The Rules of the Game

In my last article I wrote about happiness and the way people construct their rules for achieving or avoiding happiness.

Its not what happens its what you do that makes the difference. – W Mitchel

Today I have been thinking more about this and have another powerful suggestion relating to managing your state of mind.

Lets build upon my last article where we discussed how to change our rules to make happiness easier to achieve and other, negative, emotions more difficult to experience.

When constructing your rules for happiness, or any emotion, it seems that everything that can influence your level of happiness can be divided into two groups:

  1. Things that you do.
  2. Things that happen to you.

I have noticed over years of speaking and coaching that people generally use the latter. In other words, people often let their emotions happen as a result of external events or circumstances.

The degree to which you can set up your rules so that you are in control of your response, is the degree to which you will lead a productive and happy life.

My formula is that when constructing your rules for happiness you can have both internal (things that you do) and external (things that happen to you) on the list. This means that random things can take place that make you smile but, if you are feeling down, that you know that there are specific things you can do to turn things around.

On the other hand, when you are constructing rules for negative emotions or unhappiness, you should make sure that all the criteria are based upon internal events or circumstances rather than external event that you do not have control over.

For example, the average person might get angry when someone cuts in front of them in traffic, especially if they are in a hurry,

What happens, though, if instead of allowing a single external event to guide the way you feel, you create rules that call for a series of things to happen before you can experience that negative state.

For example, the quick way to anger and negativity looks like this:

  1. External Event — Someone cuts in front in traffic.
  2. Result – Feel Angry.

A better set of rules might look like this:

  1. External Event — Someone cuts in front in traffic.
  2. Internal Event — Forget to remember that you don’t know why they are in a hurry,
  3. Internal Event — Choose to be unforgiving.
  4. Internal Event — Forget to take three deeps breaths before reacting.

This would mean that before you could get angry, you would have to do ALL three of these things. Suddenly, when someone cuts in front of you, you have to ask yourself why they might be in a hurry (late for important meeting, job interview, family member in hospital, etc.) and then decide that they have a lousy reason (you can’t possibly KNOW this) and choose not to forgive them and then fail, as well, to take some calm deep breaths to relax.

The truth is, that if these were your rules, it would become impossible or next to impossible to get angry about someone cutting in front of you. The great part about this is that it demonstrates to each of us that how we feel in a given moments is, in fact, our choice.

That in itself is helpful — if you want to feel angry, then do it — but enjoy it and feel good about your choice to do so.