A number of years ago I visited with a therapist on a weekly basis, discussing the constant, heavy feeling I couldn’t shake off. I was a newly returned missionary, and I was struggling to return back to school while two of my family members were hospitalized and one of my grand-parents had recently passed away.
After acknowledging and discussing these life events, my therapist suggested that we work on an activity about perspectives by Dr. Barbara Fredrickson. Every day, I was to ask myself all of the following questions:
- What is the most amused, fun-loving, or silly you felt?
- What is the most awe, wonder, or amazement you felt?
- What is the most grateful, appreciative, or thankful you felt?
- What is the most hopeful, optimistic, or encouraged you felt?
- What is the most inspired, uplifted, or elevated you felt?
- What is the most interested, alert, or curious you felt?
- What is the most joyful, glad, or happy you felt?
- What is the most love, closeness, or trust you felt?
- What is the most proud, confident, or self-assured you felt?
- What is the most serene, content, or peaceful you felt?
Answering these questions during my time at BYU showed me that there is awe, wonder, and amazement in studying the humanities.
My therapist explained that many people feel crushed by their burdens because they take over their minds and block out any possible ray of light from positive events. To this day, I preserve this activity in a notebook which has come to be a saving grace in my life, helping me better see things as they are rather than as they seem. It has benefitted me every day since I learned about it, especially through rigorous college days.
College was never an expectation my parents set in stone for me. It was an option, but there was no pressure to go. At first, I pursued the regular educational path after high school until, a few years ago, I decided to quit and, encouraged by my father who is a bus driver, I chose to apply to be a city bus driver as well.
While he had many good and tempting reasons for me to join his job, deep down my biggest reason was my perspective that college was too hard and that I couldn’t succeed at it. That was how things seemed to me.
Luckily, God guided me and I found my way to BYU, where I now know I was meant to be. I have spent the best three years of my life studying French education for both dual immersion programs and high school French classes. Contrary to how things seemed, I have found out how much I love college, how much I can succeed, and how much my major blesses my life. These are how things are. On tough days, I might have answered some of the questions above like this:
- I felt the most amused when I wrote a fun essay in one of my humanities classes today.
- I felt the most awe when I felt God’s love for His children while learning how to teach them today.
- I felt the most optimistic when I created a lesson in class today that everyone loved!
- I felt the most proud when I did well on an exam that I was really scared to take today.
Answering these questions during my time at BYU showed me that there is awe, wonder, and amazement in studying the humanities, a study which is spurred by curiosity. This activity prompted a big shift in my perspectives as I went from believing a college degree was unattainable for me, to being excited every day to step on campus and feeling an enormous amount of gratitude for the opportunity to learn every day in my major. After all, things are not always how they seem.
Over spring term this past year, I learned from a religion professor about the concept of “things as they seem” and “things as they are.” He explained that we often react to things as they seem, but the way things seem is not necessarily the way they are. One reason we might not see things as they are might simply be a lack of perspective, or a lack of the big picture. Christopher Chabris, a research psychologist, visibly demonstrated this in his famous experiment “The Invisible Gorilla.”
If you recall, in his experiment, participants were asked to watch a video of six people playing basketball (three in white and three in black) while keeping a silent count of the number of passes made by the white team. At some point, a gorilla walked across the field making obvious gestures, for a total of nine seconds. In interviews following the viewing, almost everyone declared that they had the intuition to notice something so evident, but results showed that half of the participants of the study did not see the gorilla. The conclusion of the study revealed an important truth relevant to the concept my professor taught me: we miss much of what goes on around us (Chabris and Simmons, 2010). When we are narrowly focused, we do not see the full picture (things as they are), we see only our perspective (things as they seem).
Only seeing our own perspective limits so much of our potential and character. In my language education classes, I have come to learn much about perspectives. A big part of teaching a foreign language is also teaching about the different cultures that speak that language. The crucial step to accomplishing this is including the three P’s in your lesson: Products, Practices, and Perspectives (Cutshall, 2012). Of these, perspective is the most important. For example, in American culture, this could be demonstrated as: birthday cakes (product) are used during birthday parties (practice) which celebrate the excitement we share about life and a loved one making it through another year (perspective). Teaching the three P’s is important for avoiding judgments, stereotypes, and misunderstandings about other cultures. When we understand a culture’s perspective, we have more understanding and love towards their products and practices because we see the big picture, we see what motivates their behaviors, and we see things as they really are.
A shift in perspectives can happen anywhere. My husband and I recently started reading the Harry Potter series for the first time. We’ve both been noting how many details are clearer to us from the books than they were in the movies. Because the books have more space for background information, our perspectives on the story have been shifting as we understand the characters and the events more deeply, which has only made us appreciate the story more. From the movies, we had constructed ideas of how things seemed, but the books have broadened our perspectives of how things are. Even a genre shift can change perspectives.
Being able to see things as they are is an important skill for finding joy through any phase of life, as God intended. Thus, the adversary frequently tries to limit our view. He convinces us that our narrow perspective is the true reality and leads us to act on that idea. As a result, we can feel lonely, lost, sad, unorganized, burdened, and heavy.
We can overcome this trap by seeking the spirit of God, who teaches us how things really are. Learning to see things accurately can help us succeed better in our daily endeavors, our school assignments, our work responsibilities, and our relationships with others and ourselves. Michelle D. Craig, the First Counselor in the Young Women General Presidency, said: “Ask God to reveal [who you are], along with how He feels about you. The more you understand your true identity and purpose, soul deep, the more it will influence everything in your life.” Through God, we can receive knowledge about ourselves and how things really are, which can then help us generate proper decisions and choices based on a full-picture perspective, and improve our overall quality of life.
Because things are not always as they seem, it can be helpful to look for and focus on the positive.
Because things are not always as they seem, it can be helpful to look for and focus on the positive. Things are not usually as bad as we think they are, and focusing on the positive can be one way of seeing things as they are rather than as they seem.
Research demonstrates that “the more positive emotions people experience, the more successful they are. Positive [people] make better decisions, are more creative, more productive, more resilient and have better interpersonal skills.” Dr. Fredrickson, the author of the perspectives activity I introduced at the beginning of this post, says that positivity creates “a healthier, more vibrant, and flourishing life. […] Experiencing positive emotions broadens people’s minds and builds their resourcefulness in ways that help them become more resilient to adversity and effortlessly achieve what they once could only imagine.” She promises that, with a perspective of positivity, “you’ll learn to see new possibilities, bounce back from setbacks, connect with others, and become the best version of yourself.” As I’ve practiced her activity over the years, I have seen this for myself.
When we learn to see things as they are rather than as they seem, and when we approach those things with a perspective of positivity, we are happier. This is one reason why I love the humanities: they help us see things as they are and as they seem, they help us see from new perspectives, and they help us find joy in the journey.
This post was written by Shannel Morin, a Humanities Center student fellow.
Cabrera, Elizabeth F. The Six Essentials of Workplace Positivity. 2012, http://innovationecosystem.pbworks.com/w/file/fetch/63566498/Cabrera-6essentials.pdf.
Chabris, Christopher, and Simons, Daniel. “Bet You Didn’t Notice ‘The Invisible Gorilla’.” NPR, NPR, 19 May 2010, https://www.npr.org/2010/05/19/126977945/bet-you-didnt-notice-the-invisible-gorilla.
Craig, Michelle D. “Eyes to See.” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Oct. 2020, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2020/10/14craig?lang=eng.
Cutshall, Sandy. “More than a Decade of Standards: Integrating ‘Cultures’ in Your Language Instruction.” ACTFL, Apr. 2012, https://www.actfl.org/sites/default/files/publications/standards/Cultures.pdf.
Fredrickson, Barbara. “Positivity.” Positivityratio.com – Self Test, 2009, https://positivityratio.com/single.php.
Nelson, Russell M. “Joy and Spiritual Survival.” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Oct. 2016, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2016/10/joy-and-spiritual-survival?lang=eng.