To change our outlook, to change our disposition, to change our life, to change anything really, we have to, well…actually change. We have to do something different then we’ve been doing in order to get a different result. To keep on doing what we’ve always done and expect a different outcome is one of the definitions of insanity.
There are a lot of negative people in the world. And there are a greater number of people who aren’t necessarily negative but certainly aren’t positive, instead residing in some sluggish, disconnected in-between area that leans more towards the negative then the positive. From my experience we are collectively lacking in positive, happy individuals. I am reminded of a dharma talk that Thay (Thich Nhat Hanh) once gave where he said: The world needs more happy people.
Over the last 2-3 years, as I’ve been intently focusing on the practice of cultivating joy, my outlook on things has transformed a great deal. And reasonably so! It makes good sense that outlook and disposition are interconnected with quality of life. What I see as good news is that neither is mutually exclusive. And what I mean by that is that we don’t have to do one to develop the other – practicing one IS practicing the other one too at the same time, and vice versa. So, when we’re practicing to be more positive we’re also practicing to cultivate joy and live a happier life and when we’re practicing to develop joy we’re also strengthening our ability to be more positive. They are intertwined, not separate.
When I came to realize that my seed of joy was very small and that I had very un-benefical ideas of what joy and happiness even were I was able to use my mindfulness practice in order to start on a journey of transformation. I began to see that I needed to figure out my own path and discover new ways to engage with experiences, people, and most of all, myself. It was a bit daunting at times because I also came to see that I didn’t really have anyone in my life whom I would consider a positive, happy person. I didn’t have any role models or anyone to look to for advice or input on how to embark on this new path. But I didn’t let that stop me. In fact, the realization that indeed happy people were in short supply may have even been a greater fuel for my practice. I began to see the importance of my putting in the work and effort and staying diligent in watering those seeds within myself so that I would be able to offer positivity and joy to others. For me the greatest joy and fulfillment comes from being able to support and care for others – and that is only possible when I am also supporting and caring for myself.
For some of us the idea of being more positive can seem very far fetched and unrealistic – for some of us it may even sound hokey or new agey. It can be very easy to come up with excuses as to why moving in the direction of becoming more positive and joyful is not possible – our minds are very well trained in the art of suffering and negativity. It then becomes important to use a practice tool that Thay offers: Am I sure? We stop and ask ourselves, “Am I sure?” In moments when we’re making excuses, feeling defensive or frustrated, are caught in judgements, or feel we’re right and someone else is wrong we ask ourselves this question and listen deeply.
For those of us whose seeds of negativity and complaining are quite strong it may not be possible to practice positivity right away, so we start small. We begin by noticing when negativity arises and then we practice to turn the channel to a more neutral station, less fueled by static and anger. We redirect our negativity by changing our focus. We don’t need to be positive right away. When our skills of noticing when negativity arise are strengthened transformation will happen quite naturally.
Every small step we take in the direction of becoming more positive makes a big difference. The only insignificant action we can take when practicing anything new is to do nothing.