“It isn’t what you have, or who you are, or where you are, or what you are doing that makes you happy or unhappy. It is what you think about.” – Viktor Frankl
I love this quote because it shows us the simplest path to happiness. It explains why the daydreaming fools is usually happier than the focused CEO of a successful corporation.
It also goes a long way in explain much of my behavior and mood. I am a dreamer who suffers when others inhibit my dreams. I believe that I can do almost anything and when I day dream or allow my mind to float I do great things. Most often these thoughts of greatness boost my mood and charge my focus creating a mindset that allows me to actually make some progress towards doing the things I dream.
The inverse is always true – when I am brought back to someone else’s reality and am reminded of all the limitations, hurdles and potential setbacks that exist in my quest towards greatness and soon I feel like garbage. I make the decision to come to their reality and allow my mood to nose dive – in fulfilling my part of the social contract and engaging those who engage me, my ability to actualize my purpose is hindered by the constraints of what the other person has created as their reality. Beauty cannot be created when one is dealing with the thoughts of what is wrong/bad/negative in the world.
Viktor Frankl should have been suffering when he came to the conclusion he wrote above as he was in a concentration camp. However, he wasn’t. He was working with the other prisoners trying to help their mental health as they were worked to the bone. As their therapist, he was their guide towards a more enlightened way to thinking that would produce hope and lead to happiness. He believed that ones experience of life in the camp was determined by their thoughts about their experience vs. what the experience is actually like. He realized that what one believes reality to be very quickly becomes reality.
My first experiences with Frankl’s approach came in the time immediately following Natalie dying. I had been suffering pretty badly and had started to wonder if she had ever really known just how much she meant to me. My counsellor at the time mentioned that the type of sadness I felt now was the inverse of the joy I felt before so it was unlikely that Natalie hadn’t been able to pick up on the positive feelings I had. As I let this statement float over me I started to feel better because I knew it was true. She did know how much I cared for her and how much joy that she brought to my life. While this realization did not remove the grief, it did change my thoughts so that I no longer doubted that she knew how I had felt about her. This eliminated the negative consequence to the thoughts of doubt and freed me from some of the darkness.
Recently I have reconnected with Frankl’s lesson. I spend more time thinking about the world as I want it to be vs. how I believe it to be. I consume the news less because I am powerless to change much of what I see on the television or read on the Internet. I spend less time engaged in political discussions or talking to people about things they don’t like but have no interest in changing. I try to spend time around the people who radiate happiness and optimism and try to avoid those who are dark or conflict prone because their reality will infect mine. All in all these choices have allowed me to accomplish more of what I need to get done while helping me maintain a bright outlook. I am feeling how I want to feel.