How well do we see the moments that enable us to experience love, life, and God? I ask myself this question whenever I struggle to find happiness. I recently experienced the loss of two of my dear friends, followed by an absence of direction in my own life. I found myself dwelling in a state of depression for some time, as my mind struggled to be open to experiences that might have elevated me from this present unhappiness, until an unsuspected encounter gave me a chance for reflection.
I was at the grocery store checkout line, buying my stock of daily necessities, when I noticed that the cashier, an elderly lady, was scanning my items with a blatant look of irritation on her face.
I tried to analyze the situation. I had never met or spoken to her before, I was having zero interaction with her during this exchange, and yet I felt her negativity directed toward me. My initial reaction was to react to her negatively, in turn.
What you’re going through cannot possibly be worse than what I’m going through, I thought.
But when I stepped back a bit and reflected on the situation, I thought to myself: This would be a time when I would want to hear something nice from somebody.
As soon as she was finished scanning my groceries, I thanked her while I handed her my money. I was ready to grab everything and leave without the receipt and 3 cents change, but then she uttered something that helped me realize what she might have been going through in that moment:
“You’re welcome. Everybody needs to learn how to say that.”
I was a bit flustered and looked at her as she continued: “I haven’t heard anyone thank me throughout the whole day. Everybody needs to learn how to say that.”
Suddenly I was moved and started to empathize with her.
I realized that we tend to focus on the negative things that happen to us, especially when we are suffering, to the point at which we forget the positive experiences that we have had or could have. Because I was dwelling on my own negativity and the cashier was lingering on her own mishaps, we isolated ourselves from the possibility of having positive interactions with the people around us.
In our daily life we face many unpleasant experiences that affect our subjective well-being. It could be a loss in the family, a financial crisis, or a personal issue, and we encounter these challenges that petrify our heart and subdue our ability to be compassionate toward other people. This is an unhappiness that we need to overcome. But how do we do that?
As stated in the first sentence of the Divine Principle, everyone without exception is struggling to gain happiness. The first step to achieving this goal is to overcome present unhappiness. From small individual affairs to history-making global events, everything is an expression of human lives, which are constantly striving to become happier. When we are in a state of unhappiness, we tend to ignore the many small things or moments that could affect us positively. But no matter how small or insignificant they are, these positive encounters can be instrumental in changing our frame of mind.
My interaction with the cashier wasn’t a deep conversation or a swapping of ideology. It was just a simple “thank you” and “you’re welcome,” and yet it gave us both a sense of security and even a moment of contentment. I became aware of her struggles and felt compassionate toward her, and she was able to find someone to whom she could voice her troubles.
We encounter positive moments like this every day. It may not be with a stranger; it could be just the feeling when the sunrise hits your face and gives you a hint of warmth on a cold morning, or the nice aroma of freshly brewed coffee, or a quiet train ride home. These moments are when bliss enters into our day to contribute the sense of safety, comfort and contentment needed to counter our internal struggles.
There is a hidden power in simple moments of positivity. When we start to appreciate these moments, we can overcome our present unhappiness little by little, and our well-being becomes primarily composed of positive experiences from which we are growing our inner strength.
Have a Moment with Someone
These days we see a divided society in which emotional barriers and isolation are the norm for overcoming unhappiness. Walking down the streets of New York City, I come across a lot of people who seem hardwired to close their empathy and limit their care to their own well-being. But if we break these barriers by sharing a moment with people, whether by simply having a small conversation, or saying hello, or just appreciating them, we can integrate our happiness with theirs and then we can overcome our present unhappiness together.
From my own experience with the cashier, I didn’t have to go out of my way and ask her what’s going on with her life, I simply made a shift in my perspective and thought of what it would be like if I were in her shoes. That way can be optimal to having an amazing encounter with another person. In the end, the experience you gain from that moment may surprise you.
Neuroscience of Contentment and Joy
Opportunity for Happiness or Unhappiness
DP General Introduction