“The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts.” – Marcus Aurelius
*scroll down for the bathtub metaphor explanation*
Perspective Is Essential In Everything
Every experience we have—positive or negative, ephemeral or deeply meaningful—passes through the filter of our mind. There, our predispositions, biases, habits, our sense of identity, our environment, our will (‘free’ or not), and countless other factors form a complex interplay. All of this, and there you are, having experiences.
In this sense, Perspective is more than a simple element of well-being.
It’s a meta-element of well-being.
Perspective plays a role in your well-being because it plays a role in every experience.
‘You’ aren’t just along for the ride. Perception rides with you, always, and it moderates your experience of the ride. You and your perception are inseparable. You change together.
This is great news. It means that positive changes can be made in the quality of your experiences. And nobody has more choice or impact on the quality of your perspectives than you.
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” – Viktor E. Frankl
Perspective doesn’t just offer autonomy over negative experiences, such as in the story of Viktor Frankl, inventor of logotherapy. Perspective gives us the power to shift any experience we have into one of more intention, clarity, and insight. It lets us engage with life differently than simply reacting.
- Brushing teeth
- Clipping fingernails
- Watering plants
- Mowing the lawn
- Grocery shopping
- Repairing a car
- Paying bills
- Laying in bed when you want to be asleep
- Shopping for insurance
Life is full of ‘filler’ experiences. Perspective, as an element of well-being, isn’t pollyannaish. It doesn’t mean loving every experience. But it can soothe, ease, and bring grace to any experience, even the small or unexpected ones. Ultimately, no experience needs to be suffering. We can choose not to suffer.
Perspective offers us a way to engage with life. It isn’t about inventions or solutions to life’s problems. Things happen, and perspective is about wisely seeing those experiences, no matter how they ‘taste.’
This page will offer an overview of Perspective and how it pertains to well-being. Reading through it, you’ll be pointed to many parallel subjects across this site. Exploring further and putting the ideas and exercises you find from here will change you as a person and equip you with powerful tools for optimizing your well-being.
Perspective is powerful when we wield it, and even when we don’t, it exercises its tenacious influence.
- Have you ever left the doctor feeling upset and frustrated, like they were no help at all? Did you feel hopeless, and see your symptoms get even worse? In medicine, the context of a clinical encounter can be the primary vehicle for therapeutic benefit.1 In other words, how we think when we visit a doctor can, in some cases, be the most important aspect of healing.
- Perspective-giving and perspective-receiving have been shown to remedy attitudes between conflicting groups.2 Hearing others’ perspectives—or offering our own—is another testament to the power of context overlaying human life, not just individually but collectively as well.
- In a now-famous social experiment, the Washington Post asked Joshua Bell, one of the greatest violinists in the world, to play in an uncharacteristic social context: a subway station during rush hour. Dawning a 3.5-million-dollar violin, he serenaded an audience of thousands of commuters who, rather than stopping to consider what was before them, couldn’t be bothered.
What power our brains hold simply in how we compartmentalize an experience! Our stories precede our experiences to great effect. (Below will introduce Your Storied Life, a section on this site that is most complementary to the Perspective.)
- Our perspective can diminish physical pain. There are many examples of this. In one interesting study, patients who believed they received real acupuncture for a dental procedure experienced less pain than those who thought they received a placebo.3
- On belief alone, Parkinson’s patients can produce more dopamine.4 By excitedly anticipating a cure, they cure more effectively during brain surgery.
- If a woman thinks she is pregnant, she can induce the cessation of menstruation, abdominal swelling, and breast enlargement.5 Known as pseudocyesis, this phenomenon was once thought to be caused by bad air. We still don’t fully understand how the mind can have this incredible impact on the body.
The Bathtub Metaphor
If experiencing ‘happiness’ was like taking a bath, then Element 3, Perspective, would be like taking a stable bath, controlling the level and temperature of the water with your mind.
In this metaphor, the water represents well-being. Notice that the bathtub doesn’t leak, as in the metaphors of the first two Elements:
Without changing anything outside of the bath, Perspective is the element of autonomy and control that your own mind has over the ‘bath’ of your well-being.
Eating a chocolate bar
- Without Perspective – Oh, I’m hungry! I crave this chocolate bar. I NEED it!
- This chocolate bar will satiate that craving, but the bathtub of ephemeral pleasures (element 1) is always leaking. You’ll soon need more ‘candy’ if this is the only element at play in your well-being.
- With Perspective – Would I like a chocolate bar? I know I’ll be swell with or without it.
- The chocolate bar can offer you some temporary enjoyment, sure, but you recognize it for what it is. With a broad and considered perspective, it plays a small role in your well-being, which is more about your mindset.
Stubbing Your Toe
- Without Perspective – Ouch! That hurts. Life is hard and I am not ok.
- A negative experience has opened the ‘leak valve’ wide on your tub of well-being!
- With Perspective – Ouch! There is pain. And pain is part of life.
- Negative experiences do not ultimately dictate your overall well-being, which is broadly considered and under your control.
As mentioned, this ‘Element of Well-Being’ is more than an Element per se. Element 3 is a meta-level component in the model of well-being. It is the element of context that we hold during any experience, whether that is a simple ephemeral pleasure (Element 1), a flow experience (Element 2), or a sense of meaning (Element 4).
Perspective, as an element of well-being, includes so many branches—related skills, traits, and concepts. So, along with setting a foundation, this page will be a virtual ‘tasting flight’ of powerful, perspective-related keys to well-being. Many of these keys are frameworks of skills that one can practice: ‘Enablers’ of a life well-lived that are offered elsewhere on this site.
The rest of this page will usher you through a new level of consideration of your own ‘happiness.’ After reading through it and engaging with some of the exercises, you will be well on your way to higher levels of well-being.
Perspective has 5 Subfactors & 5 Core Enablers
As mentioned, perspective is always at play in our experiences. So it affects well-being in a myriad of ways, with a myriad of interplays between other elements. Breaking up a fuzzy (yet crucial) construct like perspective into distinct compartments is impossible.
So, here will be offered a couple of different angles. First, we will look at perspective as a handful of unique qualities that are measured in psychological research . These “Perspective Subfactors” are conceptually distinct, factor-analyzed components and can be thought of as a great way to measure one’s own power of perspective.
These Perspective Subfactors are measured in the Perspective assessment that you can take in the Assessment Center. They will be discussed more below, and are:
You can also consider Perspective as having a handful of Core Enablers. (one of them being Mindfulness, in fact) Each of these together covers a conceptual range that, within the site’s models, represents the bulk of Perspective as a skill. Each piece is considered an Enabler of well-being (this refers to the skills, tools, and philosophies that can enable living with more purpose, intention, and joy). Each one is its own subject on the site, containing pages of rich exposition, relevant resources, and exercises. They are:
Beyond that, there is even more to consider. As mentioned, Perspective is everywhere!
There are numerous other concepts and Enablers that facilitate perspective and we’ll take a look at them all further along on this page.
Here are some definitions from around the web:
mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation.
“she accepted both the good and the bad with equanimity”
evenness of mind especially under stress
a state of psychological stability and composure which is undisturbed by experience of or exposure to emotions, pain, or other phenomena that may cause others to lose the balance of their mind.
Other ways to think about equanimity:
– A dispositional tendency of even-mindedness toward all experiences or objects.
– Inner peace
Equanimity can be seen in the world as a virtue, a trait, a skill, or even a spiritual principle. As with many of the aspects of Perspective on this page, it is both something you can practice and something you can harness for greater well-being. For example, you can bolster your equanimity by learning to lower the depth and duration of stressful events, as in the below exercise.
Exercise: Foster Equanimity by Breaking Negative Thought Patterns
We all struggle with negative thinking from time to time. This is an example of a break in equanimity. For example, we may get over-fixated on the sources of our stress, rather than solutions. Sound familiar? Though you may wonder if you’re crazy during such stress cycles, it is a normal aspect of human life, and a result of our habitual nature and over-grasping for control.
This exercise is Martin Seligman’s ABCDE method for Learned Optimism, and it is one of the most powerful and practical methods for shifting from negative thought patterns to positive focus. (Check out our section on Hope to learn all about Optimism)
Whenever you feel a cue for rumination brewing, grab a pen and paper and begin to write:
- Adversity – Write down what happened. What adverse circumstances occurred. You can do this in as little as one sentence, and be sure you’re writing the objective facts without any value judgments or subjective interpretations.
- Belief – Write down what stories and reactions this triggered in you. What did you end up thinking because of this? You can include negative self-talk, judgments, etc. here. Let the ego have its fearful say, uncensored.
- Consequences – What stemmed from having these beliefs? How did those thoughts affect your feelings and behavior? Give words to the feelings you’re experiencing.
- Disputation – Write a new story. You can list alternatives to why things may have happened that way, like “He may have been late because he wasn’t feeling well.” Also, challenge the usefulness of your prior narrative, and revisit the implications of what occurred. This step is where you look at the issue—AND your reaction to it—from various angles, at different scales, and with new consideration.
- Energization – How do you feel after the last step? Did your behavior change? How about your body? It’s encouraged here to celebrate positive shifts in feelings and behavior.
If you’d like a printout for this exercise, check out this one from our Hope section:
For this and each of the other Subfactors of Perspective, there is a page going into more detail about it. There you’ll find greater understand, as well as practices and exercises to strengthen this subfactor in your life.
Hedonic Independence can be thought of as the ability to not be driven by desire toward pleasant experiences or aversion toward unpleasant experiences.
In some of the scientific literature, hedonic independence is described as a dimension of equanimity (one of two, the other being even-mindedness).7
Remember the first Element of Well-Being? This is a measure of how well you keep that from controlling your motivations.
Recognize craving as it enters your mind. Recognize aversion as it enters, too. As they come up, label them without judgment, and let them pass, recognize the ongoing change.
In these forms of meditation, you are practicing Hedonic Independence, strengthening your mental stability despite the impulses of pleasure.
Again, check out the page for more on Hedonic Independence, including some ways to practice:
Allowing / Acceptance
This subfactor is largely about how we relate to the past, and how much we may be stuck on wanting to alter it.
Examples of low Allowing / Acceptance
- Wishing things had happened differently.
- Being unable to ‘let things go.’
- Dwelling on and worrying about disappointments.
Examples of high Allowing / Acceptance
- Not feeling an unshakeable urge to ‘change the past.’
- Appreciating sadness or suffering in their own way, as experiences.
- Recognizing painful feelings, and allowing them to pass through you.
Allowing / accepting as a way of being is priceless. It means being present with things how they are—things can still be felt fully, and wise efforts toward change may still be made, yet at the deepest level we are receptive to our experiences, even negative ones, without them controlling us.
Allowing / Acceptance is like seeing one’s ‘self’ not as subject to—or impervious to—life’s ups and downs, but separate from them in magnitude or scope.
Again, whether looking at this factor as a trait, a virtue, or a skill, it can be practiced and improved. Continue reading into the Core Enablers below to find the resources for you.
Check out the page for more, including how to practice:
How much do you see your life as an internal process? When asked how you feel and why you feel that way, how much depends on conditions outside of your own mind?
Mental Independence measures one’s ability to live their well-being, however it may be, despite material things, what others say or do.
Everyone is affected to some degree by their own mind and by the world outside of themselves. If your positive and negative emotions feel mostly like reactions to what happens around you, this may be a factor for you to consider and practice.
Do you get the impression that your emotions are you?
When you experience emotions, do you see them as something happening to you? By you? How, and how much, are “you” able to intervene in that experience of emotion?
Comic from Shen Comix
Lucent emoting is a factor of perspective that considers our ability to recognize and understand our emotions in combination with our ability to change them.
An example of lucent emoting would be, when feeling a negative emotion, recognizing it and being able to change what or how you are thinking in order to feel more positive emotions.
Let’s take a breather for a minute
This simple exercise will help you see your problems more clearly, while also reducing their stress response and negative emotions. Notice, as well, how zooming out allows us to separate from our reactionary tendencies of self-interest into a perspective that is more creative and considerate of others.
- Think about an emotional problem or dilemma you’re currently wrapped in.
- Describe this problem as if it were happening to someone else. Or literally just use your name instead of “I” or “me.” You can write it down or do this in your head.
- Now, with this 3rd person perspective, put this problem into the context of one week from now. What will its impact be on this character’s life? Will they remember it? Did they learn from it? Do the same again, but for one month, one year, and even 10 years.
- Repeat the first 3 steps, but this time look at the story from the eyes of a benevolent, hypothetical deity. (You don’t need to be religious to undertake this thought exercise. Consider your imaginary character, and each of the others, as equally worthy of love and respect.)
It almost always helps to zoom out. Ask yourself as often as you can: What’s the wider perspective here? What is the bigger picture? What does a bigger picture reveal about what I am considering?
Core Enablers for Perspective
As mentioned above, each of these topics is considered an Enabler of well-being in the models found throughout the site. Though there are many such Enablers, below are the few that are most central to harnessing Perspective for a better life. Below features a short introduction to each Enabler. And, as with all Enablers, you can visit each subject to find pages rich with content, practice, and resources.
Your Storied Life
“A person can make himself happy, or miserable, regardless of what is actually happening ‘outside,’ just by changing the contents of consciousness. We all know individuals who can transform hopeless situations into challenges to be overcome, just through the force of their personalities. This ability to persevere despite obstacles and setbacks is the quality people most admire in others, and justly so; it is probably the most important trait not only for succeeding in life, but for enjoying it as well. To develop this trait, one must find ways to order consciousness so as to be in control of feelings and thoughts. It is best not to expect shortcuts will do the trick.” – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow
Context. Framing. Point of reference.
Its power in our lived experience can’t be overstated. And yet, it’s far from simple. It’s no small thing to master one’s own mind.
The stories that preface each of our experiences beg for more consideration. They secretly and powerfully determine the quality of our experiences.
Your Storied Life (YSL) is a framework that addresses identity, narrative, ontology and ‘reality,’ and the mechanisms that make up our lived experiences. It is about moving out of the mindset that we are characters of our stories, and into the awareness that we are our stories’ author. It is about understanding the difference between ‘what happened’ and our ‘stories.’ It explores how objectivity and subjectivity swirl together to culminate in our lived experience.
The section offers helpful models, activities, workbooks, and reflection questions. You will learn how to transform your identity and your life.
Without a doubt, you’ve heard of it. Mindfulness has received a lot of press in the last couple of decades. Mindful.org defines mindfulness like so:
“Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.”
Our section on the topic aims to provide a well-rounded-yet-practical approach to the topic. It will lay an accurate foundation for the concept, cutting through the hype. You’ll learn about benefits, recent science, and how to optimize Mindfulness for well-being.
And, as usual, you’ll find ample exercises and resources within the section too.
“We take greater pains to persuade others we are happy than in trying to think so ourselves.” – Confucius
100% Responsibility is a philosophy that reclaims ownership over your internal experience. It strives to unravel the loose ends of our own well-being that we leave relinquished to other powers around us. In the section on 100% Responsibility, you will explore the spectrum between victimhood and radical self-mastery, learn about the Drama Triangle, the truth about blame, and more. Its concepts will empower autonomy and self-efficacy throughout your life.
“Taking personal responsibility means never blaming someone else or the circumstances for how you feel. It means figuring out ways to be happy despite others’ actions and despite the external circumstances.” – Raj Raghunathan, If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy?
Presence is a state of consciousness characterized by active awareness and heightened consciousness of the present moment. With an intentional focus on what is occurring in the current moment, Presence allows us to embrace our experiences with openness and more clearly see the mechanisms at work that determine them.
|Definition||Intentional practices to cultivate enhanced awareness. A type of meditation.||Intentional practices to cultivate enhanced awareness. Tends to be more disciplined and in-depth than most mindfulness practices.||An enhanced quality of consciousness experienced as a state of being. Characterized by hyper-awareness of current moment and consciousness itself.|
|Wikipedia Definition||“the psychological process of purposely bringing one’s attention to experiences occurring in the present moment without judgment, which one can develop through the practice of meditation and through other training.”||“a practice where an individual uses a technique – such as mindfulness, or focusing the mind on a particular object, thought or activity – to train attention and awareness, and achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm and stable state.”||N/A|
|Associated Practices||Basic awareness and open monitoring of present-moment sensations, thoughts, experiences, etc. Includes breathwork or body scans. Can be done anywhere and at any time.||Accessing different states of consciousness through formal meditation practices like Loving-Kindness, Breath Awareness, Mantras or Visualization. Includes Mindfulness. Can be Focused Attention based or Open Monitoring based.||Accessed through various mindfulness meditation practices (Open-Monitoring practices)|
|Associated Experiences||Focus, calm, heightened sensitivity to body states, thoughts, and feelings||Can be used to achieve Presence. Includes benefits of Mindfulness.||Sense of nonduality or oneness, peace, compassion, awe, gratitude, aliveness|
Presence is like a muscle you can exercise to more fully live your life as it’s happening. Visit the section to learn about its benefits, barriers, and pathways.
“Do your best to take time to notice, feel and appreciate your way through every texture of the circumstances you are in,” – Alfred James
“Life is accessible only in the present moment.” – Buddha
“At any moment, you have a choice, that either leads you closer to your spirit or further away from it.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
Power of Perspective
“The wider perspective leads to serenity and equanimity. It does not mean we don’t have the strength to confront a problem, but we can confront it with creativity and compassion rather than rigidity and reactivity.” – The Dalai Lama
Our perspectives, even though often automatic, set the stage for our lives. They lay the foundation for our thoughts and ideas, which in turn become beliefs and dictate even our sense of self.
The list of examples of perspective’s power is long. If you pay attention—frequently zooming out and questioning context—you’ll see it everywhere in people’s lives and society.
In addition to this page’s overview of Perspective as Element number 3 of well-being, there is a page that acts as a tribute to Perspective’s power with a visual metaphor pointing to related concepts and small tricks of the mind.
From the “Power of Perspective” page, you can follow this visual directory of techniques to help you harness the most from your context.
Even More Perspective Topics
Though it’s been said in other ways, it bears repeating:
There are a number of other areas of the site that are part and parcel to this third Element of well-being yet have their own section to explore. Below are more of the related topics.
Click around, take a journey. Learn and grow. Flex your Perspective.
Perspective Has Its Limits
Element 3 is all about context, and the related skills help us train our ownership over how we contextualize anything. It helps to put us in a better place, and it helps us more clearly see it when we’re there.
But, then, the question still remains: “What do I DO now that I’m here?”
In theory, one could assert such mastery over their own perspective that they could be perfectly happy watching paint dry for the rest of their life. Right? If only we could command our perspective to the point that we would still be grateful and happy with the world around us burning, surrounded by war and misery, in extreme pain and experiencing the worst losses imaginable. Right?
Well, let’s be honest with ourselves here. The truth is that the limits of perspective end with the limits of our own ability and authenticity. At the end of the day, we need something to grasp, no matter how well we can grasp. We need life to contain things, no matter how well-refined our container may be.
We all have such limits.
So, practice Perspective. Practice it as much as you can. That’s unlikely to bring you to the point of complete asceticism, and that’s ok. A ‘happy’ life is within your grasp and will involve BOTH the experiences you have AND the way that you see them.
Element 3, Perspective, is pervasive and powerful, and can easily be understated in our well-being. But next will be Element 4, the most central and important aspect of a life well-lived.
- Miller, FG, Kaptchuk, TJ. (2008) The power of context: reconceptualizing the placebo effect. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. 2008;101(5):222-225. https://doi.org/10.1258/jrsm.2008.070466
- Bruneau, E., Saxe, R. (2012) The power of being heard: The benefits of ‘perspective-giving’ in the context of intergroup conflict. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Volume 48, Issue 4https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jesp.2012.02.017.
- Bausell, R. B., Lao, L., Bergman, S., Lee, W. L., & Berman, B. M. (2005). Is acupuncture analgesia an expectancy effect? Preliminary evidence based on participants’ perceived assignments in two placebo-controlled trials. Evaluation & the health professions, 28(1), 9–26. https://doi.org/10.1177/0163278704273081
- de la Fuente-Fernández, R., Ruth, T. J., Sossi, V., Schulzer, M., Calne, D. B., & Stoessl, A. J. (2001). Expectation and dopamine release: mechanism of the placebo effect in Parkinson’s disease. Science (New York, N.Y.), 293(5532), 1164–1166. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1060937
- Cohen L. M. (1982). A current perspective of pseudocyesis. The American journal of psychiatry, 139(9), 1140–1144. https://doi.org/10.1176/ajp.139.9.1140
- Schooler, J., Ariely, D., & Loewenstein, G. The Pursuit and Assessment of Happiness can be Self Defeating. Teoksessa Brochas, I. & Carrillo, J.(toim.). The Psychology of Economic Decisions, 1.
- Juneau, C., Pellerin, N., Trives, E., Ricard, M., Shankland, R., & Dambrun, M. (2020). Reliability and validity of an equanimity questionnaire: the two-factor equanimity scale (EQUA-S). PeerJ, 8, e9405. https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.9405