Galileo got it wrong.
The earth does not revolve around the sun. It revolves around you and has been doing so for decades. At least, this is the model you are using.
You live in a "me-centered" world in which you interpret everything that happens in terms of "What is its impact on me." Your spouse gets a great job offer and you wonder what effect this will have on your relationship. Your daughter drops out of high school to begin an in-depth exploration of controlled substances and you wonder what your friends will think about your parenting. Your boss leaves the company and you wonder whether you will be promoted or what your relations will be with the next person to take that position.
You are constantly preoccupied with "me" and what you like and what others think of you and why things aren't going your way. It reminds me of the joke about the gorgeous girl who spoke about herself endlessly and then tried to make amends "But enough about me. Lets talk about you. Tell me what you like about me."
Do you think I am exaggerating? That this is certainly not true of you because you are a concerned citizen and care about the environment and poverty and have actually campaigned against land mines? Oh, Yes, Victoria. This is true of YOU, yes you!
Think back on the last few conversations you had with a good friend. Did you sometimes lose thread of what your friend was saying because you were busy crafting the perfect response in your head? Have you ever been introduced to a person and, 10 seconds later, forgotten his/her name? Go back in time and recall the most boring class you took in college. Do you, or do you not, remember the one time you made a comment that was brilliant -- or at least you thought it was.
Here is something for you to know -- if you live the vast majority of your time in a "me-centered" universe, then you are going to get more than your share of depression, angst, sorrow and all of the things that make life terrible. That's just the way it is.
If you want to experience joy in your life, you have to be able to step outside yourself and become part of a cause that is much larger than you; one that brings a greater good to a greater community. You have tremendous flexibility in defining both the greater good and the greater community. If you don't succeed in this, then you will continue to pull that heavy wagon up the mountain and despite the fact that you are pulling it, it will somehow run over your own foot.
Try this experiment -- the next time you have a conversation with a good friend, do not use the words "I", "me" or "my." This simple device prevents your from expressing your opinion and many are astonished both by how difficult it is and by how much the depth of listening goes up when you are no longer preoccupied by thinking of what you are going to say.
Now try another experiment. Try living for a week in an "other centered" universe. In this universe others are not put in this world to serve your needs so you cannot legitimately get frustrated by the elderly lady ahead of you on the checkout lane who takes forever to put her change away or the stout man who stands in the aisle of the plane blocking you while he removes his magazine from his bag and tries vainly to stow it in an overhead bin that is patently too crammed to accept it.
See what you can do to serve others. Smile cheerily at the elderly lady. Point out to the stout man that the bins further on are empty and offer to put his bag there as you move on. What is it that you can do to brighten their day somewhat?
Have you ever had a random encounter that was so refreshing that it made your day? I was on a message board yesterday admiring a comment made by a reader about a rant posted by another. It was a very reasoned statement that pointed out the flaw in the ranter's reasoning and asking why he felt compelled to say what he did. Another reader jumped in and said something to the effect that "Without saying anything on the merits of the case I really like the way in which you responded to his post. Thanks for keeping civility in the debate." With this opening others chimed in as well and she replied with a heartfelt "Thank you" and that this had made her day.
The same thing has happened to you many times. Perhaps the stranger who cracked jokes and kept everyone upbeat in the slow-moving line. Perhaps the jovial taxi driver who told you that you were looking really gorgeous when you were feeling bedraggled after a five time zone flight. Perhaps the salesman in the clothing store who told you that you looked really handsome in that suit and you knew that he was not merely trying to make a sale.
Do the same yourself. Deliberately, each day, do something to make someone's day. Plan it. Exercise your creativity. This is one of the exercises in my program and I am amazed at what participants come up with when they set their minds to it. An executive in a European city saw a group of foreign students anxiously counting change to see if they had enough for train fare and anonymously bought tickets for all of them by putting it on his credit card and instructing the ticket attendant to run the charge. He said he hadn't felt that good for years.
So make someone's day, every day. Strangers, colleagues, friends, parents, your spouse, children, relatives -- even the ones you don't particularly care for!! -- and all fellow travelers on this spaceship we call Earth. Do it deliberately. Invest emotional energy in making it happen. Do it anonymously whenever you can. Don't expect thanks -- what you do and the opportunity you have to be of service is its own reward.
Copyright 2010 Srikumar Rao, author of Happiness at Work: Be Resilient, Motivated, and Successful -- No Matter What
Srikumar S. Rao is the author of Happiness at Work: Be Resilient, Motivated, and Successful -- No Matter What (Published by McGraw-Hill). He conceived "Creativity and Personal Mastery," the pioneering course that was among the most popular and highest rated at many of the world's top business schools. It remains the only such course to have its own alumni association. His work has been covered by major media including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, Time, Fortune, BusinessWeek, the London Times, the Guardian and the Daily Telegraph. CNN, PBS, and Voice of America, and dozens of radio and TV stations have interviewed him.