“The good life is a process, not a state of being.” – Carl Rogers
I was listening to a recording of the great cellist, Yo-Yo Ma, give an interview. The interviewer, Krista Tippett of On Being, said to him that it sounds as if he chooses joy as a way of being after he shared with her that he believes optimism to be a philosophy.
Our thoughts, emotions and behaviors intersect and impact each other. We also have the capacity to change any one of these things, if we so choose to, so that we can affect the other two.
In my meditation tradition we call this correcting one’s intellect. In the therapy world, we might put it under the umbrella of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), but it’s really at the heart of many therapeutic techniques. If I continue on with the meditation example, I can tell you that not only does meditation help us gain a greater acceptance of our thoughts as simply thoughts and allow us to not stick to any one thought so rigidly, but meditation also clears stress from one’s physiology. So perhaps I’ve changed a behavior, but what happens if I haven’t changed my thoughts? Let’s say I’m still pretty grumpy about much of what happens in life and have an overall negative lens on most things. Well, I’m just adding more stress to my physiology, creating more work for the meditation. And so I’d probably say, you’re not really getting anywhere are you?
It’s a little like trying to lose weight. Ideally, what’s needed is healthy food, good exercise, an affirmation and acceptance of oneself in the moment and a belief in one’s ability to make progress. In my personal experience and observing others, this generally works. People lose the weight. But what about the ones who keep the weight off many years down the road? As we know many people gain the weight back. They are the ones who have fundamentally changed the way they THINK about being healthy and a healthy lifestyle. They do it because they want to increase their health span (how long one lives in a healthy state vs. life span, simply how long one lives) and they know that good health underlies almost everything else in their lives.
So when people say they want to be happy, I think, yes, you can DO many things to bring you happiness, but it is a process and it is a choice every day. Choosing joy is not always easy and it’s not just covering up the hard stuff that’s going on, but it’s re-framing the hard stuff and looking at it from a different point of view.