Today I’d like to start off by telling two stories that I believe illustrate an important principle in life – the principle that “you get what you’re looking for.”
Both of these are not my original stories, and I don’t know where they originally came from, so apologies in advance for any accidental plagiarism.
Story #1 – The town across the river
A man is traveling to a new city and needs to cross a river via boat to get there.
When he gets into the boat, he asks the driver “What are the people like on the other side of the river?”
The driver replies, “What were the people like where you came from?”
The traveler replies, “Ah they were assholes. Very horrible, mean, angry people.”
The driver sighs and says, “I’m sorry to say it, but you’re going to find exactly the same sort of people in the next town up ahead.”
The next day it’s time for another boat trip, with another new traveler moving to the city, and a similar conversation takes place.
Again the traveler asks, “What are the people like on the other side of the river?”
The driver replies, “What were the people like where you came from?”
The traveler replies, “Great people! Very nice, compassionate, friendly, happy people.”
This time the driver replies, “Well,I’m happy to tell you that you’re going to find exactly the same kind of people in the next town up ahead.”
The moral of the story? You get what you’re looking for. If you’re convinced that the world is full of assholes, you’ll surely find them. On the other hand if you’re convinced that the world is full of good natured kind people, you’ll surely find them.
Be careful what you look for. Be careful what you believe about people. You will always find evidence to support that belief.
Story # 2 – The butterfly
A little girl is having a very rough time at school. She’s not making friends, hates her teachers, and thinks that the material they study in class is useless.
Needless to say, she’s not a very happy little girl and is going through a hard time in life.
One day her dad suggests, “I have a friend who owns a farm out in the country. I’ll send you there so that you can take some time for yourself and relax. Clear your head and get into nature.”
The little girl agrees to go, hoping that a change of scenery might be exactly what she needs in order to get out of this funk that she’s in.
A few days and a short flight later, the girl arrives at the farm ready for adventure
….and she immediately begins to regret her decision.
She calls up her dad and says, “Dad this place sucks! It smells and it’s dirty. The horses are boring and don’t do anything. There’s nothing to do here. I hate it!”
The dad replies, “Sorry to hear that darling. You know what, I’ll make a deal with you. If you can find a butterfly, I’ll fly you right back home today.”
The girl replies, “A butterfly!? Dad what the hell are you talking about! It’s cold out here and there’s no butterflies this time of year. That’s impossible!”
The day merely sighs and says, “well, that’s your deal. Find me a butterfly and I’ll fly you home. I’m confident you can make it work.”
“Screw you dad! This is insane. You’re just sending me on a wild-goose chase to keep me occupied. This isn’t fair!”
The dad hangs up the phone…
For the next two days the dad receives text message after text message from the daughter.
“This is insane!”
“Dad there are no butterflies here can you give me another challenge?”
“Cmon dad this is crazy! How the hell am I supposed to find a butterfly out here!!!”
“Fuck this. Fuck you!!!”
“I. Hate. You.”
And so on…
Then the next day the phone is quiet. No text messages coming through.
Then suddenly on day 4, the dad wakes up to a flurry of text messages.
The first is a picture of a butterfly on a ceramic plate.
The next is a picture of a butterfly on a picture frame.
The next is a picture of a butterfly on the shower curtain. Then on the doormat when walking into the house. Then in coloring books.
Finally she calls the dad and says, “I get it dad! I get it!!! I was looking for a physical butterfly but that was preventing me from seeing the butterflies all around me!!!”
The dad replies, “Good job. Now, I will keep my end of the deal and fly you home. But first, because I am your father, I’m going to give you a little lecture.
“When you were at home you saw everything as crappy. You found some small flaw in everything you looked at. You were searching for reasons to be unhappy, and you found them for yourself. Then when you arrived at the farm, it was more of the same. You wanted reasons to be unhappy, and you found them.
You see, the same applies in life. If you see everything from the lens of “this sucks” you’ll find evidence to support that belief. BUT if you flip it, and look for reasons to be happy, you’ll find evidence to support that belief as well.
The butterfly is an analogy for “you get what you’re looking for.” When you were pissed off, you closed yourself off to the possibilities of having a good time. Of seeing the magic around you. Of looking outside of the box. You were trapped in your lens of perception.
But once you saw one butterfly, you saw them everywhere around you. They were there the whole time, you just couldn’t see them.
In the future whenever you’re upset, remember the butterfly. Remember that there are always reasons to be happy if you’re looking for them. There are always reasons to be grateful and appreciative, you just need to have your eyes open to it.”
What can we learn from this story? If you want reasons to be upset/angry/sad/depressed – you’ll find them. If you want reasons to be happy/grateful/appreciative/loving – you’ll find them.
If you see everything from the lens of “this sucks” you’ll find evidence to support that belief. BUT if you flip it, and look for reasons to be happy, you’ll find evidence to support that belief as well.
“The new car effect”
Have you ever noticed that after you buy a new car, suddenly you notice it on the street everywhere?
This type of car was always there on the road, you just never noticed it because you weren’t looking out for it. But once you bought it, you want to validate your purchase, and thus notice it when you see it.
Happiness and gratitude are a lot like this. Once you start looking for reasons to be grateful, you’ll find reasons for it everywhere. Once you start taking inventory of the things that make you happy, you’ll find more of them everywhere you look.
You get exactly what you’re looking for in life
These stories illustrate quite possibly the most important principle in life – you get exactly what you’re looking for.
The problem Is that many of us don’t know when we’re accidentally looking for the things that bring us dissatisfaction. We never consciously look for these things, so it’s easy to have it ripple out of control.
Even when we do notice it, Its hard to snap ourselves out of it.
Start the day with one frustrating phone call, and suddenly the rest of the day is filled with frustration.
Start the day with stressful thoughts, and suddenly we live a stressful day.
String a series of these days together, and now we have a life filled with frustration and stress.
The most important part is to have the awareness of our feelings. To notice our frustration or anger or sadness when it arises, allow it to flow, allow it to be felt, but not carry it with us throughout the day. To let go of it as quickly as we can.
It’s also important to set our intentions early on in the day. To actively choose what we’re looking for so that the winds of life don’t blow us in a direction we didn’t want.
If you don’t know what you’re looking for, you’ll wander around aimlessly. The man without direction never reaches his destination.
Take inventory of all the things in life that make you smile. Look back on all of the memories you have of positive experiences. In times where you need to look for reasons to be happy, these will serve as your reminders of all the things to appreciate in life.
Look for happiness and you will find it. Surround yourself with the butterflies of life. Take a deep breath and smile, because what you are looking for is already right in front of your eyes 🙂
Also published on Medium.