The Practice Of Target Fixation On Happiness
Think of happiness as a decision about where to place your attention.
I can recall the 2016 election well. Trump supporters were focused on getting Trump elected. Hillary supporters were focused on defeating Trump, and they were not happy when Trump won. I believe that Trump won because our attention was fixated on Trump. Unfortunately, I can see this happening again. Rest assured that the rest of this article is not about politics. This article is about target fixation and where we place our attention and how that affects our predisposition for happiness.
I have come to believe that the universe is a reflection of everything we are thinking and feeling right now. I have found that if I am sad, the universe tends to give me sad things to see. If I am mad, the universe will respond in kind. If I am glad, the universe tends to show me more reasons to be glad. In this respect, I live in an uncanny valley where things just sort of fall into place. I can’t explain exactly why this happens, but I’ve seen it over and over again. So I’m sharing this concept with you.
My experience has shown me to be careful about where I place my attention. I learned a lesson long ago that supports my philosophy. One day long ago, I was working on my laptop. I think it was running Windows 98, the lost stepchild of operating systems. Anyway, I can’t remember why, but I was frustrated with my computer. I can recall getting angry at my computer. And as I got angrier, my computer seemed to misbehave even more. I soon realized what was happening and I changed course.
I began to calm down. I also began to change my thinking. I remembered, “garbage in, garbage out”. I considered the possibility that my attitude was reflected in the performance of my computer. I have always had a sort of kinship with computers since I was a teenager, and after that moment of frustration, I knew I needed to get back to where I was. Once I was calm, I was able to troubleshoot the issue and resolve it. But I also resolved to never get angry with computers again. I resolved to focus my attention on what works.
I have practiced this habit of directing my attention to what works for me, for many years in every area of my life. It has been a long and troubled road, but that was only because it took me a long time to realize just how little attention I was paying to the direction I was heading. I was kind of heading towards oblivion at that time of my life, with Windows 98, and that little experience I had with my computer was just a signpost along the way. “Go the other way”, read the signpost.
Over the last 23 years, I’ve been refining that message, honing, polishing, and looking at it from every angle. I have arrived at the place with a signpost that says, “Happiness is a choice. Make a decision to be happy.” For two decades, I have been making many small decisions to be happy. With each decision to be happy, I noticed that my attention shifted. I noticed that I tended to focus on reasons for me to be happy than on reasons for me not to be happy.
I developed habits that tended to lead towards happiness. Where other people wanted to escalate, I de-escalated. Where I used to focus on what I didn’t have, I began to focus on what I had. Jealousy was replaced by contentment with what I had. If someone tried to irritate me, I make a choice not to be irritated, and I remind myself that I’m not living in their head, being irritated or irritating.
I have made a habit of noticing how I’m thinking and considering the possible outcomes that can result from my thinking. I took notice that every act of kindness, patience, and compassion came back to me. I didn’t just do that for other people. I did that for me. I made informed choices about where I should point my attention every day.
At first, it was still a little rough. I was not practiced, but as I practiced these habits every day, I got better at it. I cannot overstate the value of practice. When we learn a new skill and practice it, we can only get better. As an example, in this video, a man with little previous experience learns to play expert table tennis by playing the game once a day, every day, for a year. There is no other way to a better life. The happiest people practice happiness.
People who are happy practice habits that tend to lead to happiness. They focus their attention on people, places, and things that tend to lead to a positive experience. As an example, people who play sports and games understand that the best winners are the best losers, too. People lose a game of table tennis graciously, know that if they keep playing, with practice, they will get better, and that eventually, they will win a few games. Then when they do win, they will know the work required to win. They will know that everyone must start somewhere, so they feel no need to gloat about winning.
So I practice habits that tend towards happiness. I know that I’m going to make mistakes, so I err on the side of peace. I try to comport myself in such a way that I can sleep at night, not worrying that I may lose a friend, a job, or otherwise damage myself. I have learned that if I hurt other people, I tend to hurt myself. That is why I err on the side of peace. With more than a decade of practice, I live a life of relative peace.
As I mentioned previously, happiness turns on a decision, a choice to be happy. So I’ve made a habit of noticing the things in my life that I’m grateful for. I direct my attention to something to be happy about every day. If a day is particularly challenging, I might do this every hour. I’ve had nights where I was so disturbed, that I had to “count my blessings” (instead of sheep) just to get to sleep. “I’m grateful for this bed. I’m grateful for this room. I’m grateful for my glasses…” and on and on until I fall asleep. No sleeping pills required.
This works whether we’re rich or poor. I could live in a nice house and still find a reason to be unhappy. When I was poor, I made a habit of noticing all of the reasons I had to be happy. Over time, my consciousness expanded and I began to prosper. I’m not rich now, but compared to the man I was 20 years ago, I am wealthy. The wealth is in my mind, not my surroundings. Wealth is where I’m looking, not where I’m wanting.
So regardless of who wins the election, I will still find happiness. That’s because my mind will be focused on what I have, not what I don’t. My mind will be focused on what I want, not what I don’t want.
This fall, and at all times, my mind will be focused on the choices I can make to be happy. My mind knows that happiness is not a passive experience. Happiness requires cognition. Happiness requires the application of the brain to the question of whether or not I’m happy. Happiness is a continuous stream of decisions guided by the intention to notice what I already have. Happiness is the practice of gratitude.
Focusing on whether or not Trump will win or lose the election is a target fixation and that will not bring me happiness. Target fixation is an attention problem. When we focus our attention on something, we go towards that thing, or we attract it. I focus my attention on things I already have and I find gratitude for those things. I make a conscious effort to focus my attention on those things that I want, rather than what I don’t want, knowing that everything I need is already here. This is why I will still find happiness even if Trump wins. It’s not about him. Happiness is about me.