Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Ox, the Wheel and the Cart

"We are what we think. What we are is the result of our thoughts. With our thoughts we make our world. Speak or act with an impure mind and trouble will follow you as the wheel follows the ox that draws the cart. Speak or act with a pure mind and happiness will follow you as unshakeable as your shadow."

-Buddha from the Dhammapada

Dr. Martin Seligman, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, argues that the main difference between optimists and pessimists is how they explain setbacks to themselves. Optimists see the setbacks as temporary, limited in effect and have a clear understanding of their responsibility for or control over the setback. Pessimists, on the other hand, consider the setback to be permanent, far reaching, and entirely their own fault. The setback for the pessimist is debilitating; for the optimist it is merely a bump in the road.

Furthermore, Dr. Seligman concludes that optimistic people are more successful than pessimists. This, in turn, leads to either greater optimism (and success) or pessimism (and failure).

Being optimistic is difficult. Life is extremely difficult. We get tired, worn out, taken advantage of, treated unfairly, unkindly, unjustly and just plain rudely. We make mistakes. We sin. We do things poorly or at least not well. We let others down. We argue. We fight. We lie. We cheat, beg, steal, complain - we give in to negativity because there is so stinking much of it. 

But, the difference between a sinner and a saint isn't that the saint never falls in the mud. Instead, it is that the saint, after falling, picks him/herself up and keeps trying. The setback is momentary. Soap and water cleanse. Hope abounds. 

Fear is another element that keeps us from optimism. We are so afraid of failure that it keeps us from even trying something new, something challenging, something that does not guarantee our success. Confined and comforted by the safety of mediocrity, we often become jaded, bitter, jealous and more negative. We become conditioned to living with this negativity, continuing this vicious cycle of pessimism. 

Being positive is a mindset. It's an attitude. It's an approach. A lens through which we decide to view our world. Far from a pollyannic and naive perspective, this method challenges us to correct problems but not to dwell on them. To vent but not to complain. To be thankful for what we have instead of jealous over what we don't.

Beauty is everywhere if we have the eyes to see it. Blessings. Miracles. Joy. Hope. Excitement. If we have the eyes to see them.

As an experiment stop reading and look around your room, noticing all of the things that are blue.

Take 30 seconds to commit them to memory.

After you read this and without looking back up, close your eyes and try to name as many things that are red as you can.


Could you name any? 1? 2 - 3? 5? Look up and notice how many red things there are (look to the right on this screen!). See how they were right in front of your eyes, in locations that you spend lots of time and attention. But, notice how they went unnoticed because of your lens. 

Happiness is a choice, not a by-product. 

With these concepts in mind, I am asking all of us to become optimists. Whichever path we choose, optimism or pessimism, will ultimately become our reality. Therefore, we must choose wisely. We must choose to act instead of react. We must choose to become problem-solvers instead of problem-spotters. We must choose to become up-standers instead of by-standers. We must choose to achieve excellence instead of just accepting mediocrity.

I know which path I will choose; I invite you to travel along with me...and my shadow.