When I was in Europe with my husband, before we were married, we traveled to London for a few days. In the subway, I can still remember the constant, repeated phrase every time we got in or out of a train: “Mind the gap. Mind the gap. Mind the gap.” At the time, we laughed about it, and repeated it; the English words and accent made it seem so funny to us.
Years later, before the start of my happiness journey, my mother-in-law gave me a DVD recording of a weekend seminar by James Arthur Ray titled Harmonic Wealth. It seemed a bit hokey to me, but as my first attempts to make progress on my mental and physical well-being, I decided to start watching it while I worked out on the elliptical (my mom always said to kill two birds with one stone).
Ray had a lot of good quotes and catchy phrases in the seminar, but the point he stressed the most, in every different way possible, was that you feel however you think you feel. I wrote this down, as it seemed key to me, but still didn’t truly understand what it meant, or what I should do differently as a result.
It wasn’t until I read similar things in Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth that it really clicked: whatever thoughts you chose to entertain for the majority of the day (positive or negative) will dictate the overall outcome of your day. Tolle talks about the choice to let some thoughts pass through as just thoughts, and to not embrace or respond to them. I still remember the moment I read the sub-header on one of the paragraphs: “Do You Want Peace or Drama?” I must have stared at that title forever. It was that simple: I have a choice. I can choose to think negatively, or positively.
I was surprised (and un-trusting) that such a simple concept could potentially be the key to being in a better mental state. Especially because I was very familiar with the glass half full/glass half empty analogy, and was still miserable. But after hearing the same concept in all these different ways, especially the finite idea that clocking and classifying your thoughts could predict your mental state, I finally got it.
I began observing my own thoughts, and (shockingly) realized that almost all of my thoughts were negative. I was constantly minding the gap in every aspect of my day, and it wasn’t funny. My husband would do the dishes, and I would get super cranky because there was one cup that he didn’t put in the dishwasher right so it flipped over and didn’t get clean. I never once thought: that is so nice that he did dishes! When my daughter would eat her dinner so nicely, and talk and joke with us making the moment a tv-perfect example of quality family time, I would be laser focused on the fact that she was holding her food over her lap and destined to make a mess of her clothes, and I’d ruin the mood by reprimanding her.
I recently watched a documentary titled Happy by Roko Belic, and in the beginning they show a pie chart related to happiness. The chart shows that approximately 50% of your mental state is attributed to genetics (unchangeable by you), 10% to your environment or circumstances out of your control (i.e. social status, money, physical abilities, age, etc.), and a whopping 40% attributed to things you control. To me, a good portion of this 40% is perspective. If I am always “minding the gap,” my mental health isn’t going to be so good. I need to choose peace.
Even though I now understand why I need to stay focused on the positive, it’s not so easy to do. I once saw a presentation from the health director at my work, and he equated mental health to physical health. Most people know you can’t lose weight or eat healthy without some work, but many don’t get that the same goes for mental health; you need to practice/exercise, and it’s hard work. Elizabeth Gilbert said this too, with the quote that got me started on this journey: “happiness is the consequence of personal effort.”
The practice that works best for me is to take a few minutes each night before bed and consciously focus on things from the day for which I’m grateful. Rubin suggests keeping a gratitude log. This has become a gratitude log in my head. And although I still have slip-ups every day, this practice has started to re-train my brain on which thoughts to focus my attention.