Perspective – The Key To Happiness
Perspective – The Key To Happiness
September 2, 2013
Winston Wayne Wilson
Two strangers with the same education level, making the same salary, driving the same car, living in the same neighborhood, engaging in the same social activities, and having a very similar family life, can experience diametrically opposed levels of happiness. One person might be perfectly happy while the other could be dangerously unhappy. Even twins, who might share more environmental and genetic characteristics than the two strangers I described above, could diverge in terms of their levels of happiness. Why is that? Because happiness tends to have less to do with what happens to us on the outside and more to do with what quietly goes on in our minds. Our perspective, it turns out, holds the solitary key to our happiness. Hence, everything that happens to us in life will either enhance or deplete our happiness, depending on our perspective. So how can we change our perspective to create more happiness? Here are three things we can do to avoid skewing our perspective on life and diminishing our level of happiness:
- Venture outside our heads. According to Denis Waitley, “You must look within for value, but must look beyond for perspective.” When we venture outside our heads we expand our horizons and come closer to seeing truth and reality. Many of us primarily function within a small circle of family and friends as well as engage in fairly limited social activities – hence our perspective on life might not be expansive enough. Sometimes we wake up and feel like we have the worst lives on the planet. However, unless we have seen how the majority of the people in the world live, we cannot make those conclusions. Clearly, we can sometimes be our own worst enemies instead of best friend. As such, our minds might tell us that we are not good enough, we are going to fail or that we are doing worse than others. The key to gaining the right perspective is to venture away from the self-deprecation and the lies in our heads and stick to the facts. When you feel like you are doing poorly go visit a soup kitchen or spend a day driving around and you will see all the homeless people and others who are in need. Go online and do research on poverty levels around the world. When you do you will realize that countless people are struggling to survive. It is estimated that as much as 80% of the world’s population of seven billion people live on less than $10 per day. Worse yet, according to the 2011 Rural Poverty Report from International Fund for Agricultural Development (“IFAD”), 1.4 billion people in developing countries live on $1.25 a day or less. Many of us think we don’t make enough money and we aspire to make more money. If you really want to know how your household income compares to the rest of the country, you can find that information in the US Statistical Abstract. If you review it you will find that the median combined income, for everyone working in that household, ranges from approximately $38,000 to $75,000, depending on race. Most people I know who complain are doing much better than the average American family. So while we aspire to rise to the top the food chain, the reality is that we will not necessarily be happier. The reason is that, as our income climbs, we tend to spend more and take on more responsibility for the welfare of others. Hence, net-net, we sometimes wind up not saving more or being in a better financial position than we were when we made less money. Remember, having more money simply to spend it does not make you rich.
- Leverage multiple mirrors. Managing our lives is very much like driving a car. In driving a car our perspective is enhanced by looking through multiple mirrors, namely a rear view mirror and two side view mirrors, which help us to see our blind spots. In managing our lives, our brains take on the role of the car mirrors. However, our brains do not automatically have the right perspective. Our brains can be skewed by our past experiences or by our unrealistic expectations. Our brains can also be easily influenced by others who are not our advocates. Thus, our brains need to be trained to function as guiding mirrors that give us the right perspective at the right time. In driving a car, we have to constantly be alert by looking to the left, the right, and behind us. If we stare in only one mirror for the entire time, we risk getting into an accident. Similarly, in life we must challenge our minds to look in different directions. This promotes “flexible thinking”. When we engage in flexible thinking we are able to give others the benefit of the doubt. This is particularly powerful in relationships because we oftentimes do not speak the same love language as our partners and we wind up making incorrect assumptions about their intentions. Engaging in flexible thinking allows us to better relate to others. Conversely, if our minds become obsessed with only one perspective, we risk crashing in our lives. Life is oftentimes not binary – good-bad, black-white or right-wrong. There are generally two sides to a story and the truth typically lies somewhere in the middle. When we do not leverage the right mirrors our perspective becomes skewed. Specifically, we engage in inflexible thinking and become prey to dogma, myopia, false assumptions, small mindedness, rigidity, discrimination, we get stuck in the past and we will not be able to see the forest for the trees. In short, we do not grow and our mindset becomes limited.
- Clean our mirrors. Imagine never cleaning the side mirrors on our cars, even when they become dirty or covered in snow? It would be very difficult to drive properly because we would not be able to see clearly. Sometimes, too, we lose perspective in our lives because our minds’ mirrors are dirty. Consequently, we veer down the wrong path and become lost. When that occurs, it is time to clean our minds’ mirrors so that we can regain the right perspective and get back on track with our lives. Cleaning our minds’ mirrors is an ongoing process because as quickly as we gain perspective we can lose it. This occurs because our minds are very active and just in the course of one day anything we see, hear and even conjure up out of thin air, can skew our perspective. Over time, we lose clarity as our minds become cluttered and contaminated with thoughts that smudge, smear and leave our minds’ mirrors dirty and unusable. When this occurs we have to take the time to first de-clutter our minds and then clean our mirrors. Similar to the concept of “addition by subtraction”, for every irrational thought that we delete from our minds, the greater our clarity and the cleaner our mirrors become. In other words, the more unnecessary things we remove from our minds the more we achieve a perspective that is closer to “realistic”.
My challenge for you is to ask yourself whether you have the right perspective to enhance your happiness. Specifically, are you being your own worst enemy and putting yourself down? If yes, you need to start getting outside of your head and focus on the reality around you. Also, don’t forget to use all the mirrors available to you so that you can see your life from many different angles.