Written by Allison Bratsch, LPC, ACS
First, let’s break down some definitions…
What is a thought? Google says: an idea or opinion produced by thinking or occurring suddenly in the mind; the action or process of thinking; “mental activity.” The weird thing about thoughts is that they are always occurring without us having to think about them. The key here is that while we may have things just pop into our heads, we have the full capability to change our thoughts.
What is perception? Google says: the ability to see, hear, or become aware of something through the senses; a way of regarding, understanding, or interpreting something; a mental impression. Now, perceptions are also tricky to comprehend. The first part of the definition, the part of perception that involves our senses (sight, smell, taste, sound, and touch), isn’t necessarily something we can easily change. Our brains and bodies are sort of wired to “perceive” things in a certain way, which is different from how others perceive or experience these things. For example, I know people who HATE chocolate. I think this is madness because I absolutely LOVE chocolate. Some people are sensitive to certain smells, others dislike certain textures either with food or clothing or other things. While this is important in understanding perception, I’d like to focus on the cognitive or mental part of perception – the part about how we regard, understand, or interpret things – the mental impression. THIS is the part that can be altered. Our perceptions are essentially a collection of thoughts that we combine in order to form an opinion/interpretation/feeling about something. Our perceptions are based on both our “way of thinking” as well as our past experiences. We as humans have a tendency to perceive things in a way that confirms what we believe and what we think we already know. My challenge to you is to first become aware of how you are perceiving situations and then challenge your own perceptions.
Now for the happiness piece: so much of our mental health depends upon our thoughts. I’d like to share some of my favorite quotes by the philosopher Marcus Aurelius. He said:
“The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts.”
“Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.”
“You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”
“Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.”
“When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.”
“The universe is change; our life is what our thoughts make it.”
I would like to propose to you that mental health is about empowerment in many ways. The more we feel we are in control of our emotional responses, as well as our thoughts and perceptions, the more content and at peace we will be.
There is a modality used in therapy called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or “CBT.” This is typically a highly structured form of therapy focused on correcting unhelpful thoughts, and connecting thoughts, feelings, and actions. The idea behind the theory is that our thoughts inform our emotions and behaviors. When we have the ability to examine our thoughts, we can assess whether or not they are accurate or helpful. If we determine that our thoughts are not accurate or helpful, we can work to correct and shift these thoughts. The moral of the story here is that our thoughts are very powerful – what we think, we create.
Two examples of just how powerful our thoughts are:
1) The Self-fulfilling Prophecy: simply put, our beliefs about ourselves influence our actions toward others; this impacts others’ beliefs about us, which in turn causes others’ actions toward us to reinforce (increase the likelihood something with occur) our beliefs about ourselves, and it’s a vicious cycle. Read that again. Our beliefs about ourselves influence our actions toward others; this impacts others’ beliefs about us, which in turn causes others’ actions toward us to reinforce our beliefs about ourselves. A hypothetical example: If I believe that people don’t really want to hang out with me, I may often flake out on plans and avoid social situations. If I do this, others may believe I am not interested in spending time with them, so they will likely stop inviting me to events, which reinforces the belief I have about myself that people don’t really want to hang out with me.
2) Manifesting: so I can’t really explain this from an energetic or physics standpoint, this isn’t my area of expertise. If you’re curious about this, google “Law of Attraction.” My take on manifesting (your ability to make something happen or draw something to you), is that if you are hyper-focused on something that you want, and you can believe that it is possible for you to have it, you can then start to create the feeling or experience of what that thing might bring to you, and you will then do whatever it takes to make it happen. Your thoughts truly create your reality!
To summarize, our thoughts in many ways are directly related to our level of happiness, contentment, and enjoyment in life. Our thoughts inform our emotions, and ultimately our actions. Remember that you do have the ability to examine and change your thoughts, which means you have power when it comes to your happiness!