Jim Selman on Positive Thinking - There's a way of speaking about our experience that will connect more directly to it as well as to our commitments. Rather than using the words "good" or "bad" to describe our days, we can use words that are more distinct such as "satisfying, exciting and challenging, relaxing, empowering, difficult or interesting." The point is that we have a choice in how we observe the world based on our commitments in a given moment. ... Read more
ARTICLE 2: What do you want?
Jim Selman takes a fresh perspective on wanting. He asks the question: What do you want when looking for happiness? "The mere asking of the question obscures the obvious option of wanting what we have — what the sages call profound acceptance of 'the way it is.'" ... Read more
I was watching a Larry King interview the other night in which he was speaking with a bunch of positive-thinking gurus about their beliefs and theories. One of the questions he asked was, “Do you have any bad days?" Most of them said they don’t have bad days, and a couple said that they still have ‘bumps’ in the road but recover quickly. I got to thinking about my own life and concluded that I too can claim that I don’t have bad days, although some are more challenging than others.
How can I account for this fact of my life? Is it maturity, wisdom or simply good fortune? I certainly would not attribute it to positive thinking. In fact, I am not a fan of positive thinking: for most ordinary people, it means suppressing or covering over negative thinking and doesn’t result in genuine happiness with life — sort of analogous to smokers who force themselves to quit but are still "smokers" in their ways of being.
For me, Jim Selman, having no bad days is more the result of my being responsible for my judgments as simply my judgments — never true or false — always just points of view. In my case, this perspective has come with age, but I don’t think it’s a natural aspect of aging. I have learned that people observe what they observe, and that how we observe our world affects how we experience life and influences (if not determines) our actions and behavior.
The two biggest judgments we make all the time are "good" and "bad." We judge or assess the value of just about everything we think about. To paraphrase Shakespeare, “There is nothing good or bad in the Universe, but thinking makes it so.” So having good or bad days is entirely a function of our point of view, and our point of view will determine our experience.
I should add that I don’t think about my days as particularly "good" either. I now use adjectives to describe them that connect more directly with my commitments and experience. For example, “The day was deeply satisfying, exciting and challenging.” I also tend to assess my days as "relaxing," "empowering," "difficult" or "interesting."
I don’t know if using more precise language changes my days in terms of what happens. But it certainly changes my relationship with what happens and helps remind me to be present with what is happening, my experience, and the fact that I have a choice about how I observe my world based on what I am committed to in a given moment.
Can being clear about what we want bring us happiness?
It seems to me that we spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about what we want in our lives. Last week I was working with a group of people—mostly in their forties—and they shared that this was the prevailing question in their lives. It got me thinking that this is the question for all ages. At 68 I still ask it, although with less of a need for an answer than at other times in my life.
What do you want? Simple enough question, but one that we seemingly don’t answer or we wouldn’t keep asking it throughout our lives. It is one of those questions or statements we make that smacks of virtue. But I think something else is afoot here. For example, implicit in the question is that there is or should be an answer. Yet the mere asking of the question obscures the obvious option of wanting what we have—what the sages call profound acceptance of "the way it is."
In the est training, one of the aphorisms people embraced was that “Happiness is a function of what is.” If we really choose "what is," then there is no point to the question “What do I want?” In fact, continuing to live in the “What do I want?” question is a way of not being present and not taking responsibility for whatever choices we have already made. The question reinforces the myth that life and reality can ever be other than it is and keeps us living in a “what might be” scenario without the awareness that all the time we are trying to figure it out, we aren’t choosing “what is.”
Where does this ageless question emanate from? If it is so universal, it must be more than a personal musing. My 70-year-old friend Dan retired when he was 60 and declared that from then on he would only do whatever he wanted. He stopped asking himself what he wanted and just started doing it. He reports that one of the best aspects of retirement is a kind of relaxed peace of mind: whatever is happening is just what he wants to happen, and if it isn’t, he does something different without a lot of “what iffing’ and “why notting.” He is a passionate fan of soccer and sumo wrestling, continues to write his memoir, and savors his San Francisco lifestyle with his lifelong partner, Sandra.
Recently another friend and I were talking about the mindless juggernaut of consumerism and how easy it is to get caught up in an endless shopping spree. We commented that one of the best things about retiring is that the need for “more” was somehow receding into the past and that we were feeling righteous—almost like reformed or recovering consumers. We even joked that someone should create a 12-step program for shoppers (actually, I found out someone already has). The point is that whatever drove our “wanting” in the past—whether it was power, money, fame, possessions, relationships or whatever—seems to wane with age.
Another friend recently sent me a kind of modern-day parable about a rich guy from Harvard talking to a poor fisherman who lived a relaxed existence lying on the beach and enjoying life in a developing country. The rich MBA fellow was coaching the fisherman to build his business to be successful and make lots of money. The punch line: with all the money he would make, he would be able to afford to do whatever he wanted (such as to go to a developing country, go fishing, lie on the beach, live a relaxed existence and enjoy life).
Like almost everyone, I want to be happy. If the sages were right, profound acceptance of “what is” is the key to happiness, then I know what my final answer to the recurring “What do I want?” question is.