The hosts of Reply All, a podcast about the internet and culture, received an email from a listener with the subject line “You broke my heart”. That sure caught their attention, so they followed up with her. The listener wrote because something in the previous episode bothered her.
In that previous episode, the hosts were talking about a YouTube channel that had briefly become a meme on Twitter. They spoke to two MTV News writers who described the YouTube-r as having “a sizeable-ish following, 600,000 subscribers. Which… I’ve heard isn’t that impressive.”
When asked how many subscribers is impressive, the MTV writer responded, “Like two million.”
That exchange, which lasted all of 20 seconds (out of 33 minutes), is what motivated the listener to write. But why? This snippet was hardly relevant to the episode's story and didn’t seem like something that would cause distress.
It turns out that the listener has a YouTube channel of her own, with three friends. They’ve been making videos for a year in their spare time – she edits during her lunch break at work. They love making videos but it takes hours to produce a 5-minute video.
They’ve been working hard at this, and felt good that their channel had grown to 600 subscribers. When they hit 500, they made a celebration video to mark the milestone.
And then, she listened to the podcast. She heard that 600,000 subscribers isn’t impressive. And her channel is nowhere close to that. Heartbreak.
Why am I telling you this? Let’s go back to her email: You broke my heart. YOU broke my heart. In other words, she felt bad and it was someone else’s fault.
Oh really? Actually, no.
Here's the thing: she – not the podcast hosts, not the MTV News writers, not the YouTube-r – caused her pain. She broke her own heart the moment she heard that 600,000 subscribers isn’t impressive and believed it meant something about her. Like, maybe she wasn’t working hard enough, or good enough. Or maybe her work is insignificant, or she’ll never figure out the secret to video success. Ouch.
And that illustrates what’s really heartbreaking – how we cause our own suffering. It’s our thoughts that create our feelings.
But there’s good news here too, because it means we’re in control of how we feel. Your feelings are not at the mercy of other people or events. You can change how you feel by choosing what you think. This is how you begin living deliberately, and it is powerful.
A colleague of mine says that our minds are like a toddler with a knife – dangerous when unsupervised. Start paying attention to what you’re thinking and how it makes you feel. Similarly, notice how you feel (both good and bad), and trace it back to the thought caused it.
Discover the connection between your thoughts and feelings. This awareness, my friends, is freedom. It won’t matter how you compare to others. Do they have more? Have less? You choose what it means. You choose how you respond. And your heart will be stronger for it.
"Happiness isn't a destination, it's a realization that things couldn't possibly get any better than having the freedom to perceive as you please and to think as you choose." – Mike Dooley
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