Frames of Mind

by Peter Saint-Andre


In my recent post about snares and attachments (and in my older post about idealism and identity), I observed that it's all too easy to become attached to one's opinions and ideas. In his book On the Wisdom of America (pp. 229-230), Lin Yutang makes a similar point with regard to what he calls frames of mind:

It is all a frame of mind, this enjoyment of living.... Things don't give us anything except what we bring to the enjoyment of them. One may be a habitual cynic, taking pleasure in his cynicism, or a shallow optimist, or a sentimentalist, each frame of mind being as subjective as the others. How to select our spectacles through which to look at life is all a matter of personal choice. A frame of mind may become habitual and fixed, and then it becomes for that man a philosophy of life, an attitude toward it. A wise man would be careful not to let any particular frame of mind settle down into a permanent attitude, knowing that once he has got it, he will take a stubborn pleasure in it. A crusty old fool will delight in being just a crusty old fool, and a young sophisticated cynic will wallow in his cynicism.

Despite what Lin says, I'm not convinced that "selecting one's spectacles" is purely a matter of personal choice, because I suspect that one's psychological dispositions and biological characteristics play a role: by nature some people seem to be, say, more energetic or upbeat or sensitive than others. Be that as it may, I think it's a worthy goal to achieve a greater versatility in one's frames of mind. In my experience, it can help to have friends with perspectives different from one's own and to imagine how historical personages or fictional characters might approach a given situation. With practice, I suppose one might even create a repertoire of "spectacles" that one could don as needed - but I haven't advanced that far, yet!

(Cross-posted at


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