One of my besties recently told me she was reading two books written by the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler, M.D., an American psychiatrist. As I usually do when I read non-fiction books, I will read a paragraph, a page, or a few pages, and then pause, thinking about how what I’m reading applies to my life and my work… I stop and think about how what I am reading applies to YOU!
This book, called The Art of Happiness, is no exception. I enjoy Dr. Cutler’s discussion about our Western philosophies and the Dalai Lama’s Eastern traditions, noting the many similarities as well as differences in the ways the two groups traditionally approach happiness.
Even more interesting to me is how so much of what you and I do in our work together aligns with what his holiness, the Dalai Lama, espouses.
Think about what you have heard me talk about over the years in terms of changing your life for the better… away from unhealthy living, unhealthy thinking, and moving TOWARD living a fuller, happier life.
Let’s start with this example: STINKIN’ THINKIN’!
Now, of course the Dalai Lama doesn’t utter the words, “stinkin’ thinkin’,” but he may as well! He talks about the impact our thinking has on our happiness. He also talks about the fact that changing our thinking patterns is the result of many influences and takes a LONG TIME to change.
Hmmm… let’s see. We talk often about how our thoughts affect our feelings and our behavior. If we regularly engage in stinkin’ thinkin’ then our negative thoughts result in our feeling … YUK… and we behave in ways that reflect that. We overeat, we drink too much alcohol, we spend too much money, etc.
If we want to be happier and live in a way that moves us closer to the goal of being happier, then we have to change the way we think. This takes EFFORT and isn’t going to be easy. Further, it is going to take a long time before healthier, positive thoughts come more naturally to you than do the “automatic negative thoughts.”
Have you heard me talk about the cow path? I refer to the cow path when I talk about how long it takes to make lasting changes. You see, I am from Iowa, a very rural state with many cattle. At the university I attended, we would frequently give directions to various buildings on campus like this, “You go to the Student Union, then take the cow path that heads east. You’ll pass the Science building on your left. Then take the cow path just to the right and the next building is what you’re looking for.”
The “cow paths” were literal paths through the beautifully manicured grounds of the University. There were perfectly good concrete sidewalks the students could walk on to get from one building to another. But… students being students… loved to put their knowledge into action (ha!). They know the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. And they’re too lazy to walk the distance to where two sidewalks meet at a 90-degree angle. Yep – they cut diagonally through the grass to get where they were going sooner.
It was not the first student who cut across the lawn that left a foot-wide path where grass no longer grew. Nor was it the one hundredth. It was hundreds and hundreds and thousands of students who trampled over the grass to cut across the lawn that resulted in a permanent foot-wide path where no grass will ever grow again. Because more and more feet continue to trod upon the same dirt.
Changing from habitual stinkin’ thinkin’ to consistent healthy, positive thinking that leads to greater happiness takes time. A lot of time. Many hundreds and thousands of repetitions.
That means if you want to develop healthier, happier thoughts, feelings and actions, it’s gonna take creating a brand new cow path in your brain and quit sliding back onto the one upon which you have been trotting for years.
If you’re having trouble believing me, then go with the Dalai Lama, who says:
“… transforming your mind takes time. There are a lot of negative mental traits, so you need to address and counteract each of these. That isn’t easy. It requires the repeated application of various techniques and taking the time to familiarize your with the practices. It’s a process of learning.”
Learning to talk kindly to yourself about yourself, learning to think with compassion about yourself, learning to say good things about yourself takes practice. A lot of practice. As the positive cow path in your brain solidifies, so do the odds of your living a healthier, happier life! Until you heal the relationship with yourself, it will be tough to improve your relationships with others and other things (food, alcohol, pornography, etc.).
The choice is yours! Choose wisely.