We are thinking beings, every moment of every day, our mind is trying to make sense of what we see, hear and experience. Understanding the nature of thought is a critical piece of the puzzle to leading a happy life. Keeping us from getting stuck in a suffering state of being.
Thinking is an ability and it goes on whether we want it to or not. We tend to believe that "thinking" requires time and effort, but thinking about something can occur over several days or within a single second. We tend to place more weight on the "thinking" that happens with time and effort, and dismiss the importance of a more fleeting thought. Feelings follow and respond to thought, regardless of how much time that thought takes. Every feeling (whether negative or positive) is a direct result of thought. For example, it is impossible to have sad feelings without first having sad thoughts.
Richard Carlson in his book, You Can Be Happy No Matter What, explains it this way, "If you have the thought, 'My boss doesn't appreciate me...I never get the recognition I deserve,' the fact that you now feel bad about your job came about as soon as that thought came to mind. It all takes place in an instant. The time it takes to feel the effects of your thinking is the same amount of time it takes to see the light after turning on the switch."
He goes on to say, "The ill effects of thought come about when we forget that 'thought' is a function of our consciousness...an ability that we as human beings have. We are the producers of our own thinking. Thought is not something that happens to us, but something that we do. It comes from inside of us, not from the outside. What we think determines what we see...even though it often seems the other way around."
Sometimes it's easy to forget that we are in charge of our thinking and that it's our thinking, not our circumstances, that determines how we feel. We tend to blame our unhappiness on our circumstances, which makes us feel powerless over our lives. Now you might be thinking to yourself that some of life's circumstances make our reality suck which in turn makes our thoughts suck.
As Carlson states, "We have innocently learned to interpret our thoughts as if they were 'reality,' but thought is merely an ability that we have...we are the ones who produce those thoughts. It's easy to believe that because we think something, the object of our thinking (the content) represents reality. When we realize that thinking is an ability rather than a reality, we can dismiss any negative thoughts that pass through. Only thought brings meaning to a circumstance."
When we think about something, we can choose whether we take the thoughts to heart and react in a negative way, or choose to let them pass through. We can pick and choose which thoughts we wish to react to. We don't have to take everything so seriously, we can lighten up. We can choose to practice some of the other tools in our toolbox like empathy, forgiveness, looking for the lesson and the silver lining, etc. We can choose to have that childlike quality which brings back curiosity, wonder and adventure into our lives.
This childlike quality will allow us to listen to people and to our thoughts in a more loving way without letting every negative thought bother us. Because ultimately, the relationship that we have with our own thinking determines our mental health and happiness. Not every thought needs to be taken seriously, analyzed and construed as reality. We can choose which thoughts to act on and which to let pass through, we can choose to not be victimized by our own thinking, we can choose to keep ourselves safe from our own selves.
What do you think about thinking being an ability from which our feelings are derived? Or, about the idea that thinking is an ability rather than reality? I would love to hear your thoughts :) on this post. Please drop me a comment or send me an email.
Michael Neill gives a funny and informative TED Talk about our thoughts called "Why Aren't We Awesomer?". Check it out at