“Montaigne, the great French philosopher, adopted these seventeen words as the motto for his life: “A man is not hurt so much by what happens, as by his opinion of what happens.” And our opinion of what happens is entirely up to us.
What do I mean? Have I the colossal effrontery to tell you to your face- when you are mowed down by troubles, and your nerves are sticking out like wires and curling up at the ends- have I the colossal effrontery to tell you that, under those conditions, you can change your mental attitude by an effort of will?
Yes, I mean precisely that! And that is not all. I am going to show you how to do it. It may take a little effort, but the secret is simple.
William James, who has never been topped in his knowledge of practical psychology, once made this observation: “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.”
In other words, William James tells us that we cannot instantly change our emotions just by “making up our minds to”- but that we can change our actions. And that when we change our actions, we will automatically change our feelings.
“Thus,” he explains, “the sovereign voluntary path to cheerfulness, if your cheerfulness be lost, is to sit up cheerfully and to act and speak as if cheerfulness were already there.”
Does that simple trick work? Try it yourself. Put a big, broad, honest-to-God smile on your face; throw back your shoulders; take a good, deep breath; and sing a snatch of song. If you can’t sing, whistle. If you can’t whistle, hum.
You will quickly discover what William James was talking about– that it is physically impossible to remain blue or depressed while you are acting out the symptoms of being radiantly happy!
This is one of the little basic truths of nature that can easily work miracles in all of our lives.”
~Dale Carnegie, ‘How to Stop Worrying and Start Living’