Is your life painfully hard right now? Does it seem like there are way more negatives in your life than positives? Are you depressed? Maybe you’re even devoid of hope?
Are you a glass half full person, or a glass half empty one? How would other people describe you? Maybe even ask them!
Here’s a simple attitude and technique which has made a gigantic difference in my life. And I’m hopeful it can be similarly helpful for you.
“Nothing is good nor bad, but thinking makes it so” –Macbeth (by Shakespeare)
Some clarity is needed on the above quote…
Yes, externally, in the real world, there are things which are good or bad (evil) in a very real sense. For example, most of us would agree that murder is objectively wrong, plain and simple.
But when we come to subjective experience (the maps we make of the world inside our heads), things get a little murkier.
I believe that we can choose for ourselves what’s good or evil, using our own maps of the world. And our maps can become extremely distorted… they no longer bear much relation to what’s really there in the real world.
For a great example of this, see depression. I’ve described depression as being a bit like someone sneaking up behind me and forcing me to wear a pair of very dark glasses. They make everything in my life seem ridiculously bleak. Not only that, but pretty quickly it starts to feel like my life has always been this way and there is zero chance of things ever getting better.
Yep, depression is a fucked-up, evil fucking fucker of a disease.
So, if it’s possible for your internal maps to become skewed in such a way that you focus way too excessively on negatives (e.g. if you are depressed), that must mean that it’s possible to re-adjust our internal maps in a positive direction so they line up a bit more accurately with reality.
That’s what the Shakespeare quote above is talking about… we can *make* things good by choosing the way we think about them.
To bring that abstract concept back to a more concrete example: do you believe that you can find useful lessons, even from painful/difficult life experiences?
Have you ever been fired from a job, only to then get hired into a much better one? Shit events are sometimes necessary in order to get to good events.
And this kind of belief… it’s a way to start skewing your internal maps of meaning back towards being more positive and realistic.
So, let’s bring this right back to a practical level… how do you implement this in practice?
Start to recognise when you are being negative. Are you spending a lot of time condemning, criticising or complaining? What would your life feel like if you stopped doing those things? What would happen if you intentionally started trying to find the best in other people?
I totally understand that those negative behaviours feel totally appropriate and realistic to you.
But I would ask you to make an effort to imagine yourself being a bit more positive. What’s another way to look at that negative situation? What else might be true?
If you were to somehow feel hopeful, how might this shitty event you’ve experienced maybe turn into something better?
And then, take a close look at your own resentments. What in your life is making you feel bitter, angry or resentful? These are areas for you to work on. You need to find ways to let go of that bitterness.
This is really difficult at first. It feels like you’re deluding yourself as to the nature of reality. But just try it on for size. Keep trying it. See what happens. It takes time and practice.
Eventually, you might just find you weren’t seeing the world quite as realistically and accurately as you thought you were.
And what’s more, when you choose to have a more positive outlook, you feel better! Fucking RESULT!
So, even if you think this approach is bullshit, surely it’s worth testing, if it’s a way to make your life a little less miserable?
One objection which you may be having, especially if you’re depressed… this might all sound like some trite advice to “pull yourself together” or “just try being more positive”. When you’re depressed, hearing those messages is a kick in the teeth. It can sound like, “You’re not trying hard enough.”
You are not to blame for your depression. But there are steps you can take which will be (very slowly and gradually) helpful for you. You are not a helpless victim.
Be patient with yourself. Your internal maps probably didn’t become so negative in an instant. It can take a long time to gradually shift your perspectives to becoming more positive.
Be kind to yourself. Be open minded. If you’re super depressed, you’re already in a kind of hell. What have you got to lose by running a little experiment inside your own head?
Is the glass half full or half empty? Maybe it’s both! And maybe it’s all just a matter of which perspective you choose to take.