Saturday, June 22, 2013

How to Want What You Have - Timothy Miller

subtitle: Discovering the magic and grandeur of ordinary existence

This book has been on my TBR for years.  I'm not sure what prompted me to add it to the list, probably a recommendation from one of the many blogs I follow on simplicity.  It took me a couple of months of picking it up and wandering back to it until I finally finished it.

The author is a clinical psychologist with experience with many different settings and people.  He practices "cognitive psychotherapy" which holds that emotions and behaviors originate from thoughts, which originate from beliefs.  Thoughts are often repetitive and illogical and beliefs are often incorrect. Those that produce unhappy feelings and unwanted behaviors are essentially bad habits.  So, change your thoughts, correct your beliefs and you'll be happy.  At first, the psychobabble put me off but I kept reading.

The key message is that you can want what you have by practicing three things: Compassion (Love), Attention (Humility) and Gratitude (Thankfulness).

Love, he notes, primarily refers either to kin altruism or reciprocal altruism.  It's a big advantage in life to have a big loving family and to enjoy good relations with all of them, that's kin altruism.  It's also a big advantage to have many friends that will help and support you though there is more expectation of reciprocating.  Romantic love, he says, is a specialized form of reciprocal altruism. That viewpoint gives me insight into how important family and friends are for happiness.

Compassion is the intention to think and act as if you are no more entitled to get what you want than anyone else is.  Practicing compassion can be as minor as recognizing this while standing in a long line and not getting frustrated (you are no more important than anyone else in line, that hit home with me!).  Compassion is as major as recognizing that "this person ultimately wants about the same things that I want, for about the same reasons, we differ only in the strategies we choose and the opportunities and talents available to us." It means no one is absolutely entitled to get what he wants, no one deserves pain.No one can ever be absolutely sure that he is right and his adversary is wrong.  Others feel about the same way I do and justify their methods for getting what they want the same way I do.

Attention is being present, acting as if every action is important.  Attention replaces obsessive thinking and worry.  Attention is avoiding unnecessary value judgements about people and your experiences.  This is a bit of a challenge for Western minds not used to being in the moment.  Paying attention to feelings, going with them, facing the fear and being still with it and it will ease.  Calming the insistent ruminating thoughts and recognizing the here and now.  There is nothing that can be done about the past and the future isn't here yet.

Gratitude is the third component.  He emphasizes that gratitude can't be forced and recommends recognizing ungrateful thoughts and replacing them with small gratitudes.  It works!  Being grateful for something in the moment brings greater gratitude.  Being thankful leads to greater feelings of gratitude.

The book concludes with an explanation of how these three practices interact and reinforce each other.  He explains how to use meditation, beginning with small increments of time, to practice all three. This may stay on my shelf for a second read in the future.

Published: 1995  Read: June 2013  Genre: Non-fiction, psychology

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