STANLEY SCHACHTER SET UP the following
experiment: He first divided his experimental subjects into two
groups and gave them all a shot of adrenaline. Then the subjects
mingled with Schachters assistants, whom the subjects had
been led to believe were given a shot too.
In one group, the assistants acted as if
they were experiencing anxiety. In the other group, the assistants
acted excited and happy. Asked what the shot had done to them,
subjects in the first group said the adrenaline shot made them
feel anxious; subjects in the second group said the adrenaline
made them feel excited and elated.
The way the assistants acted influenced
the way the subjects interpreted their experience. And it was
their interpretations that made their experience pleasant
or unpleasant. The adrenaline shot was the same in both groups,
and caused the same effects: it made their hearts pound, dilated
their eyes, sent glucose to the muscles, and shut down the digestive
Both groups experienced the same physical
changes, but the way the assistants acted created a different
meaning for the physical changes, and those meanings made
the difference between anxiety and elation.
Change the meaning of an experience
and the experience changes.
The late Viktor Frankl, a psychiatrist
and a survivor of Hitlers concentration camps, often changed
the meaning of events for his patients, and it changed their
lives. For example, an elderly and severely depressed man came
to see Frankl. His wife had died and she had meant more to him
than anything in the world.
What would have happened, Frankl
asked the man, if you had died first, and your wife would
have survived you?
The man answered: Oh, for her this
would have been terrible; how she would have suffered!
You see, said Frankl, such
a suffering has been spared her, and it is you who have
spared her this suffering; but now, you have to pay for it by
surviving and mourning her.
The man didnt say anything. He shook
Dr. Frankls hand and calmly left. Frankl wrote:
Suffering ceases to be suffering in
some way at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning
of a sacrifice.
THE MEANINGS you make in your life can
be the difference between anxiety and elation, between hopelessness
and courage, between failure and success, and even, as Frankl
discovered in the concentration camps, between living and dying.
You have some control over the way you
interpret the events of your life. The meanings of events are
not written in stone. You can create more useful meanings for
yourself. All it takes is a little thought.
Interpret events in a way that