The “Secret” to a Happy Life: Psst, It’s not really a Secret at All

I’m still fairly young by most standards, but I’ve had quite a (both formal and informal). In that time, I have learned (at least I’d like to think so) a thing or two about myself and other humans (by way of my time in psychology). Sometimes, I like to sit in a coffee shop on a busy street corner and just watch “us” interact with “us.” It can be quite entertaining — I recommend doing it at least once.

As I watch these people about, I’m struck by the constant string of perplexed faces. More than that, there are a number of folks who don’t look happy. There could be any number of reasons for that, so I won’t speculate, but I will group them together. Meaning, the expression on their face, I would gather, has to do with something they are thinking. This thing that they are thinking causing this uncomfortable expression, more than likely, is unpleasant. Some would even say that .

So we’ve got the group of folks thinking things that are causing unpleasant feelings. I pan to the right and I see a couple arguing on the street. Relationships can be fickle, so who knows what the surface argument is about. The underlying argument, more than likely, has to do with something that one person is thinking. It’s a similar situation to those who are walking down the street with strange looks on their faces, only in this instance, we have the people expressing themselves (outwardly) in an intentional (or sometimes, not-so-intentional) manner.

There’s the folks thinking and walking and then there’s the arguing folks. There are other examples I could bring up, but let’s stick with these two for now.

I’d like you to imagine these interactions, these people walking and thinking or the couple arguing, if both parties (or the singular party) didn’t assume anything. How would the interaction look different if the rule was to “assume nothing.” Seriously now, take a second to imagine the scenario in your head — (I’ll wait). Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Hey, welcome back. What did you notice? Did the interaction take place differently? I bet it did. Let’s take a closer look.

With the people who are walking and thinking, the looks on their faces are evidence of the thoughts they are having. These thoughts are likely about someone (or something) that isn’t going the way they hoped it would. What’s the underlying cause: assumptions. These people are assuming that what has happened wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) happen. If we eliminate this preliminary step of assumption, the reality that exists is no longer at odds. It just is. There’s nothing to be disdainful about. (It’s pretty hard to be angry with reality.)

Let’s move on over to the couple. Let’s say the are arguing about the cost of parking. One person wants to park on the street, while the other wants to look for more inexpensive parking. The one who wants to look for more inexpensive parking may be operating under the assumption that a) there will be less expensive parking somewhere else, and/or b) we don’t have the money to afford this much for parking. Part b) of that sentence assumes that there won’t be more money coming in from (anywhere or more specifically, an unexpected source). Maybe, when they are hanging their coats up at home, a $20 bill falls out of the pocket — boom! Paid for parking.

Or how about another example that I bet most of us can relate to. You’re driving down the highway in the “fast lane” when all of a sudden, you start to come up really fast on someone causing you to slam on your brakes. How dare they make you have to slam on your brakes. Who do they think they are? You may begin to tailgate (I hope not!) or you may slow down or you may try to pass them on the right (again, I hope not!) But what’s the underlying cause for your anger? You may say that it’s because that person shouldn’t be driving slow in the fast lane or maybe you think (as part of the first half of this sentence), they should move over if someone quickly approaches from behind. I went to driving school when I was a teenager and I don’t remember hearing those “laws.” So, what are they? These are assumptions we carry about driving on the highway and we think that people are supposed to abide by our assumptions.

My purpose in writing this is not to make you feel bad about yourself (or your assumptions), but simply to shed light on the idea that there may be some assumptions that are contributing (maybe even causing) you to feel the things you think you are justified in feeling. And in the moment, you probably feel infinitely justified. However, once the emotion has passed, I would encourage you to look back and see if you can identify an “assumption” that you may have been operating under during that time of distress.

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