If you have ever taken a psychology class, the picture I’ve attached with this post will seem familiar to you. I’ll pitch to you one question: what do you see? If you saw a young, beautiful woman, then you are right. If you saw an old lady, then you are also right. If you can see both, then you are probably a pretty flexible and open-minded person. If you struggle to see both, you’re probably pretty rigid in your thinking.
It’s a great exercise to get you thinking about how you perceive the world. We all have paradigms (i.e. beliefs and values) for how we see the world. Someone once said that we are the sum of the five people we spend the most time with. Others suggest that there are things about ourselves that we can’t change because they are programmed into our DNA at birth. I would say that the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
A significant part of who we are is defined by our genetics. You shake what your mama gave you. Your IQ is comprised mostly of the genetics you were born with. Some people are born lucky. Others are…well…not so lucky. It’s what you do with what you’ve been given that defines you.The most fascinating thing about the picture is that people tend to see whatever they are primed to see. Studies done with this particular photo suggest that if you are primed to see a beautiful woman, you will most likely see a beautiful woman. You are also less likely to see the old lady if you first saw the beautiful woman. This is because our brains are wired to make sense of the world by putting things into categories. Once we assess a situation and make a decision about it, our brain files it away and moves on to other important tasks.
I am currently part of a book discussion club at work, and we are discussing Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People. This picture shows up in the first chapter where he talks about paradigms and how we perceive the world. In our discussion group we talked about this picture and how that often the struggles we face as teachers comes from the way we frame a problem to our students. I often get questions from confused students in my math classes, not because the material is confusing them, but because the way the problem is written is confusing.
I just encountered this last night with my son. I was helping him with his homework. He is studying arithmetic sequences, and the formula is as follows:
an = a1 + (n-1)d
The problem I was helping him on was asking us to plug in a value for an and d so that we could find n. I had an awful time explaining to him that an was a single term and not two separate variables. For all intents and purposes he understood how to use the formula, but one little change in how they asked the question completely threw him off.
We see this type of struggle all the time in communication. How often do you stop to clarify what the other person meant before you reply to them? I would wager that you rarely, if ever, do that with any sort of frequency. But if you do it regularly, you will save yourself an enormous amount of grief. I’ve watched people argue online for hours only to find out later that they agreed on the issue and simply disagreed with how to express themselves on the issue. In our current political climate it’s easy to do. We get so emotional over another person’s opinion because we perceive them in a certain light.
The Power of Perspective
So, how does this pertain to happiness? What is the shift you can make that will change how you see happiness? I’m asking you to challenge your paradigm. Most of the advice you can find on the subject will often deliver the same platitudes:
“There is no path to happiness. Happiness IS the path.”
“Happy is as happy does.”
“Money can’t buy happiness.”
“Happiness comes from within.”
On and on it goes. Same stuff, different blog post. Not that any of that stuff is wrong. It’s just that we are so used to seeing it that we never stop to challenge our perspective on those things. How often do you repeat what you’ve heard someone else say about happiness but never really internalized? I do this sort of thing ALL THE TIME. When you’re going through something tough and someone gives you the same advice you’ve heard a thousand times, do you get annoyed?
What if, however, the message you’ve heard a thousand times is the very message you need to hear this time? I’m not saying that these platitudes are what will help you. I’m saying that maybe there’s a way of interpreting them that you haven’t looked at yet. So, what is the one incredible shift that will change the way you see happiness? The answer is in the question.
Shift your perspective on what you already know. Shift your idea of what you think brings you happiness. Shift your feelings on what you have. The power to SHIFT, to step out of the situation you are in, rotate yourself, and see it from another vantage point. The picture I posted in the beginning of this article challenges you to do just that. If you want to see both the old lady and the beautiful woman, you’re going to have to shift the way you are looking at the picture.
Even the very title of this article changes now that I’ve revealed to you what I am talking about it, doesn’t it? You came into this article expecting something else. Maybe you were expecting me to give you some nugget of wisdom that you haven’t heard before. Maybe you were expecting me to say something like “Okay, if you look at happiness like THIS, then you’ll see it in a new way.” You had that expectation because you were putting the emphasis on happiness. You were expecting something about happiness. But in this post I changed your perception and put the emphasis on the word shift. The answer to the question you were seeking: This incredible shift. Incredible was describing the answer to the question you had rather than just being a part of describing the happiness you expected to get from the post.
If you want to be happy, shift your perspective. Sometimes that means releasing the death grip you have on the problem you are facing so that you can see beyond it. Sometimes it means looking at the picture as a whole instead of a laser-like focus on the problem at hand. Shift! Move! Get up, walk around your problem, and see it from a different point of view. Your ability to do this will be the single most important thing you can do to achieve breakthrough in your life. Don’t scoff and write this off as a funny play on words. Challenge yourself to see things in a different way. This is the secret to happiness.