The Skill of Happiness

By Jim Redtail Collins

How you see the world determines what you see. And how you see it is determined by the memories that you have accumulated, and what you believe to be true, based on those experiences. What do you believe to be true?

You probably think that your memories are real, and you probably have beliefs based on them that control your emotional life, even if you have forgotten what they are. But our memories are only partial recordings of the past, distortions of the truth, at best, because when your subconscious mind recorded them, you were focused on certain things to the exclusion of other things. The fact is, our brains are unable to discriminate between memory and fantasy, most likely because they are not that different.

The mind expresses what it already holds—what it has recorded subconsciously—which is everything you have experienced. What your mind holds constitutes the sum of your resources for creating your life. It is the source of your thoughts and emotional experiences.

If you don’t know how to change your mind, then who is in control of your life?


The Tyranny of the Past

Most of us live in the past most of the time. Less often, we live in the future. Rarely, we are present in the now. The past is over! It does not exist, and neither does the future, but that does not stop us from living there in our minds.

Your subconscious mind is a replicator of the familiar. The more you experience an emotion, the more likely you will repeat it. Neural pathways—networks of dedicated function—form in the brain from repetition. The more frequent a thought or emotion, the stronger the neural pathways become.

Since most of the decisions you make and the emotions you experience are based on patterns from your past, the odds are against you if you carry limited beliefs and subconscious mental “programs” installed from negative life experiences, and if you had no one to teach you how to manage your emotional states.

We attract into our lives what matches our belief system. Inflexible beliefs bind us to replication of our emotional past! In other words, your mind uses bad experiences to create more bad experiences.

Good experiences work the same way. Which way we tilt with this depends on what is more familiar, what we practice the most. Once you learn how this works, you can begin to take charge of your emotional life. You can change how your past affects your present.


Changing How You Feel

Everything you experience happens within your perception. Changing experience therefore requires a change of perception, a change in the way your mind represents reality.

If your parents were skilled in managing their emotions (which is unusual, even for psychotherapists …), you are lucky—and a rare bird. Your parents probably did the best they could, but the chances are high that they had no idea how to manage their emotions, because your grandparents did not know either, because neither did theirs.

And if your parents did not have a high level of emotional skill, neither will you. Like most skills, it must be learned and practiced. In a nutshell, the reason we feel bad is because we have considerable practice at it.

The good news is that changing your mind and managing your emotions is easy once you know how. You can abandon old neural pathways and create new ones. As new pathways form and we strengthen them by “practice” (i.e., repetition) the old pathways atrophy rather quickly. Neuroscientists call this neural plasticity.

Happiness is a skill. No one is “happy” merely because of the conditions in his or her life. People are happy—or not— because of their beliefs and mind-set, because it is familiar.

To experience more of something—such as happiness—we must make it more familiar. There are several effective ways to do this, but the simplest way is to practice, which will create new neural pathways, increasing the likelihood of autonomic repetition, like learning to ride a bicycle.


A Simple Trick That Can Help You Out

Close your eyes and think of one of the best feelings you have ever had, something so good it is almost impossible to tell anyone about it. If it doesn’t make you want to giggle, find another. Feel it in your body.

Then imagine a dial in your mind that controls the intensity of the feeling, and turn it all the way up!

Now grab your wrist with the other hand and gently squeeze for about a minute while focusing on that good feeling.

Keep practicing this several times a day, for about a week, the same way each time.

After you have practiced for a week, you will be able to dial up that feeling any time you need to change your attitude just by squeezing your wrist in that special way.

Then you can get creative by continuing to practice having that good feeling by imagining problematic situations in which you would like to feel good instead of bad and then squeezing your wrist.

Keep practicing … and watch how your life begins to change.

If you would like to learn more about how to manage your emotions and transform your life, you can always call me.


Dr. Jim Collins, widely known as Redtail, is a psychologist, shamanist, and self-mastery coach, whose passion is helping people to empower themselves to happiness, personal excellence, and conscious evolution. He can be reached at 530-604-8653 or through his website at