“Watch your thoughts, for they become words.
Watch your words, for they become actions.
Watch your actions, for they become habits.
Watch your habits, for they become character.
Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”
These words are attributed to the Taoist Lau Tzu although I cannot find any proof that they are actually his. Meryl Streep most recently popularized this saying in her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher in Iron Lady but there is no evidence that this saying originated with the Prime Minister.
The truth is that we have no idea who first put these words in this particular sequence but the result is powerful. This saying is a profound comment on the ingredients and recipe for happiness.
Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote, “Very little is needed to make a happy life it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.”
Many people complicate happiness when it is actually quite simple. If you think you are happy, you are. Every happy person I have interviewed defines him or herself as a happy person. There is power in declaring one’s self as happy.
We cannot declare ourselves tall and be tall. We cannot declare ourselves short and short. But we can declare ourselves happy and we are, indeed, happy because happiness is best defined as “subjective well-being” and our subjective declaration that we are happy makes us a happy person.
There is nothing…NOTHING more important than to learn to control our thinking. Most people have adopted the thinking patterns of their parents and of their social groups and don’t, in reality, think at all. Rather, their minds follow habitual patterns that are not really thinking, they are replaying.
Just as it takes time to train a dog or a horse, it takes time to train our minds but training our minds is the first and most important step to happiness.
Spiritual Teacher Eckhart Tolle has written, “Most people don’t think their thoughts. Rather, their thoughts think them.” As usual, Tolle packs a mountain of wisdom into a simple sentence. We are not conscious of our thinking, we don’t realize it is a process; we think it is automatic and unchangeable and so we simply let it run like a wild horse.
However, we ride this wild horse wherever it chooses to go. If we were to mount a wild horse with the intention of going someplace specific, it is highly unlikely that we will be taken to our desired destination. However, if we climb aboard a trained horse, we can steer it wherever we would like to go.
Our lives follow our thoughts so we need to train our thoughts to focus on where we wish to go.
You train your mind the same way you train your body. If you wish to become fit, your training would include being careful of what you put into your body (your nutrition) and what you do with your body (exercise).
The same is true for training your mind. You must begin to carefully select what you put into your mind and what you do with your mind.
What you put into your mind
You must monitor your emotional state as closely as a diabetic monitors his or her blood sugar. To shift your mind to happiness you need to stop listening to things that make you sad or “nostalgically melancholy” such as sad songs.
Trust me, when you first start doing this it will seem silly. To switch off the radio every time a break up song comes on seems pointless. However, as your emotional HappyStat begins to rise, you find that when you DO listen to sad music, you will feel a sudden and painful sinking feeling. You will want to get away from the negativity of such songs right away.
Second, stop watching violent TV programs and movies. Now, in the past my favorite movies were Fight Club and ANYTHING by Quentin Tarantino so this was a difficult shift for me to make. I simply could not understand how watching violence and gore would make me less happy—until I stopped.
It’s like coffee. If you drink 3-4 cups of coffee each morning, you become desynthesized to the caffeine. It’s still having an effect; you just don’t notice it. If you cut down or cut out coffee, and then have several cups…wow!
The sad songs and violence are sending negative ripples through your spirit. Cut them out and you’ll find that your mind is more fit and healthy.
Substitute negativity and violence with positivity and happiness. Again, this sounds saccharine-sweet but it works! There are many happy playlists online. Find one and listen to positive, happy songs. You’ll find yourself singing a happy tune and feeling happy inside.
And, most importantly, seek out and spend time with happy people. Find people who want to share the good stuff in their life and in the world. They are out there and they are, well, HAPPY to share with you their positive approach to life. Stay away from whiners, complainers and gripers.
What you do with your mind
When I was going through a tough time a couple of years ago, I called my good friend Greg Baer the author the phenomenal book Real Love. I was telling Greg about all of my troubles and found that I was marinating in my misery by ruminating over what “might” happen.
Greg asked me a question straight out of his book. He said, “Will, what’s a better feeling thought?”
They say that the fastest way to control the mind is to ask it a question and this question pulled me up short. For weeks, it became my mantra, “What’s a better feeling thought?” I would ask myself and I would force myself to find a thought that made me feel better.
“What if things all work out well?” I’d think.
“What if that thing I’m afraid of never happens?”
The point is to harness the mind and force it to look for good stuff—there’s a lot of it out there if we will just look.
If you train a mind the same way you train a body, there must be a secret to success in these endeavors. There is, and it’s the same for both the body and the mind. The formula is:
Consistency over time.
A person who goes to the gym once a month, isn’t going to get in shape. A person who holds a positive, happy thought once in a while isn’t going to be happy. You must do something consistently to succeed. This means to force yourself over and over to hold a happy thought in your mind. It means that whenever you feel your happiness slipping you ask, “What’s a better feeling thought?” And you search for such a thought—every time!
Then, you do it for a long enough period of time until it becomes automatic. Consistency over time creates a powerful habit, which will lead to a happier life.
Master your thoughts and you master your life. You can become happy with consistent effort applied over time to think in a way that makes you feel happy.
Find out more at HappyThisYear.com
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