“Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.” ― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
How would you like to have bulletproof happiness? The kind of happiness that nobody and nothing can take away from you?
That might sound impossible. We’re all affected by our circumstances, aren’t we? How can we possibly be happy if we’re lonely, bereaved, impoverished, stressed, or recently dumped?
You probably know the story of Viktor Frankl, the Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist who spent three years in Nazi concentration camps between 1942 and 1945. The camps claimed the lives of his mother, brother, and wife. From his immediate family, only his sister survived the Holocaust.
Surely life doesn’t get any worse than that. And yet, somehow, this incredible man was able to maintain his dignity and keep his spirit throughout his incarceration.
“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” ― Viktor E. Frankl
How? This is how.
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” —Viktor E. Frankl
This principle forms the basis of a model developed by coach Brooke Castillo, called the CTFAR model, which I have found quite useful in working with my clients. This is how it goes.
C = Circumstance. When something is “making” you feel a certain way, put your emotions on hold for a moment and go back to the facts. What actually happened? This is specifically not your opinion about what happened. For example, you might feel tempted to say, “My friend is ignoring me”, while the fact might be, “I sent an email to my friend two days ago, and I haven’t received a reply yet”. Stick to the facts.
T = Thought. This is where the trouble starts. Part of being human, which served us well for many millennia, is to be always on the alert for trouble – so alert, in fact, that sometimes we find trouble where there is none. We jump to conclusions, assume, and misinterpret. So a circumstance may give rise to a thought, and often it is not a happy one. Psychiatrist Dr Daniel Amen calls these Automatic Negative Thoughts, or ANTS.
F = Feeling. The thoughts that we think trigger hormonal responses that generate feelings. If the thought is a positive one, we get those lovely happy hormones, like serotonin, oxytocin, and dopamine, and we feel good. If the thought is a negative one, those happy hormones shut off, leaving us feeling low, and we might even generate the stress hormones adrenalin and cortisol that can dampen our immune system, affecting our health as well as our happiness.
A = Action. Depending on what thoughts we chose to think, and hence what emotions we’re now feeling, we react to the original circumstance. In our earlier example, we might send a stroppy message to our friend, demanding to know why we’re being ignored. If we’ve got ourselves really worked up about it, the words “you stuck-up cow” might even find their way in there. Yikes.
R = Result. Calling our friends rude names rarely yields positive results. Well, unless you’re a British male, in which case it is the standard (if not only) form of communication with one’s friends. But generally, if those ANTs have created negative feelings and we act from that place of negativity, the results we get will not be the results we wanted.
But we can flip this around. By pausing for a moment when we detect an ANT on the loose, and exercising our freedom to choose, we can find a different thought about the situation that will trigger a different kind of feeling and is more likely to lead to positive action and results. Instead of a downwards spiral, we can create an upwards one. Daniel Amen calls these positive perspectives ANT-eaters, and there are a lot of very useful tips on those in the ANTs article I mentioned earlier.
Of course, some things just suck. Like being in a concentration camp. If your situation is less bad than Viktor Frankl’s, get over it. In his immortal words:
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” ― Viktor E. Frankl