Here is the critical point to understand when it comes to controlling your happiness. You can control your happiness to the degree that you can control your attention in your mind.
By controlling your attention you are able to determine the perspective you choose. With choice over your perspective you can decide what interpretations to make and which one you will believe. Choosing the interpretation you make will determine your emotional outcome.
It’s popular today for people to try changing their thinking or beliefs in order to create happiness in their life. However a prerequisite to changing your thinking is that you first have to get control over your attention. If you don’t do this your thinking will attempt to control your thinking. This can become a circular loop in the mind.
If you gain control over your attention then happiness is easy. What people may find challenging is that they were given no training in controlling their attention or even what it is.
A second critical element needed to control happiness is that you expand your awareness. It is not enough to control your attention. You must also be able to shift your perspective to points of view of acceptance, love, compassion and respect. If you can control your attention, but can’t extend it into this range of love and laughter your emotional experience of happiness will be limited. When you have a limited number of ways of interpreting events your possibility for happiness is limited as well.
Consider how differently you might view things if you extended your perception to view an event with the child like wonder. Or what if in the midst of taking something personally you shifted to look at it from twenty years in the future. Would it seem like such a big deal? Would you spend that much emotional drama on it from that perspective? By extending your awareness to this point of view you immediately change your emotions. When you can master perception in the moment you never have to indulge in unhappiness.
Here’s a story to illustrate my point. When I was younger I used to get upset and frustrated with slow drivers. When I was stuck behind them going slower than I wanted to go it never occurred to me to shift my emotional state and enjoy the drive. I sat behind them spewing endless condemning judgments in my mind. It wasn’t a happy experience for me and I didn’t consider changing my interpretations of it. it just didn’t occur to me.
When I was in my twenties I had an experience that shifted my whole point of view to another frame. My dad had serious back pain and I was driving him to the chiropractor. At 55 mph down the two lane country road I went over a little bump in the road. I saw my dad wince with pain in the passenger seat. He asked me to slow down. At 45 mph we went over another small bump in the road. He winced again. Soon I was driving at 35 mph on a road that I normally drove at 65 or more. Cars were lining up behind me.
I imagined myself in one of those cars getting all frustrated at the idiot driver going 35 mph. I could see their limited perspective. It was obvious to me because I had put myself in that same interpretation many times. It was a limited awareness that didn’t include possibilities of the pain my dad was going through. If they would have seriously considered this scenario they would have slowed down for their dad too.
In place of not understanding the actual situation we generally fill it in with internal dialogue of what we have told ourselves many times before. Our attention is trapped in old familiar interpretations and emotional patterns.
This experience expanded my awareness to include interpretations of compassion and respect about slow drivers that I didn’t have previously.
If I had control over my attention before that it wouldn’t have occurred to me to adopt a compassionate point of view in such a situation because it was not in my awareness to do so. I had not previously been exposed to a profoundly caring and loving reason for driving ridiculously slow. I might have come up with the idea intellectually, but that’s not the same as adopting a compassionate interpretation and accepting it.
To control your happiness you essentially need two things. You need to have a conscious awareness that includes perspectives and interpretations based in love, compassion, respect, and humor. You also need to have control over your attention so you can shift to these perspectives when you choose. The more personal power you have, the more you will be able to shift your attention to these points of view in challenging circumstances.
It is easier when you are rested and in a good mood. It is more challenging when you are tired and stressed.
Some people might say that controlling your happiness in this way is a kind of emotional denial. It is just putting on a happy face and covering up what you are really feeling. I’m not suggesting emotional repression at all.
If you are having an emotional reaction like frustration and anger, then that is a different situation. If someone experiences emotional reactions it is because they do not have control over their attention. Previously programmed beliefs and points of view are on automatic and are controlling a person’s attention. To gain control of your attention first requires that you change these core beliefs and interpretations. Attempting to control happiness before that would not only be challenging, it can often result in repressing emotions.
What I am referring to in controlling happiness is a very different paradigm. It is most easily done once you have eliminated the false beliefs that facilitate unhappy emotional reactions. Without changing these beliefs controlling your mind is like trying to steer a car after it has started skidding on the ice. To effectively control your attention you first have to clean up the belief system that acts as the slippery ice.
When you clear away the slippery ice then you have a chance to control your happiness. As long as you still have fear based core beliefs it will be slippery road on which you can not control where your emotions go.
I will admit that consciously directing your mind can be rather challenging. Sometimes it might feel like you are chipping away at hard ice that encases the mind and the heart. It can be hard work, but not impossible as the mind sometimes thinks. Mostly it seems hard because it is not something that we are taught to do or even encouraged to learn. I don’t consider it hard. I think continuing to live in emotional reactions of anger, frustration, sadness, and unhappiness is a lot harder way to live.
In my experience the only way you can effectively control your happiness over the years of your life is to gain control over your attention. The way to do this is to find and dissolve your fear based beliefs that have it trapped in internal dialog of the past. You will also have to expand your conscious perception to include viewpoints based in love, compassion, respect, and laughter. It might take some time to get the hang of it, but the happy rewards last a lifetime.
For exercises in gaining control over your attention and breaking free of fear based beliefs practice the exercises in the Self Mastery audio series.