One day after 9/11, I would like to depart a bit from the scientific focus of this blog, and add some personal reflections on the “mental muscles” of Being Positive and Appreciation, which is what we probably need to survive in times when we read of a new bombing every day, still 5 years after the terrorist attack.
I remember a few years ago when, over brunch, my good friend Rohit proposed that
Happiness = Reality – Expectations. (Play with it, and it grows. It is very powerful)
A few months later after this discovery, at a public concert, while some friends were having a lively debate on this equation, a nearby stranger proposed a nice refinement:
Happiness = (Appreciation, of what we have, and can do) x ( Reality – Expectations)
Which is nicely phrased in the sentence I have read in a number of places
We need Serenity to accept
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.
Mahatma Gandhi encouraged us to “Be the change you want to see in the world”.
The fact is that there is much good around us, and much more good of us can do. We don’t always see it this way, but it is a fact (if you doubt this, why don’t you do the Basketball experiment in a previous post). We probably would benefit from having easier access to a CNN of Positive News, of Kind Gestures, Unexpected Generosity, Magic Coincidences, Beautiful Growth.
Some constant sources of inspiration, encouragement, and Appreciation:
– The Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurs, that supports amazing and inspiring agents of change worldwide.
– Just read a review of sociobiologist E.O. Wilson’s last book The Creation: A Meeting of Science and Religion, where he tries to bridge both worlds and focus them on common ground.
No matter our religion, or lack thereof, we can benefit from what the book Daniel Goleman’s Destructive Emotions: How Can We overcome Them proposes as “A Gym for Emotional Skills”. Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio opened new ground in his seminal Descartes Error book on the role of emotions in our decision-making.
How can one train this muscle of Appreciation? well, no clinical studies here, but my wife and I like to do, less often that we should, an exercise proposed by Jeffrey Brantley in Five Good Minutes: 100 Morning Practices To Help You Stay Calm & Focused All Day Long:
First, travel back, in your mind’s eye, to a time when you felt a healthy exhaustion, and let you relive that moment as vividly as you can.
Then, remember, re-experience, a loving exchange that really touched you. Pause. See the moment. Smell it. Hear what happened around you.
Next, visualize the most caring gesture you have ever received, as full of details as possible. Who gave you that gift of caring. How you felt.
Now, travel to the most magnificent place you have seen. Enjoy the views. Pause. Listen. Smile. Appreciate.