How your perspective determines your happiness

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For a long time, I believed that the way my life was going and how I felt was largely determined by the circumstances I found myself in. I was born into a really nice family and into a time and place that was stable and peaceful, therefore my childhood was mostly nice, stable, and peaceful. My parents chose a great school for me and I found some wonderful friends and had a good early education. Two points there. I went to college and met my husband, made more wonderful friends and had teachers and educational experiences that were nourishing and meaningful. Nice circumstances, nice life. This perspective went unchallenged for a long time. Life was humming along and I was happy so the point of view was working for me. Confident that circumstances made my life what it was, this didn’t even seem like a perspective, it just seemed like the truth.

But then I got married and moved to Seattle and after a while, I had my first real bouts of depression. The circumstances of my life were still pretty good but my outlook was dark and dreary.   I spent a lot of time looking for the reason that I was unhappy. I’d point my finger at this reason or that possible explanation, then something would shift and I’d feel better. Dark days would come again and I’d start looking around for some reason that could explain why I felt so unhappy. I’d point to the people in my life, or my job, or my childhood, or my diet, or the overcast weather, or the transition to motherhood, or some chemical imbalance. I looked all sorts of places outside of myself in an attempt to understand what circumstances needed to change so I could feel happy. I’d make some efforts. Eventually, something would shift and I’d be okay.

This went on for a long time. Happy. Fine. Depressed. Fine. Depressed. Happy. Every time I was down, I’d look really hard for the reason or the situational stuff that could explain it. Eventually, I looked so hard and was so very wrapped up in all the bad things that must be causing me to feel bad that I ended up in a very deep hole. I was so far in that I had to have help to get out.

Over the last few years, with the help of my yoga practice and my mentor, and lots of other wonderful support, I’ve seen my perspective shift. Instead of looking at my circumstances and believing that I’m at the mercy of the good stuff or the bad stuff that comes my way, I can see that the attitudes that I cultivate have a huge impact on how I see the world. And the perspective that comes from these attitudes, the ones inside of me, play a major role or even determine how life’s circumstances affect me. I don’t have to go along with a perspective that I picked up in my early life. I can cultivate a perspective. What I do and how I do things can influence my attitude. It’s possible to make choices and have practices that genuinely affect how I see the situations I find myself in. These days, it is my perspective, this cultivated perspective within me, that has the biggest impact on my happiness. And because of these efforts to work with myself and my own mind,  I find my circumstances are better, too.

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Stay tuned. Next week: How yoga can help us cultivate a positive perspective to change how we feel.

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2 thoughts on “How your perspective determines your happiness

  1. I’ve always found santosa to be challenging – to practice and also to understand. And all along I’ve been struck by the fact that 2K years ago, Pantanjali recognized that contentment is something that we have to practice – this is not a new issue. It doesn’t just happen. As you say, it has to be cultivated. Yogis know that the work is with the mind. My take on santosa is that it is the practice of decoupling our peace of mind from our circumstances. We are taught to be so externalized into the material world and its circumstances that this is very difficult to do. But it can be seen that this is really the way it has to go. Good post, Amanda.

  2. Amanda …I can so relate! We are such intuitive creatures! It’s a “wonder” to me how we (at very young ages) can come up with “skills” as we grow through our life; we collect & carry it all along with us. We get really good at the patterns and behaviors that make us feel good or happy or better …we do what works (because it does for us); and then (if we’re lucky), we get to catch ourselves in our adulthood still in these patterns/behaviors. We get to re-adapt, evolve again, and again, and again … it’s awesome when we can do this for ourselves through a rich practice! Thank you for the reflection!

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