So, have you read or listened to Happiness: The Crooked Little Road to Semi-Ever After? C’mon–you need to! But in case you’re just not up for a whole book right now, here are two short web posts for you to try, one a formal book review on NPR and the other an interview with the author Heather Harpham on Gretchen Rubin’s website. I especially like the title of this second post: “”Habits of the Mind Far Outweigh Habits of the Body.”
Here’s the relevant quote from the interview, Harpham’s answer to Gretchen’s question about what she knows about healthy habits now that she didn’t know at age 18:
That habits of the mind far outweigh habits of the body. How you think is everything. Everything. It’s the one and only thing we have control over, our perceptions and reactions, the loop our mind runs. I think of political prisoners—Geronimo Pratt in this country, or the South African writer Breyten Breytenbach are just two examples of so many who endured decades in prison without losing hope, without becoming like their jailers. Resisting bitterness or despair, simply by tending their thoughts. That amazes me.
Isn’t that just so true? Somehow I’ve fallen into the habit lately (note the passive voice) of lying in bed in the morning when I wake up, usually very early, and . . . stewing. There’s just no other word for it. All the stuff that still needs to be done to get our new space fully functional. Who said what and when to whom. What I’d like to say to whom. Etcetera. This morning I was doing this and had the thought, ‘If you want to think about these things, you could at least do it while you’re on your walk.’ So I got up. Much more productive! I’ve been aware for some time that I was letting minutia just consume me. So Harpham’s thoughts were a good wakeup call. (It’s funny–I can call her by her last name, but I just can’t seem to refer to Gretchen by hers.)
So there are two ideas to keep in mind about our thoughts, gained both from the above quotation and also from another Invisibilia podcast that I recently listened to. (I think I’m pretty well caught up on those now.):
- You can consciously direct your thoughts. Harpham references prisoners in the above quote; I was reminded of some prisoner who was an architect, thrown in jail during China’s Cultural Revolution or some such. He decided that he’d use his time to plan a house he wanted to build, and when he got out he actually built it. (But when I tried to google this story I kept getting entries about some video game called “Prison Architect,” so I gave up.)
- You can decide to just let some thoughts go, refusing to focus on them. The Invisibilia episode deals with this idea in great detail, and it’s very helpful to realize that you don’t have to pay attention to random thoughts; just ignore them–which isn’t the same thing as repressing them, by the way.
It all comes down to choice, as usual. How much control do you exert over your thoughts?