You look at other people and even though you only see tiny snippets of their existence, you end up writing a ridiculous story about them. You see your neighbour leave the house to go jogging with her beautiful hair and her nice tight body and because these are things you want, and because you have foolishly assumed that fulfilling those wants will generate happiness, you assume that her life is better than yours.
You notice that she does not have the hassles of parenthood to deal with, and that has helped her attract and keep that rich and successful husband. And of course your very average husband married you, so you assume that is yet another sign of how your life is lacking. Meanwhile the woman in the other house sees you running out to your car in your bathrobe and she longs for your confidence because she cannot imagine such a thing. Even a dash to the car requires thought and work on her appearance. Her husband married her precisely because she looked so good and he expects her to stay that way. And because he was attracted by such shallow things, she has trouble keeping him faithful whereas you feel your relationship is lacking because your husband is so content with how things are.
So she’s not jogging because she has more dedication or ability than you—she jogs because she’s scared. And she wouldn’t even be able to do that without stealing a bit of her nephew’s Ritalin medication. She didn’t develop herself much as you had to, so if her husband left her she would have no real marketable skills and she would really be in serious trouble. So she isn’t with her husband because they’re so tight, she’s with him because she has to be. She would love to be with a guy who wants kids, but he doesn’t and she can’t anyway—which is heart-breaking to her. So when you assume she’s looking at your pathetic life where you’re wrestling with two kids hanging off you because you’re the center of their universe, she’s actually envious. She would trade her hair and her nice ass just to have some kids run to her with needs that she could feel fulfilled taking care of. She wants to be valuable, not beautiful.
So there she is in her house noticing all of the things you have that she doesn’t, and you’re in your house noticing all of the things that she has that you don’t. It’s crazy. You can’t look at any life and know anything. First off, everyone’s posing to look successful because we put such a huge value on that instead of on the experience of life itself. And yet most of our good stories at parties come from failures, disasters and problems and very few come from easy victories.
The way to like your own life is by paying attention to the aspects of it you value. Do you get how easy that is? There is absolutely no way that you can spend your life watering thorns and then expect to walk on a bed of flowers. If all you do is water the thorns by dumping the energy of your consciousness on what you don’t like, then thorns make perfect sense. If you stand in your window and list perceived deficits in yourself and your life, then you are watering thorns and you should fully anticipate that life will be painful to walk through.
If on the other hand you choose to water the flowers in your life—if you focus on the love of your husband and kids even though it is inconsistent, if you focus on the valuable friendships you share even though those people can’t always be there for you, if you focus on what on the strengths your family built rather than the weaknesses, then your life will always be filled with the fragrance and beauty of many flowers. It simply does not matter where you start, how far you climb, or how much you have. The only thing that matters is what you place your attention on. So a rich person may have 100 valuable cars, but if they only focus on what’s wrong with them, they will be disappointed. And if the poor person has only one old and worn-out car, but they are grateful that it gets them to work despite its condition, then that person is actually the one leading the good life.
All day long you place your attention here or there. All day long your decide this is important and not that. And you use the outside world to dictate to you what those things are. A slim figure, money, a nice house or cars, or maybe a handsome mate. But the outside world is simply an idealized, edited, air-brushed presentation of reality. What’s really real are the feelings you experience as your day. And if those feelings are grateful, then you are successful. And if you have all of the money and power in the world but you are not grateful, then you will die having wasted this wonderful opportunity called existence.
You don’t need rich, you need content. You don’t need pretty, you need meaningful. And you don’t need handsome, you need love. So stop trying to improve your life by pulling all the weeds when all you really had to do was water the flowers instead.
Now go start actually paying attention to whatever it is you’re paying attention to. Because the ability to choose what gets your attention is the only ability you will ever really need to succeed.
Following a childhood accident should have left him dead, Scott McPherson spent his life meditating on thought, consciousness, reality and the self. Seeing the emotional damage done by ego-based overthinking he began dedicating a part of his life to guiding students toward more peaceful and rewarding lives. He is currently a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, Canada.