When people are unhappy, they blame the external world for it. But if they simply changed their viewpoint, their experience of misery would also change.
Our experience of happiness and distress is not dependent on circumstances but on the way we look at them. Though the outer world is objective, it enters our consciousness in the form of impressions, which we perceive through the lens of our mind. Hence, our perception of the objective world is subjective. When people are unhappy, they blame the external world for it. But if they simply changed their viewpoint, their experience of misery would also change.
Changing your perception towards challenging situations is called “positive reframing.” It entails thinking about a problem or adversity in a more positive way. One can reframe by thinking about the upside to the negative situation or by identifying a lesson that was learnt through the difficulty.
HOW TO BE HAPPY AMIDST DIFFICULTY
Shakespeare had said, “There is nothing good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” I once witnessed an eye-opening testimonial of this statement.
In June 2013, there was devastating flooding in the north Indian state of Uttarakhand. It was caused by cloud bursts followed by excessive rain for four consecutive days. Landslides, due to the floods, damaged several buildings and structures. Debris from the hills jammed the rivers and increased the deluge.
When news of the calamity spread, aid poured in from around the world. At JKYog, we too launched a relief drive amongst our devotees to offer our insignificant help. However, what got etched in my memory permanently was a scene I saw on TV.
A television crew was doing a live report and conducting on-the-spot interviews. The harried residents were sharing their tales of woe when suddenly the camera turned to an old lady.
The interviewer asked, “Maaji (Mother), what has been your tragedy?”
“I am so thankful to God,” the lady responded.
“Do you mean there has been no damage to your home?” the reporter pressed.
“Actually, my home has been washed away,” replied the old woman.
“Then why are you thanking the Lord?”
“I am grateful to him because my husband is alive. My children and grandchildren are safe. The house can be built back again, but if any of my family members had died, then what would have happened? I am feeling so blessed that they are still with me. “
As per the government of Uttarakhand report, more than 5,700 people were “presumed dead” in the flood. Yet, in the midst of death and destruction, this woman was still brimming with positivity, hope, and contentment.
What was her secret? It was simply the way she was choosing to think. The circumstances were grim. But rather than focus on her loss, she was focusing on the silver lining she saw in the situation. The house was already lost. If she kept brooding over it, she would feel miserable, which would not help her in any way. The damage was already done. As the saying goes, “There is no use crying over spilt milk.” Instead, the lady reframed the catastrophe in a positive light. By choosing her thoughts well, she was jolly and cheerful. In the same situation, most others would have felt a spate of negative emotions like self-pity.
WHAT TO THINK TO BE HAPPY
This example shows that we become happy or sad by the thoughts we bring to our mind. We just have to look at the brighter side of life and shift to a healthier perspective. We must focus on gratitude and acceptance rather than complaints and expectations.
Some of the most respected people in the world endured hardships for the majority of their lives. Yet, they came out victorious because of their ability to steer their minds towards positivity amidst gloom. For example, Nelson Mandela served almost three decades in prison. He used the time to develop his mind and character in those hard times. Helen Keller lost two of her senses – the ability to see and hear as a child. Yet, she accomplished more than most do—became an author, lecturer, and beacon of hope for the masses.
To cultivate a positive attitude, we must harbour strong and positive ideas, rather than allowing circumstances to create unhappy attitudes towards things that happen. Our minds are powerful tools, capable of higher levels of thinking. We must consciously bring about change in our thoughts by being continually aware of them. Hence, if you wish to experience life in its full glory, examine your thinking process. And practice uplifting your thoughts even in the direst of circumstances. This is the way to happy living.
Swami Mukundananda is a best-selling author. His latest book, The Power of Thoughts, has been released by Penguin Ananda.