Learning new skills is scary. Happiness is a skill, requiring focused effort until it becomes habitual. Creating new learning strategies is central to making progress. Beginning artists reframe perception by drawing from images turned upside down. This method throws off stored memories and concepts, eliciting more perceptive observation—a perfect tool in drawing and sketching.
So it is with how we see our lives. Should we count our blessings first, or counter-intuitively, envision our reality by imagining how different it might be based on the randomness of chance and fortune?
For example, think of a good friend, one who brings so much into your day that you often wonder how you’d manage without them. Take it a step further and relive how you first met. Now, change the outcome. Suppose you never spoke to your future friend at the party where you first met? Would realizing this make you uneasy and distressed? Research says just the opposite. By subtracting events and people from our minds and pretending we were suddenly without them brings satisfaction instead of the expected negative feelings.
A study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology lays it out clearly. The study’s key findings demonstrate how imagining an event not happening casts it in a more surprising and mysterious light. Life events with more variety, novelty and sheer unexpectedness cause more intense and lasting emotional reactions. By recasting events and people as surprising and unexpected, we search out deeper meaning and explanation, which makes them intriguing and pleasurable. We simply think about them more.
Being grateful is still useful however. Thinking of life without this or that is the first step in appreciating its existence in the first place. By creating an imaginary reality without what makes us truly happy, we can recognize the serendipity that brought it to us on that remarkable day so long ago.