My Favorite Game: Connecting Dots
Every Sunday, my parents ate at the same restaurant. Having grown up in a non-kosher home, my parents counted the days till going to the famous Valencian Paella restaurant. I did not love that restaurant for its culinary achievements. Instead, I savored the games on the plate mat! My favorite game was connecting the dots. In front of me lay a square with hundreds of dots. I took a crayon, sequentially connected the dots, and voila, a bunny, a giraffe, or a lion seemed to appear out of thin air. I was amazed. How was it possible that all those different animals hid in the dots? As I grew, I understood that the entire animal kingdom was already in those dots. The trick depended on how I numbered and connected them. The dots presented me with infinite possibilities. Life, I also learned, works similarly. How we evaluate our life depends on how we connect our experiential dots.
Your Life Dots
One reason for unhappiness is believing that reality determines the connections of our experiential dots. But what if your life dots were unnumbered? What if, despite your experiences, you still retain the power to draw the contours of your life? What would happen if your perceived reality is not a prison but an open canvas? Can you place the numbers on the dots of your life?
How do we number our experiences, weaving them into a good life? The answer to this question lies in the questions we ask. Questions create our reality. We chisel the Self out of the questions we ask about ourselves.
Why Terrible Questions?
Why do we ask terrible questions? We trick ourselves into believing that by thinking the worst, we can control it. We try to imprison our fears within our minds. Encased in our thoughts, we convince ourselves that our fear will never become real. We fail to realize that we believe and act according to our thoughts. When it comes to negative questioning and its power over us, a “self-fulfilling prophecy” is not a cliche.
Don’t get me wrong, the dots exist. And some life experiences are as dark as the dots on the placemat. However, their power diminishes when we question them from a positive self. Positive questions uproot our dark experiential dots from their painful solitude, weaving them into a symphony of meaning.
Questions generate emotions. Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, from the University of North Carolina, studied the impact of positive and negative emotions. Negative emotions such as fear help us confront a present threat. They are efficient at solving a current crisis. They allow us to focus on the issue at hand. Positive emotions serve the purpose of looking into a more distant future. They broaden our perspective. They induce tranquility that makes it possible to imagine the desired destination. Thus, we can’t see all the dots when we ask too many negative questions.
What is Wrong with Me?
Studies show that the question individuals most ask about themselves across cultures and geographies is, “what is wrong with me?” As we ask that question, we descend into a spiral of negativity. At best, we believe that the path to fulfillment is to improve our deficiencies. However, applying and maximizing strength is the most direct and effective journey toward flourishing. Happiness and fulfillment emerge from asking, “what am I good at? How can I make a difference with my will and talents? What are my core strengths, and how can I execute them? The quality of our lives correlates to our attitude and our attitudes to the question we ask about ourselves.
Questions of Strength
But questions about the good in life seem to evade us. Evolutions, seeking to protect us, wired our brains toward the negative. Leaving the safe cave in pursuit of food was dangerous. It takes intention, effort, and practice to overcome self-doubt. That’s why it is good to write questions of strength and read them to ourselves. As the day ends, ask yourself: what strengths have I used today? Love? Humor? Courage? Perseverance? Love of learning? What can I be grateful for? Even for just having made it to that moment. What wisdom have I learned?