The following are methods I have employed to develop a positive attitude about life in spite of my having a temperament that is largely critical of the world around me. Common themes of many of the suggestions below are developing spiritual sensitivity to oneself and to others, promoting the willingness to challenge one’s own perceptions, and cultivating an openness to the many positive things those who are different from ourselves have to offer us. Any resemblance to the actual truth is probably coincidental.
While this article may seem written for a Bahá’í audience, I hope that anyone reading it will find something that can be of use in their own life. I cannot promise that putting these methods into practice will guarantee personal happiness, but I do believe they could assist others as much as they have helped me.
1. Find the good in people and their activities and praise them for it.
2. Study the lives of accomplished people; discovering how they cleared the hurdles in their lives can serve as an inspiration when you are dealing with your own.
3. Avoid negative people whenever possible and cultivate relationships with those who have an uplifting view on life.
4. Never underestimate the ability of being tenacious in order to achieve your goals.
5. Change what you can in your life and accept what you can’t as gracefully as possible.
6. Confront your paranoia by employing rigorous logic and comparing your fears to your actual life experiences.
7. Try to not be easily offended by the thoughtless words and actions of others. Use the “Consider the Source” method to deal with strident statements made by others that we react strongly to. This method consists of noting that everything we say is shaded by our particular outlook on life. We can speak the truth as we see it, but no human being can speak the total truth as it exists in its entirety.
8. See life as a perfecting process rather than a goal to reach someday when you would never have to face difficulty again.
9. As an adult, accept responsibility for your personal situation and realize that any change for the better must start with your own outlook. Expect to have to take actions on your own behalf that those around you may not always agree with.
10. Attempt to maintain a balance between being independent of the opinions of others and remaining interested in how they see the world; you may learn some useful insights.
11. Know that your personal goals will modify themselves, sometimes radically, as you grow spiritually.
12. Explore the method of emotionally letting go, even forgetting for a while, an issue that is troubling you. I have used this method a number of times and have been amazed how many problems will take care of themselves if let alone.
13. Try repeating a phrase from a prayer of religious writings to counteract recurring negative thoughts or dwelling on negative situations.
14. If a negative situation keeps replaying in your mind, try putting your thoughts and feelings about it down on paper. This method can be calming when you are feeling overwhelmed by the situation.
15. In my own life, one of my toughest struggles has been to overcome my tendency to always have someone or some situation to be worried or angry about. My wife slyly suggests that I have a strong need for drama in my life, thus I create it by getting worked up over so many things. Recognizing this, at times unhealthy, pattern of behavior has helped me start to get in under control. One method I use to lower my anxiety level about a situation is to recall earlier similar situations in my life, remember that most of them were eventually resolved, and bring to mind how much unnecessary mental agony I put myself through about them.
16. Cultivate a humble attitude towards others’ and your own humanity.
17. Examine your own habits and try to recognize those that stand in the way of further personal growth.
18. Question your long-held assumptions about yourself and others. Compassionate rationality can be an ally in seeing the truth about yourself and others without emotionally beating yourself or them up.
19. Try altering the emphasis of intellectual endeavors from excessive criticalness/fault-finding to more detached analytic mode. Such dispassionate analytical thinking need not be any less rigorous than the harsh criticism we are used to, but it can penetrate the truth of the matter further since it is less tainted by personal prejudices and unrealistic desires. Express your devotion to the truth in the most loving way you can. Avoid mean-spiritedness towards anyone; even those whom you most vehemently disagree with.
20. Remember that the purpose of physical life is not for us to judge ourselves or others, but rather to experience; then uses our experiences to better ourselves and inspire others.
21. Be willing to examine your own opinions and intellectual notions, even consider modifying them as life gives you evidence that they may not be in accordance with reality.
22. Note that Bahá’u’lláh condemns fanaticism in the Bahá’í Faith at the same time He rejects timidity and lack of steadfastness:
In this Day, We can neither approve the conduct of the fearful that seeketh to dissemble his faith, nor sanction the behavior of the avowed believer that clamorously asserteth his allegiance to this Cause. Both should observe the dictates of wisdom, and strive diligently to serve the best interests of the Faith. – Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, Page 343
23. Avoid inordinate dependence on others; especially those whom you admire. Strive to develop your own unique viewpoint on the world.
24. Practice true respect for those whose views differ from your own, no matter what their beliefs. This can be one of the most difficult aspects of putting the Bahá’í concept of unity in diversity into action.
25. Realize that in some sense, everyone creates their own unique belief system, some more consciously than others. Try to accept that those who give their belief system the same name you give yours will not always agree on many of the finer points with you. This diversity in overall unity can be a source of richness and delight in your belief system, rather than leading you to dismay or despondency. Remember, total consensus is rarely attained, so celebrate the main areas of agreement instead.
26. Think about one implication of diversity being that everyone has something special and unique to offer; the same is true for each human culture. The diversity of outlooks and personalities is as critical to the spiritual health of humanity as is diversity of cultures.
27. Set boundaries on what is healthy for you to give in terms of your time, financial resources, and emotional energy. Remember that you are responsible for managing your personal resources in a way that keeps you a happy and stable person regardless of the often excessive demands, even those that are worthwhile, that others make upon you. Also be aware that different people have different levels of capacity in what they can give of themselves to those causes and interests that you share with them. People live their lives at differing levels of intensity; this is yet another form of diversity that we as Bahá’ís would be well served to respect.
28. We are all called by Bahá’u’lláh to give up certain cherished notions, habits, and opinions in order to help build the New World Order. Each human culture must likewise accept the necessity of discarding those spiritually deadening elements it contains, if a unified Human race is to coalesce out of the chaos of the present.
29. Ponder the thought that while the Bahá’í Faith offers the new spiritual framework upon which we Bahá’ís believe a future world culture will be based, other belief systems, religious and secular, may also have key roles to play in bringing our hoped for glorious age about.
30. My final suggestion is in some ways the most radical. Consider the idea that you may have to choose between being happy much of the time or seeing yourself as always “right” all the time:
In order to find truth we must give up our prejudices, our own small trivial notions; an open mind is essential. If our chalice is full of self, there is no room in it for the water of life. The fact that we imagine ourselves to be right and everybody else wrong is the greatest of all obstacles in the path towards unity, and unity is essential if we would reach Truth, for Truth is one . . . .
‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, Page 136