4 Effective Practices for Gaining Perspective

gain perspective

As human beings it is inevitable that at some point in our lives we will develop feelings of sadness, hopelessness and even depression. These emotions can be brought on by something personal like losing a job, a failed relationship, or a serious health issue for you or a loved one; or sometimes they are triggered by something more global like corrupt political systems, war, or the knowledge that there are starving children all over the world.

Regardless, we are just people and no matter how hard we may try to mitigate negative emotions, they persist. The purpose of this article is NOT to explain to you how detrimental these negative feelings are, but rather give some practical tools for gaining perspective amid these rough times. Living with perspective means always looking at your life from the 10,000 foot level, and when you entrain yourself to pull back and view yourself from this height things begin to look a little different. More often than not, they begin to look much better.

So HOW do we do it? Here are four effective practices for gaining perspective:

1. Read

Delving into a well-written book can really speak to your soul, and is an excellent practice to feeling life from the vantage point of someone else. More specifically read a book that is told from the vantage point of an older person or someone towards their end of his/her life. Ask yourself: what would this older person who can barely walk and do anything by herself do if she were placed in my body? Begin acting as this person would if she had the ability to switch bodies with you.

I recently finished Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen which was a partial narrative by a 93 year old man looking back at his days in the circus during the Great Depression. Although his time in the circus was marked with struggle and fear he reflects on those days as the most memorable of his life. Are YOU right here, right now, living those days? Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom is another wonderful tale that I highly recommend.

2. Seek out an older grandparent, great uncle or someone you know who is 80+ years and initiate a purpose-filled conversation.

Ask them about their most cherished memories and listen to them as they talk of the past, when they were young and vibrant and full of hope. Understand that they also had feelings of fear, sadness and struggle (just like you have), but get the sense that they would do anything to go back in time and re-live those moments. Ask them if they would do things differently or exactly the same. Come away from this conversation with the understanding that right now YOU are the one living the life you will speak of when you are older.

One of my biggest regrets is that I knew and remember all four of my grandparents, but never had the good sense to ask them specifically about their lives. If you still have these people around, seek them out; they are your family and they love you. The conversation will be beneficial to them as well and gives them the opportunity to share what they have learned, and they will appreciate your asking!

3. Volunteer

There are countless people all over the world who are in need of assistance, and volunteering your time and energy enables you to perform a selfless act that simply helps others. However, volunteering does not have to be completely selfless; in fact I would argue that becoming a volunteer is a wonderful way to gain perspective in your own life (and not in the “oh, look how badly these people have it and thank God I’m me” way).

Volunteering is unique in that it gives you a very pure opportunity to connect with people that you may never have met otherwise. I am always surprised by how much I learn about myself through relationships I never would have forged if I hadn’t volunteered my time. “Giving back” reaps perspective.

4. Examine the actions of kids 5 years and younger

If you have your own kids, then you know what I am talking about. If not, then go to a park where little kids play and simply watch what they do (be careful not to appear like some crazy person)! If you tune in and become really aware of them, it’s amazing to observe how all little kids act with a similar reckless abandon. They simply do exactly what they want to do, all the time.

Aside from being absolutely hilarious, there is a serious lesson of perspective to be learned here. Remember, you were once just like these little people, but as you have gotten older you have gone away from acting with such a care-free attitude and become a “serious, responsible adult”. As you are watching these kids, ask yourself if it wouldn’t feel nice to be like that again, even for a little while.

Final Thoughts

Gaining perspective in your life is an important exercise that you must purposefully develop. By reading good books, speaking with older relatives, volunteering and observing little kids you can start to get a more rounded view of the world you are living. As you partake in these activities, entrain yourself to start looking at your life outside the realm of your current circumstances; see yourself as if 40 years from the future, and 30 years from the past. We all have very real problems and situations to deal with; some are in our control while others are not. The only thing that we really have control of is our emotions when dealing with situations. Gaining perspective is a wonderful tool for sustaining a meaningful and fulfilling life!

Photo by emilykneeter

11 thoughts on “4 Effective Practices for Gaining Perspective”

  1. Very nice article, and I agree with all four points. The perspective that you gain helps you to see that you are your own person and are who you choose to be. You can choose to take advantage of opportunities that arise, or you can choose to hold back out of fear or simply being uncomfortable (which is really just a very low grade fear). Old people look back and realize this, but feel it’s too late. Children realize this, but mostly have it trained out of them. Watching, or talking to, either of these groups can help you see it, too… and at a time when you are most able to take advantage of it.

  2. Thanks for the guest post Todd! I loved this article and agree 100% that it is so important to gain perspective in life. So many people experience unnecessary stress and anguish because they live their entire life on the runway. Whilst it is important to do this, it is just as important to be able to look down on your life from 10,000 feet.

  3. Dear Todd, I read your offerings with a sense of respect for you and your sense of wisdom and love for others. What can I offer you?
    I think it’s important to keep in mind that we are not to escape from our sufferings but to accept them as necessary to our experience
    and as aspects of our attainment of humility. Self realization is a process of coming to know who we are. I don’t mean our name or our physical body or where we are from but our inner self and its sense of aloneness because no matter how many friends we may have, we admittedly are very much alone with ourselves and our thoughts and fears and our joys and our dreams. Each of us if you will are observors of everything and everyone else outside
    of us. we do dwell in a within experience. We peer from within
    at whatever is without. That includes at my hands typing this presentation and by extension, my body and its breathing and
    this reminds me of when i was a kid imagining that i was a tiny
    being looking out of two windows at the top of a giant machine walking around. And I can Imagine that this giant machine is actually God and I am protectively and joyfully observing as he doeth the works as jesus related to us. anyway, so it goes. Doug

  4. I can’t say enough about life. I believe I am God being Doug. God is the actor and I am his role and his costume and my lifes plan is the script and the dialogue on the stage which is life. Also God and I are partners in this adventure so I have input to offer and God offers his wisdom and understanding and he loves me as the parent he is, just as any parent would and just as I love you And that makes me to be God loving you or anyone as my child. Let’s openly and fearlessly let
    our imagination have the freedom to inform us of the true reality of all matters important to us. Let’s be really real, ok? Let’s be really real. (Actually real) Not pretend real as we are accustomed to being but REALLY REAL. Love to you and all———DOUG

  5. Jason,
    “Old people look back and realize this, but feel it’s too late.” One of my favorite (created) role models is of a wise old person. And, in fact, a study a few years ago showed that the over-70 age group tended to be happiest because of their ability to put things into perspective.

    I’m afraid I never turned into a serious adult. My most serious period was adolescence, and I had sense enough to decide that was stupid. That’s when Happiness as a Spiritual Practice started. In spite of life’s inevitable challenges, it’s just gotten better and better.

    So thanks for the post, but you might add a fifth practice to your list: Lighten up…have a sense of humor.

    Jean Browman
    Cheerful Monk
    Transforming Stress into Personal Power

  6. I just received this from a friend. Just a confirmation that Jason’s description doesn’t apply to all old people:

    I know I’ve sent this out in the past. This reminds me so much of my Grandmother who lived to be 105. She always wanted to take a computer class but felt it was more important that the younger kids get the knowledge. So when I would go and visit and take my laptop, there were always those questions of “How does it work, How does it do that, How…” She just loved to learn.


    The first day of school our professor introduced himself and challenged us to get to know someone we didn’t already know. I stood up to look around when a gentle hand touched my shoulder.

    I turned around to find a wrinkled, little old lady beaming up at me with a smile that lit up her entire being.

    She said, “Hi handsome. My name is Rose. I’m 87 yrs. old. Can I give you a hug?”

    I laughed and enthusiastically responded, “Of course you may!” and she gave me a giant squeeze.

    “Why are you in college at such a young, innocent age?” I asked.

    She jokingly replied, “I’m here to meet a rich husband, get married, and have a couple of kids…”

    “No seriously,” I asked. I was curious what may have motivated her to be taking on this challenge at her age.

    “I always dreamed of having a college education and now I’m getting one!” she told me.

    After class we walked to the student union building and shared a chocolate milkshake.

    We became instant friends. Every day for the next 3 months we would leave class together and talk nonstop. I was always mesmerized listening to this “time machine” as she shared her wisdom and experience with me.

    Over the course of the year, Rose became a campus icon and she easily made friends wherever she went. She loved to dress up and she reveled in the attention bestowed upon her from the other students. She was living it up.

    At the end of the semester we invited Rose to speak at our football banquet. I’ll never forget what she taught us. She was introduced and stepped up to the podium. As she began to deliver her prepared speech, she dropped her 3 x 5 cards on the floor.

    Frustrated and a little embarrassed she leaned into the microphone and simply said, “I’m sorry I’m so jittery. I gave up beer for Lent and this whiskey is killing me! I’ll never get my speech back in order so let me just tell you what I know.”

    As we laughed she cleared her throat and began, “We do not stop playing because we are old; we grow old because we stop playing.

    There are only four secrets to staying young, being happy, and achieving success. You have to laugh and find humor every day. You’ve got to have a dream. When you lose your dreams, you die.

    We have so many people walking around who are dead and don’t even know it!

    There is a huge difference between growing older and growing up.

    If you are 19 yrs. old and lie in bed for one full year and don’t do one productive thing, you will turn 20 yrs. old. If I am 87 yrs. old and stay in bed for a year and never do anything I will turn 88.

    Anybody can grow older. That doesn’t take any talent or ability. The idea is to grow up by always finding opportunity in change. Have no regrets.

    The elderly usually don’t have regrets for what we did, but rather for things we did not do. The only people who fear death are those with regrets.”

    She concluded her speech by courageously singing “The Rose.”

    She challenged each of us to study the lyrics and live them out in our daily lives.
    At the year’s end Rose finished the college degree she had begun all those years ago.

    One week after graduation Rose died peacefully in her sleep

    Over two thousand college students attended her funeral in tribute to the wonderful woman who taught by example that it’s never too late to be all you can possibly be.

    When you finish reading this, please send this peaceful word of advice to your friends and family, they’ll really enjoy it!

    These words have been passed along in loving memory of ROSE.

  7. Thanks for sharing that inspiring story Jean. I think it is always very dangerous to start generalizing about “old people”, “young people”, etc as there will always be exceptions. If anything, part of the problem is that “old people” or “young people” feel they have to act in a certain way.

  8. “Remember, you were once just like these little people, but as you have gotten older you have gone away from acting with such a care-free attitude”

    I don’t think I ever acted with a carefree attitude when I was a child, or if I ever did, I stopped way before I was 5. In all seriousness, I think I’m more carefree now.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *