Changing Your Viewpoint Can Make You Happier!

Last week I heard a quote: If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change. I wanted to leap up and applaud. Although I had never heard that saying by Dr. W. Dyer, it encapsulates precisely what I try to practice.

Years ago, I worked in an office with two other women, one of whom exhibited countless unpleasant behaviors—let’s call her Ethel. After several months of working alongside her, I began to dread going to work. I was junior to her, so I certainly could not tell her to stop bullying the service workers, stop assigning cruel nicknames to people, or even to stop screaming orders at our shared secretary. This was a woman who never used the words please or thank-you and lived for gossip. Eventually, when the mere thought of her sent my blood pressure soaring, I accepted Ethel was never going to change. Any change needed to come from me; I needed to change my viewpoint. 

The next day, as I walked to my office, I wracked my brains to think of one thing I liked about Ethel. I remembered that on her desk was a photo of a rather ugly little dog. It was Pookie, the dog she’d found wandering her street late one night. Clearly abandoned and the victim of cruel treatment, this dog found a safe harbor with Ethel who lavished it with love and care—ah-ha, Ethel was a selfless animal lover!  Like a crazed yogi, I finished the rest of my walk repeating my mantra: selfless-animal-lover while picturing Ethel cuddling her poor old dog. 

Sounds nuts right? But, I kept it up until I walked into our office. Then, instead of slinking to my desk to avoid being dragged into yet another one of her tirades, I stopped and asked her how Pookie was. As she shared a story about the dog, I found myself exhaling. No clenched teeth at the first sight of her! Did she magically change and become the Mother Theresa of Office Workers? No, but I had shifted my viewpoint, and therefore my response was different. It took some work, but every time she was rude and mean, instead of stewing over her awfulness, I actively reminded myself of one of her redeeming qualities. I couldn’t miraculously alter her behavior, but I could alter my view of her. 

In our lives, we all come across (possibly live with!) people who have habits and behaviors that aggravate us. However, to keep hoping that something outside of your control will magically change, allowing you to feel better is wishful thinking. The neighbor who leaves his trash cans on the sidewalk? Every time you find your mind latching on to this annoyance, immediately replace that thought with one positive thought about the neighbor: he takes in your mail when you are on vacation. Try it in every relationship. The teenager who never closes the cabinet doors? Before the thought starts to grind at you, take a second to recall one wonderful quality that the teenager imbues. If you stop automatically associating a person with the one behavior you dislike, you start to see that person differently.

Every day in so many ways, I embrace this notion, and I know it makes me a happier person. Give it a try: replace that negative association with one positive association, and I guarantee the thing you are thinking about will change.

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