Since our beliefs, conscious and unconscious, shape our perceptions, I use the term “perception screens” to identify the way we see what is going on around us in the present moment. While similar to the larger “world view” concept, perception screens can more easily be changed in the moment by reframing the experience and having the willingness to consider a different point of view. Thinking “I can’t handle this” is a perception screen that will exacerbate our experience of stress, while reframing with “This is a big challenge and I can ask for help if I need it” will moderate the experience. Changing the perception screen by reframing the stress in a way that makes it seem more manageable allows us to feel better and more easily utilize available resources to move forward.
On a similar note, happiness studies conducted by psychologists Sonja Lyubomirsky, David Lykken, and Auke Tellegen determined that the way we process our circumstances is more important than the circumstances themselves. In their research, "an external factor like income level or money in the bank, accounts for (only) about 10% of your long-term happiness”, according to Michelle Wax, founder of the American Happiness Project. Since our mindset about circumstances determines our degree of happiness more than the specific events, it is important to notice our thoughts and how they affect our feelings. If we respond to a windfall or a blessing with appreciation and gratitude our happiness is magnified, while thoughts such as “it won’t last” or “I don’t deserve this” limit our happiness.
Because core beliefs underly our thinking process, it can be challenging to try on a new perception screen (or even recognize an unconscious one that is shaping our experiences). A positive reframe might feel like an untruth until we remind ourselves that beliefs are not facts; they are based on choices we have made, choices that at one point in our lives might have been essential to our survival, but perhaps are no longer valid. Building a positive mindset based on choices made in the present can reduce the impact of stress, optimize your happiness quota, channel your resilience and even increase your energy levels. Talking with someone you trust can help shift your perceptions to a more useful viewpoint when you feel stuck or overwhelmed.
*Richard S. Lazarus, PhD, (1922-2002) was a professor emeritus of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley and was a pioneer in the study of emotion and stress and their relationship to thoughts.