Saturday, April 20, 2013
Considering the way the week has gone, with two people being terribly successful at doing bad things, it's ironic that my previous post was about the powerful connection between doing good and being successful. Although last week I poked fun at overachieving Adam Grant for the potentially pathological origins of his urge to help others, I am really very happy to believe that humans tend towards the good, biologically speaking. If scientists confirm the existence of the rumored "altruism gene," I will be delighted. I was one of the zillions of people who shared the Mr. Rogers quotation about looking for the helpers in times of tragedy, because they are always there.
I also recalled listening to the Dalai Lama talking about how the newsworthiness of terrible events like the marathon bombing is proof that humans are inherently good. These horrific events shock and anger us - not to mention, make front page news - because they are rare. They are not the norm. They are extraordinary. Ordinary people aim for the good.
Nevertheless, the mug pretty well sums up how I'm feeling. Despite the capture of the Marathon bombers, the fact remains that overall the news has been bad. Shitty, really. Bombs in Beantown, bums in the Senate. Booms in Texas. And my arms, from those allergy shots: They are swollen, hot, and itchy.
But I didn't just post this picture of Grumpy Cat because I'm grumpy. I posted it because the mug makes me smile. Everything in the picture makes me smile, as a matter of fact, and while it may seem a stretch at times of national strife, one thing I've learned is that if you want to feel better, you have to smile. You don't even have to FEEL the smile. You can just use your smile muscles. The Buddha said so, and so did Daniel Kahneman in his incredible book, Thinking Fast or Slow. Studies show that just holding a pencil between your teeth - which activates your smile muscles - will make you trend optimistic.
I'm not a Grumpy Cat fan. Grumpy Cat is a meme, and I know what a meme is because my children have told me. The mug makes me smile, though, because I won it. When I say I won it, I mean I won it in a random drawing on a funny blog I read, so that makes me smile. And the box next to it, and the vintage pin come from excellent friends who visited from Boston last weekend, so they make me smile, too. The box, by the way, holds a musical egg timer. You refrigerate the timer with your eggs, then put it in the pot when you hard boil them, and the egg, which is painted to look like mini Delft china because it's Dutch, plays the Dutch national anthem when the eggs are done. Supposedly. My eggs weren't as done as I would have liked, but that is probably because they are fat American eggs, not slim, Dutch bicycling eggs. Still, the whole business was very entertaining. Plus, all the instructions are in Dutch, which is funny to try to pronounce, if you're me.
I put all those things together because they remind me that despite the bad news, I notice myself straining to find something good. Straining is the right word, here, because effort is involved. I'm no Pollyanna, but I do want to find a way back to good when something terrible happens. I don't think I've always felt this way. There have been times when I have been overwhelmed by traumatic events and pretty much pummeled by them. Readers, I believe this trend towards optimism in me is a result of my struggle to define success. I've changed. I think it's all the reading I've done about success, motivation, positive thinking, intelligence, and happiness, and meditation. Possible simply due to meditation, if what I've been learning about meditation's effects on the brain is true.
Whatever has caused this change, I'm grateful for it. I feel more resilient. If I didn't have that sense of possibility inside me somewhere, I might not be able to see those helpers. Sure, they're in the paper. But I mean, if I didn't have the little light of optimism, I would probably be overwhelmed by a sense of the helpers' ultimate futility.
So I am grateful, so grateful not to feel that way, not to feel that bad. I'm as grateful for that as I am for the helpers.
Thursday morning, I went to my NIA class, and the teacher, who is a friend, told the group that that day, instead of a particular body focus, she wanted us to have a focus on gratitude. Because of the bombing in Boston, about which she felt so angry and sad, she felt it was important to be grateful for our legs and feet and bodies, for the chance to move them around at will. It made me cry. Then I danced.