Seeing Life From Another Perspective
I picked up a cheap book a while ago called ‘The Art Of Happiness‘ by Howard C. Cutter and HH Dalai Lama. I had developed an interest in mindfulness and was keen to learn more. I only got around to reading it last week, and it’s been far more interesting than I expected. The book explores several topics such as compassion, suffering and anxiety, and compares Eastern and Western viewpoints. We can discover new values by exposing ourselves to ideas from outside the place we grew up. Where we live can have a stronger impact on our minds than we realize. I was discussing this idea with a lecturer who also claimed that they had to use different approaches for students from other countries because the Western way of doing things was very different to what they were use to.
The book made a few interesting points that have altered the way I was looking at certain things. For example, the Dalai Lama believes that it is in human nature to be nurturing. If others have treated us poorly our minds might be reluctant to take this point of view. I’ve read many comments claiming a lost faith in the good of humanity and I myself have been there from time to time. I’d only ever previously heard the opinion that it was human nature to be violent and selfish; I don’t really believe this deep down, but it can be difficult to disprove this opinion sometimes. Every day we turn on the news and are bombarded with negative stories. There are lots of positive things happening too, but we don’t hear about them as often.
Our minds can only interpret new experiences through the lens of what we already know. If throughout our entire lifetime we are fed nothing but negative information about certain topics, then we’re likely to continue viewing them as bad. I watched a program about racism in which they discovered that our brains might be triggering a fear response on seeing people with certain appearances. Most of us will be unaware of this response happening and our rational thoughts also play a part in how we behave. I have to admit to feeling wary around people that look similar to others that have treated me badly. I’m also drawn to people that are similar to those that have been kind. Regardless of whether this is really the case or not, I do wish they’d present a wider variety of people in a positive light in mainstream media. After suspecting that the information I take in could affect my mood and outlook I stopped watching the news as often.
‘The Art Of Happiness’ also contained some interesting ideas in regards to suffering. I live in a place where we don’t see a lot of suffering around us, and so it can be all the more shocking when we are exposed to it. We find it harder to accept the idea that suffering is a part of life, but the truth is that all of us at some point will go through a difficult experience. Life is balanced in the sense that we will experience a lot of joy and also a lot of sad times too. A way to get through the bad times is to shift our perspective. Even in suffering we can find a silver lining. For example, something might happen at work that really drags us down. We decide it’s time to look for another job. Eventually we could look back and think, if it wasn’t for that bad thing I wouldn’t have been pushed into seeking out new opportunities that have led me to a more fulfilling life.
A shift in perspective can help us is in how we interpret other people’s actions. For example, whenever I leave a project I like to tidy everything up to make it easier for the next person that will take my place; I sent an email to the producer explaining the current state of the project – honestly believing that I was helping them – and was surprised to find a less than pleasant response. They thought I was trying to take over. I can understand why my actions were interpreted in this way, but they could have avoided a lot of upset if they’d paused to consider other possible intentions (I dislike the responsibility of being in charge so taking over is something I’d never do.) I was hurt to be treated in such a negative way by somebody that I had only been trying to help and thought of as a friend. I’d always assumed that they were a confident person, but perhaps their reaction had nothing to do with me at all. It’s not often personal, but due to their own insecurities. Perhaps it makes them uncomfotable to feel out of control and so asserting themselves helped them to feel better. It’s taught me to be more careful about my approach in the future and I also gained a little more experience in how to handle delicate situations.
My parents have always emphasized to me the importance of treating others fairly, but I feel like it has been done so at the expense of learning how to be fair to myself (I can be a bit of a people pleaser.) A final point that I took from ‘The Art Of Happiness’ is that it’s important to take care of your own needs as well. Some of us can be resistant to this idea as it sounds like a selfish thing to do, but it’s easier to be kind to others if we are content within ourselves. When we’re unhappy we find it harder to be compassionate towards others. Taking my above example, neither of us had bad intentions and yet ended up in a disagreement, possibly due to unresolved personal issues; If I’d felt secure enough to work more cooperatively and they’d felt safer in their position as producer it might have been avoided.
There was more to be taken from ‘The Art Of Happiness’ and better explained than what I’ve written here. If you’re interested in seeing life from a different perspective I recommend looking towards other places and cultures to see how they compare to your own. We don’t have to come from a certain place or be spiritual in nature to apply ideas from other cultures. I’ve come to realize this about religion too, which was something I had previously been resistant towards. We can pick and choose what works best for us.