Does how we interpret things shape our experiences?

by | Apr 12, 2020 | Mindfulness

…there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.

— William Shakespeare, Hamlet

One day, a farmer’s only horse ran away. His neighbors came over to console him, saying, “We are so very sorry, this is horrible news! You must feel angry and sad.” The farmer said, “We’ll see. Who can know what’s good and what’s bad?” The next week, the farmer’s horse returned, this time with a dozen wild horses following behind! The farmer and his son wrangled the horses up. His neighbors commented, “Wow, what good fortune! How joyful you must feel!” Again, the farmer said, “We shall see. Who can know what’s good and what’s bad?” The following day, one of the new wild horses trampled the farmer’s son, breaking his legs. The neighbors then said, “I’m so sorry for you. You must be upset with this terrible happening.” To which the farmer replied, “We shall see. Who can know what’s good and what’s bad?” Shortly thereafter, the country went to war, and every healthy young man was drafted to fight. But due to his injuries, the farmer’s son was not drafted. It was a horrible war. Almost every soldier died. The farmer’s neighbors again congratulated him, saying, “You must be so happy and relieved that your son did not go to war!” The farmer replied, “We shall see. Who can know what’s good and what’s bad?”

This fable shows how our ideas about what’s good and bad, often just aren’t true. We think, “some things are good, and other things are bad. Period.” But the fable also shows, the link between an event, our experience and the outcome are not so black and white.

Life events don’t have one universal, unchanging meaning. It’s our interpretations, perspectives, and beliefs about life’s events that cause us to feel good or bad. We get to choose which of the truths we are going to accept. And our choice determines if something stresses us or not, not the event itself.

Since all events and situations are up for interpretation, we can feel any number of ways about things. So you might ask, “If life’s events have no fundamental meaning, what’s the point?” The point is since life’s events and situations don’t have one universal meaning, you get to choose how you feel, interpret and respond to things. You are in control of your life’s narrative! You can find a plausible alternative to any event. Or you can also wait and see how things actually turn out.

Just for the record, I’m not suggesting that you lie to yourself by telling yourself something that isn’t true. Or that you suppress unwanted emotions in pursuit of “positive thinking.” But I do want to drive home the idea that life’s events don’t have a fixed narrative. I could say, “This is a terrible moment. I’m in Europe far from my family.” Or I could say, “I’ve met such lovely people on my travels. They surround me now, making sure I’m OK.” The choice is mine. I have some control over how I experience life. You don’t have to be jerked around by life’s happening because you can always choose an empowering perspective that supports you.

How are you choosing to experience your life?

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