Despite frequently speaking and writing about positivity, more often than I care to admit, I find myself caught in the grip of negative rumination. You know that feeling of suddenly being overcome by negative thoughts, where we’re telling people off for all the terrible things that they’ve done to us; or we’re getting our revenge on an old flame who hurt us?
These feelings appear to ‘come out of nowhere’ and, as such, they got me thinking: who’s in charge of our minds; is it us, or some external force?
People have answered this question in various ways and while I’m no theologian, some believers in heaven and hell tend to attribute all negativity in the world, including our negative thoughts, to the devil. They suggest that unless we live in accordance with God’s laws, we’re doomed to spend an eternity in hell with the devil, surrounded by hot flames and characters worse that you could find in any Stephen King novel.
Mainstream religion also suggests that God is the Force for Good and Light. He is deemed as responsible for all creation and present throughout everything in the universe. We’re told that if we are good and obey His rules, after we die, we’ll go to be with Him in heaven.
Every moment of our earthly lives, we’re told, every action we take and every decision we make is tipping the scales towards whether we’ll be admitted through the pearly gates of paradise to be with God, or banished to Lucifer’s kingdom.
But what is ‘heaven;’ and what is ‘hell?’
For me, hell is not a place where bad people go after they die. Hell can amount to failing to connect to our Higher Purpose and feeling that terrible void within us that reminds us that we’re supposed to be so much more. It’s going to a job we hate every morning because we’re too afraid to try anything different. Hell is being poor – materially or spiritually ÔÇô and feeling like there’s nothing that we can do about it. It’s fearing that we’re unlovable to the point of allowing other people to treat us as less than worthy.
Contrast that to Heaven, that delicious feeling when you find money you’d forgotten about in your pockets. It’s that moment when somebody asks you how you are and you lie and say that you’re fine even though you’re starving, and they offer you something to eat any way.
Yet we don’t need to wait until we die to experience heaven, or God’s Goodness. God constantly blesses us and multiplies our blessings right here on earth.
Then why is there so much negativity in the world? Are our heavenly and hellish experiences completely random; and do we control how often we experience each one?
I’m reminded of a legend where an old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life.
“A fight is going on inside me,” he says to the boy “It’s a terrible fight and it’s between two wolves. One is evil ÔÇô he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority and ego.”
“The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith. The same fight is going on inside you ÔÇô and inside every other person too.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?” The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
Which wolf do you feed? That determines whether you experience heaven or hell right here on earth.
Sometimes, the negativity in our lives is so pronounced, in the form of people and situations we encounter, that it’s difficult to believe that we could do anything to prevent it. Yet we are in charge. We choose whether to create more positive or negative experiences in our lives. It is us who decide whether we’ll be happy or miserable.
So why aren’t more people happy? It’s because most of us find it easier to feed the evil wolf – our negativity – out of habit. Negative thinking has been forming in our psyches for so long that trying to replace it with new habits of thoughts can seem like an uphill struggle.
But we can change our patterns of thoughts to make them more positive. In his definitive work, Flow, positive psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi writes that we’re affected by where we consistently choose to focus our attention, including in the results that we produce.
Famed philosopher, William James, also writes that like a garment that changes its tissue after having been worn for some time, or a lock that works better after repeated use, so too can human beings overcome resistance in their own lives through a process of “habituation.” This includes the habit of cultivating happiness, or a cheerful attitude.
Which habit will you cultivate ÔÇô positive or negative thinking?
When you choose positivity; or when you see yourself as a winner, you’re feeding the good wolf. When you accept that you’re capable of acquiring a new mindset that will lead to sustained success and not sorrow, you’re also feeding the good wolf. When you wallow in anger, and allow self-doubt to invade and take control of your mind, you’re feeding the evil wolf.
It takes persistence but thinking positively can be learned and adopted into a habit. With time, it can be sustained with less effort.
Habitual positive thinking sets new beliefs into motion – we start to expect the best from the people and situations around us, and we experience more heaven on earth.
Starting today, reclaim your mind! You’re in charge of the person you’re becoming, so who will you be?
Make it a great week!
Primrose Oteng is a Master of Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) and the Founder of the ‘Positive Peace Project,’ an organization dedicated to creating positive change through personal empowerment. For more on how we can assist you, visit www.positivepeaceproject.co.bw