I believe that happiness and well-being are inside-out and not outside-in. Another way of saying this is that happiness remains elusive until we get that it has less to do with what is going on outside ourselves and more to do with what is going on inside. It is a place we “come from” rather than a place we “get to.” Understanding and practicing this principle is life-changing.
In this article, I want to talk about two places we can live from. Neither of these places is real. They represent two mindsets, but mindsets which are very powerful and around which we can organize our understanding of the world and experience of life.
When teaching this to a group of people I like to move to one part of the stage and draw an imaginary circle and then to another part of the stage and draw another imaginary circle. Imagine me doing this. I then step into the first circle and call it scarcity.
Scarcity is a mental paradigm or mindset in which we focus, usually quite unconsciously, on what is wrong with our lives, what we don’t have, what is missing, how life is never enough, how I’m not enough, and how other people need to change. This mindset puts us in a place of continual fear, anxiety and insecurity which impels us to believe that happiness and well-being are out there, just around the corner if we could only get circumstances and/or other people (sometimes even ourselves) to be different.
There are really two forms of scarcity. One is flight in which we seek to protect ourselves from an unsafe world by retreating into a comfort zone by avoiding failure, discomfort and rejection. Life is about being safe, avoiding losing rather than winning. A second is fight in which we seek to win at life by achieving and accumulating more of whatever we have told ourselves we need in order to feel okay—more achievements, more money, more stuff, more power, more status or popularity.
When living in scarcity, life is like a roller-coaster in which we feel good when we win and perform well but bad when things do not go our way. But up or down, we feel a never-ending anxiety, disappointment, frustration, blame, worry, doubt, deficiency and inadequacy about what is wrong or could go wrong with our lives. Life often feels hard, like a continually hassle. We’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop. Scarcity is suffering, not a fun way to live.
Yet this mindset has a strong gravitational pull. Our minds are drawn back here again and again. I believe there are three reasons this is true. First, the primitive mind evolved to protect us from harm. It is continually vigilant, attuned to problems and threats and what could go wrong. It is like we are hard-wired to see the negative. Second, it seems so logical and natural to believe that happiness is outside-in; that if factors outside us were different we would feel better and more secure. If only I made more money…if my boss would listen…if only I lived in a better neighborhood. And third, it is so easy to see our own weaknesses and inadequacies and thereby form false beliefs about ourselves which lead us to feel discouraged, dissatisfied, depressed, and not enough. We feel inadequate about ourselves and project this onto the rest of the world.
Let me step into another circle. I call this abundance. Abundance is recognition of what is right about life. It is a mindset in which we see the goodness, mercies, affluence, and fullness of our lives. It is seeing what is rather than what is not…what I have rather than what I lack…who I am rather than who I am not. It is not naivete, not a presumption that life is easy and has no difficulties. However, it is a recognition that goodness and love are present or available in each moment. It means that I know I have the strength and power to deal with whatever life dishes up.
We feel more positive than negative emotions when we come from abundance. We feel gratitude, security, well-being, awe, confidence, hope, trust, ease, acceptance and adequacy. Certainly, bad things happen and we experience negative emotions. However, these events don’t move us out of the paradigm of abundance. We experience the bad and feel the negative emotion and yet maintain our trust in the good and, particularly, in our own adequacy. We see ourselves as good enough even though we recognize we have weaknesses and make plenty of mistakes. This faith in ourselves allows us to experience all of life as basically good and overall friendly.
A Key to Happiness
I’m going to suggest that happiness has a lot to do with which of these two places you are going to call home. Do you live, primarily, from scarcity or from abundance? Moment by moment you make this choice. The good news is that you don’t need to wait until you have achieved more, accumulated more wealth, status or power, until you’ve overcome all your weaknesses to make this decision. Nor do you need to wait for others to change or for some future event or set of circumstances. Abundance is a place you come from, not a place you get to. It is a state of mind, even grace, that is available to you today, if you are ready to claim it.
Think of it as a tuner on a radio dial. At any moment, you can tune into whichever station you choose. If you want, you can tune the dial to scarcity and see all that is wrong about life and also find plenty of evidence to justify this point of view. On the other hand, you can tune that dial into the abundance station and see what’s good. There is also plenty of evidence to justify this point of view.
Let’s Get Personal
We had a family reunion with our children and grandchildren last summer, just outside of Yellowstone Park and talked about this concept. We asked our grandchildren to make statements from a scarcity mindset—“What I dislike about school” and then change their thinking to an abundance mindset-“What I love about school”…, “My family”…, “Where I live,” etc. We used the analogy that it’s like being inside a house and looking out a different window. We moved to a window at the back of the house. “What do you guys see?” Then we went to the front of the house. “What do you see?” What we see depends on which window we look out, right?
We encouraged them to catch themselves in scarcity thinking and flip it as we went about our travels each day. One granddaughter complained, “I had to go to the bathroom in an outdoor toilet.” She caught herself and said, “It sure was nice to find a toilet.” A son-in-law got pulled over for speeding. His first reaction was, “The only time I sped all day. I was just trying to catch up to my brother-in-law.” He caught himself and said, “I’m sure glad it was me and not my brother-in-law. They’d have looked at his driving record and charged him a hefty fine.”
A Personal Decision
So, what is most important is not so much what is out there but the decision I make on the inside. I invite you to try on the paradigm of abundance. It takes practice to come from this place. Lots of it. And life gives us lots of opportunity to practice. You won’t come from this place all the time, but as you increase your awareness, you can make that choice more and more frequently.
What is your experience? Have you ever found yourself in scarcity but then flipped into abundance? What enabled you to make this shift? And if you enjoyed this post, share it with others by clicking on one of the social sharing icons.