[reprinted from my former site How to Tune a Human, August 17, 2008]
What is it about taking a shower that causes new ideas to pop into your head?
Is it the invigorating ions that are caused by splitting water droplets?
Or is it a simple as Murphy’s law triggered because you will never have pencil and paper in the shower?
I don’t know the answer to this time-proven rule, but as of this morning’s shower, I do know a super-simple way to look at mental health, a simple way to be happier and more productive.
It’s simply this —
As you go through life, and as you go through each day, stuff will be going on. Some of it’s yours, and some of it seems to just happen. And you’re going to be seeing this stuff happening and you’re going to react to it and think about it.
Now here’s the key —
If you allow yourself to *dwell* upon the bad in it, you’ll be using your mind in a way that, over time, conditions you (by repetition) to habitual thinking. And in this thinking, you’re dissatisfied with life, you’re the effect of stuff out there, perhaps a repeating victim of stuff out there. And this will never produce happiness in your life, and your thinking or perception will tend to become oblivious to the good things, the good possibilities, the good feelings, that could turn it all around for you.
But to have a happier life, if you will make an ongoing and intentional practice to consciously find what good is in whatever is happening, if you will consciously consider what’s happening and consider how it may be to your (now or later) benefit, then several good things will happen.
Over time, as you do this you will experience more happiness, because you’re going out of your way to find some happy thoughts. Thinking happy thoughts tends to go along with a happy life. Sounds a little too simple, because frankly it is simply too simple. It is so simple that hardly anyone thinks to try it.
Further, as you intentionally practice focussing your attention on discerning what good is in what’s happening, or how it may turn to your advantage, you are developing a creative problem-solving mentality, and you’ll discover yourself creating new ways to operate that are to your advantage. This too is horribly simple — if you look for ways to get good from a situation, you’re likely to find some.
Now let’s hear it from the nay-sayers!
The nay-sayer will have an automatic reaction against what’s just been said here. Now in fact, what we’re seeing with the naysayer is that something happened (some words appeared) in the naysayer’s life, but the naysayer is in the habit of finding the bad, so the automatic, trained, habit of the naysayer is to now find something that will ruin it for himself.
For example, the naysayer can object that “squelching down your negative feelings and suppressing them is an unhealthy mental practice.” And, truth be told, there is a germ of truth here. Because the ongoing practice of denying the feelings one experiences will lead to the automatic, trained, habit of becoming unconscious of one’s feelings. That doesn’t help survival nor lead to a happier life.
The difference is: if you’re *pushing against* a negative thought, you just keep it there. ‘Pushing against’ will tend to be reflected in the words you say inside your head. For example, “I’m not feeling like crying, I’m not, I’m not, I’m not!” is a pretty good example of pushing against. Another one is “I’m not going to be mad at Johnny any more!”
Maybe you squelch it, but it’s not really going away. And for some folks, who have fears about their mind being out of control, this can be a real catch-22. A self-fulfilling problem.
But if you have fears about your mind being out of control, then you can simply learn to practice meditation, in the simplest sense of the word.
Meditation, at the simplest level, is nothing more than practicing holding your mind on one thing. That one thing could be your breath going in and out. That one thing could be the repetition of a word, like ‘Om’ or ‘Shanti’ or ‘peace’ or even ‘boogie shoes.’ That one thing could be holding a picture in mind: a mountain, the bright light of a candle, the face of someone you love.
Now your mind *will* wander away; that is the unruly nature of a mind. And when you notice it’s wandered away, you just put it back.
And if you do this every day for 20 minutes, then after a few weeks you will notice that you feel better, and you feel calmer, and your fear about your uncontrollable mind will have dwindled, because slowly by slowly you are actually learning to control your mind. Not in a harsh, military and suppressive way, but by a gentle persistent returning way.
And this is the same way that you would develop your practice of looking at what’s happening to find good in it, or how it can be turned to good.
If you have a real stubborn case of the nasty unhappies, maybe you’ll have to start by simply finding ways to *minimize* the bad that you see all around you. But if you persist, you will slowly by slowly begin to develop the habit of seeing the good going on all around you.
Look, here’s a kind of proof:
In your life, like any life, there have been unhappinesses. Let’s consider how many of your experienced unhappinesses have been ‘hard’ unhappinesses caused by something that happened in the physical universe, and how many of your experienced unhappinesses have been ‘soft’ unhappinesses caused as you *thought* about things that had happened or might happen.
If you’re like most humans, and even if you’ve had a rough life, then less than 5% of the unhappinesses were ‘hard’ ones, like you tripped and fell down the stairs and broke an arm or sprained a muscle, or like you had a traffic accident, or your boyfriend left for another woman, or your dog died, or somebody stole something that belonged to you, or something you owned got ruined or spoiled. These are hard unhappinesses caused by an actual event in the physical universe.
Now you may have more control over these things than you realize, but we don’t even need to think about that. What we want to look at here is this —
Do these things happen every day? Do they happen multiple times every day?
For most people, no. They don’t.
These things happen, but only now and then.
For most of us, many days go by before we get another of these ‘hard’ unhappinesses.
But if that’s the case, what about those times when you’ve been continuously unhappy for days and days at a time? Where is that coming from?
Well, if nothing is happening in the physical universe to give you a ‘hard’ unhappiness, then you’re filling up your experience with *your thoughts*.
And you must have these thoughts on automatic unhappy mode, because it’s just one unhappy thought after another. Let’s say the boyfriend left. That happened once. But what about the hundreds or thousands of times you think unhappily about it? What about the hundreds or thousands of times you think about it even before it ever happens?
With these hundreds or thousands of unhappy thoughts, you are training your mind by simple repetition to automatically generate unhappy thoughts, and these will create the unhappy emotions in your body, and you are training yourself, unconsciously and automatically, to become and remain an unhappy person.
Is this mental health? To train yourself to become an unhappy person?
No, it is not good mental health.
So what is the opposite of this unconscious training program for unhappiness?
The opposite is a conscious training program for happiness.
Can it really be that simple?
Yes. Actually, it is exactly that simple.
You choose: Unconscioiusly keep running your unhappiness training, or consciously re-train to become a happy person.
Maybe not always easy. Maybe not immediate. Takes intention, practice, and time. And it works.
You will recreate yourself as a happier, and healthier person.
Presto. Mental health and happiness.