Working with Emotions
How to practice shifting your thoughts
The meaning of life is made, not found. Dr. Robert Holden asks us to reconsider the meaning we place on life events.
Freddie Frankl was a rare psychiatrist. For starters, he was happy! He was also warm, kind, wholehearted and liked to laugh. He was famous for his motto, "One laugh is worth two tablets". Freddie was like a wise old owl. I learned a lot from him. I remember him on our last meeting before his death saying to me, "The search for the meaning of life is folly—the meaning of life is made, not found."
Freddie's uncle was the internationally renowned psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl, author of Man's Search for Meaning and founder of Logotherapy, heralded as "The Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy" after Freud and Adler. Logos is a Greek word which denotes meaning. Viktor Frankl believed that man's search for meaning is the primary motivation in life. A survivor of the Nazi concentration camps, Frankl's horrific experiences taught him that people can survive any hardship if they are able to make a positive meaning out of it. "Even the worst circumstance can be transformed by our minds," he wrote.
The meaning of life is not a search—it is a choice. Meaning is not found in things; meaning is what you make of things. The world means nothing by itself. You give it all the meaning it has. Thus, the meaning of life is a choice you make, not just once, but every waking hour of your day. Life is like art—it is all about interpretation. The moment anything happens to you, you interpret a meaning for it. The meaning you vote for then governs your perception, your thinking, your faith, your choices, your feelings, your behaviors, everything! Whenever you elect a new meaning, this changes everything. Here is a great key to healing and success. An event occurs, and it is your interpretation and meaning that decide everything thereafter. "There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so," wrote Shakespeare. For example:
Two accidents in quick succession may mean God doesn't care, or, you need to take care.
A boss who spends no time with you may mean he doesn't like you, or, he trusts you.
When he/she doesn't call it may mean the romance is cooling, or, they are simply busy.
A friend acting out of character may mean he/she doesn't love you, or, he/she is calling for help.
Losing your lipstick might mean a world emergency, or, it's time to buy some more.
A speeding ticket might mean the world is out to get you, or, you need to slow down.
A stain on your shirt might mean a drama, or, nothing.
A pink slip might mean the end of your life, or, a new beginning.
Showing your emotions might be a sign of weakness, or, a show of strength.
A failed job interview might mean you lost out, or, something even better is in store.
Your ego is an avid interpreter. It is so quick to interpret events as bad or good, wrong or right. It never fails to see "the little picture." This is particularly so during a crisis, when so much judgment, fear, anxiety and panic blots your mind it is almost impossible to perceive your own best interests.
Whenever I experience any trouble, I try The 180° Shift. I look at what is troubling me, and I ask myself, "What if bad is good, wrong is right, and this trouble is a gift?" The fact is: this could mean anything. Shifting my thoughts like this helps to suspend the ego's fear mongering. It also helps me to be open and receptive to higher thoughts. Fear is not in things; fear is only in the meaning you give things. Pain is not in things; pain is only in the meaning you give things. Change the meaning, and the fear and the pain are transformed.
Sometimes the greatest fear and pain come from a sense of meaninglessness in life. Meaning is a choice, not a search, remember? A sense of meaninglessness is really, therefore, a call to let in higher awareness and truth. Right now, practice The 180° Shift. Think of a challenge, something you would label wrong, bad, painful or negative.
Step one: Declare, "This could mean anything."
Step two: Suspend all judgments and clear your mind.
Step three: Be open to higher inspiration, a new perception and a more positive interpretation. Doing The 180° Shift with another person can also be very beneficial.
Robert Holden, Ph.D., is the Founder and Director of The Happiness Project and Success Intelligence. His innovative work on happiness and success has been featured on Oprah and in two major BBC TV documentaries, The Happiness Formula and How to Be Happy.