“This is Torture” and How Perspectives Impact Happiness

“This is torture”, I heard from the woman standing next to me.

I was standing in line waiting for food at a Wendy’s restaurant in the Montego Bay airport. The woman beside me was visibly annoyed due to the long wait.

The words struck me like a bolt. I’m aware of the negativity bias we have as humans – the tendency of our minds to focus on the bad and ignore the good. So it doesn’t surprise me when put in a situation that causes us inconvenience that we get upset. It happens.

However, this time was different. And it was because of the word she used and the perspective I’d gained from the book I was reading on vacation. The book was not a typical light choice for a vacation read, but a meaningful one. I had been reading Night by Elie Wiesel, an Auschwitz concentration camp survivor. The word “torture” meant something very different than waiting longer than I had hoped to receive my hamburger and fries.

I’ve read quite a few books about Auschwitz and the concentration camps of World War II. Each one paints harrowing pictures of experiences that no human should ever have to endure. And words cannot even truly capture the actual experience, as Elie so eloquently explains in Night, “For, despite all my attempts to articulate the unspeakable, ‘it’ is still not right.”

I stood there dumbfounded that this woman felt tortured. I contemplated the power of our perspectives.

Tools to help me gain perspective

We always have a choice in how we look at a situation. Gratitude is a great tool to help us in any uncomfortable/unpreferred situation. This woman may have been able to feel less “tortured” if she turned her attention to being grateful for what she had at the moment. Perhaps gratitude that she could afford (time and money) to take a trip to Jamaica, and that she was able to spend time with friends (she was waiting in line with a friend). Perhaps grateful that she was healthy enough to be travelling.

I have to admit that I was looking at my watch a bit too. I was a little worried that we might miss our flight. But if needed I could abandon the line to catch the flight. Even if I lost the cost of the meal, with perspective, it might be annoying but it’s just a bit of money. This is another tool for perspective, stop and consider, what is the worst that can happen.

Being mindfully aware and present in the moment is also a great tool. While we wait for things we can take in our surroundings. Look at the people around us, the workers hard at work behind the counter doing their best to fill the food orders. We can bring awareness to our breath and know that we are safe standing in line. That’s another thing to be grateful for!

Reading books is also a great way to gain perspective. By reading about others’ stories and experiences we have a broader view of the world to draw on when faced with our own challenges. It can also enhance our empathy for others.

I’m here, aren’t I?

On that note, here’s another little story that highlighted to me that perspective is a choice.

I was doing a Good Morning, Life! book signing at a local hospital and I greeted a couple as they walked by my table, “How are you today?” I asked.

“I’m here, aren’t I?” the gentleman responded simply.

I smiled and said, “That’s right, you are.”.

In the next moment, I realized that he may not have meant it the way I thought he had.

I assumed that in other words, he was saying, “I’m alive aren’t I?” ” I’m here to experience this day.” Or, “I’m here surrounded by capable doctors to help me heal.”

However, he could have meant, “I’m in a hospital, aren’t I? I’m sick and not well.” Or, “I’d rather be somewhere other than a hospital.”

I’ll never know the thoughts and meaning behind his words. But I’ll always remember that there’s more than one perspective. I also know that it’s my choice what perspective I choose to lead with and that I have tools to help me choose one that will increase my happiness.

Presence. Gratitude.

perspectives impact happiness
Photo by Sean Oulashin on Unsplash

The Courage to be Disliked

I’ve learned from research that as social beings, connection and feelings of belonging are strong drivers for our happiness. So when a friend introduced me to the book The Courage to be Disliked, which claims to change our life and show us how to achieve real happiness, I was intrigued.

I dove into the book and it did not disappoint. The book is a work of art, woven of psychology and philosophy and primarily based on Alfred Adler’s teachings. Adler was a psychotherapist and a core member of a group led by Freud. However, his ideas weren’t aligned with Freud’s so he split from the group. His theories offer simple and straightforward answers to the question: How can one be happy?

His teachings line up with six elements of the happiness formula from Good Morning, Life!

Over wine one night, my friends and I explored the simple yet fascinating perspectives that can help us be happy. We now use some of the terminologies from the book to help us navigate challenging interpersonal situations. I’m going to share a couple of key life-changing perspectives.

Life’s tasks and my lane

The book posits that all problems are interpersonal relationship problems. Many of our complaints are about other people or situations that others have caused or put us in. The book offers up a brilliant solution to these problems. Amazingly, we can rid ourselves of these interpersonal problems way easier than we might think.

The solution?

It’s simply to keep in our lane. Identify our life’s tasks, separate them from other people’s life tasks and then just focus on our own tasks. When we focus on our tasks alone, it simplifies our life immensely.

My tasks

Individually, we all have core life tasks that we are responsible for. They relate to work, friendship and love. It is our job to focus on these things. If I want to get a job, it is my responsibility to go to school, study and do what I need to in order to accomplish that goal. It is not my parent’s responsibility or anyone else.

In terms of friendship and love, it is my responsibility to treat my friends and loved ones with care, believe in them, and trust them. I am not responsible for how they treat me, I am only responsible for how I treat them. I cannot control their actions or behaviour. Of course, if I’m not happy with how they are treating me, I can choose not to spend (as much) time with them.

Importantly, I think it’s our task to love and respect ourselves. This includes setting boundaries, honouring and acting in line with our values. We don’t have to look to others to do this for us. When we love ourselves, we are complete and are not searching for others to make us whole. If someone else’s task is to love us then they can choose to do that and we can choose to accept that love. But our happiness is not dependent on whether they do their task or do it well.

What are not my tasks?

We are not responsible for other people’s opinions of us. This is where the courage to be disliked comes in. If it was our job to make other people like us or to meet others’ expectations, where would that job end? There are billions of people in the world. Everyone has different preferences, experiences, and perceptions. Obviously, we aren’t trying to make everyone like us, that would be impossible. But even if we are trying to make a handful of people like us, that’s still something we ultimately don’t control. It is not our task to control other people’s emotions or actions.

Let that sink in.

Other peoples’ judgements and opinions are not our tasks. We don’t need to worry about them or spend energy on them. An example in the book was a case where a boss is treating you unfairly and is unreasonable. It’s not your task to make your boss like you. If your boss is not recognizing you, it’s not your problem (there is a chapter that talks about the problem with the desire for recognition and how it makes us unfree). If you remain focused on your work tasks and do them well, they will speak for themself. I’m sure there could be a long conversation around this – I’ll leave that to my next book where the focus will be on finding happiness at work.

As parents, we have to be careful not to complete our children’s tasks for them. If we intervene too much, our kids won’t learn what they need to, including the ability to confront life’s challenges. They have their own life tasks.

Discarding tasks

It bears repeating that it’s not our responsibility whether other people are completing their tasks effectively. That is not our concern. Think Let Go from the Good Morning, Life! happiness formula. If we simply focus on our tasks, life becomes simple. And interpersonal relationships do too. We can choose who we spend our time with and we don’t try to change how others do their tasks. We stay in our lane and focus our energy on our own tasks. This helps us become more effective at doing our tasks. We can focus on our Purpose and act with Intention.

“If you are leading a life of worry and suffering – which stems from interpersonal relationships- learn the boundary of “From here on, that is not my task”. And discard other people’s tasks.” (p128, The Courage to be Disliked)

In addition to the idea of separating life tasks, how we view others is another key perspective shift the book introduces, which can substantially decrease our interpersonal issues and increase our happiness.

Are others your comrades or competition?

There are two lenses from which we may see the world. Either as if everyone is a friend/comrade or an enemy/competition. When our view is that we are competing with everyone in the world, everyone becomes our enemy. Their success means our failure, making it hard to celebrate their success. There is always a winner and a loser. You are constantly trying not to lose and trying to get ahead. Even when you’re winning you’re not happy, because of the stress of trying to maintain the position.

“When you are able to truly feel that ‘people are my comrades’, your way of looking at the world will change utterly. No longer will you think of the world as a perilous place, or be plagued by needless doubts; the world will appear before you as a safe and pleasant place. And your interpersonal relationship problems will decrease dramatically.” (p 80 The Courage to be Disliked)

There are a few ways I’ve seen this shift show up in my personal life. One minor way is with my neighbours. My husband and I are minimalists in terms of our outdoor landscaping. We have some evergreen trees in addition to a small garden area along with some hardscaping. Whereas my neighbour has beautiful gardens surrounding their home. I used to have a tendency to compare and feel pressure to up our garden game. Now, I happily enjoy their garden, appreciating the beauty that their hard work contributes to our neighbourhood. They are my comrades and not my competition.

A happier world

Similarly, with other authors that write books about finding happiness. Rather than see them as competition, I see them as my allies contributing to the same goal – a happier (more productive) world.

On that note, The Courage to be Disliked offers some great perspectives that can help all of us live harmoniously with each other. Interpersonal relationships are a core part of life and a key to our happiness. I’ve shared a couple of key perspectives here, but there are other themes that align with the happiness formula from Good Morning, Life!, including Presence, Purpose, Intention, Balance, Let Go, and Love.

Check out both books and find a more harmonious life and contribute to a happier world!

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

Love like you love your cat

This Valentine’s Day my cat Jackie reminds me what unconditional love is and the importance of having an open heart.

As I woke up and reached over to stroke my cat Jackie’s furry coat and gently kiss his head while he purred softly, a feeling of unconditional love washed over me. I wondered aloud, how do I love this creature so much? Considering I was a “non-cat” person as I share in an earlier blog, and that Jackie has ruined two designer chairs in my family room, curtains, an area rug, along with other sundry items. To be sure, cleaning up his business is no fun matter, especially when he occasionally misses his litter box. So what’s his appeal and where does this love come from? He doesn’t actually DO much for us, other than meow for attention when he wants something. And while his purring indicates some happiness on his side, I don’t know if he loves me.

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Change and mindfulness lessons from a kitten

Every day provides an opportunity to practice mindfulness. As we welcomed a kitten to our family and introduced him to his new home this week, he reminded me of lessons in change management and gave us an opportunity to practice mindfulness. Here’s our story. . .

How did a “non-cat” person end up with a kitten??

First of all, for those who have known me since my teenage years know that I have never been known as a “cat person”. I lived with cats growing up, thanks to my sister Heather, who brought home any animal she could get her hands on, and my post-university roommates, Janis and Kate. Mainly though, I accepted the cat’s presence in my house but kept them at an emotional distance. We co-existed. I saw myself more as a “dog person” but mostly as a “people person”.

As I’ve learned and I’ll talk about more in an upcoming blog, judging and labeling ourselves can be extremely limiting in our lives. With this in mind, I’ve dropped the idea of being a “non-cat person” or a “dog person”. Now, I’m simply a lover of all creatures. This includes cats, especially cuddly, kind and affectionate ones!

So when my good friends, Janis and Kate, recently brought home Ragdoll kittens that were extremely affectionate and cuddly, I couldn’t help but adore them. At the same time my thirteen-year-old son, Carter, struggling with finding joy in online school during the pandemic, started asking for a pet. That is when the stars aligned as we learned Janis’ new kitten had a brother looking to be adopted. Our family has not had any pets yet, and now, within a week of starting a discussion about adopting a kitten, we brought home little Jackie.

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Who’s More Important, a Doctor or a Priest?

The moment when I truly realized that I am just as important as anyone else was one of those life-changing perspective shifts for me. The lesson started for me one wintery Sunday morning.

The Game

We were gathered in the large gym at our church for Sunday School. My boys were quite young at this point and I volunteered at the Sunday School, along with other parents. This week I was working with Nancy, a teacher, and she shared a great exercise that I helped prepare. We had cue cards with a different title or role on each one (e.g. doctor, lawyer, mom, grandpa, teacher, 5 year-old, 18 year-old, movie star, etc.). We put the kids into groups and they had to organize the cue cards in order of the importance of the imaginary person on the card.

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You are the CEO of Your Life: Perspective is everything

Do you ever feel like you have little control over things in your life?

In a previous blog post, I share how the current pandemic has taught me that I don’t have control over many things in life outside of myself. Happily, I’ve realized that there’s something I control. In fact, I have a very important role. I’m the CEO of my life! I control my actions, set intentions, express my values, needs and talents and set boundaries. It doesn’t matter if I’m working for a company, looking for a job, homeschooling my kids – whatever my situation, I’m the CEO of my life. I gained this impactful perspective about two years ago as a result of a talent management exercise at work.

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