In The Steering Wheel of Your Life, you learned that asking yourself a question is the best way to direct your mind. Of the many ways to talk to yourself, asking a question is the most powerful. Now we’re going to investigate some good questions. The question for this article is: "If I was happy about this, what would I be thinking about it?" Sometimes it is easier to ask this version: "If someone else, more capable, and wiser than me was happy about this, what would that person be thinking about it?"
Your car breaks down, it’s pouring rain, and you’re late for an important meeting. Of course this is miserable. One possible and perfectly understandable reaction you could have is to throw a fit of rage. To freak out. To cry, scream, curse the gods.
But when you’re done and you’ve made your phone calls and you’re waiting for the tow truck to arrive, you can explore your mind by imagining this same set of circumstances, but imagine that somehow you are happy about it. What would you have to be thinking to be happy about it?
Have I gone overboard here? Is this pie-in-the-sky positive thinking on steroids? How can anybody be happy in those circumstances? Why would anyone even want to be happy in those circumstances?
The why is easy: You’ll feel better and get more done. It would do you no good at all to feel miserable. What’s done is done. You do have those circumstances, no matter how you feel about them. And negative emotions are generally hard on you. Anytime you can remove unnecessary negative emotions from your life, you’ve benefited your health.
And you will respond to things better, you’ll be more creative at solving problems, and you’ll treat people you love with more care and respect if you feel better. The way you feel has real consequences.
So that takes care of the why. Let’s look at the how. How could a person feel happy under those circumstances? Broken-down car, rain, late for meeting. You can’t do it by forcing yourself, I can tell you that. You cannot force yourself to feel good. Why? Because forcing yourself doesn’t feel good.
But you could have a different perspective on your situation. You could look at it differently, and thereby feel differently. You could be only mildly upset about it, you could not be bothered at all about it, or you could actually feel happy — actually feel good about your circumstances. All it takes is a little creativity on your part.
Your answers to the question depend on you and your circumstances. If I was in that circumstance, for example (with the rain and late for an appointment, etc.) and if I was happy about it, these are some of the things I think I might be thinking: "I’m glad this happened to me and not my wife. I’m glad this happened when I was in the slow lane and could get off the road without causing an accident. It will be interesting to find out how the interviewer responds to my missing the meeting (sort of like a test of character), and it might make a good real-life illustration to use on the re-scheduled interview. I’m glad this happened because since I've been sitting here waiting for the tow truck I’ve had time to reflect on the fact that I was running late already, and perhaps my own greed needs to be curbed — I’m trying to stuff too much into my days and I’m past the point where it is fun. I need to slow the pace and make it more fun. I’m glad this event has given me time to reflect and readjust my priorities."
And so on. You get the idea. The more you think about it, the more there is to be happy about. It’s also true that the more you think about it, the more things you could think of to be miserable about, but the question is: Which do you choose? Because it really is your choice, and your choice will have consequences one way or the other.
Another alternative way to ask this question is: What would I like to feel about this? And then after you get the answer to that one, ask: What would I have to think about it in order to feel that way?
Another way to ask this is, “What can I think about right now that will improve my mood?” Then, of course, think about it.
I once had an appointment with the dentist for the following day, and I wasn’t looking forward to it. So I asked, “What do I want to feel?” Of course, my answer was, I wanted to be glad I was going to the dentist, or at least no longer feel dread.
My next question was, “What would I have to think that would make me feel good in these circumstances?”
One of my answers was, “I would have to think I was grateful that I live in a time and place that has dentists to take care of my teeth.” I thought about other places and times (most of history since the advent of agriculture) when people got painful cavities, lost their teeth, and suffered tremendous agony because they didn’t have dentists, because dentistry hadn’t been invented, or it was only for rich people or whatever, and here I was ungratefully wishing I didn’t have to go.
And the truth is, I didn’t have to go. It was my privilege to be able to go. I felt glad about going, and no longer dreaded it.
And I changed my attitude by beginning with the simple question, “What would I like to feel?” Okay, you have this bad feeling, but what would you like to feel? And then go on from there and ponder the question, “What could I think about the situation that would result in that feeling?”
Also note that I changed the way I looked at it and felt better without fooling myself or trying to believe something I didn’t really believe or trying to force myself to feel any particular way. I felt better honestly and genuinely by looking at the real situation with a broader perspective than I had been using.
Questions are powerful. They direct your mind. And this question is a great way to generate whole new trains of thought that will lead you to better feelings and better health.