When you hit your thumb with a hammer, you know what causes the pain. In fact, it’s probably the most obvious thing at that moment. However, do you know what causes the emotion?
All of us have nervous systems that cause us to feel pain. All of us have emotions, too. We feel happy, sad, angry, elated, hopeless, inspired. But where do the emotions come from? What causes them?
When you hit your thumb with a hammer, you feel pain. You may also feel some anger and maybe even some shame. It depends on what happened around the last time something like this happened to us. We can safely say that the hammer caused the pain. But we can’t say that the hammer caused the anger or the shame. If that were true, then it wouldn’t matter who hit them on the thumb, every single person would feel exactly the same emotions.
So how come you get mad when the same situation doesn’t bother someone else at all? They laugh it off without a hint of anger. You see, the truth is that you cause your own emotions, and you do it with your thoughts. You immediately flick back to what happened in the past, in a situation very like this one. That past emotion comes flooding forward and spreads itself all over the current situation.
Many centuries ago, Epictetus wrote, “We are disturbed not by the things that happen, but by our opinion of the things that happen.” If you want something a little newer, then Shakespeare wrote, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” (Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2)
The good news is that you don’t have to let your inner thoughts and feelings be dictated by the external environment or your past emotional responses. You can, bit by bit, learn to handle any and every situation the way you want to. You can learn to change your opinion of the things that happen so that you control your emotions, rather than letting them control you.
Can you see yourself taking charge like this? What is going to happen the next time you “hit your thumb” with a hammer?