The Ultimate Happiness Variable (#877)

The other day, I woke up feeling incredibly sad. In times past, when it still seemed to me like having a “negative emotion” was problematic, that feeling would have launched me into a search for what was wrong in my life and an even more enthusiastic search into my collection of self-help and psychology books for a solution that would eliminate the feeling of sadness and then eventually help me to upgrade my life to a point where I wouldn’t ever have to feel that sad feeling again.

However, the world doesn’t look that way to me anymore, and “sad” now just seems like one of the many things I might feel during a typical day, no more or less significant than “upbeat”, “fearful”, “curious” or “amused”. So instead of trying to “fix” it, it occurred to me to look deeper into what feeling sad in that moment might be telling me about my overall state of mind. When I did, two things quickly became apparent to me:

1. I was feeling the content of my thinking

One thing feeling sad was clearly a reliable indicator of was that I was thinking “sad thoughts”. Since we live in the moment by moment feeling of our thinking, a sad feeling is as closely related to “sad” thinking as “tails” is related to “heads” on a coin.

If I was looking to change my feeling state, this thought/feeling connection would suggest that the obvious thing to change was the content of my thoughts. As there are many wonderful people and thing in my life and in the world, it would seem easy enough to simply will my thoughts towards the positive and then I’d get to feel good.

This is the logic behind the positive thinking movement – that since thought creates feeling, learning to control or master our thoughts would make us masters of our feelings. Whether or not controlling our feelings is a good thing (and whether or not anyone really successfully controls the content of their thinking over time) are the often overlooked questions that to me hint at the problems that come with our attempts to control our experience (and sometimes even the world) by controlling our thoughts.

2. My thinking was looking at least somewhat real to me

One of the interesting things I’ve noticed about my thinking is that there are times where it doesn’t seem like thinking to me at all. In those moments, people just “are” untrustworthy, life “is” hard, and I “am” at the mercy of my thoughts, feelings, and experience.

Yet there are other times where all the same crazy thinking is going through my head and it doesn’t seem to get to me at all. I craft a revenge fantasy in my head and it makes me laugh out loud instead of striking me as a sensible or viable plan of action. In the language of the Three Principles, this variability in my experience of my thinking in the face of nearly identical content is explained by the principle of Consciousness.

While at a universal level, consciousness is simply the power that allows us to be aware of and experience life, our individual consciousness expands and contracts throughout the day like an aperture. When our aperture is contracted (i.e. a “lower” level of consciousness), life looks frighteningly real to us and the world is filled with problems that we’d better get to before they get to us. When our aperture expands, we begin to once again see the variable nature of our own thinking and its utter impotence in making us do anything our deeper wisdom guides us not to do.

This points to why I recently described the impact of a deeper understanding of the Principles like this:

“After you learn the Principles, you still might write a ‘Dear F@#%face’ letter, but you’re increasingly unlikely to send it.”

As we see more about not only the infinite potential variety of thought content but also the simple, binary variable of consciousness expanding or contracting through the day, it makes less and less sense to try to “do” anything about our feelings and more and more sense to use them as a barometer of our current level of consciousness.

The more real the world is looking to us, the less equipped we are to deal with it; the more we recognize the variable and arbitrary nature of our own thinking, the more likely we are to hear and follow the gentle feeling of our wisdom as it guides us forward.

This is why to me the “ultimate” happiness variable is not in changing the content of our thoughts but rather in increasing the level of our understanding. To tweak an old proverb, it’s the difference between changing our feeling in the moment and changing our relationship to our feelings for a lifetime.

Have fun, learn heaps, and enjoy the ride!

With all my love,
Michael

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