We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.” -Abraham Lincoln
HAVE YOU EVER EXPERIENCED THE PHENOMENON OF BEING IN THE SAME PLACE WITH SOMEONE ELSE, YOU’RE SO IN IT, AND WHEN YOU LEAVE YOU EXCLAIM, “THAT WAS F*CKING AMAZING!”, ONLY TO BE MET WITH QUIZZICAL LOOKS AS THE PERSON YOU’RE WITH SAYS, “UGH, I THOUGHT IT SUCKED.”
This has happened to me time and time again.
I distinctly remember being at an event where a classical cellist spoke and played a private concert. I was beyond moved. Every cell in my body vibrated. I was inspired, alive. THIS is what life was all about.
I happened to be there with a group of girlfriends, all artistic, smart, emotionally intelligent. Not one of them had experienced the discussion and music the same way I had.
No one else was moved to tears.
We were all in the same space and time, breathing the same air, experiencing the same music, and, yet, we all had a distinctly different experience.
It is our unique lens (our set of beliefs, our personal history, our experiences, and our mindset) that shapes our reality.
In some ways, our reality is entirely made up...merely a reflection of what’s going on inside.
Isn’t this all a bit esoteric? Why does this even matter?
According to Professor William Scott-Jackson and Dr. Najat Benchiba Savenius, "Our research shows that one of the most powerful causes of a person’s happiness is that person’s own view of the world...Whether riches, health, or friendship cause you to be happy depends entirely on how you see things."
They go on to say, "Scientists have known for many years that our pessimistic or optimistic view of the world can be modified and is largely explained by the way we interpret positive or negative things that happen to us."
So, in a way, we can control our reality, or at least how we feel about it, by managing our perspective.
In fact, studies suggest that only 10 percent of our happiness comes from outside sources. The remaining 90 percent is made up of genetics and the thoughts and behaviors that we do intentionally, which includes our attitude.
Turns out, Mom did know best, especially when she used to tell us we need an “attitude adjustment".
I know, I know, it isn’t exactly that easy, or we’d all be walking around with perma-smiles during our rush-hour commute.
We’re fighting our evolutionary tendency toward a negativity bias as well as our unique histories and brain chemistry.
That being said, we can be the captains of our ship and feed our brain with the perspective that sets us on the best course. We even have the power to rewire our brain and diminish that pesky negativity bias.
To be clear, I’m not suggesting we Pollyanna our way through life.
Some situations necessitate so-called negative emotions like anger, sadness, and grief. These are all important emotions that shouldn’t, in my opinion, be glossed over. (Read: I'm Having a Pity Party and Everyone's Invited.) I am, however, suggesting we can shift our perspective in even our darkest moments to shed some light and change the way we cope.
We can't control life, but we can control our perspective and how we choose to look at what life throws our way.
As Eric Barker says, “the key to happiness really comes down to one word: Attention.”
He goes on to share this excerpt from Happiness by Design: Change What You Do, Not How You Think :
Your happiness is determined by how you allocate your attention. What you attend to drives your behaviors and it determines your happiness. Attention is the glue that holds your life together...If you’re not as happy as you could be, then you must be misallocating your attention...”
So, you want a more sunny outlook on life, but your glasses are less than rosy colored?
Here Are a Few Ways to Flip Your Perspective:
Start with gratitude.
Gratitude wins every time.
Groan if you want to, but gratitude is Positive Psychology’s darling for good reason. Gratitude is one of the most proven ways to boost happiness. I’m sure this won't be the last time I mention it. If you aren’t on the gratitude bandwagon yet, now might be a great time to hop on.
Gratitude can be a great way to flip your perspective.
The next time you find yourself in a situation where you could use an attitude adjustment, errr...perspective change, try asking yourself, "What parts of the situation can I be grateful for?". Even the most challenging situations usually have a silver lining.
Don’t stop there.
Now imagine someone took those very things you're grateful for away from you.
Research shows mentally removing treasured moments from your life makes you appreciate them more, makes you more grateful, and makes you happier.
What if you’re already grateful and it’s your perception of reality that’s getting you down?
Try a little mental detective work.
If your view is leaning towards the negative or insecure, a little fact checking may be in order.
What are the facts at hand? And, what is the story you are attaching to the facts? Sometimes untangling the facts and story from one another can shift our perspective.
Want to take this one step further?
Look at the story you are telling yourself. It’s time for a little editing and rewriting. What would be a more empowering story?
This isn’t about lying to yourself. It’s more about accepting that on some level all of our perspectives are a lie, a version of the truth, so why not make it a story that works for us and bolsters our happiness?
Not feeling introspective?
You can also try flipping your perspective by asking yourself, "What is the opposite of how I see this situation?". Try thinking about it from another person’s point of view. How would your partner or best friend see the same situation?
Last but not least, bust out your acting chops.
Choose a desired emotional state, such as excited, and ask yourself how you would view this situation if you felt excited. Stepping into the role of the desired state can often help us switch up our perspective. It's "fake it 'til you make it" at it's best.