How to Lead a Happier Life

Happiness is something all of us want but very few achieve; our most natural state of mind is contentment and joy. The barriers that keep us from experiencing positive feelings are learned negative processes that we come to accept as “the way life is.” When we uncover our inherent positive feelings and remove the obstructions keeping us from them, the result is a more meaningful and beautiful experience of life. When we feel better, we have more access to our own wisdom and common sense; we tend to be less reactive, defensive, and critical; we make better decisions and we communicate more effectively. You Can Be HAPPY no Matter What by Richard Carlson, PhD, explains five principles that will help you to understand how to gain access to feelings of happiness regardless of your problems.

The principle of thought. We are all thinking creatures; every negative and positive feeling is a direct result of our thoughts. We are the producers of our own thinking. Thought is not something that happens to us, but something we do; it comes from inside us, not from the outside. It often appears as though our circumstances are dictating our feelings, but they don’t, it’s our thinking. Every experience and perception in life is based on thought. When we realize that thinking is an ability rather than a reality, we can dismiss any negative thoughts that pass through us. The problem is we are constantly filling our heads with false information, largely due to our past experiences, beliefs, and opinions, which we interpret as “reality” instead of thought. You have no control over what another person does or outside circumstances, but you can be immune to the adverse effects of your thinking once you understand that you think “thoughts,” not “reality.” A persons understanding of the relationship between thought and reality can be put on a continuum: On the one end, “my thoughts represent reality” and on the other end, “my thoughts are only thoughts.” By recognizing the basis of your thinking, you can let negative thoughts go, freely deciding to which thoughts you wish to react; in the absence of negative thoughts, positive feelings will flourish. Ultimately, the relationship you have to your own thinking will determine your mental health and happiness.

The principle of moods. As humans, we never are in one place emotionally for too long; and the way we feel about something will always depend upon our mood; plus, everything will look different to us in different moods. If we understand this principle, our compassion for ourselves and for others increases dramatically. When we begin to take notice of our own mood levels, we can begin to recognize how the mood itself becomes responsible, at any given moment, for our outlook on life. In a higher state of mind we see the same situation differently than in a lower state of mind. In a high mood, we are in a positive state, functioning healthy psychologically, certain about our feelings, and feeling good. But when we are in a low mood, we need to stop listening to ourselves; despite the urgency we feel, in our lowest states we will never see things in perspective. As we learn to become aware of our mood level, particularly when we are down, we suddenly can recognize the mood itself being responsible for our negative thoughts and momentary outlook on life. Therefore, the secret is to recognize the low mood, respects its power over your thinking, and learn to distrust your thinking when low moods exist. Remember, the problem will still be there when your mood level goes up, and when it does, you will be better equipped to deal with it. Low moods breed confusion and resentment; your feelings are not true feelings. The less attention you give to your thinking in low moods, the quicker your mood will rise. Practice ignoring your low moods rather than analyzing them.

The principle of separate realities. We have learned there are two major ways people function psychologically, in thought and in moods. Because every human being functions in these ways, it is impossible for two human beings to see things precisely alike. Each person’s thought system, and their reality of what is true, is unique to itself. Understanding separate realities does not mean you must forgo your deepest beliefs or opinions; they are an enriching, powerful aspect of life. The important element in your happiness and personal contentment is your relationship to those beliefs and opinions.  Do you believe the way you see life represents indisputable reality? Or do you understand that your present beliefs and interpretations of life are derived from your own thoughts and are different from everyone else? The idea is not to label any particular beliefs or ideas as right or wrong, but simply to understand how ideas are derived. Understanding this principle can virtually eliminate painful quarrels and conflicts. When we expect others to see things differently,  when we know others will do things differently, and when we understand others will react differently, the compassion we have for ourselves and others rises dramatically. The moment we expect otherwise, the potential for conflict exists. When we truly understand that our ideas about life come about from our thought systems and do not necessarily represent reality, other people are drawn to us. When we approach someone with a genuine interest in and respect for their view of life, defenses drop and hearts open. People who wholeheartedly accept the fact of separate realities have more fulfilling relationships.

The principle of feelings. When we are not caught up in our thought systems, our feelings remain positive; we have a feeling of contentment and a sense of joy in whatever we happen to be doing. This is a state in which we see life clearly; we have focus and concentration  –  our mind is clear. We can do anything in this state of mind because our minds are not cluttered with thoughts of the past, the future, or judgments about how we are doing.  When our experience of life is other than pleasant, our warning system of feelings kicks in and reminds us that we are off track – we have reverted back to thinking through our thought system; we are now thinking in a dysfunctional system. The only value in negative feelings is to let us know that we are seeing life in a distorted manner. We all have access to healthy functioning whenever we want it; we can clear our mind at will once we understand that it’s ourselves, and not the surrounding circumstances that is producing the positive feelings inside us. As long as our minds are clear and not focused on our concerns, we will remain in a healthy functioning state and maintain our sense of well-being.

The principle of the present moment. When your attention is mired in the past or future, it’s predictable that your quality of life will diminish instead of improve. On the other hand, when your attention is primarily in the present moment, the bulk of your experience comes from a place of wisdom rather than reactivity. The only way to experience genuine and lasting contentment, satisfaction, and happiness is to learn to live your life in the present moment. A mind that is “out of the moment” is fertile ground for worry, anxiety, regret, and guilt. When you understand your mind for what it really is – simple, harmless thoughts passing through your mind – rather than a present reality that must be analyzed and battled against, it is far easier to dismiss the hundreds of future and past oriented thoughts that run through your mind every day. When you empower yourself in this way, you’ll become far less reactive and it will become much easier to remain in the present moment.

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