Did you know that the idea that your thoughts control your happiness and make you what you are isn't just some newfangled concept? It’s age-old wisdom.
More than two hundred years ago, Martha Washington – wife of the first official President of the United States, George Washington – wrote to a friend after her husband became president. She was discussing her willingness to support his "duty in obeying the voice of the country" in spite of their desire to retire to a private life at Mount Vernon. In her letter she said, "I am still determined to be cheerful and to be happy, in whatever situation I may be; for I have also learned from experience that the greater part of our happiness or misery depends on our dispositions, and not upon our circumstances."
Marcus Aurelius, a Roman emperor during the second century AD, said, "The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts: therefore, guard accordingly, and take care that you entertain no notions unsuitable to virtue and reasonable nature."
And, of course, there's always that famous quote by Abraham Lincoln, who was president of the U.S. from 1861-1865: "Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be."
In his 1931 book on public speaking (later re-titled The Quick and Easy Way to Effective Speaking), Dale Carnegie takes this age-old wisdom one step further. He quotes William James (1842-1910), the famous psychologist:
“Action seems to follow feeling, but really action and feeling go together; and by regulating the action, which is under the more direct control of the will, we can indirectly regulate the feeling, which is not.
Thus the sovereign voluntary path to cheerfulness, if our spontaneous cheerfulness be lost, is to sit up cheerfully and to act and speak as if cheerfulness were already there. If such conduct does not make you feel cheerful, nothing else on that occasion can.
So, to feel brave, act as if we were brave, use all of our will to that end, and a courage-fit will very likely replace the fit of fear.”
In the book, Carnegie also talks about what he calls “predetermining your mind to success.” He says, “I was asked once, on a radio program, to tell in three sentences the most important lesson I had ever learned. This is what I said: ‘The biggest lesson I have ever learned is the stupendous importance of what we think. If I knew what you think, I would know what you are, for your thoughts make you what you are. By changing our thoughts, we can change our lives.’”
Science Proves "Mind Over Matter"
Using brain scan technology in his work treating obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), Dr. Jeffrey M. Schwartz, research psychiatrist at the School of Medicine at the University of California at Los Angeles, has documented how the neural connections in the brain physically change when thought patterns change. In their article, “Lead Your Brain Instead Of Letting It Lead You”, Stephanie West Allen and Jeffrey M. Schwartz state:
"Acting as if you have a trait causes both brain changes and chemical changes throughout the body. Therefore "acting as if" with attention to what you are doing is a very powerful technique for altering and mastering behavior.
Before neuroscience had proven that brain changes are created by behavior accompanied by full attention, the great acting teacher Konstantin Stanislavski knew this intuitively. Stanislavski worked with his students to help them convincingly act their roles. He believed that a person cannot experience a feeling on command but the actor can evoke the feeling by willfully experiencing what he called "antecedents" to that feeling. Antecedents are actions."
When you change your thoughts, you are actually changing physical reality – you are actually changing your brain. Dr. Schwarz' work proves that there is such a thing as "mind over matter."
So, your thoughts make you what you are… and if what you are is happy, then you must have made up your mind to be. If what you are is unhappy, then maybe you should think again.
Angela Loëb is an author, speaker and self-development consultant who loves to study, teach and write about mind mastery, spirituality and life purpose. Learn more about her new book and programs on how to find your life's purpose at http://www.personalpolaris.com