This may be slightly overstated, but everybody is after the same thing: To be able to take in experiences the way we want to take in those experiences. If we did that, we'd feel better more often and we would be the people we want to be.
What do I mean by "taking in" experiences? I mean the way you interpret the experience. Your interpretation determines your emotional reaction and your physical reaction. For example, "When life hands you a lemon, make lemonade." It's hokey, but how many times do you wish you could actually do that?
How many times have you been frustrated by something and wish you could have the perspective you have occasionally at better moments?
Two different people experiencing the same external, objective event will not necessarily take it in the same way. For example, Evelyn's marriage is on the rocks, she didn't get enough sleep, she drank too much coffee and she's late for work. As she drives along the freeway, she accidentally cuts someone off. He makes a rude gesture with an angry look on his face. Evelyn gets upset by this. It bothers her for an hour.
Shawn, on the other hand, has just recently fallen in love. He's happier than he ever remembers being. On his way to work, he accidentally cuts someone off on the freeway and the other driver makes a rude gesture with an angry look on his face. Shawn apologizes as best he can through his car window and hopes the other driver will forgive him. Ten minutes later, he's forgotten all about it.
Shawn and Evelyn experienced the same event but took in the event in a totally different way. Most of us, if we had a choice, would rather respond to those kinds of events the way Shawn did rather than the way Evelyn did, whether we are in love or not, whether we are late for work or not, whether we got enough sleep or not. Wouldn't you?
You would rather be what you want to be in your better moments, right? But sometimes it doesn't seem you have a choice in the matter. You just get upset. You don't mean to. You don't want to. But you do.
A cognitive therapist would help you find the irrational beliefs you have and help you see those beliefs as irrational. For example, maybe you expect others to always treat you with courtesy and respect and when they don't, you get upset. The therapist might help you see that while it is nice when people treat you well, it is somewhat silly to expect all people to do that all the time.
A positive thinker might tell you to get in the habit of forgiving bad behavior like the angry driver's by explaining the driver's reaction in a different way, or making up a story that helps you feel less upset. Maybe the driver's daughter just died at the hands of a rapist, and the poor man is out of his mind with grief and anger. His rude gesture is totally forgivable in that light.
An NLP practitioner might help you discover your see-feel circuits (seeing the gesture and the angry look and automatically feeling upset) and give you new choices in your responses.
A Zen master might try to help you experience the precious fleetingness of this lifetime and the miracle of being alive at all. And from that perspective, being upset by a stranger's momentary outburst would seem a defilement of this sacred moment. You might learn to wish that man better days and let it go.
Nobody wants to be grumpy. Nobody wants to snap at people. Nobody wants to be rude or hurt others' feelings. Nobody wants to ignore others or be a lousy listener. And yet we have all done all of these.
From the outside, it is easy to see someone else's expressed frustration or irritation as petty or uncalled for, or an overreaction. It is easy to see the cause of the frustration as unimportant and unworthy of such an outburst. But when it is you responding poorly, that perspective is sometimes not available to you.
We want to be what we want to be. We want to be wise and kind. We want to be calm when it is a good idea to be calm. We want to have a bigger perspective at times. In other words, we want to take in experiences the way we would at our very best, and we want to do that much more often. That's the goal. That's what we're all after.
The key factor is the way you interpret events. How do you interpret — what do you do internally with — the outward event? If you interpret events well (as you do at your very best), your internal reaction is what you want, and your behavior is what you want. Your interpretation is the key.
And you don't want your better interpretation to be forced. You don't want to make yourself, through gritted teeth, look at this in a "positive" way. You want to be open and relaxed and compassionate and to genuinely see things that way.
You want to take in experiences — external events — the way you would like to take it. And you don't want to merely respond the way you'd like, but we're looking for something deeper: To experience the events the way you'd like.
How? How would you be able to do that? There are hundreds of ways. Thousands. One reliable long-term answer is daily meditation. Another is improving your ability to connect with people. But many tools will work for different situations. One way to go about improving the way you take in events is to start with something you want to be better at dealing with, and apply a method that works for that specific situation.
But the method isn't our topic here. The reason I brought this up is to point out that while we are after more effective actions and feeling good more often here, we're actually aiming at something more important. A better mood makes you feel better, but it also makes you respond better. It makes you more like the person you want to be.
Anyway, it's a good idea to be clear about the real goal. A better mood is the immediate, short-term goal. The more meaningful, long-term goal is becoming the person you really want to be more often.
Adam Khan is the author of Principles For Personal Growth, Slotralogy, Antivirus For Your Mind, and co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English). Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.