Ancient wisdom can teach us much about happiness – including these 7 rituals

Ancient wisdom can teach us much about happiness – including these 7 rituals

via Eric Barker

You and I are not the first people to wonder, “How can I live a happier, more fulfilling life?” Not by a long shot.

Stoicism and Buddhism are both a few thousand years old and I write about them a fair amount because both have core elements that have been validated by modern science.

And something I find even more interesting is that they also have a lot in common with each other. Originating on different continents, they’re like the “brother from another mother” or “sister from another mister” of psychology.

When I see systems that have persisted for millenia, are backed by research, and have a lot in common, well, me gets reaaaaal curious about insights that should probably not be ignored. Let’s call’em “Stoboo”, shall we?

Alrighty, let us begin our journey down The Noble Stoboo Path…

Life Isn’t The Problem. Your Interpretations Are.

Your flight is late and you have to sit around the airport, bored. And that makes you angry. Or…

Your flight is late and you get to sit down and rest for a minute instead of shuffling onto a crowded plane. And that makes you happy.

Guess what? Flight being late isn’t the issue. What made you angry or happy was your interpretation of what that neutral event means.

Both Stoicism and Buddhism feel that the world is what it is. We get all riled up because of how we interpret those events. And, if we choose, we can change those interpretations and change our feelings.

From The Daily Stoic:

“He was sent to prison. But the observation ‘he has suffered evil,’ is an addition coming from you.” — Epictetus, Discourses, 3.8.5b– 6a

And Buddha said:

We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world.

Science backs them to the hilt. This concept is the crux of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (which originated with Stoicism) and mindfulness (which originated in Buddhism.) And they’re two of the most validated and utilized therapeutic techniques out there.

So how do we put this idea to use? Next time you get angry or frustrated, don’t focus on your circumstances. Ask yourself what belief about the circumstances you are clinging to. And think about how that might be incorrect or not useful.

How many times has a bad thing turned out to be a good thing once you had more information or saw the eventual result? Exactly.

(To learn more about the science of a successful life, check out my bestselling book here.)

Problem is, you make these interpretations really fast. So they can be hard to correct. Don’t worry. The Stoboo boys thought about that a long time ago…

Step Back

Kids instantly shriek with joy when something “good” happens and two seconds later they’re shrieking with grief when something “bad” happens. And they can go back and forth all day long. (When adults do this they probably need medication and you should definitely stop dating them.)

What do the people we hold up as icons do? Well, James Bond doesn’t hop up and down when he beats Blofeld and he doesn’t cry for his mom when henchmen shoot at him. He’s not emotionless — he’s in control of his emotions. Plain and simple: he’s less reactive to his external circumstances. The events around him do not dictate his behavior. He decides how he will respond.

When you’re reactive, you give up free will. Environment says this; you behave like that. You’re impulsive and impulsive rarely has a positive connotation; it’s pretty much synonymous with bad decisions.

Neither Stoicism or Buddhism are fans of impulsive emotional reactions (and your parole officer won’t be either if you give in to them).

So when something happens and triggers a strong emotional response, Stoboo says step back. Take a deep breath and let your thinky-brain decide if throwing your laptop against the wall is the best way to cope with slow internet speeds.

From The Daily Stoic:

“First off, don’t let the force of the impression carry you away. Say to it, ‘hold up a bit and let me see who you are and where you are from— let me put you to the test’ . . .” — Epictetus, Discourses, 2.18.24

From Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening:

As we’re about to act, or when thoughts or emotions are predominant, do we remember to investigate and reflect on our motivation? Do we ask ourselves, “Is this act or mind state skillful or unskillful? Is this something to cultivate or abandon? Where is this motivation leading? Do I want to go there?”

Science agrees. The term “cognitive fusion” is used to describe when we’re overwhelmed — possessed, even — by our feelings and can’t see the bigger picture. We make better decisions when we see thoughts and feelings as just that: thoughts and feelings. They are not “you” and you don’t have to act on them.

So what should we do? Well, Bruce Banner, when you feel those strong emotions well up, followed by a desire to do something extreme — pause. The stronger the emotions and the more urgent the desire to act, the more skeptical you should be and the more you want to hit the brakes.

At first, just give yourself a count of five. You want to extend your ability to feel the feelings without acting on them, fighting them or denying them. They will dissipate. It never seems like they will in the moment (and that’s why feelings are so powerful) but they will dissipate.

Ever been really angry but then something makes you laugh and the anger just seems to vanish? We don’t need something external to snap us out of negative emotional states. With practice, you can get better at doing it on your own.

(To learn the secret to never being frustrated again, click here.)

But sometimes so many problems pile on us that constantly stepping back isn’t an option. What perspective shift do we need to make for all the things in life outside of our control so that we don’t end up in a near-constant state of paralysis?

…keep reading the full & original article HERE