A friend of mine performed a card trick for a group of us after dinner. It was one of those “Pick your card, I’ll shuffle them, and . . . Oh, look, here it is, impossibly face-up in the middle of the deck!” He did the trick three times in a row and I still, for the life of me, couldn’t see the solution. He being a close friend and me not wanting that slice of cheesecake that much anyway, he taught me his secret: All it really involved was a quick flip of his fingers in the first cut of the deck and a good dose of performance from there. Really, I’ve thought since, it’s like life: Like a magician practices his sleight of hand, we have the power to practice our sleight of mind. Like the card that appeared face-up in my friend’s deck, we can all master turning the bright side face-up in our lives.
Seeing bright side up is just that: a way to look at life that makes it easier than ever to see the secret, to find the good. The way a magician can lead you to look at his hands from a different angle, we can look at our lives in a fresh way, turning mountains into molehills, our fury into calm, our irritation into gratification, and our anger lines into laughs.
Do you know those optical illusions that show two images at the same time? You instantly see one image right away, but it’s a bit of a challenge to see the other: Is it a duck or a rabbit? Is it a couple kissing or a vase? Is it an assortment of black blocks or a word in white? Well, it’s both. Just like life. There is always both. There is no right or wrong way to see something—but there are different ways.
Of course, we all have unique experiences in life, and some people struggle through much harder times than others. In my dimmer downtimes, I’ve been fired from jobs, rejected from others. I’ve done physical therapy, worn crutches and casts, had three broken bones and a big broken heart. I’ve had deaths in my family, deaths of my friends, and I sobbed myself into another state of being over the death of my cat. I’ve lost money, lost friends, lost faith; I’ve been robbed of my belongings and robbed of my dignity. I’ve been banged up on a bike and run down by a truck, had car accidents and miscarriages. Like many New Yorkers, I saw my city bombed and burned from the roof of my building and have watched my country struggle to stand tall again ever since. And now, each and every day, I work to keep my marriage strong, the paychecks coming, my friendships fed, the bills paid.
Who’s to say who’s happier? No one. You can’t. “What we can say,” writes psychologist Daniel Gilbert in his book Stumbling on Happiness, “is that all claims of happiness are claims from someone’s point of view—from the perspective of a single human being whose unique collection of past experiences serves as a context, a lens, a background for her evaluation of her current experience.” If you’ve never felt a single pain in your life, then a prick on your pointer finger is going to hurt. But ask a woman who’s been through childbirth how that needle feels and—pfft!—she’ll have a much different perspective. Tough times are relative, right? A flood in the basement seems like a big deal until you watch the devastating footage of the tsunami in Japan. A pebble in your shoe that makes it hard for you to walk isn’t nearly as serious as a torn ligament that makes it nearly impossible to. But the ability to see the positive is not in direct proportion to how big or small the problem in front of you; it’s based on how well you are able to shift your point of view.
So if you can shift all kinds of experiences in your life—especially the bad and the ugly ones—into good, you’ll end up feeling more positive about your life without necessarily changing a single “thing” around you. Seeing bright side up is not about belittling the bad things that happen to us; it’s about learning to shift our perspective in the best way for each situation.
You know how two people can have the same conversation and both walk away feeling something different? That’s because it’s not necessarily what is physically happening to us at the moment, but how we experience what is happening that makes the difference. How we engage ourselves and how we subjectively feel about an event determines what we take from it and how happy we are.
According to still recent neuroscientific research, the brain is capable of “neuroplasticity,” which means we can mold and change how it functions over time just like warm clay. By challenging yourself through “metacognition”—or thinking about your thinking—you can rewire the neurocircuitry in your brain so your go-to mind-set is a more positive one. Rather than reacting to the lost wallets of life with, Now everything’s ruined! you can get better at thinking, At least I enjoyed a nice lunch first, instead. The more you use those positive neural pathways in your brain, the more you’ll start to react more positively naturally.
Every date doesn’t lead to love, every week of hard work doesn’t lead to success, and every car ride isn’t full of green lights, but finding value and joy in the experience along the way is what makes the difference between a life that feels full of roadblocks, or full of joy. By giving you one hundred different ways to shift your perspective in dim situations, I hope to get your brain practicing in just the right way. The better you get at seeking out the bright sides on a regular basis, the faster it will become second nature. Before you know it, you’ll be turning the bright on without even trying.Back to all excerpts