Read an Excerpt
Shortcuts to Bliss
The 50 Best Ways to Improve Relationships, Connect with Spirit, and Make Your Dreams Come True
By Jonathan Robinson
Red Wheel/Weiser, LLCCopyright © 1998 Jonathan Robinson
All rights reserved.
Feeling Really Good
A single psychological principle unites all people who have ever lived: Every human being wants to avoid emotional or physical pain and gain emotional or physical pleasure. Of course, how we accomplish this task is different for each of us. To feel good, some people have to control and manipulate millions of people, while others need only close their eyes and meditate. If the ways you know of feeling great take a lot of time or money or involve a lot of effort, you reduce the odds of feeling happy much of the time. On the other hand, if you know a variety of simple ways of feeling loving, peaceful and joyous, you'll probably experience a lot more pleasure in your life. Likewise, if your methods for avoiding pain are harmful to you (such as drug use, overeating, etc.), your quality of life will go down. Yet if you know healthy and effective ways to overcome pain, then suffering need not be your constant companion.
Each culture has prescribed ways of avoiding pain and gaining pleasure. For example, in Western culture we're conditioned to believe that if we only had more money, we'd definitely be happier. Surprisingly, studies show that once a person achieves middle-class status, additional money has no effect on their level of fulfillment. Yet many people struggle for years to make it rich, only to find that they aren't any happier. By the time most people have realized that what they thought would make them satisfied hasn't really worked, it's too late for them to explore other avenues.
If money isn't the key to happiness and pleasure, what is? In general, research indicates that people who feel connected to a spiritual purpose, are achieving meaningful goals, and have satisfying relationships are the happiest. In other sections in this book, I talk about ways to move forward in each of these areas of life. In this section, I describe simple ways to directly bring more pleasure and less pain into your life. I have found that when a person feels good most of the time, it's easier to pursue satisfying relationships and meaningful goals.
Unlike most ways we've been taught to feel better, the methods in this section can generally be done in under two minutes, they don't cost anything, and they're immediately effective. In addition, many popular ways to change how we feel have negative side effects, whereas these methods tend to actually be good for you. By learning simple ways to change how you feel, you'll have a lot more energy for pursuing what's really important to you. Having a sense of control over one's emotions can give a person greater "riches" than material wealth. As you practice these methods, you'll begin to feel more in charge of your feelings, your life, and ultimately, your destiny.
1. How to Quickly Change How You Feel The Art of Asking the Right Questions
Having written two books that consist mostly of questions (The Little Book Of Big Questions and Instant Insight), I have a lot I could say about this subject. Yet, in essence what I want to convey is that by asking yourself specific questions on a regular basis, you can dramatically change your life. Questions are a quick and powerful way to change your focus—and what you focus on grows. Our emotional state is largely determined by what we think about. If we subconsciously think throughout the day, "What else is wrong in my life?" then we'll likely feel anxious a lot of the time. However, if we focus on the question, "What can I feel grateful for?" then it's easy to feel a whole lot better.
Asking questions to change your focus is a time-tested technique. We already do it, and it has an immense impact on how we feel. Unfortunately, usually we use this method to make ourselves feel angry, depressed, or anxious. We think of things like, "What else do I have to do today?" or "Why is that person such a jerk?" Like a good computer, our brain attempts to answer whatever question we feed it. Out of the millions of things it could think about, our mind chooses just a few things to focus on. How does it know what to let into consciousness, and what to ignore? Our brain chooses what to perceive based on the subconscious (or conscious) questions we ask ourselves. If you ask a negative question, you'll likely feel morose. If you ask a positive one, you'll focus on different thoughts and likely end up feeling good.
Over many years of trial and error, I have found there are four specific questions that are effective in quickly changing how a person feels. They are:
1) What small successes have I had recently?
2) What could I feel grateful for?
3) Who do I love and/or who loves me?
4) What do I appreciate about myself?
Each of these questions can be like a flashlight that helps you see past your inner darkness to the "heaven within." It only takes one or two minutes of focusing on any of these inquiries to change what you perceive and how you feel. To tune into the magic they offer, simply begin by taking a slow, deep breath, and then repeat the chosen question a couple of times. At first you'll probably come up with intellectual answers that don't seem very connected to your feelings. Yet with practice you'll learn to feel positive emotions that result from the answers you think of; for example, if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, you may choose to ask yourself, "What small successes have I had recently?" As you think of several answers, you'll notice your thoughts will begin to move in a different direction. By focusing and visualizing one or more successes, you can begin to tune into the feelings of confidence and achievement. In just a couple of minutes you can transform your experience and feel immensely better.
When you answer any of the four inquiries, the important thing is to think of specific instances when you felt what the question is asking you about. They need not be big, dramatic examples—they only need to be times that were emotionally meaningful to you. For instance, when asking yourself, "What could I feel grateful for?" you could feel thankful for literally hundreds of things. You could feel gratitude for being healthy, for having food when much of the world goes hungry, for friends, or even for the use of your telephone. By focusing on how fortunate you are compared to many other people, you can learn to tune into the feeling of gratitude whenever you desire.
The question "Who do I love and who loves me?" can be a wonderful way to dive into your heart and experience the grace of love. By remembering a specific time you felt loved by someone, or a particular time you felt in love with someone, it's possible to tune into the warmth within your heart. With practice, you can take "mini love breaks" throughout the day that open your heart with love in just a minute of meditation.
The final question "What do I appreciate about myself?" can be a good antidote to feelings of self-dislike or unworthiness. The simple fact that you bought this book shows that you're interested in bettering yourself. You probably have a lot of little things about yourself which are likeable. By thinking of some of them, you'll feel better. For some people it's hard to see what is good and loveable about themselves. If you have a hard time with this question, you might try asking yourself, "What good things would my friends say about me?" As you focus on what you (or others) see as your positive traits, you'll feel more confident, loveable, and have genuine compassion for yourself.
The hardest thing about this technique is remembering to use it. Yet if you give it a really good try, you'll see that it can work wonders. Being able to quickly go from feeling overwhelmed to feeling confident, or feeling anxious to being grateful is one of the most important skills a person could learn. To a large extent, your ability to act effectively in the world is based on how good you feel. As you gain more control over your thoughts and emotions by asking yourself these four questions, you'll not only feel better—but you'll also be better able to contribute to others.
2. How to Easily Become a Happier Person The Pain and Pleasure List
What do you absolutely love to do? It need not be a big thing. Perhaps you really love to watch football, or maybe you really enjoy baking your own bread. Often, we get so caught up in living our life that we forget to take time for life's simple pleasures. Many people find that their life is so full of responsibilities that they rarely take time for fun and adventure. If that sounds like you, then you'll benefit by using the "Pain and Pleasure List" (PPL). The PPL is a list of at least ten things you enjoy doing and a list of ten things you don't particularly care for. It helps you clarify what really turns you on in life and what you do only because you have to—or think you should. While we all need to do things we don't like from time to time, life is not meant to be a series of burdens and responsibilities. By having this handy list that says so much about yourself, you'll be able to make important changes in your life with a lot more ease.
The first step in using the PPL is to simply create the list. The singular act of writing down ten things you love to do and ten you don't care for can reveal a lot about your life. Recently, a client named James made his list while in my office. He had originally come to see me because of depression, stress at work, and problems with his wife. This was the list he created:
Ten Things I Don't Like to Do.
Ten Things I Love to Do
1. Go to work.
Ride my bike.
2. Market myself or my products.
Be by myself, reading a good book.
3. Clean the house.
Play with the dog.
Eat good food.
5. Be around disagreeable people.
6. Spend time with my parents.
Get a massage.
7. Taxes and paying the bills.
Spend time in nature.
8. Give my wife a massage.
Make love with my wife.
9. Go shopping for clothes or gifts. Drive and listen to music.
10. Argue with wife.
Watch a good football game.
After James made his list, I had him estimate the number of hours every month he spent doing each activity. When he finished this part of the exercise, it was brutally clear why he was depressed, stressed, and messed-up with his wife. The total number of hours on the "pain" side of the list was a whopping 215 hours per month. The total number of hours on the "pleasure" side of the list was a meager 32 hours a month. That's almost a seven-to-one ratio of pain to pleasure. I've found that when the degree of pain as compared to pleasure rises above a five-to-one ratio, people dislike their life. In order to feel good again, such people need to spend less time doing "painful" activities, and more time doing what they enjoy.
The first key to changing your life and behavior is to be aware of what's currently not working. If, after completing your own PPL, you see a similar pattern to James' then you'll know you've been denying yourself too much. You need to put pleasurable activities at a greater level of importance in your life. Sometimes people think if they make pleasure a bigger priority, the rest of their life will fall apart. Not true. When we don't have enough good times in our life, we become less capable and effective in our career and relationships. We pay a price. As we feel good more regularly, the "rising sea" of our emotions tends to lift the various "boats" of our life.
On the other hand, some people who complete the PPL see a pattern of having too much pleasure in their life. They tend to avoid responsibilities and discipline at all costs. Unfortunately, this form of hedonism doesn't work well long term. By avoiding difficult things now, people with this predilection often create problems in their finances and relationships later on. The key to having a successful life is to find the right balance of pain to pleasure. It must be a balance that works, not only in one's current life, but it must also work long term.
Another way the PPL can be useful is as a convenient reminder of what you really like to do. Sometimes we get so caught up in the various "chores of life" that we forget to enjoy ourselves. By putting the PPL in a place where you'll see it often, it can softly help you to remember the direction you want to go. In addition, seeing what causes you "pain" can serve to remind you about areas of life you'd possibly like to change. If your list boldly declares that you spend 160 hours a month at a job you don't like, then it might help motivate you to look for another job.
Ultimately, to change your life, you need to change individual behaviors. If there's a lot of pain and little pleasure in your life, ask yourself the following two questions:
1) Are there any activities on the "pain" side of the list that I can easily change, do less of, or have someone else do instead?
2) Are there any activities on the "pleasure" side of the list that I can easily do more of, beginning with scheduling time for it in my life right now?
As you ask yourself these two questions, search your lists for answers you can immediately act upon. Then take action. Schedule a fun activity into your busy week, or see if you can get someone else to do what you always hate doing. Even a small change can snowball into a major shift in your attitude and disposition. Let the Pain and Pleasure List be your caring companion—gently reminding you of the road to greater fulfillment.
3. How to Easily Feel Inspired The Magical Movie List
The TV and newspapers blare out an endless stream of bad news. Our own lives are filled with a constant barrage of stress. With so much negative information overwhelming us at all times, we need an easy and effective way to replenish our souls. Fortunately, a quick and powerful source of inspiration is readily available—movies. A good movie or video is truly a remarkable gift of modern technology. In about two hours you can enter a whole new world and become absorbed into its story, characters, and underlying message. When a movie touches your heart, it can inspire you to new heights of hope and possibility. It can almost instantly change your attitude and how you feel.
Excerpted from Shortcuts to Bliss by Jonathan Robinson. Copyright © 1998 Jonathan Robinson. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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