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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Make Your Own Reality

Years ago, I decided that if I was going to have something negative to say, I had to follow up with finding the silver lining. Turns out, this is a pretty damned good strategy. It always leaves me focused on the positive, even if sometimes, I kind of have to force it. I'm noted at work for being the one to say, "It'll all work out just fine." After years of system implementations where there seem to be completely insurmountable problems, I have to stop myself from getting sucked into fretting about it, because either the issues get worked out or the project gets delayed or the initial feedback when we launch is enough to raise my concerns higher than I could do on my own and it gets fixed soon after.

My old boss Jim has a philosophy that if he saw a problem, someone else probably saw it too, and most of the time he would stand back and let someone else make the fuss. When he did have to be the one to make the fuss, his stuff got more attention than someone who was always making the big deal about the little issue. I've been applying this to my personal life as well as my work life, and it's really working for me. Just because I see an issue, doesn't mean I have to make a big fuss right now. Either it will work itself out, someone else will stick their neck out, or I'll decide it's gone on long enough and I'll step up. It's a really good mechanism for me, because it also allows me time to figure out the best approach to a situation rather than the first approach that occurs to me.

The net result is that I'm a lot happier than I used to be. It's not that things don't bother me. It's not that I don't see problems. It's that there always has to be an upside of some kind that I can focus on, and some things just don't have to be *my* problem.

The thing is, we make our own realities to a large degree. Have you seen Louis CK talking about how everything is amazing and nobody's happy? It's really true.

As it turns out, the research agrees. Venting your anger doesn't actually make you feel better. So screaming at the person annoying you or screaming at the walls or breaking things doesn't make it better. Want to be happier? Just get out of the situation, move on, distract yourself, or find some upside. Believe it or not, "studies show that even an artificially induced smile brings about happier emotions, and a recent experiment suggested that people who use Botox are less prone to anger, because they can’t make angry faces." Today I stumbled on another particularly fascinating article about a study that suggests "people can take active steps to elevate their moods by deliberately thinking about how an event is surprising." This one also plays directly into my habit of being surprised by the good things and celebrating them. Change your perspective to change how you feel. The way you're seeing it may just make you miserable, but you have a choice. This goes for wallowing in misery just as much as anger.

The world is the world. We've all got problems. What you can change is how you react to it. What you choose to focus on is your experience of the world. Make choices that make you happier rather than more miserable. I know (I *know*) that's not always easy, but it's worth it in the long run.


  • What a great post! Thanks for sharing your tips on having a positive outlook. It's difficult for me, but having reminders like this sprinkled around really does help.

    By Blogger Matt, at 9:41 AM  

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