Saturday, July 2, 2011

Obstacles to happiness

While the perimeter of a person’s brain is confined by the skull, the mind is like an endless ocean. We know he brain is real, because it can be seen and studied, but what about the mind? Intuitively, we feel its existence, but cannot prove it so easily. It’s impossible to transplant one’s mind into another person as we can with organs such as the heart, lungs, kidney or liver. However, we can share ideas with people in a way that causes the seeds of our thoughts to plant themselves in the minds of others.

What rises to the surface of our minds in the form of thoughts, comes from an archive of knowledge that is stored deep within. This is knowledge we have acquired over a lifetime by reading, listening, observing, and experiencing. While we cannot retain all of this knowledge indefinitely, our individual disposition and inclinations determine how we prioritize and store what we learn. In this current age of technology, every conceivable type of information is potentially available at our fingertips through the internet. If we liken a computer to the brain, then the world wide web is like the mind, in that it has no physical boundaries. Information on the internet can be accessed when we need it, and the context in which the information will be used depends on the individual seeking it.  

However, unlike the internet, access to information is limited when it comes to trying to retrieve  that which is stored in someone else’s mind. The mind is the one true hiding place we have, and the only things reflective of our thoughts are our words and actions. We let things out that we want people to see, and we keep things in that we want to hide. Since we cannot enter and study another person’s mind, we usually assume that good words and actions are generated from a generally positive mind, and bad words and actions are generated from a generally negative mind.  However, everyone has a mental makeup that consists of a mixture of positive and negative thoughts.

Very few people spend time each day trying to understand where thoughts come from, and how they arise.  It is often easy to think we understand and know others simply by their actions, but how can we really know very much about how other people’s minds work when we don’t even understand our own? When we spend a lot of time focusing on someone’s actions and words in order to build a mental picture of that person, we assume that we know “who” that person is. However, it is just a snapshot of our interpretation of their words and actions. If we catch a stranger in a bad mood in a particular situation, we may assume that person is not very nice.  On the other hand, if we come across someone who says a kind word to us, we may assume that they are kind.  However, we don’t know the true motivation behind the thoughts.  Maybe the first person is usually very sweet, but having a horrible day.  Perhaps the person who has shared kind words with us is doing so because they want something from us. If those words and actions are perceived as a benefit to us, we would like to think that that the person is good. If we interpret those same words and actions to be not so beneficial to us, we tend to focus on that aspect and the same person becomes bad in our estimation.

One of the bad habits we have as a society is the tendency for gossip, and the ability to more easily speak negatively of someone, than positively, even though they might have many great qualities.  Why do we get caught up in the negative aspects so much?  The world would no doubt be a kinder place if everyone had the habit of speaking only good things of others. If we cannot speak good of others, we can at least refrain from spreading our negative opinions about them. By spreading negativity, not only do we poison our own minds, but also the minds of others. My grandmother once told me that the happiest person she knew was her father. The secret to his happiness was simple. If a person came to him speaking ill of someone, he would immediately stop them and say that he had a great opinion of that person. This immediately stopped any negative thought from entering his mind.

Imagine there is a brick wall in your mind that separates you from your path to happiness. Each time you find faults in others, you add a brick to this wall, stalling your progress on the quest to be a happier person. Each time you see good in others, a brick comes down from this wall. It is impossible to reach our goal of attaining true happiness as long as we continue to build on the wall of negativity in our minds.