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Mindful : June 2018
I once tried my hand at stand-up comedy. I quickly learned that other comics viewed opti- mism...well, cynically. After all, for many people daily life is a stream of violence, suffering, and uncaring. Lean down to smell the roses—and someone steals your wallet. Only a chump would expect it to be otherwise. P.T. Barnum famously once said that there’s a sucker born every minute. None of us wants to be that sucker. So by fine-tuning our radar for threats and assuming the worst of everyone and everything, maybe, just maybe, we won’t get caught with our g uard down. Cynicism lets us stay distant, cool, and superior to the muck of the human experience. If life were high school, it’d be where the cool kids hang out. Stranger danger The reasons for cynicism may seem valid at times. Life is unpredictable. Painful stuff hap- pens. Sometimes the person you trusted, the job you counted on, the seemingly friendly stranger pans out differently than you hoped. In those moments, you might feel that staying on the alert for anything negative or unpleasant might be the only way to avoid having the rug pulled out from under you, again. Maybe you think that cynicism has worked pretty well for you all these years, so why change? Perhaps it is just the devil you know. But if happiness is your goal, how can you hope to achieve it if you’re holding so tightly to the belief that people can’t be trusted, systems fail, and things are never going to go your way? When you seek safety behind a self-protective shield of cynicism, you don’t see that life is nuanced. Yes, it’s a risk to remain open to oth- ers, especially others you don’t know. Stranger danger! But being open is also how you make new friends, fall in love, experience delight, and grow from everything you encounter. It’s how you become a more fully functioning agent in your own life and in the world. More than likely you’ll uncover some scary, painful, and unpleasant stuff along the way. You’ll encounter lots of middle, no-big-deal stuff, too. But if you’re looking for it, you’ll also see there’s lots of good stuff happening, all the time. Cynicism can’t afford this view of life’s subtle- ties; it paints from a palette of black and white. Behind immovable ideas of who and what is and isn’t to be trusted, you remain isolated. But instead of making you stronger, this stance keeps you from developing the resilience you → The (not so) secret to seeing more goodness. In order to suppor t an opti- mistic view, it’s helpful to rec- ognize that the more atten- tion you give something, the more of it you’ll notice. This works both ways. The more you expect the worst—from people, from life—the more of it you’ll witness. The more things you recognize as posi- tives in your life, and in the world, the easier it becomes to recognize them in the future. Science supports this. Writing in a gratitude journal, for example, has been shown to help fine-tune your ability to notice the good things in your life. As you sharpen your vision to see the good, it can help loosen your grip in expec- tation of something going wrong. You begin to see that, in spite of difficulty or uncer- tainty, there’s actually a lot to feel positive about. TRY THIS Get a stack of colored index cards (sticky notes work, too). Then, look at your week ahead and choose an “Optimism Day.” When the day comes, periodically stop what you’re doing and take note of anything that makes you feel good. The sun finally came out. The shor t line at the coffee shop this morning. A moment of shared laughter with your coworker. You’re learning to eat bet- ter and feeling the positive effects. Feeling more present and in command in your life. An instance where you were able to stay cool when you’d usually blow your top. The power of medicine and how it’s helping your mother. Space X and the idea of Star Man zooming through the cosmos. Write each good thing on a separate index card or note. You can even decorate your optimistic messages with colored pens, labels, stick- ers—anything to support the good feeling you’re capturing. Visual aids can be helpful reminders, so display these positive messages where you’ll see them. You can keep your notes displayed, take a photo to create a record of each week’s cache, or take ’em down and start fresh the next week. Soon enough you’ll likely see that there is no shortage of things to make you feel optimistic or bring a bit of warmth to your hear t. Accentuate the Positive 68 mindful June 2018 get real