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Ch-4: Create a Positive World by Adopting a Positive World View

Part 1: Our Inner World

Tom G. Stevens PhD
Psychologist/Professor Emeritus, California State University, Long Beach
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Chapter 4, Part 1, from You Can Choose To Be Happy,  Tom G. Stevens PhD
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We live more in our inner than our outer worlds

 Our imagined world models can become reality


Explain these inconsistencies. Someone from sunny California sees a cloudy, cool day as dark and depressing; whereas, someone from Washington state sees it as refreshing. An avid hockey fan views a baseball game as boring and slow, while an avid baseball fan views hockey as too violent and aggressive. A rock music enthusiast is baffled about how someone listening to classical music can soar to emotional heights (and vice-versa).

Each of these external inputs was identical, yet in each case one observer had a positive emotional reaction and the other, a negative one. The observer feeling the positive emotion had a better understanding of the input or had more positive experiences associated with it. Where one person finds "meaning" and "beauty," the other finds only "confusion" and "ugliness." Two different perceptions--two different emotional reactions.


Consider how unhappy some are who have "everything" in the external world and how happy some are who have "nothing." Famous people have been miserable or even committed suicide despite having great amounts of money, love, fame, friends, attention, success, or any other external condition we can imagine.

Yet, other people are happy despite living in poverty, being unable to see or walk, living alone for years, or being without almost any other external condition that we consider necessary for our own happiness. How can people with so much be so unhappy, while others with so little be so happy? If money, fame, friends, and all these things don't cause happiness--what does? It is not really such a mystery if you understand one simple fact--we live in our inner world more than we live in the external world!


Each day my consciousness seems to focus on external events such as hearing the alarm, getting dressed, eating breakfast, driving my car, talking to people, writing, playing tennis, or watching television. I usually consciously pay more attention to the external world around me than to my internal world. So I must be a little skeptical about the idea that my internal world is a more important determinant of my happiness than my external world. After all, my attention seems so focused on my external world.

Yet it is an interesting idea. How is it that my inner world can be so important if I hardly pay attention to it as the day progresses? Our attention may focus on the external world, but consider the following:

 We never experience the external world directly. Our focus on the external world actually consists of internal perceptions and thoughts. It does not consist of the external world events themselves!

 We live in a constant stream of thoughts. We are thinking the entire time we are awake--our mind rarely, literally "goes blank." We have thousands of thoughts each day!

 Thoughts directly determine emotions. Our thoughts--not external events--directly control all emotions--including positive emotions such as love, joy, and happiness and negative emotions such as anxiety, anger, and depression.

 Underlying mental models and structures. There are mental structures that underlie and generate the conscious thoughts we have in our moment-to-moment experience.

 Causal power of these mental structures. These underlying mental structures are the basic causal mechanisms determining our personality and happiness--not immediate, external life situations.

 Return to beginning


When a child is born, it knows almost nothing of the world around it. Soon it discovers many new sights, sounds, and feelings. The child learns to recognize patterns from these stimuli. The infant associates being fed, bathed, changed, and cuddled with this strange looking creature that keeps making odd sounds. Later, the child learns to call this strange pattern of stimuli, "Mama."

Even from those early experiences, the infant starts to create a mental model of its mother. It learns what its mother looks like, sounds like, feels like, and learns to predict her behavior. It learns how to influence its mother's behavior--"If I cry hard enough, I can get mom's attention."

The infant may also begin to realize that mother is influencing its behavior--"If I cry just for attention, mom will ignore me, so I might as well not try that any more." Children may not learn to describe these relationships with words until much later, but they learn the rules nevertheless.

The child's mental models of its mother, father, and other significant persons can become very elaborate. Most of us know so much about our parents that we could probably write a book about them. Indeed, many children (as adults) have written biographies of their famous parents. We also develop mental models of objects--our houses, automobiles, and even our toasters. We interact with these objects based on our mental models of them.

An expert has a very detailed and accurate mental model compared to a novice who has only a vague, less accurate model. We develop beliefs and feelings based on our mental models of people, objects, and events. We can develop mental models of societies or even of the entire world. The mental maps of our cities are important for daily navigation. But more important are the mental models of the forces controlling the world and universe.

Do we picture the world as controlled by positive forces continually improving the world and taking good care of us? Or do we picture the world as controlled by negative forces gradually destroying us? This negative world view could be summarized by a bumper sticker that says, "Life's a bitch and then you die." Our world models (world views) are major factors in how optimistic and happy we are. They filter most inputs and process most outputs to the external world.

Internalized versus examined mental models. When we were children, we were ill-equipped to examine the models presented to us. Most likely we internalized the expectations or "shoulds" of our parents. For example they taught us how to eat, how to dress, how to bathe, how to play, how to communicate, how to think about other people, and how to deal with our emotions.

To this day, if we do not do as we were taught and eat with "poor table manners" or "speak disrespectfully" to authorities, we may feel guilty or embarrassed. Somehow it feels wrong. These mental models have become powerful determinants of our thoughts, feelings, and actions.

When we were small children and our parents told us something, we "swallowed it whole" without "chewing it over" adequately. That is natural for a child. We may ingest our parents' mental models of what is right and wrong, of racial groups, of God, of parenting practices, and of even our self-images with little rational questioning. Someone we trusted told us that something was true and as children we automatically believed them. As adults, it is time to stop automatically swallowing ideas whole.

If we have not already done so, It is time to examine these old beliefs and mental models from our newer, growth-oriented point of view. It is time to put Higher Self beliefs such as seeking openness and truth above all else or we will only delude ourselves. It is time to appeal to our Higher Self's ultimate concern of seeking happiness for self and others.

If we will begin to compare our old internalized models with these Higher Self beliefs, then we will find conflicts. We can modify our old models (or--sometimes--our Higher Self beliefs) to achieve a higher state of integration. Integration resolves basic belief conflicts underlying most daily conflicts and emotional reactions. As a drop of dye gradually colors the entire glass of water, so our Higher Self beliefs will color our entire personality.

One client started with a dismal view of the world. She could find only faults with herself, everyone, and every thing around her. She had never received much affection in her life and had almost always been surrounded by conflict, criticism, and anger. She said that she had never even seen a happy family. Is it any wonder that she had developed a cynical world view? She could not believe in God or any positive, loving force in the world. She thought that people were only out to get more money, power, and prestige. She believed that it was impossible to be happy or to have a close, happy relationship for any length of time--so why try?

However, a part of her (her Higher Self?) could imagine a better life and a better world. She still had a hope deep inside that maybe she could be happy and someday have a happy family of her own. One-by-one, we explored many of her negative world view assumptions and challenged them with more positive views. For example, she frequently assumed that her troubles were due to people being out to get her personally. However, we found other explanations for people's actions--including explanations that put much of the responsibility for problems back on her. She had often unintentionally initiated negative cycles with people. We also explored benefits of revenge versus forgiveness and her beliefs about love and affection.

She improved her communication skills, and created a happier world for herself and others. As she began to explore and develop this part of her, she created her own more positive mental model of the world. She developed her own positive mental model of what loving relationships would be like. Her new mental models became active--they helped her create a world more like she wanted. It was amazing to see the transformation of this cynical, negative person into someone who was happy, radiant, and loving.

 Return to beginning

Our imagined world models can become reality. We develop a mental model of our city's streets. We use that mental map to select a route to our destination. An architect planning a house, develops a mental model and commits it to paper. Builders follow that blueprint to create an actual home.

Some mental models are based upon our perception of reality. However, the power of imagination gives us the power to imagine possible states of the world that do not exist. Our imagination can make mountains out of molehills, or it can create visions of a better world. Our reality checks limit the mental models we can actually believe. But our imagination is almost limitless in the models it can create.

We can create plans for a building, create a work of art, or create our own blueprint for a better life or world. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream for America" was a vision that he created. It motivated him and his followers and helped change the world to become a little more like his vision. Our power of imagination--creating our own unique mental models--is one of the greatest gifts that separates humans from other creatures. It has transformed the world.

To the degree that we can imagine and create an internal model of a more ideal world, then we can begin to live in that new world. Once we create the model and choose to adopt it as a model for our own life, then we are beginning to actually live in that world. Our new model will affect our perceptions, our thoughts, our feelings, and our actions--the main ingredients of the world we experience.

If we create a world full of beauty, harmony, love, truth, and happiness in our mind, then we will actually begin to live in that world! On the other hand, if our mental model of the world is one of ugliness, conflict, hate, falsehood, and unhappiness, then that will be our world.

I can imagine a world in which people love themselves and other people just because they are alive. They recognize the caring Higher Self in every person and attempt to communicate with that person's Higher Self--instead of focusing on dysfunctional parts. In this imagined world people seek truth and knowledge and live by many of the principles in this book. In this world, people attempt to understand each other before judging how to react to them. In this world, people more consistently choose actions that will make themselves and others happy. The more I imagine this world, the more this world model helps me create certain effects--such as:

  •  Many of my beliefs and thoughts come from this ideal world model.
  •  I treat other people according to these beliefs.
  •  People begin treating me more "as if" we both live in this kind of world.

 Since more of my beliefs, thoughts, and actions and experiences with others are like my ideal world model, I really am living in a world more like I imagine. I am also helping create a world more like that for other people.

 Return to beginning
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