Take a few moments to stop and think how you’re feeling right now. Are you stressed, anxious, depressed? Maybe you’re envious, angry or just ambivalent? I’m willing to bet that the one emotion you’re not feeling is happy. Why is that?
I think part of the problem is that we have progressed past the first few levels of Mazlow’s hierarchy of needs. We are hovering around the Esteem level looking for achievement, status, prestige, and respect.
Somehow we seem to have translated this into “keeping up with the Joneses”. Comparing ourselves against others serves to highlight what we don’t have, rather than what we do. Our constant busyness causes us to feel tired and stressed. This leads us to be quick to anger or judge. We mistakenly think that our pursuit of more money, a better job, more goods is the path to happiness. While they provide us with a brief boost of happiness it soon wears off and we’re looking for our next fix. The long-term happiness we seek always seems to be around the next corner. In fact, the key to happiness is to enjoy, appreciate and be content in your present circumstances.
When we starting comparing, we only compared “up”; we have forgotten to compare “down”.
Look around at your life, the people in it and the things you have. I bet you’re taking most of it for granted.
You are ridiculously fortunate — we should be ecstatic most of the time.
The simple fact that you’re reading this means that you’re better off than most of the rest of the world. You have a computer (or tablet or phone), an internet connection and free time to sit and read it.
Expand your worldview
We need to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes from time to time. Someone who is far removed from our own little bubble of people.
Try doing something to see the world from another perspective. You could travel to a developing country or volunteer at a homeless shelter or nursing home.
In a book I’m reading at the moment1 the author describes visiting Uganda. There, she had the opportunity to explore a compound for vulnerable children. The non-profit group takes care of orphans and children with illnesses (such as HIV) when their families can no longer look after them.
I walked over to the swarm of children around the swing set and said hello to one of the little boys who spoke a bit of English. I asked about what he was learning in his classes. He told me that he had been learning about organs and named a few, such as his heart, his brain, and his stomach. I told him he had a very good brain to remember all those things. In response to the compliment, his mouth stretched into a tooth-baring grin, and his eyes lit up and expanded with a surge of pride.
Given that I seemed to have treated his comrade well, other children began to come up to me, asking me questions, showing me how they could do little acrobatic feats, and dangling from the trees overhead. We sang songs together, complete with arm motions, and the children showed off their strength by moving a sack of rice so big that it took four of them to get it to flop end over end.
But most of all, they radiated joy.
They were away from their families. They had potentially life-threatening diseases. Their clothes were dirty and worn. They most likely had no money to their names. They definitely didn’t have mobile phones or computers. But, in my opinion, they were the ones to be admired not pitied. They truly had it all in that they obviously delighted in their lives, delighted in their friends, and delighted in all the good that they did have instead of dwelling on what was not.
Reframe the negative
We should take a leaf from the boys’ book and reframe negative thoughts into something positive. For example if you’re stressed at work, be thankful that you have a job and you’re learning perseverance.
Thinking in this way is practicing mindfulness. This is something that I am learning through my meditation; it helps you be present in the now and notice what’s around you. It lets you pause and remind yourself what’s important.
To illustrate: I was leaving work a couple of days ago and someone in a Mercedes had parked inconsiderately, blocking me in. I had to do several manoeuvres to squeeze though a small gap to get out. My immediate reaction was to call the driver an idiot2; I got irate and honked my horn as I squeezed through.
Before I’d started meditating, I’d be seething all the way home and on into the evening. I’d undoubtedly drive worse too. Instead, as I drove out the gate, mindfulness kicked in and gave me space to reflect. Yes, the driver was unthoughtful but there’s no need to let it affect me. The situation only arose because I have a job (which I hugely enjoy). My job enables me to own a car which makes it easy to get home and grants me a vast amount of freedom.
Whilst simple, this technique can have a tremendously positive effect on your life. It reduces your own stress and, in turn, it means you’re much less likely to take out your frustrations on someone else.
Gratitude is about appreciating what you have, who you are and where you are right now, in the present. Notice and be thankful of the present. Stop taking things for granted, comparing yourself to others or worrying about what you don’t have. Instead…
- You have clean, running water
- You have enough food to eat
- You have light and heat
- You have clean clothes on your back
- for your health
- You have a home
- Your family who love you unconditionally
- Your friends
- You have a job
- and you have stuff, so much stuff, music, tv, internet, books, toys, hobbies…
As this post is my last during 30DWC I must also thank Marc for putting this together. It has been a beneficial and inspiring experience due to the community that has sprung up through it. Thank you everyone — you are making me a better person.