The Simple Path is the Clearest Path
I had just finished doing my favorite thing in the whole world: trail running through the woods. After a beautiful three-mile run alone through a misty, early morning forest, I found myself in a profound place of bliss. Not feeling my normal competitive self, I decided to slow to a walk. After walking for a few minutes, I had an overwhelming sense that this is the way it’s supposed to be. As I looked around, everything felt right. The cool air, the crisp orange leaves, the bird songs, and the early morning sun reflecting off the Wolf river - all of this was exactly the thing my body needed RIGHT NOW. A few short seconds later, I began to think about my son, who is having a somewhat tough time at school presently. I thought of all the things I needed to do to get him caught up so he wouldn’t fail the eighth grade. The unpleasantness of parenting a frustrated teenage boy through his crisis covered up my bliss in a flash. Almost instantly, the blessed completeness and calm I had felt for the past few moments vanished. I now felt an aching in my chest, and my exasperation with my son’s situation was front and center in my thoughts. The beautiful feeling I had experienced just a few minutes earlier was now completely suffocated with frustration, anger, and thoughts of doom. Does this experience sound familiar to you?
What on earth happened?! Simply put, my “Happiness Thermostat” got tripped. You’re familiar with the thermostat in your house that keeps the temperature in the house comfortable, right? In the summer, this marvel of technology senses when the temperature is climbing above a preset range, and kicks on the air-conditioning to bring the temperature back down. I believe that we all have a personal “Happiness Thermostat” that performs a similar function for each of us. There is a certain level of happiness, success, and good feeling that this thermostat is set for. This morning, I exceeded my set point for bliss.
What’s the most effective way to bring one’s mood back down? Well… worry works beautifully. My mind’s Happiness Thermostat just kicked in some fantastic worry thoughts about my son, and voila! I was miserable again. And this process was completely effortless and automatic, just like your house’s thermostat.
Instead of fighting this process, I simply stepped out of my self-absorbed mental process, and started observing it, much like one might watch a couple of toddlers arguing about a toy. I became curious about it, as a scientist would be about a natural chemical reaction. It is indeed a very curious thing that we can go from confident, happy, powerful, and calm to anxious, worried, and frustrated – when nothing has fundamentally changed about our actual life situation.
As I distanced myself from my mind’s machinations, the worry and anxiety lifted. Stepping outside my mind’s worry thoughts gave me the power not to be controlled by them. I gently brought myself back into the serene, misty, light-filled forest that was mine to enjoy: alone, in the present moment.
Here’s the crucial point: the worry thoughts are not a random occurrence. THEY HAPPEN PRECISELY BECAUSE YOU ARE FEELING GOOD. The worry thoughts are most often not even reality-based. They are usually nothing more than your mind’s clumsy (but highly effective) means of stopping the goodness.
How does this phenomena manifest in your life? Do you have Happiness Thermostat that trips you up when things are going too well? I want you to stay on high alert for this process. I would venture a guess that it happens countless times a day. The next time you find yourself anxious, frustrated, angry, or fearful, stop to take a few full, deep breaths. Then ask this question of yourself: “What is going so well that it would set off my Happiness Thermostat?” Whether the thing is a good feeling, a personal success, or other positive… bring yourself back to it, feel it fully, experience its goodness. After some practice, you will become adept at recognizing and side-stepping the Happiness Thermostat.