“As a rule, man’s a fool. When it’s hot, he wants it cool. And when it’s cool, he wants it hot. Always wanting what is not.” -Unknown.
I once knew a wise facilitator who opened many of his seminars with this thought provoking question: “What do you consider to be the best mental state or frame of mind to cultivate?”
Lately, my life has turned upside down and I’ve had to constantly adjust to changing circumstances. This, in turn, has prompted me to spend time pondering how to change my mindset to better cope. I analyzed three options: living in the past, giving up and going crazy, and cultivating a healthy new mindset. I opted to cultivate a new mindset.
My first clue that my efforts had met with some success came when, during a telephone conversation, my daughter commented, “Mom, you seem happier somehow; in fact, you’re a happier person than I will ever be.” Obviously, she detected something different in my tone of voice and/or my words. So, I’ve decided to share my experience with my readers.
At first glance, I thought the logical mindset to cultivate was a happy frame of mind. Surely, everyone wants to be happy, why else would there be so many experts and/or those who think they are experts filling cyberspace with theories of how to be happy? I discovered, early in my quest, that there are problems with cultivating a happy frame of mind.
1) There are multiple theories regarding what it takes to be happy and each expert is sure that her/his theory is the correct one. Just trying to understand and/or select a theory is enough to cause those chasing happiness to become very confused and unhappy.
2) I can’t find any evidence that a constant state of happiness is possible to attain. At best, happiness is a transient emotion. In my life, I have experienced many events and experiences that have given me great joy and happiness. But, try as I may, I can’t maintain that happy feeling over the long haul. As soon as the source of my happiness becomes routine and familiar, feelings of restlessness, anxiety or discontent creep back.
3) The real puzzler, for me, is unless a person has experienced unhappiness, how does one recognize that she/he is happy?
Next, I considered cultivating a busy mindset. I’ve always been goal oriented, so I figured I would increase the number of goals on which I was working and pursue life-long learning with a vengeance. The objective was to keep myself so busy that I didn’t have time to be bored, lonely, or unhappy.
This theory was short lived. For me, sleeping single in a double bed leads to some serious soul searching moments at 2am.
When these moments occur, no amount of learning, pursuing goals, or other rational thinking is able to sooth the ache in my heart or put me in a frame of mind that is happy, healthy or even acceptable.
Finally, I happened upon an article about contentedness. After reading this article, I was sure I had my answer. I decided that contentedness was the ultimate state of mind to cultivate and I immediately set about doing so.
The first step in cultivating contentedness was to reset your default thinking. Default thinking happens when one's mind goes into neutral and the person isn’t purposely focusing his/her thoughts. Resetting default thinking isn’t as difficult one may think; nor, is the process the same for everyone. I’ll share with you what worked for me. However, if you want to reset your default thinking and need help with the process, just do a quick Google; use the key phrase positive thinking and you will find a wealth of data. Here is what worked best for me:
- Focus on the good things in life rather than the bad.
- Pause and remember to accept others as they are, not as I wish them to be.
- Focus on what I already have, not what I want in the future.
- Pause and consider my needs, not my wants.
- Focus on the simple things: conversations with interesting people, spending time outdoors, walking, watching sunsets, writing, reading a book, etc.
- Pause and appreciate life! It is a gift – enjoy it.
- Live in the moment. Don’t dwell on what should have been or what has been. Don’t spoil the moment by thinking of some point in the future when things will be better or, perhaps, perfect. Now is all the time that is guaranteed to anyone.
Many years ago Coca Cola Company used the phrase, “the pause that refreshes” in an advertising campaign. For me that is the perfect description of contentedness. Contented people pause, focus on what satisfies their soul, and come away refreshed.
If you concluded that I believe that contentedness is the optimum state of mind to cultivate, you are wrong. I believe that wise folks cultivate a satisfied mind. For me a satisfied mind occurs when I sandwich large amounts of contentedness between ample servings of joy and happiness and garnish occasionally with a hint of sadness or “the blues” - just enough to keep my senses sharp enough to recognize happiness when it comes my way.