I’ve discovered a wonderful secret for feeling happier, both in good times and bad. It’s not a secret in the sense it’s hidden. It’s a secret because we are highly predisposed not to notice it – we hide it from ourselves.
The secret is to appreciate the bad things that aren’t happening right now.
This is may sound trite, but please stay with me, because there’s something remarkable here.
When something bad has happened, is happening, or might happen, we become utterly absorbed. We stew and fret and catastrophize. We ruminate and re-hash.
We can’t get that insult from last week out of our heads.
We’re livid because our internet is down again.
We’re obsessed with getting back our medical test results and can’t think of anything else.
All of which is understandable – though possibly avoidable (more on this to come in a future post – I’ve been studying the ancient Stoics).
But we give little or no attention to all the bad things that don’t happen. That aren’t happening. We invest no mental energy in feeling joy and gratitude for the myriad ways things could be bad – or far, far worse.
Thich Nhat Hanh puts it beautifully:
A non-toothache is very pleasant. If you are currently toothache-free, take a moment to luxuriate in the tranquil contentment. How much peace and ease we have available to us when we revel in our many non-toothaches!
So, what if we make a point of noticing more of the things that are not bad, not awful, not causing us stress now?
- Not having a headache
- Not having a leaky roof
- Not having a tummy ache
- Not running late for something
- Not feeling angry
- Not living in a war-torn country
- Not having an assignment due tomorrow (think of all the times this caused us stress as students!)
- Not having a storm heading our way
- Not dealing with a gambling addiction
- Not being short of food
- Not having a cold
- Not being stuck in a traffic jam
- Not being persecuted
- Not having dropped our phone in the toilet
- Not being in a fight with a loved one
- Not waking to find the coffee machine malfunctioning (phew – what a relief!)
- Not having had a sleepless night.
Some of these are trivial, some terrifying. One or two may apply to you at the moment, but there will be many more that don’t.
Our experience of life is stained by the thoughts we have, colored by the realities we focus on. We enjoy more grace and serenity, greater peace and pleasure, if we can turn away from the bad in our lives and toward the bad not in our lives. Things could always be so much worse.
To cultivate greater grace and poise in the face of life’s adversities, I aim to:
- Accept the inevitable troubles that come my way, with grace
- Appreciate the countless delights and joys in my life – the comforts, friendships, minor pleasures like luscious chocolate and beautiful art, enormous benefits like a safe country to live in
- Acknowledge the bad things that aren’t happening right now.
We feel such a sting in the presence of pain, we feed it with our thoughts. In the same way, perhaps we can learn to relish the peace of its absence. To appreciate the delicious pleasure of a non-toothache.