What Causes Unhappiness – Part 1
What causes unhappiness and what is skillful?
One of the root causes of unhappiness is believing that what happens in the world causes your thoughts, your emotional reactions, makes you behave the way that you do and feel how you feel inside. The truth is nothing in the world can make you feel or react in any way. If anything or person could, it would have to have some mechanism of transference be it radiant, magnetic, electrical, chemical, microorganisms. But no such method of transference exists. If someone or something could be the cause of any reaction in you, it would have to be an objective phenomena and part of who or what it is. For example, if someone could make you feel love for them, then no matter what you were doing, or thinking, no matter how bad your day. No matter what that person said, did or didn’t do, that love would be radiating off of them and that would cause you to feel that love regardless. We know this is not true, because even if we love someone, there are times when they seem so aggravating or frustrating that we would rather love them from another room. If love could objectively have effects like the sun in summer it would affect everyone in the proximity of that person or thing. Everyone would want that person or thing. But love is not an objective phenomena, it is a subjective one and just like all of our inner experiences it is based upon the thoughts we are thinking in that moment. Good thoughts create good experiences. Negative thoughts create negative experiences. Change the thoughts and the experiences change.
Steven Covey on a PBS broadcast years ago recounted an experience he had on a subway car that illustrates this well:
“I was travelling home on the subway. It had been a long week, it was late and everyone onboard seemed tired and just wanted to get home. But here in the car were two little children, running up and down the aisle, yelling, screaming, bumping into people. I could see that everyone was getting aggravated, I was starting to get uptight too. They were too little for anyone to reprimand directly. Heck, I teach pro-activity, I should do something. Clearly, they are too young to have gotten into the car by themselves. So I watched what the children were doing for a while.- They seemed to hover ever so briefly, but repetitively near this man that was just a couple of seats away from me. So I leaned over, tapped his leg and said: “hey buddy, shouldn’t you be looking after the kids?” The man who had been looking down at the floor looked up and said “yea… I guess, I should be… but, you see their mother died the other day and they’re not dealing with it so well.”
Steven goes on to say, that even though everyone had been frustrated and upset, in the moment they heard those words, everyone’s experience changed. The children were still running, bumping and yelling. But now everyone felt only sympathy and compassion for them.
So can you see, it is not what is happening in the world that matters, it is how we focus on it and think about it, that really influences what we ourselves “choose” to experience.
Have you ever been in a bad mood and have someone come up and try to cheer you up, only to have their mood swing to a negative, because yours was determinedly staying there? Or have you ever been in such a good mood that no matter how negative a person or persons were around you, it didn’t sway your way of feeling? Sometimes they even changed with you. Sometimes not, but yours stayed good & strong. This is in essence- skillfulness (skillful means).
When you are choosing your experience skillfully, then it is not the whats going on in life that are the objectives, but the states you choose to be in and how you choose to act from those states that matter. In fact, it is skillful choosing that actually works the best, even if it may take a while to see. Influencing life and others favourably begins with and comes out of skillfulness.