We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves happy. The amount of work is the same. – Carlos Castaneda
What does that mean?
The full quote is “The trick is in what one emphasizes. We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves happy. The amount of work is the same.” I had never heard this put this way before, but it goes with the basic idea of “every cloud has a silver lining” or “always look for the good in every event” type sayings.
To me, it says that our happiness is up to us. it says that our state of happiness (or lack thereof) is completely up to us. It says we can make ourselves happy. It says we can make ourselves miserable. It takes the same amount of effort. Which direction do we want to face, towards happy or towards misery?
Why is attitude important?
Your attitude will determine your altitude. Happiness is attainable by anyone who chooses to attain it. I know, that sounds pretty radical in today’s razzle-dazzle society, but it is true. Years ago, people marveled at the level of contentedness and even joy and happiness expressed by very poor people.
Calcutta, in India (now Kolkata) was famous for it’s terrible poverty, yet it also has a spirit of thankfulness and joy that surprises so many people. What they lack in possessions and wealth, they make up for in the joy of life. They, it would appear, put their efforts more into making themselves happy than on making themselves miserable.
There will always be people richer than you. There will always be people poorer than you. People who have more things. People who have fewer things. People with more friends. People with fewer friends. The question you need to answer is: “What am I going to focus on today?” And don’t believe this will be anything other than a daily struggle to maintain your attitude of happiness and joy.
Where can I apply this in my life?
The effort will be the same, so be very careful about what you focus on. If your inner conversation is negative, always wondering or worrying about why you don’t have this or that, or have less than the Joneses, you will never truly be happy.
However, there is a fine line between being a realist and being a Pollyanna. You cannot just mutter affirmations that state “all is well, all is well, all is well” as you drive your car off a cliff. You need to be realistic about the situation, and then focus on the positive.
What tends to get you down? For me, my weight has always been a problem, and always a bit of a sore spot. Growing up, I was the proverbial ‘bean pole’ – super skinny. My knees were bigger around than my thighs and I had no muscle mass to speak of.
You could count ribs where my pectoral muscle should have been. Not good. Then, shortly after graduating from college, I nearly doubled my weight (from 115 lbs to 220 lbs). Ever since then, I’ve been working on keeping my weight down.
This attitude makes a daily weigh-in a terrible and frightening thing. What I have been working on lately is the conversion of fat into muscle (not easy at my age), so I am using an electronic BMI/bodyfat device instead. I’m slowly getting better fat-to-lean ratios, so the scale is no longer my enemy.
How easy is it to have a positive attitude when you walk up to a scale? Yeah, I thought you might say that. So I changed how I measured things. These days I range in the vicinity of 215 lbs, and wouldn’t mind hitting 235, if I can do it at less than 10% body fat.
My weight is only part of the problem. Diet is good, and I do a fair amount of exercise, but my cholesterol and blood pressure are still not the best. A hypochondriac might focus on all the bad things that could happen, but I choose to focus on the marvels of modern medicine. Where several of my great grandparents barely made it into their 50’s, I’m as fit as an average 35 year old. So, barring a tragic accident, I should have a few decades left. That’s what I’m going to focus on.
Another thing that has bothered me from time to time is the number of friends I have. I’m an introvert. A world class introvert. As in a perfect score on the Introvert-Extrovert question on the Briggs Myers Personality test (all introvert, all the time). When I compared myself to the people who always had tons of friends (more accurately described as acquaintances), I would feel miserable.
I have learned that I tend to make friends, and not acquaintances, and to be comfortable with these people. By changing what I focused on, and what portion of the “friends” I focused on (using an internal reference, not the proverbial “Joneses”), I was able to be realistic and find happiness from within.
What about you? What tends to get you down on a regular basis? Write down at least a dozen different things – feel free to be superficial (my old station wagon looks like crap and is probably the ugliest car in the neighborhood). Think of the last dozen or so times you’ve felt down, miserable (or at least less than happy). Write them all down.
Now, go through the list and put a check mark down next to any of them that deal with comparing you to someone else. You’re not as skinny as (someone), or not as rich as (someone else), or your car isn’t as nice as (anyone else in the neighborhood). Are there any without a check mark?
Let’s hit the comparison items first, the ones with the check marks. Select one and let’s get busy. Why is your happiness tied to someone else? Do you really want to give them that power? Do you want to feel miserable if the guy down the street with the Pinto finally saved up enough money to get a nice car?
You should feel happy for them, not sad for yourself. What I do about my car and my attitude towards it is twofold. First, it’s paid for. That alone is reason to celebrate. I can always focus on the fact that while someone else might have a really nice car, they probably also have not-so-nice bank payments.
The second bit of attitude I have with my car is, since I own it, I can modify it (and I have). It has kept up with Corvettes and even an M5 BMW in the twisties. I dropped a few car payments on some suspension upgrades and it is a complete monster on winding roads. It still needs the motor replaced (almost 250k miles on the original) and upgraded, but that’s for later, after I’ve saved up the money.
So what can you choose to focus on that does not involve a comparison to someone else? Can you find a way to measure yourself against a sane scale? If you feel you are overweight, please don’t compare yourself to Twiggy, nor to Oprah. Find a good place for you, both healthy and sane, and work to that point.
Measure yourself against a realistic and well thought out goal, not pop culture. If it’s your car, you can save towards a better car, and feel good about getting closer (just don’t focus on how long it’s going to be before you can get it). You could determine what about your car makes you less than happy.
If it’s the color, consider a paint job. If you can do some of the prep work, you can get a half decent paint job done for a few bank payments on an average car loan. Perhaps it’s got a lousy ride – take it in to a mechanic and figure out if it needs shocks, springs, some steering linkage parts, and get them replaced.
It will cost less than a new car, and it should fix the worst of the ride issues. Is the driver seat all busted up? Call the local junk yards or search online auctions for a replacement. That’s just 4 bolts and a couple of wires (if that) and you’re sitting pretty.
The point is to find out, as specifically as possible, what is bugging you. Then find out either how to fix it, or how to ignore the comparison to others. Find a way to measure progress and find a way to make some progress. Break it down, move forward and be happy at the progress made. Repeat until happiness is your natural state, and being miserable is reserved for a case of the flu or serious allergies.
Remember, even with the worst of news, there is always a bright side. I have mentioned before a real attitude changer that I experienced a few months ago. While in line at a buffet in Las Vegas, an old lady with no hair was standing nearby. We got to talking and found out (as I had suspected), she was a cancer patient with about 6 months to live.
She had determined that she was going to be happy, and work to that end. She always wanted to go to Vegas, and now was the time! She was working her bucket list because she had a deadline and she was going to make it.
She just as easily have curled up in a ball and cried about how unfair it was and how all her friends were still healthy and that she hadn’t had time to finish her bucket list. Her memory still warms my heart, even though, by now, she is probably gone. That is how to live your life, how to work on being happy.
It’s just a choice. Happy or miserable. Choose wisely, and get busy!
From: Twitter, undocumented feed (my bad)
confirmed at: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/c/carloscast392965.html
Photo by zombieite