Some years ago I went through a very hard time. The burden of starting a business weighed increasingly heavily. I felt that the challenges of work were completely consuming me, and I didn’t have enough time to spend with my family and friends–let alone time to spend by myself. I ran into a good old friend and over a cup of tea I shared my “complaints” with him. Johan listened supportively, and after a while he posed a question: “Do you remember that talk we had about our futures a few years ago?”
I did remember. My friend reminded me about the dreams–the things I wanted to achieve–that I had shared with him during that conversation. He brought me back to that earlier conversation and invited me to look at my present reality from that perspective. And, interestingly, it turned out that many of the things I had wished for years ago had in fact become part of my everyday reality. That meeting changed my life, because I realized that my wishes and dreams do tend to come true. It is only that I forget, because I’m always on the move to the next goal. “Count your blessings,” Johan said, and the heaviness of the time fell from my shoulders.
So, do I create my own reality? I have been interested in that question ever since I read Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich for the first time. That’s probably the archetypal work on this topic. Although the title suggests otherwise, the book is about much more than making money. I like the idea that I create my own reality, because even if at some point I don’t like that reality, I feel empowered to change it. Yet the notion also feels unjust as I look at people struggling to stay alive in poor countries or, closer to home, at people fighting life-threatening illnesses. How can I say they created their own realities too?
Recently, people have claimed the strange workings of quantum physics support the idea that we create our own realities. Documentaries like The Secret and What the Bleep Do We Know!? suggest the findings of modern physics prove this claim. Hard scientific evidence is convincing, but it may also confirm my sense of injustice. So I was happy we found a physicist, Peter Russell, to explain that we don’t so much create our own realities as adapt, manipulate and determine our own experiences of reality. A subtle difference.
There may not be a final answer to this question. It doesn’t matter. As Johan made me see, my dreams tend to come true. And I learn to be grateful–in the present–for all these new parts of my reality. I learn to count my blessings.
Jurriaan Kamp is the founder and editor of Ode Magazine, the magazine for intelligent optimists.