Bill Cottringer

“All colors are friends of their neighbors and the lovers of their opposites.” ~Marc Chagall.

I am well into the second half of my life and in looking back I think I can openly admit that I goofed greatly in the first half, slicing and dicing my way to half-happiness. I suspect this is a common mistake, but I know there is at least one good purpose of this unproductive mental habit—when you finally figure it out, you can double your happiness and anything else you want.

The slicing and dicing is the way the brain compresses everything down into either this or that categories (maybe for easier storage and retrieval?)—up vs. down, good vs. bad, peaceful vs. turmoil, order vs. chaos, yes vs. no, cold vs. hot and likeable vs. unlikable. The real trouble begins when we automatically assign right-wrong, desirable-undesirable and useful-useless values on everything that comes our way. This cuts the whole world in half, including any happiness, success, peace of mind and contentment we could have. Does this make good sense? Certainly not.

This dualistic, either-or, halving habit really gets in the way of potentially satisfying relationships at work and home. Instead of “celebrating” human differences as the above quote suggests, we choose to get annoyed and complain about anything that is different from what we like, are used to, comfortable with, want or expect. Any physical appearances, words, values, beliefs, habits, personalities, abilities, etc. that are “different,” over-weigh any similarities and commonalities that are comfortable and over-attract our attention and focus. Sometimes very small things distort the real scorecard.

A very good question to ask is why it is so easy to automatically assign a good-bad value onto a difference? Is it the actual difference itself that is annoying and prompting us to complain about it to ourselves and others? Or is it more our artificial okay or not okay “opinion” about this difference that is unnecessarily causing needless mental and emotional “suffering” and unhappiness?

It always seems as though it is our meta-communication—the ability to think and talk about something like a person, event, reaction, belief, opinion or expectation—that is both a gift and curse. The curse part is that it adds a secondary level of discomfort and dislike to the original thing. Being depressed, anxious or unhappy is one level of discomfort, but being depressed about being depressed, anxious about being anxious or unhappy about being unhappy, well that can get to be down right incapacitating.

Of course if we carry this meta-communication ability through to its conclusion, it can become a gift—helping us realize what we are doing here, why we are not where we want to be in our jobs or personal relationships, and how we can change the results we are getting for the better.
The next time you find yourself getting annoyed because someone else says or does something that isn’t quite to your liking or just because he or she is noticeably “different” from you, question why you are doing this and notice the burdensome “weight” of this second level of discomfort and annoyance. Then begin to question your purpose, apart from your wanting to change this difference you don’t like. Your purpose is always to understand the difference to see how you can be better friends or lovers, not worse at it!

If you are still in the first half of your life and miles from where you want to be, fret not because the gift nature of over-focusing on differences and adding unnecessary layers of needless unhappiness is on its way to your rescue.

Author's Bio: 

William Cottringer, Ph.D. is President of Puget Sound Security in Bellevue, WA and also a business and personal success coach, sport psychologist, photographer and writer living in the mountains of North Bend. He is author of several business and self-development books, including, The Prosperity Zone, Getting More By Doing Less, You Can Have Your Cheese & Eat It Too, The Bow-Wow Secrets, Do What Matters Most, “P” Point Management, and Reality Repair Rx coming shortly. He can be contacted with comments or questions at 425 454-5011 or