In my last article, I introduced the common fault that most people fall victim to in their search for happiness. In this article, I would like to examine the effect of thought on well-being and happiness.
James Allen, the famous British philosopher who was one of the pioneers of the self-help movement, and later inspired motivational thinkers like Napoleon Hill and Dale Carnegie, once said,
“A man is literally what he thinks, his character being the sum of all his thoughts”.
A thought is like a seed in the garden of our minds. Planting good seeds will cultivate a beautiful and flourishing garden while planting bad ones will lead to one riddled with weeds and undesirable byproducts. The Buddha in his discourse on the eight-fold path, described right thought as the basis for a virtuous life. He explained that right thinking can help us eliminate our suffering and bring us lasting peace and well-being while deluded thinking is the root of our misery and is the invisible force that spins the wheel of our rebirth.
While one single thought may seem harmless, as it comes and goes only in our minds, as one thought is continuously reinforced by another, thoughts that once seemed imaginary begin to feel very real and take a firm hold in our minds as something that exists and endures. This leads to a process of personalization, whereby our thoughts, through habituation, form our personality and shape who we are and how we see the world.
Neuroscientists, in fact, have concluded that our human brains simply cannot distinguish imagination from reality. Imaginary situations cause our brains to send our bodies the same commands as it would for a real situation. When we are watching a movie, the make-believe emotions created by the actors on set, which we know as a fact to be imaginary, become very real to us when our attention is placed on the scene, causing physical reactions in our body that exactly mimic those in a real situation. Armed with this knowledge, we also know that when faced with a real situation, the opposite can apply. If we can learn to embrace the negative circumstances in our lives with self-induced thoughts of compassion and forgiveness, our body and mind will not be affected by adverse conditions. Therefore, we can learn to always maintain a happy state of mind regardless of the nature of our experience by consistently applying right thought.
The thoughts that we think have a direct relationship with our state of being. Kind and loving thoughts give rise to well-being and a sense of flourishing, while evil and selfish thoughts will lead to frustration and unhappiness. Moreover, it is known that thoughts not only influence our psychological well-being, but also affect us on a physiological level. Mind and matter are inextricably tied together, and what leads to a healthy mind will also lead to a healthy body. Through the practice of right thinking, we can maintain serenity of body and mind and become masters of our own destiny. As James Allen said,
“a man becomes calm in the measure that he understands himself as a thought evolved being, for such knowledge necessitates the understanding of others as the result of thought, and as he develops a right understanding, and sees more and more clearly the internal relations of things by the action of cause and effect he ceases to fuss and fume and worry and grieve, and remains poised, steadfast, serene.”
Our character is constructed brick by brick by the thoughts that we think, and this has a direct impact on our perception of happiness and well-being. By regularly training yourself to think positively, you can maintain a happy and healthy state of mind regardless of your circumstances.