Time is a constant, or at least our conception of time. We cannot slow down, stop, reverse, or fast forward. Each day is always going to be twenty four hours, the earth will continue to spin and a new dawn will assuredly follow each night. Like a metaphorical escalator that we cannot get off, slowly moving along the walkway of the longest airport you’ve never seen, life slowly rolls on. During the time between being first brought into this life and when we leave it, we each see and experience events in an infinitely diverse spectrum of possibilities. Some people are brought into this life in conditions that would break the heart of most and would seem to have a constant fight out of torment ahead of them. Others win the genetic lottery, being born into privilege and comfort. Everyone else falls somewhere in between. We like to say these affluent people “have it made” and in many ways, of course they do. Having money and comfort makes life easier, but it can’t make you happy. Look at the tabloids, magazines, and blogs of much of mainstream America and you will see privilege and affluence in abundance accompanied by discontentment, depression, and anger. Inversely, I’ve seen some of the poorest people on the planet, living in a shack pieced together with discarded garage doors, boxes, and scavenged pieces of plastic with no power or running water, that enjoy their ride on the escalator everyday. We always tell ourselves, “if I just had a thousand dollars, I would be so much happier.” The amount of money is always different, but ultimately irrelevant, or unhappy rich people would be a paradox and non-existent, which is clearly not the case. So what is it, that allows some, that want for nothing, to feel as though the world crumbles around them while others, with nothing, seem to have it all figured out? Perspective!
Perspective is so crucial to our happiness and satisfaction during our time on this long, horizontal escalator. While some move along the path crashing into each obstacle and colliding with other travelers, others gently flow around them with ease. The difference is perspective and our perspective comes from the experiences and knowledge we have absorbed throughout our life, no matter how long. Think of your perspective as being different types of filtered glasses. When you put on a pair of these glasses, whether it be a colored lens, infrared, polarized, or any other, the resulting affect is that everything you see is affected accordingly. For example, if we are wearing blue glasses, everything will be their original color, mixed with the blue, resulting in a funny looking blue world. Some glasses block out certain things, like polarized lenses, where light can only enter from one direction, helping protect our eyes from straining to let in all incoming light. Simple, I know, but stay with me.
We have many pairs of such glasses and we collect them as we grow. We are given a set in childhood. Maybe our parents gave us some pretty yellow ones when we were born, or we were forced to take a scratched pair left over at an orphanage. Then, when we begin to understand there are rules and consequences in life, we may collect a few more. Our first love comes with a big beautiful set that puts a glow on the world unmatched by anything we have ever seen; followed harshly by a terribly heavy set that voids the world of color and replaces it with an unyielding downpour, earned with the first scar on our heart from a lover. Another set is a particularly funky pair, not quite angled correctly and splattered with psychedelic colors. We find this pair through our early experiments with drugs. Hopefully, this doesn’t become the favorite, because that pair will continue to warp and the bright colors fade. The process continues for as long as we live. The older we get, the longer we hang onto a particular pair before adopting a new favorite. Sometimes we modify, fix, or discard sets all together, but for the most part we walk through life wearing one particular pair. The glasses we keep on our face affect how we see the world, which inevitably affects how we behave in the world. Ultimately, this determines how the world perceives us, influencing the behavior of those we interact with, no matter how trivial or removed it may seem. Following this logic, it isn’t outlandish to claim that our perspective, or the particular glasses we choose to wear, determines how we feel and plays a major role in how our life unfolds.
Its not always easy to change our perspective. Sometimes we don’t have control over what happens to us, like how we are raised, or if we are the victim of abuse, or if we get cancer, but we do have control over our attitude and our attitude greatly affects our perspective. You see, attitude is a choice, just like happiness. I don’t care how jaded or hard your life has been, the path back to happiness is deciding to see the good in the world, instead of focusing on the negative; choose the rose colored glasses instead of the scratched gray pair. The bad stuff is still there, but understanding there is more than negativity in the world is an amazing relief. Even the most jaded individual, who sees only the rotted decay of our civilization, who assumes that its only a matter of time until the next bad occurrence and expects the worst from others, can slowly change their perception through an adjustment of attitude. At first, the rose colored glasses won’t brighten much, but as you witness random acts of kindness, beautiful scenery, laughter and any other of the amazing reasons to be alive, your world will begin to brighten, which paves your way to the true joys in life. Open to the world, you are vulnerable, yes, but you are also susceptible to love, trust, and acceptance, all of which we desperately need as human beings. The more you wear your “good attitude” glasses, the broader your perspective will become, and the easier it will be to find happiness.
So, if attitude is seeing the glass half full, instead of half empty, perspective is understanding that you could have no glass at all. Things can always be worse, so be happy with what you have because you are not suffering or struggling as terribly as possible. Strange way to look at it, but perspective is all about seeing the bigger picture. A broader perspective helps us shrink, understand we are not the center of the universe, but just a small part of it, no more or less important than any other parts. When you take a step back, dealing with a flat tire or a traffic ticket is laughable. It’s no big deal when compared to what most people deal with on a daily basis. You weren’t shot at, you weren’t starving, water came out of a faucet when you touched it and you have a car! Did you know that if you have a roof over your head and five hundred dollars in your bank account, you are richer than ninety percent of the world’s population? I hope that helps relieve some stress you have been carrying around, I know it helped me. People born into luxury have often never felt what it is like to be cold through the night, never had to worry about their next meal, never had the power turned off or struggled to get a job so their kids could eat. Many would say this is a blessing, and it is, but it often robs them of their appreciation for what they have, which to me, would be a curse. To have everything, yet be doomed to never find solace in anything you attain, to always miss the little things and feel as though your problems are always larger than life.
People with a broad perspective have two things that small minded people do not. First, the understanding that it can always get worse. This mindset, or attitude, opens your eyes so that its easier to see all of the incredible things you do have, no matter how small, allowing anybody to be happy and thankful for the most menial existence. Secondly, they retain the hope that it can always be better. This idea, this simple, yet monumental state of mind is the difference between crumbling under the weight of the world and rising up to catch it as it falls. It takes creative ambition to change your situation in life, but this requires imagination and faith to even aspire to different possibilities. Those who have had life handed to them, never learn the skills or determination it takes to refuse boredom. They seldom chance upon the epiphany that they posses absolute control of their universe. As a result, they are slaves to their circumstances and those who have put them in place. Their problems rule their world because their thoughts are dominated by “why me?” instead of, “how can I make this better?”
I didn’t start writing about perspective to point a finger at anyone else, but to ask that we all point our finger back at ourselves. What do you do, see, or say throughout the day that is holding back your ability to flow through life? Is there something you are not saying? Is there something you are not seeing? I brought up money because its something we can all identify with, but this concept can be applied to everyone. Let me explain. Recently, I’ve had some interactions with police officers that were less than pleasant. After the interaction, I was furious and frustrated with the individual. The situation was bullshit, at least in my opinion, and I received a punishment that I did not fit, in the slightest. Is that his fault though? Did he make me break a law? No. Regardless of how much I disagree with the law in place, the officer simply witnessed a citizen breaking a rule and proceeded to do his job. How can I get mad at him for that? Im sure every time he stops an individual, he hears some sob story of why it wasn’t their fault and how they should be let go. The officer also has to understand that every time he stops someone, his safety is at risk, they will probably hate him, and they will behave in an ugly manner. If you had to deal with that all day, would you be polite to people? Im not sure if I could handle that, but I know that the only reason I am talking to an officer is probably because I did something wrong. Even if that isn’t the case, affording the benefit of the doubt avoids regret or conflict. I don’t know what kind of job you do, but when someone interferes with what you get paid to do, all you want to happen is for them to stop getting in your way, right? So cut em some slack, even if they don’t let you go. After all, you are not special.
Another example we can all relate to is talking to our parents. This is a very simple one, but think about it. When your parents call, many of us can’t wait to get off the phone. We have short conversations with one word responses in the hopes they give up and leave us alone. Now switch places and look at it from their perspective. These people raised you and in many cases gave up their dreams to make sure you could grow up as best as they could provide. They gave you their life. Fast forward and now you are an adult. How many times have you heard a parent say the best thing they ever did was make their children? When they look at you, they don’t have to think about their faults, fuck ups or short comings. They see a human being that stands and survives on their own in all of their beauty. Any mistakes in raising their child takes a back seat to the fact that you are alive and well, having come into your own. Remember how good it felt to figure out what you wanted to do, or at least what you were going to do now? Now try to take that purpose, nurture it, care for it, and watch it grow up and walk out of your life. How would you feel? You are their purpose, or at least you were for a very long time. For the parents that are lucky enough to still be together, they have each other, but the void is still there, only deeper for those who are on their own. You are their world and the only thing they want everyday is to still feel like they are a part of yours. So remember that next time Mom or Dad calls in the middle of your favorite show. You may even look forward to the chat.
Your perspective shapes your world. A positive outlook can open doors, create opportunity, save friendships and even create love. We don’t get to choose our lot in life, or always control what happens to us, but we do have control over our behavior and how we choose to see the world. This, all by itself, is enough to change your life. So next time you go outside, try putting on that pair of rose colored glasses and see what happens.