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The Art of Creating Unhappiness: How to Control Negative Patterns of Thinking

When we’re in the throes of despair or swamped with negative thoughts, it’s tremendously difficult to realize that we possess the power to alter our outlook and our approach to problems.

Allow me to tell you two short anecdotes to illustrate this.

A man has a new picture he’d like to hang on the wall of his flat.  He has a nail, but no hammer.  He decides to ask his neighbor if he can borrow his, but then recalls how his neighbor greeted him the day before.  He’d been reserved, even callous.  The man reviews several instances in which his neighbor had been rude to others, from refusing to loan the woman downstairs an egg to ignoring people he passed by in the hall.  He considers what he could have possibly done to his neighbor to have made him upset.  As he stares at the blank wall with a nail in his hand, he gets more and more worked up about his neighbor’s behavior and loses sight of the task at hand.  Before he knows it, he’s at his neighbor’s door; when it’s opened, the man who needs to borrow a hammer shouts, “You can keep your stupid hammer!  And the hell with you!”

In another world, a man promises his dying wife that he will never marry again.  Months after her funeral, he meets another woman and, much to his surprise, falls deeply in love with her.  Vivid dreams in which his deceased wife arrives and accuses him of breaking his solemn promise immediately accost him.  His late wife seems to know his most intimate thoughts, perhaps better than he does, as well as his daily routine.  Stunned and unnerved, the man seeks counsel from a Zen master, who instructs him to present his wife’s apparition with a handful of beans and to ask her how many beans he’s holding.  That night, the man follows the Zen master’s orders.  His wife’s ghost disappears without offering an answer.

I find these tales enlightening because they exemplify how our minds and emotions operate, often beyond our awareness.  If we set our focus on something, whether it’s fear, a negative outcome, or a downright loss, that something takes on utmost authority and informs our emotional states and decisions to the point that we believe we no longer have control over our feelings and actions.

It should go without saying that our brains are endlessly complex.  Our minds—so devious at times; so intricate—can create or accentuate countless problems that don’t have to exist.  Our minds can sabotage us.  Our minds can manifest self-fulfilling prophecies that lead us into negative patterns of thought that ultimately overcome our ability to affect change in our lives.

The solution rests in the same place where the troubles began: In our crafty, elaborate brains, where we must exercise control of our thoughts and emotions to find happiness and serenity, and to discover the best course of action in moving forward in life and love.  If we’re flooded with negativity and doubt, we must determine the roots—and move beyond these concerns rather than allowing them to consume us.  To be at peace, we need to be kind to ourselves by halting harmful, unhelpful thoughts that generate unwelcome emotions and problems that don’t exist.  If we visualize the bliss we crave and focus not on the untold troubles the future might hold but on the possibilities of the present, we can live with grace and joy.  We can enjoy what is right in front of us, which is often far less complicated than we think.

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