Happiness Alert: You Need to Pay Attention

“Life is actually really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.”
~Confucius

There is one simple, revolutionary, foolproof principle you need to know if you want to be happy. In fact, I suspect you know it already. And here it is: What you feed with your attention is what will grow.

You hold the key to the golden door behind which your happiness lies. You can be relaxed, peaceful, present, and free. Really. How? Pay attention to what you are paying attention to.

Be Aware of What You Are Doing

Here is how it works. Say you worry or you are resentful or you complain and criticize. If these are the experiences you are interested in, if these are what you are feeding with your attention, what will be the effect on your reality? You won’t be happy. You are preoccupied with experiences that bring displeasure and malcontent. And this will be your experience.

You don’t have to try to be happy. Simply refuse to feed what doesn’t serve you. Stop fueling negativity, and you are making the space to feel happier and more peaceful. If you don’t pay attention to troubling thoughts and feelings, happiness will be revealed effortlessly. But don’t take my word for it. Try it out so you will know for yourself.

See? All you need to do is recognize what you are interested in. Then let go of what is interfering with your happiness. As an experiment, monitor your attention for a day or two to identify where your attention is actually going.

  • What do you spend your time thinking about?
  • Are you stuck in stories about the past and worries about the future?
  • What feelings are going unexamined?
  • What do you do to avoid being conscious of your thoughts and feelings?
  • Are you sustaining thoughts of can’t, should, or shouldn’t?

Answer these questions, and you will know what you are paying attention to. Your unhappiness will no longer be a mystery. Now, make the choice to move your attention away from this downhill trend, step out from under the dark cloud, and you will discover that happiness has been here all along.

Transformation is Possible

A friend recently revealed that he used to be argumentative. He held strong opinions about politics, and was prepared to angrily assert his point of view at the drop of a hat, which he did often. Somehow he realized that he was fueling inner agitation, and he didn’t like how he felt. So he stopped – just like that. “I didn’t want to be in turmoil,” he told me.

Another friend saw the beginning of an old pattern and didn’t step into it. “I knew it was finished, so I looked for other options,” she said. She was successful in choosing just the right course of action and was ecstatic to see that real change is possible.

It’s really this easy. If you don’t like what you are doing, if you don’t like how it is making you feel, then stop. Don’t feed negativity, as all it breeds is more negativity.

Let Troubling Habits Go

I’m not suggesting that you think happy thoughts because happiness is so much greater than our thoughts. I’m not suggesting that you avoid the reality of your experience. Consider that your attention is like food and nourish only that which supports you.

Right now, in this moment, what can you stop feeding – judgment, bitterness, stress, conflict? Let yourself step off the hamster wheel of your habitual patterns. Recognize that you can relax. You can be bright and open to the joy of the moment.

Find out how you get in your own way, then choose peace. Choose love. Choose to be alive rather than dull and flat and separated from life.

Pay attention to what supports you, and get ready to be transformed.

Is negative thinking ingrained in you (like it was in me)? Can you shift your attention? I’d love to hear…

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18 Comments

  1. avatar Gwaine
    Posted April 13, 2011 at 5:52 am | Permalink

    Thank you Gail – you’ve just given me an aha moment.

    I’ve been focusing on being mindful/present/paying attention/whatever you want to call it…and I’ve found a degree of happiness in this increased awareness. But it’s been a very passive role for me. Thoughts and feelings arise and I simply observe them without trying to control or steer them in any direction. That kinda leaves me like a passenger along for the ride on wherever my mind want’s to take me which isn’t always in a good direction.

    I’m now going to try and take an active role in this process and start steering what I’m paying attention to. Wish me luck! :)

    • Posted April 13, 2011 at 11:03 am | Permalink

      I love those aha moments, Gwaine!

      It’s a matter of shifting attention. Once you set an intention and get in touch with what you really want, things begin to orient in that direction. If you are ready to step out into traffic, you can stop yourself. Same with thoughts. If you see your thinking absorbed in a direction that doesn’t serve you and doesn’t align with your deepest desires, you can shift. You may have to do it a million times, as old habits die hard, but each moment is freedom.

      I wish you luck, peace, and so much happiness.

  2. Posted April 13, 2011 at 6:52 am | Permalink

    “Is negative thinking ingrained in you”
    Thinking itself is neither negative nor positive.
    A couple examples:
    - Thoughts are not worrying in and of themselves. Attachment to a specific outcome or view is the cause of the dissatisfaction (worry). If I am worrying about dying, it is the attachment to a permanent self that is the cause of the suffering, not the thought I will die.
    - If I think life is unfair, only the attachment to life being fair would cause me to suffer, not the thought itself.
    A more complicated one:
    - If someone is critical (expresses a thought that seems critical), the intention of the criticizer determines whether the “criticism” is negative for them. If the one criticizing has the intention of creating suffering, there will be a negative karmic result for the one who is doing the criticizing. On the other hand, the “criticizer” may just be looking for a deeper dialogue, in which case there is no negativity for the criticizer, although there can still be negativity in the one criticized. From the perspective of the criticized, the negativity comes from attachment to a specific view or outcome. If I am attached to being right or being seen as right, or I believe a criticism somehow harms me (which is itself another attachment), or I have an aversion to disagreement, I will have a negative (karmic) reaction to criticism.

    “What you feed with your attention is what will grow.” I would put it slightly differently. What you repeat is reinforced.

    • Posted April 13, 2011 at 10:59 am | Permalink

      Thank you for your thoughts and your contribution to the conversation, Mr. LK

  3. avatar vicki
    Posted April 14, 2011 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    i agree completely, gail. i was in a very bad space for years. only focused on the negative, partly because that was the reality i lived in, and partly because of my personality.
    one day i woke up! i decided that living in hate and fear and negativity was not acceptable to me anymore. i chose to focus on the positives in all situations (and there is always something positive somewhere if i looked hard enough) and kept that goal in front of me at all times. once my attention shifted, my mood shifted and i was able to see things very clearly and make some good choices which ultimately have moved me to a very good place. my focus now is to enjoy life and bring joy to others.
    some people absolutely refuse to see they can make these kinds of changes, and i understand their thinking, and i feel for them. those people get my love and support, but i will not revert back to that way of being.
    so, thanks gail, for the wonderful post, you just reminded me once again how good my life is, and how worthwhile it was to invest my time and energy in this way.

    • Posted April 14, 2011 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

      What an inspirational story, Vicki! Your willingness and commitment are admirable, and I appreciate how there have been actual shifts in your life and well-being. It is possible to move from negative to joyful and alive, and you are a testament to that.

      As you say, not everyone gets the message. Everyone walks their own path in their own time. Our only job is to live our lives with authenticity and openness – a way of being that has the potential to affect everyone.

  4. Posted April 14, 2011 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

    What we focus on we become. I noticed this a while back and especially if I am tired my thoughts start to get real negative.

    I take this as a sign to re-charge my batteries.

    • Posted April 14, 2011 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

      Hi Justin,

      What you describe here is very important. When we take our negative thoughts as a sign to recharge and reorient, we are using everything well. Rather than getting frustrated by the appearance of negative thoughts, we can let them show us that we need to take care of ourselves.

      Great point – thank you.

  5. avatar Anja
    Posted April 15, 2011 at 1:18 am | Permalink

    Hi Gail,

    Thanks for this wonderful blog! I was looking for a place on the internet with positive vibes and insight, that’s how I found your website. Keep up the good work :)

    Love from The Netherlands
    Anja

    • Posted April 15, 2011 at 8:04 am | Permalink

      Hi Anja,

      Welcome to you! I’m glad you stopped by and happy to hear that you appreciate what we offer her at A Flourishing Life.

      Love to you…

  6. Posted April 16, 2011 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    Your excellent post reminds me of the Native American story of the grandfather telling his grandson about the two wolves that live in his heart. One is angry and full of hate. The other is kind and full of peace. The two wolves fight for his heart. When the grandson asks which wolf will win, the grandfather replies, “The one I feed.”

    • Posted April 16, 2011 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

      I love that you mentioned this story, Galen. Yes, we have the choice in every moment to choose what we feed.

      As always, you make kind and astute additions to the conversation. Thanks so much.

  7. Posted April 16, 2011 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

    Gail,

    This is a great exercise and I think it’s worthwhile to do it periodically. Of course, I still have challenging patterns to work on, but I feel far more free of negative thought patterns than I ever have. It’s so rewarding to know that the power of change is in our own hands. Of course, difficult circumstances may still arise, but we will have more choices about how to relate to them. Excellent topic!

    • Posted April 18, 2011 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

      Thank you, Sandra. I’m so happy to hear of the changes that you have been experiencing in your life. It takes the deep commitment that you express so beautifully, and these changes can be realized. When we come together with this clear intention, and live our lives accordingly, there is no end to the ripple effects.

  8. Posted May 17, 2011 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

    I love this post! I just wrote about the very same thing. I appreciate, so much, your section on being aware of what you’re thinking and feeling. I, too, have spent a great deal of time working on that very thing, for we can’t change what we’re not aware of. Thanks so much for this thoughtful post!

    • Posted May 21, 2011 at 7:43 am | Permalink

      A warm welcome to you, Ereline! Thanks for stopping by.

      We can’t talk about this topic enough, so I’m glad to hear that you are writing about it as well. “We can’t change what we’re not aware of.” This is so true, and asks of us the willingness to be aware no matter what.

  9. Posted June 7, 2011 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

    Hi Gail,

    I learned a lot from your post. This reminded me that positive thinking do really a good result. I bookmarked and saved your page!

    Thanks Gail :)

    • Posted June 8, 2011 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

      A warm welcome to you, Albertina. I’m so glad this post spoke to you.

      Sending love…

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