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Happiness Is A Choice

Chapter II Continued

We Are Belief-Making and Belief-Consuming Creatures

We learn our beliefs from others or deduce them from our own experiences. In effect, beliefs are interpretations and conclusions. What others say and teach us tells us about their thought processes and their beliefs. What we decide to "buy" - adopt and empower - tells us about our thought processes and our beliefs.

Despite all this belief manufacturing and belief consuming, we do not believe all that we are told. For instance, when told "The stock market is a good place to invest your money," some of us believe it, and some of us don't. We choose our beliefs freely; therefore, we can discard them if we decide. Nevertheless, we might note with fascination that our beliefs tend to be constant. We hold on to them for a long time, usually because we don't explore them or challenge them. However, we can question our beliefs, not as a sign of disrespect or indictment of ourselves or others, but to give ourselves an opportunity to review, to reaffirm, to change and, most significantly, to facilitate happiness.

The impact of the beliefs we hold is profound. The ramifications can be devastating, but, conversely, they can be empowering and liberating. If I think something is wrong with me or that I am unlovable, I will probably have corresponding feelings associated with such beliefs - sadness, isolation and impotence. My actions will follow from that vision of myself. I might leave a relationship or bury myself in work to find meaning or a sense of self-worth. Ultimately, my body will reflect my mind-set with sluggishness, a suppressed immune system, vulnerability to disease and viruses and, perhaps, precipitate illness. We can indict ourselves and feel guilty or, in contrast, use the power of beliefs to determine more consciously what happens to us. With such a realization comes hope, strength and an opportunity to create ourselves anew.

Why, in the past, did we rush to judgment, rush to create interpretations or beliefs? The answer is quite simple: we create and hold beliefs to support what we think is best. A pertinent example is beliefs about unhappiness. We teach the value of discomfort as a means to growth, learning and enlightenment. "No pain, no gain." Our scriptures offer a vision of suffering as a method of purification. No wonder our culture teaches unhappiness, a very potent form of pain.

We use unhappiness to motivate ourselves and others. We use the fear of cancer to induce others to stop smoking, though ironically more cigarettes are now being sold than ever before. We hate our fat to prod ourselves to diet; yet more people are overweight now than at any other time in our history. We spank our children to teach them and express anger toward lovers to induce them to change, all of which leads usually to resistance rather than compliance. We arm millions of soldiers with devastating weapons of destruction in order to keep the peace, but then war becomes what we teach and the tool readily available to resolve conflicts.

Nevertheless, we push on! We teach misery as a sign of caring (if I am unhappy, you should be unhappy to show me you care) and as a sign of intelligence (conscientious people would be rightly unhappy about famine or disease; any opposing position would be unthinkable). It is no accident that we use the phrase "happy idiot" to suggest the inappropriateness and frivolity of sustained good feelings.

Finally, if all else fails, we threaten ourselves with the promise of future unhappiness (If John doesn't get home on time, I'll be angry. If I don't get that job, I will be heartbroken. If she doesn't love me, I'll be lost and desperate.).

Once they are articulated and itemized, our beliefs often sound somewhat bizarre and self-defeating. This is why reviewing them provides us with a wondrous opportunity. Change the beliefs and we change the attitudes, thoughts, feelings and behaviors that come from them. Even after exploring our beliefs, if we choose to retain some of the ones we have, we would do so with strengthened conviction. Either position becomes a victory! The decision is ours, as it always has been.

Chapter 2 Continued