This may sound like incredible hype, but the insight I’m about to share could make the difference in removing a large degree of unhappiness from your life. It’s a discovery I stumbled upon years ago that got me through a number of painful events throughout my life.
This insight came after stumbling upon a lecture titled A Rediscovery of Life given by the late Anthony de Mello, a Jesuit priest and who caused an uproar within the Catholic church back in the 70’s and 80’s. Unlike most priests rigidly held onto Catholic ideology, de Mello fearlessly merged wide ranging schools of thought – from Eastern Philosophy, to Psychology, to Metaphysics. In today’s article, I’m going to share the most powerful insight I received from this talk and how it could help remove unhappiness from your life.
To de Mello, overcoming emotional pain lies in the following formula:
Clarity of Perception + Understanding = Reduction of Unhappiness
Once you’re able to see emotional pain for what it is and understand its true nature, it begins to fall away.
In this article, we’re going to go over Anthony de Mello’s four levels of viewing your unhappiness. You’ll notice that as your understanding grows and you move from one level to the next, a large degree of unhappiness that plagued your life will begin to fade. With that said, let’s jump in.
Level One: “The World Is To Blame For My Unhappiness”
For most people, they look at their life circumstances as the root cause of their unhappiness. Most blame their unappreciative partner, their lack of success, their weight, their (fill in the blank) for causing the pain in their life. The world is the problem, not them.
It’s a toxic way to live because when your problems stem externally, so does the solution. If that’s the case, you’re always at the mercy of some external condition to be met in order to remove your suffering. Yet most of the time, those external conditions are outside of your control. You can’t control whether your partner takes you back, if you boss appreciates your work, or if you parents give you the support you’ve always wanted. When you live your life in this fashion, your happiness is at the whims of chance. No bueno.
Level Two: “I Am To Blame For My Unhappiness.”
Did you know certain people could be put in the same exact same scenario that rattled you and come away from it completely unfazed? Take a breakup for example. One type of person could react with feelings of loneliness and heartache, while another type of person could react with excitement and optimism. Same scenario, two radically different reactions. The only difference was their state of mind.
But you already know this. If you’re like most readers of this site, you’ve read books on personal growth, put in the work to develop yourself, and hopefully understand it’s not the outside world causing your unhappiness, but simply your state of mind. As Rumi once said “Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”
Yet as great as it is to evolve towards this level of understanding, this mentality still isn’t 100% healthy. Instead of placing blame towards the outside world, you constantly point towards yourself. You start beating yourself for allowing your boss, your parents, your lack of success, your partner to make you get upset. You say to yourself “Uhhhh… I shouldn’t feel this way. I let them get the best of me again. Why can’t I ever get past this?” You become locked in this constant state of frustration for allowing circumstance to trigger the suffering you feel. Again, no bueno.
Level Three: “My Programming Is To Blame For My Unhappiness.”
Yet Anthony DeMello makes a powerful point. As a rational human being, would you ever consciously choose to feel unhappiness? Would you ever consciously choose to feel anger, fear, loneliness? Never.
No one wants to feel that way. If you get dumped, the last thing you want to feel is the heartache that inevitably floods into your life as a result. Yet even if you understand that your attitude is causing those feelings and not the event itself, you still can’t help but feel sadness. It doesn’t matter if you’re the most rational person on the planet, if you get dumped you’re going to feel pain. It’s part of being human.
Once you come to this realization, you begin moving to the third level of viewing unhappiness. You realize that sure, on paper it’s sounds nice to know you have control over how you feel, but sometimes it’s damn near impossible. Ram Dass describes the human mind as predictable response mechanism. Feed your mind a certain input (breakup), and it will predictably spit out a predictable output (heartache).
The main point Anthony de Mello makes is this response mechanism was in large part programmed into us from our environment. If you’re planning a picnic with friends, and right before you leave the house it starts to rain, you’ll no doubt feel upset. This automatic response was programmed into you at an early age from your parents, your peers, your culture, etc. You learned from those around you that if your plans become ruined by the weather, you should feel upset.
When you take a step back, you realize most reactions to the conflicts you encounter are learned responses. These triggers have been quietly running on autopilot, calcifying as you age, to the point where you have little to no control over them as you become an adult. Still, no bueno.
Level Four: “No One Is To Blame For My Unhappiness.”
To Anthony de Mello, the sign of maturity is when you no longer point fingers. You see conflicts with clear eyes, and understand that no one is to blame. You don’t blame others, and more importantly you don’t blame yourself. You accept that you can’t control people’s actions, and to a large degree you can’t control your automatic response mechanism. You accept the situation for what it is, and take action to remedy it.
Say your boss publicly reprimands you in front of your team about a recent project, which no doubt leaves you feeling upset. Most people would get down about the situation, their boss, themselves, etc. The mature person doesn’t take it personal. Again, they can’t control their boss being an A-hole and they can’t control the upset feelings that triggered inside them. They accept it all, which ironically begins to lighten negative feelings altogether. Once this occurs, they take action. Maybe they approach their boss about their communication style, try fixing the project, etc. Through #1) clarity of perception and #2) understanding, they’re able to manage both their hurt feelings and the situation as a whole effectively.
Getting to this fourth level isn’t easy. Lord knows I’m still working on it. It requires us to be on constant alert, and go against decades of conditioning. However if you take the steps to move towards this four level every day, you’ll find yourself much better at handling the unhappiness that enters your life.
Photo by Seam Less
What’s your experience with the four level of unhappiness by Anthony de Mello? Share your thoughts in the comments below.