is.” It’s amazing how I add the extra weight without even realizing it, but your point drove home how it “weighs” on you. Thank you for always providing such amazing and thought provoking articles.
Salma Khatun says
Very helpful words. Thank you.
One of my favorite sayings, a Haiku written by Mizuta Masahide, a 17th century Japanese poet and samurai, is:
Barn’s burned down.
Now I can see the moon.
Jennifer White says
Wow, this article really touched my heart, thank you so much for sharing. <3
Rebecca Saunders says
I definitely need to get your new book, I am struggling terribly at the moment with issues from the past and the present circumstances that have brought me back literally to my childhood home where I had some of the worst experiences of my life. My mum has dementia, I have health conditions that are preventing me from working at the moment and myself and my partner have many material struggles including trying to clear and sort my mums old home which has so many things that need to be done so that we can move away from a town that we are not happy in. I feel very ill in myself to the point of feeling as though I cannot go on at all…But I made the effort to read your post and I can see that there is an alternative to feeling like this, I’m just struggling to change my perspective and don’t know how to separate the present me from the past.
Amazing read as usual 😀 I already follow some of the tips you suggested but man you never stop learning in this niche ha! Again thanks for the post.
Thank you! This post was very calm, peaceful, and centering.
I always appreciate your posts!
Thanks, and have a blessed day!