Bring Happiness Into Focus

How using focus determines the quality of our lives

When times are tough, when we’re down in the dumps emotionally, sometimes it can be really tough to pull ourselves out. Doing anything to change it sometimes seems unnatural, like its forced and fake. So what can we do to turn that around?

Try this on with me for a minute. What if your focus, your attention, was a flashlight, and you’re walking around in a comfortably moonlit house. Aware of shapes, familiar objects, we get a vague picture of what’s around us, but a lot is based on recall. We’re trying to remember what is where and what we expect to be in our surroundings.

What is immediately visible is whatever we’re highlighting with the flashlight. It’s in sharp focus and in fact it’s causing you to be less able to see what’s in the shadows because your eyes are adjusting to take in just the right amount of light to see what you’re looking at.

Attention, and emotions work in a similar way. Sometimes we have the light squarely focused on some negative condition in our lives. Especially when that condition is triggering a fearful reaction. Sometimes we shine that beam as intensely as possible in one place, cutting off our ability to see the rest of the furniture in the room. Would it be any less authentic, any less true if we were to just for a moment,  shift the beam over to the coffee table and off the sofa?  Just for one second? We’re not denying the sofa, we’re simply choosing to notice that there is also a coffee table.

How is this beneficial? Well at least you’re less likely to smash you’re toe and when you’re ready, you can put down your tea and enjoy the coffee table.

So where is your light focused? Consider that we are complete all the time. That means that there are no parts of us, only ways that we choose to focus. Ideas, occurrences, meanings, objects, situations. None of these in isolation are the truth. So why is it any less authentic to shift the attention from something that’s a significant negative in your life to something neutral, good or great?

Sometimes all we need is that little opening. The smallest possible shift in our focus is often the key. I like to focus on my breath. Noticing the quality of my breathing. Is it fast? Is it shallow or deep? What does the air feel like descending into my lungs? What does that expansion feel like? Do I want to change the way I’m breathing? I get really curious about my breathing, and quickly I find the coffee table. By that point, I’m well on my way to a state of being I’d prefer.

Like any other behaviour, being able to shift your focus in a meaningful way during a very difficult time takes practise. Fortunately there are some really good ways that have been proven in psychology labs to help us learn to shift our focus in particular ways that measurably increase people’s happiness over the long term. You can find some of them here.

Remember that your life is rich and full of experiences. There is a lot of authentically real stuff to be able to access! Decide if your focus is helping or hurting you and use some of the tools available to you. Make a shift in the right direction.

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