Consider the following events. A newsflash just reported that a large and dangerous bear has escaped from the city zoo. What happens? The 911 switchboard lights up. The bear has been spotted in a tree, running across the park, and rummaging in a dumpster down a back alley. People report seeing the bear all over town. But it turns out the bear never wandered more than 100 yards from the zoo.8 Our expectations create perceptions. Suppose we're at a football game when our favorite team is playing its archrival. Chances are we'll notice many more infractions committed by the other team than by our team. Of course, those rooting for the other team will likely see more penalties committed by our side.9 We see what we want to see. Our faulty perceptions have led to a number of bizarre occurrences throughout human history. Every now and then, a collective delusion occurs that causes mass hysteria in some segment of society. A "monkey man" scare recently occurred in India, where people reported seeing a half monkey-half human creature with razor-sharp fingernails and superhuman strength. Outbreaks of "penis shrinking" panics occur in various parts of Asia, where people perceive their genitalia shriveling up into their bodies.And, of course, in this country there are the numerous reports of alien abduction. Clearly, our perception of reality can be unreliable, which should make us wary of beliefs that are based only on our personal experiences, especially if those beliefs are extraordinary. That is obviously another problem with labels; they are almost always backward looking. Labels describe where you perceive you have been, not where you are. If you give in to them, however, they can sure predict where you're going. To focus on your accumulated labels is to look back rather than ahead. To focus on your accumulated labels is to allow your past to become your future.

What's true for the other internal factors is also true for labels: You distort information to support your labels. If you decide that your child is a hellion, that your boss is a jerk, or that you are a loser, you will be sensitized to and will eagerly collect every kind of information that supports those labels and reject any contrary data. You will put your "information radar" in confirm mode and will only scan for examples and will interpret all behaviors and interactions in a way that supports a relevant label and categorization. You do the same thing whether the label is applied to someone else or it is applied to you. Prayer, meditation, or simply focusing on the here and now can help still the mind so you can listen to your bodily wisdom. Many times these signals may seem illogical, but you have to remember that this is life's very nature. Life unfolds in miraculous ways the moment you embrace it; you learn to expect the unexpected, and unforeseen opportunities arise. Remember that every day is an opportunity to learn something new. What does it take to make this leap of faith, to embrace life? To begin with, you need to be mindful. By that I mean you should be more aware and attentive to who you are body, mind, and spirit. Too often, people's bodies and minds become corrupted or dulled, and they do not function in top shape. You need to learn to let your mind do its job of rational thinking and allow your heart to fulfill its role when it comes to emotion and feeling. Ideally, neither logic nor emotion usurps, spills over, or interferes with each other. In other words, reason and emotion should complement one another and be harmonious. Most important, you need to learn to avoid becoming identified with negative emotions. This is easier in theory than in practice, but it is important because negative emotions have a way of compounding. You need to make sure to take great care of your body so that it is sensitive, it is intuitive, and instinctual perceptions are allowed to function optimally. When you are in harmony, you are able to process your expectation of how life should be. Consequently, you can be fully available to what life actually is.

I always advise people to see where life takes them and enjoy the ride. The trouble is, we don't make time for our values. We unintentionally spend too much time in one area of our lives at the expense of others. We get busy at work at the expense of living out our values with our family or friends. If we run ourselves ragged caring for our kids, we neglect our bodies, minds, and friendships and prevent ourselves from being the people we desire to be. If we chronically neglect our values, we become something we're not proud of--our lives feel out of balance and diminished. Ironically, this ugly feeling makes us more likely to seek distractions to escape our dissatisfaction without actually solving the problem. Whatever our values may be, it's helpful to categorize them into various life domains, a concept that is thousands of years old. The Stoic philosopher Hierocles demonstrated the interconnected nature of our lives with concentric circles illustrating a hierarchal balance of duties. He placed the human mind and body at the center, followed by close family in the next ring, then extended family, then fellow members of one's tribe, then inhabitants of one's town or city, fellow citizens and countrymen next, finishing with all humanity in the outermost ring. With depression, there is a tendency to withdraw from the activities of your daily life and to avoid contact with friends and family. You may prefer to stay at home, not get dressed or answer the telephone, and just do nothing. Getting in touch with others or responding to those who are trying to help you is often quite difficult. Symptoms of depression such as fatigue and lack of interest may contribute to your withdrawal. This type of alone time is often lonely, closed off, and adds to your sense of sadness. Resist the urge to isolate and withdraw from your life. Isolation is not healthy for you or your brain. Social isolation and lack of social support increase the risk of developing depression and may prolong episodes of depression. You need to have social contact and support to maintain your emotional well-being and protect against major depression. All alone time is not the same.

Spending some time alone each day, without feeling lonely, can be beneficial. Solitude, rather than isolation, has a purpose and provides a sense of contentment and enjoyment. It allows you to think, self-reflect, and relax or replenish yourself when overwhelmed. Solitude is something you choose to experience, in contrast to the isolation of depression. Everyone needs a bit of alone time in their lives. A quiet walk outdoors, reading, or working on a favorite hobby are examples of solitude that can be valuable to your well-being. Even though solitude is alone time, it is not the same as the isolation and withdrawal that comes with depression. People vary in how much they value and feel comfortable being alone. That is built into your disposition, the way you were born, and each person is different. You have to know yourself and your personal preferences. For example, a farmer tending to his cattle or crops all day or a fisherman at sea may feel quite content and not lonely or isolated, even though he does not see other people for days at a time. He is not bothered by being alone in his chosen place. This may be a healthy decision for him. Another person may not feel the same way and needs to be surrounded by others, such as by living in a large metropolitan city. People choose lifestyles with varying degrees of solitude, based on what is healthy for them. Life can be very complex. We often have to juggle many different things just to get through the day. This also happens when we make decisions. Sometimes the amount of information available is overwhelming. In fact, if we paid attention to all of it, we'd spend most of our time just gathering and evaluating information.

To avoid this "analysis paralysis," we use a number of simplifying strategies. For example, we often base our decisions upon information that can easily be brought to mind. If we're deciding whether a sport, like downhill skiing, is risky, we don't conduct an exhaustive search of the ways a person could get hurt skiing, or search out the number of skiing injuries per year. Instead, we often simplify the task by thinking about our friends' skiing experiences or about skiing accidents we heard reported on TV. We may remember, for example, that both Sonny Bono and Michael Kennedy were killed while skiing in the same year and conclude that skiing is a very dangerous sport (even though there are more injuries in many other recreational activities, such as boating and bike riding). Simplifying strategies can be quite beneficial. They save time and effort, and allow us to make a decision quickly and move on to something else. Fortunately, they often result in reasonably good decisions. While they may not give us the best decision, they often are "good enough." However, when we use these simplifying strategies we don't pay attention to all the information that's relevant to a decision, which can get us into trouble. What if you went to your doctor and got tested for a debilitating viral disease. The test comes back positive--it says you have the virus! How worried should you be? The doctor tells you, "The test is 100 percent accurate in indicating a person has the virus when they actually have it, but it also says a person has the virus when they don't have it 5 percent of the time." You also learn that about one in five hundred people have the virus. So, what's the probability you have the virus if the test says you do? Most people say it's around 95 percent. In fact, the correct answer is only 4 percent! As we will see, our use of simplifying strategies results in ignoring very important information, which can lead to grossly inaccurate judgments. Just as with some of the former beauty queens at my reunion, if your label was and is that you are the cutest girl in the class, eventually, as you inevitably get older and your beauty fades, you're going to have to avoid mirrors and people who will tell you the truth or you will be very distressed. If you label yourself the quintessential mother and your children leave the nest to go off to college, your label and its boundaries will not serve you well. If, when perceiving and judging someone else, you say to yourself, That guy's an idiot, you will stop processing data, because you've already decided what he is.