Our opinion of the world is made up of the amalgamated experiences and sensations of our lives. We each experience a totally unique perspective of the world, driven by differences in genetic or biological circumstance, belief system perspective, and simply our unique experiences of unique events in unique time. We are all, however, on the same journey of life.
Our interpretation of sensations (vision, touch, memories etc.) affect, and are affected by, our opinions and belief systems, so it is important to make sure we keep our eyes open and “wear the right prescription glasses” when we look at the world. The way we see the world through these sensations defines our entire philosophical outlook, so we should make sure we have the right lens and focus on our mind’s eye too.
Spiritual leaders often advise us to “observe your thoughts and emotions by looking inside yourself to discover the answers hidden within.” Our ability to look, consider and learn is comparable to normal vision in that when we look through a clear lens, with the right focus, the world becomes a far more beautiful place. We can see a truer representation of the utopia in which we all live.
Consider the phrase “Smile, and the whole world smiles with you.” This is seeing outwards. External elements present themselves (in this case apparently the whole world is smiling with you) and you interpret the sensations based on how they affect you. Perhaps someone saw your contagious smile and decided to smile along and instantaneously infected the entire population of the world to smile with you. Smashing! However, there will be occasions when you smile and the world doesn’t appear to return anything back. Perhaps on occasion you have smiled, and the whole world appears dead set on crushing your hopes and dreams!
External events and sensations are automatically judged at our conscious gateway and are instantaneously considered for their “niceness factor” based on their impact to ourselves. They are typically interpreted as positive, negative, or in some spectrum of neutrality. If the whole world smiled with you, it looks like things are going well today, but the point at which we assign this “niceness factor” is entirely subjective to our internal disposition. It is at this moment of interpreting external events and what they mean to us, that can be changed. We can observe this automatic judgement and intentionally re-consider with clarity and equanimity. This is where the skill of looking internally and externally simultaneously can become extremely rewarding.
When someone does you a favour or a random act of kindness to try to improve your life in some way, it is usually easy and natural to feel positive thoughts such as gratitude. Then there are seemingly neutral events that are more difficult to automatically consider as positive. Finding a beloved possession has been hit by a rogue bird poo can easily be considered an inconvenience needing cleaning up, it could also be considered a blessing from nature for good luck that day (an English superstition), or it may serve as a conversation starter to get you out of the next awkward silence. Or, it may just be an entirely neutral non-event to you.
The way we “see” things is driven by our basic philosophical principles, but these can be changed and improved. How to Make Everything go Your Way describes the process of looking at the positive (or even potentially positive) aspects of events to shift our interpretation from neutral or negative up the scale towards the positive end. Instead of ignoring the countless “neutral” events of life, they can be shifted up the scale to become potentially positive events that may serve to progress your life to a better place in some way.
When we progress through the experiences of life practising meditation will improve the mind’s ability to be mindful more often, and will enhance our perspective of the world. Instead of spending a day playing golf feeling angry and frustrated or resentful that things aren’t different from how they are, practise seeing the beauty of the course, the trees, birds, grass, the water, the tranquillity or perhaps the electricity of the air . It’s too easy to spend our whole life blindly chasing a little white ball only to realize at the end, we missed everything else.
Minimising Social Comparisons
Minimising Social Comparisons is a habit identified in studies to increase self-belief, optimism and confidence. This can be done through minimising exposure to advertising, muting the TV through commercials, practising mindfulness (see below) whenever an advert has invaded your head-space and especially (where possible), diverting casual conversations away from social comparisons. It is purely detrimental to “covet thy neighbour” (or thy colleague, friend or even hero). Instead, focus on yourself, focus on hard work and patience, then you will lead by example for others.
Selective Social Comparisons
Selective Social Comparisons can only have net positive effects if considering those less fortunate via stimulating gratitude. It’s not the most effective practise but can help to quickly nurture gratitude when we compare ourselves with those that appear to have less than we do. Perhaps less of some commodity that we appreciate greatly, such as a specific aspect of our good health, political freedoms, loving family, comparatively good education, access to services and so on.
For Example: thoughts along the lines of “This could have been a lot worse if X happened” or “at least this didn’t happen when I was in X place (mentally, geographically, or socially)…”
Mindfulness and mindfulness based meditation is a very powerful set of practices that greatly benefits our ability to see things objectively and positively. This is a vast field of its own and there’s a great help-guide here.
Retrospective Judgement (re-evaluating past events and putting a positive spin on them) is similar to “Positive Shifting” (where one considers any moment or memory and considering how you can bring it up the happiness scale). So mentally revisit a past event, something that appeared at the time to set you back from achieving a goal, and sincerely contemplate the benefits and learning outcomes that also resulted from it. Any events that appeared to be negative at the time, reconsider the opportunity for a fresh start they brought, the reminders of how special everything else is.
Dissolve Negative Memories
We can also prune our memory banks by retelling stories of compassion, reliving memories of happiness, and any negative memories will slowly fade from memory as they are naturally replaced by fresher and more nurtured positive memories. Letting go of past negatives becomes easier when we Live in the Present Moment, and strive to live our best selves. Another great habit is identifying a personal strength that we uniquely have and creating a daily routine of using this skill or strength. The Skills and Interests tool is a great way to help identify your true natural strengths.
How should we see what we look at?
Consider now that you are in a small crowd of loved ones, surrounding you everywhere you go – when you smile they all smile back, sincerely and happily. They continue to bounce smiles and happiness around the circle so you’re entirely surrounded by a wonderful happy little bubble of smiley friends and family. In this scenario however, human nature does us no favours. Over time, it is very easy to allow our concept of what is normal to shift slightly, and like a spoiled child or a pampered dog, our expectations start to shift based on what is observed in our environment. So here, the average surrounding happiness has certainly increased, but without balancing this with a healthy internal perspective, it is easy to begin to expect this observed environment to continue. The unflinching law of nature is the law of impermanence, and will ensure this will inevitably change.
So if we allow our expectation of the environment (in this case the ambient happiness) to change based on what we see, then based on the inevitable fluctuations of life this can lead to disappointment and negative thoughts. Returning to an original environment may even feel worse, following a good period… Post-holiday depression for instance is not uncommon. This is why we must develop healthy internally perspective while simultaneously seeing out.
The modern world we live in provides far more opportunity for appreciation than generations gone by. First world countries have adequate food, shelter, water and safety for the majority of its inhabitants; most modern “first worlders” will have additional comforts such as warmth, health, enforced human rights and liberties, financial flexibility, security, education, and freedoms that would be totally inconceivable just a century ago.
It is a natural process to interpret observations to create an image of the environment, however, by considering a larger perspective in time or across the spectrum of modern living conditions (half the world lives on $2 a day or less), we can adjust this image of expectation manually. Setting unrealistically high expectations is a recipe for disaster. Believing in a destiny of success, fortune, wealth or happiness will at some point fail to provide true happiness as true happiness cannot be fully provided by fate, it can only be truly appreciated when earned.
By taking the opposite course of action, however, we can intentionally reduce our expectations of what the world “should” give us to zero and consequently find that, being as privileged as the average reader is, we can much more easily shift events up the positive impact scale, we can find more things to be grateful for and be constantly delighted by the bountiful provisions of life, whatever happens.
While we should invest time and love in a supportive network of friends and family, if ever we are seeking support externally and find nothing is there to help, we have to resort to the spirit, the memories, the faith or the philosophy inside each of us and find positivity from our internal resources.
The positive external outlook complements a positive internal perspective and vice versa, maximising our opportunity for gratitude – the seed of all happiness. We can’t just smile and expect the world to return the karma when we want it (though it usually does!).
Of the many thousands of people that have seen one of your smiles, or appreciated one of your actions, consider the knock on positivity ripple that they have passed on, that you once started. As your self-created happiness spreads outwards away from you, it’s worth looking internally now and then to ensure your expectations of provision are healthy (low), and consider how much good you have brought the world. Reaffirm all the reasons you have to be internally happy. This will lead to additional positivity radiating from you which may one day ripple around the world and come back home….just don’t hold your breath for it!