Monthly Archives: June 2015

Psychology of Utopia

All of us have a different vision of utopia. Why are they different? Well, I like the story of the blind men examining an elephant. Our understanding may be limited to the parts of the “elephant” that we’ve touched.

Let’s say one of those blind men is Ned flanders. Ned Flanders is a Christian. His utopia is called “heaven.” Heaven is all about abundance and freedom from missing the bulls-eye. Let’s bring Lisa Simpson in. She’s a feminist and a vegan. Her utopia is one of gender equality and the ethical treatment of animals. Let’s bring Brian Griffin in. He’s an atheist whose utopian world has no religion or unscientific thinking. And finally, Stewie Griffin. His utopia is one of world domination, where he is the ruler over all people.

When these characters look at the world that they live in, they notice that the actual state of the world falls pretty far below their vision of utopia. They see all the laws, systems, and all kinds of obstacles that hinder the world from reaching their own vision of utopia. No matter who you are, this gap causes an unpleasant feeling. It can even bring up emotions of anger.

So let’s say all these characters are a bit disgruntled because of the gap that they sense. Naturally, you want to get rid of this bad feeling as soon as you can, right? So what many people do, which is actually not the healthiest thing for you to do in the long-run, is to try to immediately close this gap. As I have already explained in my post on perfectionism, this is a mechanism of escape. And the more you escape again and again from this emotion that is a normal part of life, you will forego the opportunity to build up your tolerance for this difficult feeling.

Another thing that you might be doing in attempt to close your own gap is mocking, shaming, and criticizing others who are going against your vision of utopia. While this might work, I assure you that this strategy is not very effective. As a professional motivational speaker, I can say that positivity motivates people much more effectively. Mocking, shaming, and criticizing others only isolates you and hurts others.

So what do you do instead?

Think positively and defer your gratification. Believe that everything will be ok. Let go of control and stop thinking that it’s all on you to make the world a better place.

I do have something to say to some Christians, though. Don’t think so negatively about our values being opposed and redefined. It was never these values on their own that made the biggest change in people’s hearts anyway. It was Jesus’ extravagant love. So give more of that extravagant love instead. And right now is not the time for you to give your input. Ask yourself, “where was I when the gay community felt rejected?” “Was I there to show them love?” If not, and if the gay community is not asking for your input, it’s definitely not the time to share your values in their time of celebration.

Whether you’re a theist or an atheist, whether you’re a feminist or vegan or whatever, don’t be a jerk. Think positively and be nice to others.

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Thinking Positively About Others

When you keep on getting let down by others again and again, your mind will want to find a reason why this keeps on happening. As mentioned in my last post, the practice of coming up with a reason to settle one’s anxiety in this area of uncertainty is called rationalization. There are many reasons one can come up with, all of which are impossible to prove, but here’s one that works well:

“All of us are imperfect and in the process of becoming better people. I notice this area of imperfection more because my excellence in this area causes me to have higher standards. I understand that others may have excellence in other areas. There is no better or worse, just different. Rather than expecting others to be like me, I will simply be true to myself and continue to meet my high standards in my own unique area of excellence.”

This kind of rationalization is good for you because it not only gives you a reason, but it is also hopeful for the future, it celebrates our individual differences, it gives others and yourself grace, and it encourages you to continue to do the “right” thing. So that’s positive rationalization.

Next, when we get hurt by others, we are more vulnerable to making negative judgments about others and this can become a dangerous pattern. The challenge is to think positively about others, even when you get hurt. Again, there are many judgments one can come up with, all of which are impossible to prove, but here’s one that works well:

Choose to believe that your wrongdoers have incredible value and worth. Choose to look at them as masterpieces who just don’t happen to be everyone’s cup of tea, like Jackson Pollock’s paintings. Let me go even more extreme. What is the most common thing that people value so much that they would give up everything for it, that they would even die for it? It’s your own child. When you think about someone who’s wronged you, try to think about them as a beloved child of someone very important.

“But Daniel, I know their parents and they’re not very important people.”

And as long as you think like this, you will limit your positivity.

But what if you chose to stretch your imagination as far as thinking that they are beloved children of a living spiritual entity of utmost importance. And that this higher power values them so much that He died for them. Sounds a bit crazy because it’s way too ridiculously positive, right? But that is what I choose to believe. And though it’s not easy, it’s been amazing!

What you choose to believe about others, whether it is based on measurable evidence or not, will affect your love, respect, grace, and openness toward others.

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Forgiveness

Resentment is the addiction to thinking negatively about others. To successfully break any addiction, you have to do two things: you have to (1) build up a different pattern and (2) give yourself some healthy boundaries to prevent relapse. It’s no different when it comes to freeing yourself from resentment. You have to just stop it. Stop thinking negatively about others. Stop replaying in your head what people did to you. Stop keeping track of your losses and the people who were responsible for them. Stop meditating on how worse off you are now because of all those who hurt you. Stop fantasizing about the elaborate revenge that you would like to take out on your enemies.

What do you do instead?

Well, first you have to learn how to deal with anger in a healthy way. Many people have built up a pattern of immediately going into their head when they’re angry. In their head, they then meditate on negative thoughts that intensify their anger which causes them to go right back into their head with more negative thoughts, and it just goes on and on. Instead of so quickly going into your head, learn how to stop, recognize “hey, what I’m feeling right now is anger,” and then just feel this emotion and let it pass. By exposing yourself to the emotion of anger and not doing anything else, you will build up your tolerance for this uncomfortable emotion. You’ll get used to it. And you won’t have to keep on going into your head.

Secondly, forgive those who wronged you. Forgiveness is just letting go of your hurtful past. It does not require your wrongdoers to say, “Hey, I’m sorry. Will you forgive me?” No, what if the person you hold resentment against is dead? Do you expect him to come back to life and ask you for forgiveness? No, forgiveness is not dependent on them, what they ask, or even their understanding of the pain that they inflicted upon you. Forgiveness is only dependent on you and whether or not you choose to let it go.

So let’s say you are contemplating the idea of forgiveness. Here are some of the common negative thoughts that will follow and try to convince you that it is not a good idea. “They don’t deserve it.” What? It’s not about them. It’s about you and the emotional freedom that you deserve. “If they’re let off so easily without punishment, they’ll never learn and the world would be worse off.” That’s thinking pretty negatively there. How about trusting that everything will be ok and, in the meantime, resolving your own resentment which would make the world a better place. “My hate fuels me to work hard until the day that my success makes them regret what they did to me. Without my hate, I wouldn’t have as much determination.” No, you don’t know that. Actually, people work much more effectively, efficiently, and come up with more creative solutions when they are pulled by love rather than pushed by hate and anxiety. “If I don’t keep track of all the ways that people hurt me, I will get hurt in the same way again and again.” Hey, maybe you might get hurt again in the same way. But that’s ok. Keeping track won’t protect you from getting hurt again. We live in an imperfect world with a bunch of imperfect people. So don’t listen to those garbage thoughts. Forgiveness is a very good idea.

A lot of people confuse forgiveness with making excuses for others. But they are not the same. Making excuses for others is a coping mechanism called “rationalization.” Forgiveness, on the other hand, doesn’t make excuses for others. It says, “What you did to me was wrong and I didn’t deserve it. Still, I choose to let go.”

And finally, as a bonus step for those who really want greater happiness and healthier relationships, you have to build a new pattern of thinking positively about others at all times, even when they let you down.

In my next post, I’ll go into greater detail about this last step as well as how you can use rationalization in a healthy way.

NOTE: I forgot to mention that, after forgiveness, you don’t have to be buddies.

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