I was recently reading a passage from the Book of Joy and came across a meditation practice that was introduced by the Dalai Lama. The particular part of the book was about cultivating a mindset that puts us at ease. In today’s world there are a number of things that can make us feel sad, angry, hurt, or more. Keep in mind the teachings of the Stoics who teach us not to stress over that which is outside of our control. Through this particular type of meditation, the Dalai Lama Lama takes it a step further than the stoics and takes that which is outside of our control, urging us not just to not be bothered, but to alter our perspective of such an event and search for the positive outcomes. The practice was exactly that: think of an event in your life that seemed objectively bad. Remember that moment and think hard about what good may have somehow come from that. It can sometimes take months or even years before we can begin to glean any good out of some of life’s hardest moments. In order to cultivate a healthy perspective and see something bad as something good, we must first focus our mind on the bad. People often avoid this as it can be a painful experience to focus on a past trauma. Through this intentional thought exercise, we may be able to connect some of the dots of our past and obtain a greater sense of joy and happiness by finding the good in some of our darkest moments.
I want to share a few of my experiences where I applied this very sort of mindfulness and how it was helpful to me. I believe that these scenarios will be easily relatable to anyone who reads this as they include common tropes of human existence such as love, loss and more.
The first such example I want to discuss is my last breakup, something that I am sure most of us have experienced at least once. I won’t go into the details of the relationship but suffice it so say, I thought and even hoped at the time that it would last a lifetime. It didn’t. When she broke up with me I was devastated. I lost interest in so many things that normally brought me joy. I stopped exercising, I stopped eating, I stopped socializing, I had essentially lost my joy in living. I had put so much love and attentiveness into this relationship and when it fell apart I felt as if I had lost everything that mattered in my life. Overtime though I began to see things differently. Among other things, I was given the opportunity to learn more about myself and grow as a person. Most importantly though, if I had not been through that painful break-up I would not have ended up with the wonderful person I am with today. I don’t intend to bash my ex-girlfriend but through the lenses of my current relationship I am able to see aspects of the previous relationship that had been hidden. I realized that I had allowed myself to be emotionally and mentally abused, I realized that I wasn’t standing up for myself, and I learned valuable lessons about what love and a healthy relationship are supposed to look like. If I had never had that breakup, I would not have had these revelations and I would currently find myself in an extremely unhealthy relationship leading an unhappy existence. Instead, I am a better and stronger individual with a greater sense of self, and I am with someone who both receives my love and gives love back in a healthy way. By changing my perspective on that breakup and thinking of it not as a painful heartbreak, but instead as a necessary learning experience, and an important step in my growth, I turned what was a painful memory into a happier one. I find it highly likely that many of my readers will have similar experiences, and if you haven’t I encourage you to look on past relationships and find the good that came out of them, even if the relationship itself wasn’t good.
Another such experience where I was able to alter my perspective to improve my narrative was when I was fired from a job I really loved. This stung me on many levels. First, I loved my colleagues and the children I worked with. It wasn’t the greatest paying job in the world but I am not sure I ever enjoyed myself more. The atmosphere was productive but relaxed and helping kids break out of their shells and achieve their potential was one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had. The pain of losing the job was compounded because of the fact that while I had only made a little money at this job, I was now making none and had large amount of bills due very shortly. I was scared for my future and whether or not I would be able to keep a roof over my head or feed myself and I was angry because I felt I had been treated wrong by an administration that chose to sever ties with me, removing me from doing something I loved. What came out of this was something beautiful. One, I was quickly able to find new employment from a good friend who was looking to expand his small private business. This quickly gave me the opportunity to start providing financial security for myself again. It also helped me build a number of close friendships. I became closer than ever with my friend who hired me, someone whom I still speak with often even though I have sense left his employ, this time on mutually good terms. Through this job I met a number of other amazing people, many of whom I consider close friends. I used the pain of loss from the job I lost and turned it into productive energy, allowing me to take my career to new highs. During this process I would come to know and befriend the man who is today the Vice President of the company I work for. On paper, I am probably still unqualified for that job but he saw potential in me and gave me the opportunity to succeed. I don’t work at my dream job but it allows me to comfortably provide for myself and those who depend on me, but more importantly it gives me the healthiest work-life balance I have ever enjoyed, thus giving me the opportunity to write this blog and pursue other hobbies as well. If I had never had that painful experience of being fired then I would be at least ten good friendships fewer today, and I likely would not have the job I have today and would not be writing this blog this very second.
The last example I will give of where altering my perspective gave me a greater sense of happiness is something we are all familiar with: Covid. The Covid19 disrupted our lives and shredded the fabric of our society in so many ways that I wont even begin to enumerate. I am keenly aware of the fact that I suffered a great deal less than so many and I don’t mean to be insensitive of that fact, but I do want to discuss how my perspective on how I myself dealt with the issue helped me, and how it might help you do the same. The lockdowns that followed the start of the pandemic were hard for me, as they were for all of us. I lived alone and was completely cut off from any and all social interaction. Luckily for me, my parents invited me home to spend time with them for a few weeks until the pandemic ended, which then turned into about 6 months when the pandemic never did end. For weeks at mom and dads house I had some of the worst bouts of anxiety I had ever experienced. I asked myself the same questions that many of you probably asked yourselves and nobody knew the answer: how long will this last, will this ever end, are we all going to die, will there ever be a normal world again? It is easy to look at Covid19 as both objectively and subjectively bad, but the reality of the situation is that it did happen. Covid doesn’t care what I or anyone else think about it and so, I decided to see if I couldn’t assuage my anxiety by shifting my perspective. The greatest realization that came from this was in realizing how much extra time I got to spend with my parents. In a normal year I would probably see my parents for 15-20 days at the most. In 2020 I got to see them for over 150 days. Not every second was bliss but I am truly grateful for that opportunity. I feel closer to them now than I ever have and I love my time I get to spend with them and I believe they feel the same way. I could focus on the bad that Covid brought and there is a lot, but in switching my perspective off of the bad and onto the good, I wont go so far as to say I am grateful for covid, but I am grateful for the opportunities it brought me.
Getting dumped, getting fired, dealing with a pandemic, these are all things that we can relate to. They are just a few examples of what most of us what categorize as undeniably bad experiences. Of course, if you go looking for something bad you will find it, and if you go looking for something good you will find it too. So instead of focusing on the bad, shift your perspective onto the good. It can be excruciatingly difficult, and I know there are many experiences that are far worse than those examples I gave. Nevertheless, if we follow the advice of the Buddhists and shift our perspective, we will often find that we can find joy and happiness where previously there was only sorrow and grief. It may take time, but if you are currently struggling with a difficult experience, hang in there. In time, you will find something positive. As Steve Jobs said, you can only connect the dots moving backwards.
The book of Joy can be found in the “Books” section of my blog.