Turning Heaven into Hell and Hell into Heaven

Years ago, the philosopher Bertrand Russell took a light-hearted look at how our perspective shapes our experience when he said, “I am firm; you are obstinate; he is a pig-headed fool.”

Different people can respond to the same event, person or situation in completely different ways. We create our own interpretation and then act as if that interpretation is a fact. Some events could be seen as more inherently ‘negative’ and some as more inherently ‘positive’, but many things are certainly more ‘charge-neutral’, in and of themselves, than we might realise. It’s the meaning we give to those situations (or people) that creates the real charge.

I’ll illustrate this with an example…

Take a traffic jam – how do you tend to respond? The range will be huge.

Some people will get really angry. Their heart rate will increase, they will become tense, they might start to get angry with other drivers. They may get very stressed about the implications of the delay and perhaps carry the negativity through with them into the ensuing events of their day. Someone I met on a training course recently, said that honestly his response to a traffic jam was to be grateful to have a bit more time for himself and the chance to listen to more music. Others may feel a tiny bit disgruntled, but quickly take things in their stride – it is what it is, there is nothing that can be done about it.

The traffic jam clearly has no inherent, universal level of negativity or positivity. It is neither good, nor bad, it just ‘is’. The meaning we attribute to it turns it into a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ situation.

How you respond to things will affect your mental state, your internal feelings, your physiology, your actions. It can affect how you are the rest of the day. It can affect how you interact with others.

You can choose meanings

When we interpret an event, it can feel like it is a solid fact, not a perception. When we remember that meaning is plastic, we can consider if there is another way of interpreting a situation.

Today, notice how you are interpreting things. Could you become more flexible with these interpretations and reframe in a way that is more helpful to you, others and the situation?

Ask yourself: ‘Where does my current interpretation lead?’ ‘Does it lead to suffering or happiness?’

If it leads to suffering, then ask yourself:

  1. ‘How else could I view this?’
  2. ‘This might not be perfect, but what could be good about it?’

It is amazing how much difference making empowering interpretations can make. I’ll leave you with a wonderful example of reframing:

“Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck.” Dalai Lama

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