Events in life tend to pull us down. Whether a tough business client or a rough patch in a relationship, it’s challenging to pull happiness out of your back pocket. This is especially the case when your mind is preoccupied with thoughts. Being able to conquer these thoughts is how we evolve as human beings. Changing thought patterns, and how we perceive these thoughts, are vital steps we must take to overcome the inner voice that can often be distracting.
Recognition, acceptance and appreciation are key to being happier. Let’s dive into this.
Recognition without judgment is the first point of understanding. Being able to separate emotion from pure observation is something we must all learn.
Here’s a short example.
You’re in line at a store checkout counter thinking about the wonderful weekend you’re about to have with your family. A woman, clearly in a hurry, goes right up in front of you to the counter, even though it’s your turn to pay. You now have thoughts racing to your head—“How rude!” or “Who does she think she is?” or a “How inconsiderate!”
Here’s where you need to immediately recognize that this woman’s actions are affecting your thoughts. You’ve gone from thinking about your lovely weekend, to intensely focusing on this woman who has jumped in front of you. You’ve lost all self-control, as she has taken over your thoughts and you’re judging her by calling her “rude” and “inconsiderate.” Recognizing this is an important first step to being able to accept and appreciate.
It’s OK to have thoughts about why she cut in front, but removing the judgment is essential to self-control. A better question to ask yourself would be “Why did she do that?” You have no idea whether she did it with malicious intent, or she if she was trying to solve a time-sensitive issue. Bearing this in mind, do you really feel you have the ability to judge the situation at all?
Within 15 seconds of her walking up to the counter, she leaves. On her way past you, she says “I’m sorry I had to jump in, the pharmacy messed up the prescription and my husband must take this medication on a very time-specific schedule.” In no way was her line-cutting associated with you, and yet many people would have angry or delusional thoughts about this woman.
People in a state of uncontrollable emotion may yell out “Hey, there’s a line here lady” or something less gentle. And yet, her question took a mere 15 seconds. At the beginning of the situation you didn’t know why she jumped the line or how long it would take her. And it’s the mindful person who will recognize that something unusual is happening, not judge the situation at all, and wait to see how the situation pans out before jumping to any conclusions.
Acceptance can come at any time during an unusual situation. For some, acceptance could only come once they realize that the woman was going out of her way for her sickly husband and all she needed was 15 seconds of asking how to deal with the situation. If that is the information you need to relax, take the information without judging yourself for questioning.
And now it’s time to appreciate the woman; she’s doing a good deed for her husband. She’s taking care of someone she loves, and the power of love will make us do anything. A person who has developed a higher awareness and mindful self-control may not even question why she jumped the line in the first place. This person will recognize what happened with no judgment, accept the moment for what it is and appreciate life and love all around. As we wait in line, we can choose how we act. Instead of yelling profanity or something aggressive, we can simply relax, smile and wait for our turn, marvelling at the world around us and finding joy in all we see and come into contact with.
As a mindfulness consultant it’s hard to admit that even I am not cool, calm and collected in every moment. There are times when emotions get in the way, and we act out in ways that make us unrecognizable to friends, family and even ourselves. Being in a stable emotional place is necessary if you’re able to control any radical emotions that may affect your actions. I’ve been there. I’ve been the person who yells out his window at someone who cut him off, I’ve been the person who allows that to bother him the entire ride home. Through learning about mindfulness I’ve begun putting the three practices of recognition, acceptance and appreciation into effect. I’ve many times been able to consciously overcome my thoughts when they’ve tried to lead me astray from who I am and who I want to be.
As the saying goes “Keep Calm and Carry On.”
Continue reading on this topic in BEGINNING ANEW: A mindfulness practice for communicating appreciation»