Most people foolishly believe that events create emotions. In fact, it's your interpretation of events--your thoughts--that create your emotions. Realizing that gives you incredible power to improve your experience in life and at work.

To make this point, I was going to quote the Chinese parable of the Taoist Farmer but instead here's the mystic/poet Alan Watts (one of Steve Jobs's favorite authors) telling the story instead:

There are two ways to interpret that story. One interpretation is that because you don't know the future, there's no point in feeling anything. The other interpretation--which I believe--is that because you don't know the future, you might as well enjoy whatever is happening right now.

So far, so good, but how? Easy. To create joy out of any moment, you ask yourself the right questions. I'll get to those questions in a moment but first I must explain why this technique works so well

The human brain is an amazing system. It truly operates under "ask and ye shall receive." If you ask your brain a question, it will always come up with an answer. It may be a good answer or it may be a stupid answer, but you'll get an answer, no matter what.

Because of this, you must take great care when asking your brain questions. For example, if on a daily basis you ask yourself "Why am I so miserable?" your brain will provide you with plenty of answers like "I'm stupid," "I'm unlucky," "people hate me," etc.

Those answers will create your experience of that day. You'll be miserable because you asked a question, and got answers, that guaranteed you'll see events through misery-colored glasses.

Fortunately, the opposite is true as well. If you ask the right questions, you'll get better answers, thereby guaranteeing that you'll see events more positively. With that in mind, here are six questions (borrowed from Tony Robbins) that program your mind to experience joy:

1. What would I need to believe to make this experience fun?

For example, suppose you currently believe that "life sucks and then you die." If so, your beliefs will cause you to interpret events as evidence of the "suckiness" of life.

By contrast, suppose you believe that "any day above ground is a good day." If so, you'll tend to interpret events as fitting into the general pattern of a "good day."

By asking yourself the above question above, you calling into question beliefs that pre-dispose you to be unhappy while opening yourself to the possibility of beliefs that will do the opposite.

More important, because your brain always answers questions, it will come up with a belief or two that, if you take them to heart, will make you feel happier.

So let's get specific. Suppose you dread the weekly staff meeting. If you ask yourself why, your brain will come up with answers like "it's boring," "I'd rather be doing something else," etc.

Now ask yourself: "what would I need to believe in order to make the weekly staff meeting fun?" You brain will come up answers like "I'd need to believe that it's fun watching people thrash things out" or "I'd need to believe it's fun talking about work."

Merely surfacing the possibility of those beliefs--even if you don't actually believe them--will make you feel better. And there's always the possibility that one of them will ring true. ("Hey, I actually DO enjoy talking shop.")

2. What would I need to focus upon to make this experience fun?

Every experience and event has multiple facets. Whatever facets you decide to focus upon determine exactly what you'll experience.

Whenever I consider this question, I remember one of the open scenes from the movie Shallow Hal. A beautiful woman approaches man and, obviously smitten, offers to take him as her date to an exclusive private party. Although otherwise unattached, the man refuses because all he can focus on is the girl's pinky toe, which is twisted to one side.

That's an obviously exaggerated case, but it's true in principle.

To illustrate this, let's suppose that you're working in an environment that's noisy when you prefer to work someplace quieter. If you focus on the noise, it will just get louder, and you'll drive yourself nuts. If you focus on the work and ignore the noise, you can get the job done.

Going a step further, maybe you can focus on some aspect of the noise that's positive. Consider: it can be fun to be around people who are abuzz with energy.

Those are the answers that MY brain came up with when I consider the scenario. Your brain will probably come up with something better. The main thing is to ask the question, so that you brain creates an answer that puts your focus where it will do you the most good.

3. Why should I be grateful for this experience?

Asking your brain for reasons to be grateful automatically short-circuits negative thoughts.

Here's an example from my own life. Whenever I'm feeling frustrated because a column isn't going right or my clients are demanding, I sit back and consider how lucky am that I get to work from home at a job that's intellectually stimulating and where I get to see my family every day.

The gratitude I feel for the blessings in my life doesn't make the frustration vanish entirely, but it puts it into perspective, so that I can enjoy the things that for which I'm grateful.

Note: I just went downstairs and looked at my two kids who are asleep--it's about midnight as I write this. So, yeah, maybe being stuck writing this post this late at night--which I wasn't all that keen on doing--isn't such a bad thing after all, eh?

In fact, now that I think of it, this post could really help people enjoy life more and, since helping people makes me happy, I am, well, really starting to enjoy myself. This is actually fun!

I apologize for getting all "meta" on you, but I'm trying to make a point. Your brain will give you reasons to be grateful if you ask. And that gratitude will bring more pleasure to your experience, whatever it might be.

Now, it occurs to me that some of you might be thinking: "gee, Geoff, it's easy for you to be grateful since you get to work at home, etc., etc., while I've got to deal with the jerks at the office."

Well, just so you know, one of the major reasons I was able to get my "dream job" was that I kept asking myself the questions in this list!

Earlier in my career, I let events drive my emotions. At the end of the day, I was too tired to do anything except watch TV.

By asking myself better questions, though, I created more joy and more energy, enough so that I took the leap of faith, quit my corporate job, and started my own business.

It was no picnic, I assure you. But, again, by asking these powerful questions, I had more fun than I'd had in years, even though everything was precarious and I was skating on very thin financial ice.

So you see, this stuff really worked for me and I think it will work for you, too. Give it a try!