“The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it.”
– Thích Nhất Hạnh
The simple things – things that are right under our very noses are often the things we can so easily overlook in life. The idea of being selective about what we give our attention to is one such thing.
We have all, at some time or the other, listened to a song or watched a movie that either caused us to feel light and joyful or moved us to sadness and tears. In this way, we have all had personal experience of having our mood changed or influenced by something that we chose to give our attention to. So, it would be easy to conclude that there’s no great mystery here and that we all know and understand how this idea applies to our lives.
Yet, I have learned to my cost, that it could be all too easy to lose sight of this truth! I have also learned that it is far too easy to be swept away by the ideas and information presented by others and by our own unhelpful thoughts.
We live in an age where we have access to so much information and ideas – songs, novels, magazines, books, newspapers, television, movies, websites, blogs, forums, chat-groups… so many things that most of us are ‘plugged into’ on a daily basis. Yet, how many times to do stop to think – this thing I am about to give my attention to… how will it make me feel?
When we routinely watch, read or listen to news that says the world is a dangerous place and that crime abounds; we are led to be almost fearful and suspicious of strangers. We are often left wondering when the next ‘big thing’ (natural disaster, terrorist attack, or school shooting etc) would strike and so on.
Similarly, through a lot of the ‘movies, music and ‘entertainment’ out there, we are constantly bombarded with ideas like: life is a struggle; life is a competition where it is the fittest who will survive; happiness and prosperity will come only to a select few, humans are inherently selfish and dangerous by nature; and revenge is sweet. And we consume all this without questioning the truth and validity of these ideas or how it will affect us.
A lot of these things present a similar theme – a negative worldview and view of life. They lead us to buy into a certain type of reality – leaving out a huge range of other possibilities. And if we continue to give our attention to things that are similar in theme or nature, then our entire outlook is soon going to be coloured by those things. This is easily demonstrated through a simple analogy: If we took a glass full of clean water and added a drop of black ink, it will change the colour of the water ever so slightly. If we add a few more drops, it will darken the water to the point that it is no longer clear. If we keep adding more drops of ink, the water will eventually become as dark as the ink.
The same is true of our own thoughts – when we are not being influenced by others. If you are anything like me, you might agree that often it seems as though the thoughts appear out of nowhere and that I have no control over what I think. I have now come to realise that this is not necessarily true. With a little bit of practice and effort, I can now be more selective of what I think about and how I think about any subject. And the great thing is, the way I feel will aways let me know if I am thinking in ways that are helpful to me or not (because I always feel bad when I think in a way that doesn’t serve me).
The really good news about all of this is that we are all free to select what we give our attention to. We are also free to determine the subjects we think about and the way in which we will approach them. So our happiness is always within our control.
If we care enough about our happiness, then we can easily become more selective about what we read, what we watch, what we listen to and what we talk about with others. Similarly, we can also be more discerning about what we think and how we think about these things.
Earlier on in this series, I wrote about positive thinking and about practising gratitude and appreciation and the role they play in our day to day happiness. In many ways, these things are simply different ways of being selective about what we give our attention to. With thinking positive, it is a case of choosing to see all the good in any situation. And with gratitude and appreciation, we choose to take note of all the good and pleasing aspects of our lives on a daily basis.
From what I have read and experienced over the years I have learned that happiness is our natural state of being and that it is largely the things we think about and give our attention to that rob us of our happiness. Therefore, in order to reclaim our happiness, it would help in leaps and bounds if we stopped feeding our minds with information that poisons us little by little, on a daily basis. I can honestly say that I have become much happier as a person after giving up the ‘mind-poisons’ that I used to consume so freely (and often paid good money for).
I have chosen to believe that I create my own reality and therefore these things no longer have any hold over me (perhaps the subject of another post for another day?).
If you are concerned that by being selective, you will in effect be ‘ignoring reality’, please remember that the news and popular media (and our own thoughts at times) do not necessarily represent all of possibility and therefore all of reality. For example, there may be countless acts of kindness practised by people all over the world that are not covered by the news. Just because these things are not being covered by the news, does it then mean that they are not part of ‘reality’?
Please also remember what Einstein said: “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it”. This means that holding on to the news media’s version of the problematic world by taking a daily dose of it wont necessarily help you solve any of these problems. Whereas, if you took your eyes (and your mind) off of these things for long enough, you may well find solutions to help make things better. Even if you didn’t, you will probably end up feeling happier as a result and one more happy person is definitely going to make the world a better place!