“JUST DROPPED IN TO SEE WHAT CONDITION MY CONDITION WAS IN…..”
Have you been happy lately? I certainly hope so.
When and why did you experience that wonderful, essential emotion? Did you solve a difficult problem, putting your life back on track? Did a situation turn out better than expected? Did you receive longed for appreciation and recognition from family, friends, or coworkers? Did you glimpse a blue morph butterfly?
Such conditions are likely to produce happiness in most people. And a change in those conditions are also likely cancel that happiness. So humanity has sought to identify and hold onto “the right conditions” for happiness. Some have sought to negate the power of conditions completely by pursuing a “no conditions” happiness. And in between these options, we’ve discovered how to respond when conditions change by changing what we have the most power over: our mindset.
Happiness is in Our Hands and Heads
Since conditions constantly change, if our happiness depends on those conditions, our happiness will be at the mercy of any changes. According to the “conditions free” approach, rather than trying to create or maintain happy conditions, we must, instead, access our unchanging “inner core of happiness.” This approach deserves it’s own column and is better understood if we carefully explore the “conditions plus mindset” way to happiness.
We do not live in a vacuum. There is no conditions free condition. That would be just another type of….condition, some circumstance in which we live and conduct our lives. So we immediately see a difficulty with the “conditions free” approach-a difficulty we will try to resolve in that later column. Here we will explore the interaction between us and our conditions that produces happiness.
Most conditions (like the weather, the economy, the traffic) are out of our control. Ever try to change the weather?
Some circumstances are within our power to change, at least to alter or improve. We can’t change the weather, but we can reduce the weather’s impact on us by carrying an umbrella or wearing a warm coat. We can almost always adapt to our reality. But our greatest capacity for happiness lies in our ability to change ourself in response to difficult conditions.
Change myself? MOI? Are you serious?
The constantly changing nature of life shows why some thinkers would search for a “conditions free” way to happiness. It would eliminate the constant effort to change or sustain conditions, or change our attitude, or just endure. For now let’s acknowledge the necessity to adapt to conditions. It’s in our genes, after all.
Every life form has evolved to survive under certain conditions. Polar bears would die in the Sahara Desert and camels would die in the Arctic. That’s why they have survived in their conditions of origin and usually nowhere else. But remember, 99% (!) of all species that ever existed have gone extinct. Survival is never a “one and done” event. Conditions change and what worked previously may not work well in the “new world”.
Species have developed a myriad of ways to adapt to their world. Outer coverings, the ability to extract nutrition from available resources, ways to evade predators, and, most importantly, the ability to reproduce in sufficient numbers to ensure the survival of their species, even when numerous individual are lost. (Think sea turtles. One in one hundred makes it to adulthood.)
Humans share many of those same adaptations. But our species also possesses certain cognitive advantages unavailable to many other forms of life. We can change our minds! And our MINDSET. But since this happens all day, every day, we may neglect to see how important that is to our happiness and survival. Fish don’t know they’re wet. Some of us don’t see the power of our mindset-our way of looking at things-in producing happiness.
Back to our weather example.
Yes, “it’s raining perros and gatos”, but do I have to absolutely HATE the rain? (He asks during rainy season.) Do I have feel that the rain is a deliberate effort by the universe (or the Pacific coast) to frustrate and defeat my happiness? Or is it a situation totally independent of me? Unconcerned about me, UNAWARE that I even exist?
There’s no “magic wand” to convert rain to sunshine. Hollywood can only convert Pictures of rain into Pictures of sunshine. But there IS a mindset that can change actual rain from being a miserable experience to at least tolerable or maybe even pleasant.
You’ve planned a glorious celebration at your favorite beach. This time of year, you and your friends might have it all to yourselves. But you wake to a pouring rain. Seabirds down at that beach have few options other than seeking shelter. It’s highly unlike that they think “Hey, we’re BIRDS! We could fly out of this rain and into the sun. Let’s go guys!”
Humans, another two legged species, have numerous options (including flying elsewhere if it makes practical sense). We can pitch a fit, moan and groan, and whine about how “This sucks. This isn’t fair. Stuff like this always happens to me. I’ve been planning this party for weeks. Why rain NOW??” The party is called off AND we spend the rest of our day feeling miserable. The rain “ruined” the party and we ruined the remainder of the day.
We could go to the beach anyway, hoping the skies will clear. It could happen. We could make the best of a bad situation and spend the rest of the day in some pleasurable or productive activity. Catch up on reading or responding to our emails anyone?
To enjoy one of those outcomes, we have to “change our minds”. We can salvage some happiness by thinking: “It’s not the end of the world” “We can go some other time” “What would a good way to spend this time?”
Best of all, we can realize “This ISN’T personal. The weather isn’t trying to ruin MY day”. In doing this we take the personal sting out of this setback. By removing the personal element from this equation, we eliminate a big part of why this is so upsetting: “It’s happening to ME! And that’s not right. I deserve better than this. And if I don’t get it, someone must not see my IMPORTANCE!!”
The rain is not really a plot to make me feel bad. But we all can understand how it could make one feel down and frustrated. (I just washed the car yesterday, for example). More importantly we need to see it’s NOT PERSONAL. It’s not “out to get us”, like that old intimate partner may be. So our fall back position when conditions are beyond our control is to control our attitude, control the MEANING we give to conditions…..and restore some happiness.
Think about that for a moment. The boss denies us a promotion as a punishment for our questioning some of his plans. The department committee had recommended our promotion since we met all the requirements. But the boss is angry about our “defiance”. And refuses to endorse us for advancement. This is personal. This IS meant to hurt and humiliate us. Coping with this set back is another story. But it can be done. When an undesirable outcome isn’t personal (the rain), WHY ADD the extra pain of a personal insult when none exists.
Rain does not mean that the universe fails to see my importance. It just means too much moisture has evaporated up to the clouds….which have become too saturated to hold that moisture any longer.
Change the meaning. Change the feeling.
Unlike the Zen master, few of us can easily achieve condition free happiness by going to our inner core of happiness. But we all can change our reactions to situations. We all can realize that happiness is always a result of a simple equation:
Conditions + Mindset = Happiness.
A Counter-Happiness Mindset
But the typical mindset of many of us is to see situations that we regard as negative as being: PERSONAL, PERVASIVE, and PERMANENT.
We suffer from some serious illness. Yes, it’s personal. I suffer the arthritis, not some other guy. But is it PERSONAL in that the “universe” has singled me out for this problem?
Am I being punished for not living a healthier life? Is this a sign from the heavens that I am not worthy of better health? Really??
Do problems with my joints mean PERVASIVE problems in every aspect of my life? Yes, it’s harder to move. But does that mean I’m denied pleasure, comfort, ease everywhere else in my existence? Not really.
My condition is chronic. But is the pain really PERMANENTLY severe? Is there nothing I can do to relieve it-even a little bit?
But if we-usually-unconsciously-see our condition as personal, pervasive, and permanent, we again make a bad situation worse!
So watch for those 3P’s and don’t worsen negative conditions.
And Add That “Attitude of Gratitude”
Another key mindset shift that protects and improves happiness is that famous “attitude of gratitude”. As 12-Steppers know well, even if they have ruined their lives with drugs and alcohol, there is STILL much to be grateful for. To begin with, they’re alive. Off the path to perdition.
Being grateful on a regular basis shifts us from being totally negative (but don’t deny the negative) to including the positive in our overall outlook. Do you know anyone who’s extremely negative AND happy? Even they have something to be grateful for, even if they can’t see it.
So we can’t escape or change all the conditions of our lives. I, for one, think Planet Earth is wondrous and don’t want to try those other planets. But we can respond to our conditions in ways that enhance our experience, our happiness.
Realize that happiness is not easily attained or maintained. But UNhappiness IS easily reached and made permanent. Be realistic about our situation. Don’t exaggerate the negatives and overlook the positives. “Let’s be real” as a famous shrink says.
And our inner core of happiness is also a real option. See you next time.
Oh! Thanks to Kenny Rogers and the First Edition for our title: “Yeah, yeah. WOA yeah! What condition my condition is in…”
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