Both principles are so profound that it can take a lifetime to understand and implement them fully. Yet they are accessible to all of us—just at the end of our grasp. Occasionally they may be delivered by luck or grace or the culmination of our efforts—to our palm—but may be torn away a moment or week later. They are treasure. They are gold. They are better than gold. They live in and all around us, yet often seem to be on the other side of a glass wall. We need them in order to cope with the pain and challenges of life. We get them optimally from our parents as children, yet many parents don’t have them to give. Then we are robbed of our birthright and have to find them on our own.
The first is perspective. Perspective helps almost any problem. Problems are only as big as their context. If you place them in a larger context, they lose some of their power. When you think about the pain in your heart in the context of all of your life, all of time, all of our planet, all of space … it becomes much smaller. If you go somewhere you can see the sky packed with stars or think about how vast what we know of space is, it is easier to let go of sadness, anger, hurt, or disappointment. If we think about our lives as being very short in the broader context, and the enormity of all pain everywhere, our wounded ego is easier to soothe.
When you are angry at your loved ones because they hurt you, ask yourself if it is more important to defend your ego or to have these people’s love in your life. Of course, if the hurt is actually abuse, this works the other way—when you consider the vastness of the opportunities in the world, there’s no need to be voluntarily trapped in abuse. The abuser is one person out of seven billion on the planet; there are plenty more to love you without abuse.
Without perspective, every responsibility, failure, mistake, hurt, loss, and disappointment can feel enormously important and even intolerable. We can believe that we must protect ourselves from feeling, because feeling is unbearably painful. Yet not feeling causes depression and anxiety. Almost nobody feels only pain. If we let ourselves feel, we will feel pain and pleasure and we will have lived. If we see ourselves from a million miles away in space—from another planet—what do we think about the pain we’re feeling? If we knew we had six months to live, how would we want to spend that time? Would we want to protect our egos, or would we want to love and live as much as possible in our short time? From the perspective of all of time, our lives are so short that it is similar to how we view a day. I love how the poet Mary Oliver says it, because it reminds me to have perspective and comforts and inspires me: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
The other key to happiness I want to discuss is humility. Most people who’ve been hurt equate humility with humiliation. Actually, they are opposite. Humility is its own kind of perspective. To be humble is to let go of unrealistic expectations for ourselves. It is to be equalized and integrated with the rest of humanity. It is a place of acceptance and compassion for our vulnerable selves, rather than fighting to hide or shame or punish our vulnerability. Humility allows us to see someone who is angry at us as someone in pain, just as we are. Then we feel no loss or injury in acknowledging their pain and our part in it, and doing whatever is reasonable to relieve it or not add to it. Humility allows us to love unselfishly and unconditionally without sacrificing ourselves. Humility allows us to love ourselves and to be at peace with what is, rather than struggling to control and change what we have no power to affect. Humility is a gift and a central part of happiness.
I love this anonymous poem because it reminds me of the humility of being human. At our core, we are all connected by being the same simple creatures who need to do some work to take care of our basic needs, and the rest is how we choose to complicate our lives:
All day I hoe weeds.
At night I sleep.
All night I hoe again
In dreams the weeds of the day.
What do you do to cultivate perspective or humility? Share your tips in the comments section below.
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