There is something about human nature that makes us virtually incapable of appreciating what we have.
We in 21st Century Britain have better living standards than the vast majority of people on Earth and throughout history. We have more food than we could ever need. We are free to do what we like, go where we like, say what we like. There is no real threat to our lives from war, corruption, famine or natural disasters.
Our parents’ and grandparents’ generation fought to the death for the freedom we have today. And as recent news stories have demonstrated, a very large number of people right now are literally giving up everything in the hope that their families might be able to live somewhere like this, free from the horrors of war. Not to have a slightly better house or higher wages, but so they can feed their newborn babies until their bellies are full and they stop screaming from hunger. And for the privilege of being able to watch their children go to school without the fear of seeing them shot in the street.
We are SO lucky.
So why does it hardly ever feel like it?
It makes me really ashamed actually. But I don’t think we are really any different to anyone else, I think if the Syrian refugees were in our position they would be the same. It’s just a weird part of being human; a sort of blindness, an inability to see things in perspective. Everything is relative and we quickly lose sight of the bigger picture.
It’s like we are all driving in our little cars around the edge of this astoundingly beautiful crystal clear lake surrounded by breathtaking snow-capped mountains beneath an endless azure sky… but we’ve been driving so long that the windows are completely caked in mud and we can’t see a thing.
Occasionally something happens that wakes us up, we drive under a waterfall (because lakes have waterfalls) and suddenly we can see reality in all its glory. Often it takes something bad to happen – someone getting seriously ill or being involved in a serious accident – to make us wake up, stop examining the specks of dust on our windscreens and appreciate the things that actually matter.
“Don’t it always seem to go…?”
In my day to day life I now notice what a massive impact my moods have on me, and it’s quite scary. When I’m in a good mood I feel like my windscreen wipers are on and I’m able to see things in perspective. I feel relaxed, thankful and open minded, and I am understanding and sympathetic towards others. Life feels easy and if I hit a bump in the road I laugh it off and carry on.
When I’m in a bad mood I am impatient, irrational, irritable and closed minded. I can’t see out of the car at all so I try to fix the problem by examining each speck of dust on the dashboard and in the glove compartment. After a while it rains, the windows clear a little and things start to look brighter again. It genuinely feels as if the world has changed, not just my mood.
Around the time I got engaged I was massively freaking out about nothing in particular; one minute I was enjoying the scenery and everything seemed wonderful, and the next minute something ridiculously trivial would trigger a huge emotional breakdown. I wouldn’t be able to see out of my own bad mood at all, and naturally I would want to pinpoint the reason, analyse it and try to fix it.
I gradually became better at understanding the nature of moods and learnt not to take myself so seriously during bad ones. This, along with recognising that my thoughts aren’t real, is one of the most important things I’ve ever learnt to do, and has helped to lift me out of some really dark places (all entirely imaginary of course).
I feel I am coming to the end of the road with the car analogy so let’s try another one…
I started to imagine that when I was in a bad mood a big dark cloud was surrounding my head, pelting down negative thoughts like giant hailstones. If I paid too much attention to them they would usually grow even bigger, but if I managed to ignore them long enough eventually the storm cloud would pass over and everything would feel OK again.
It is really, really difficult to ignore your own thoughts, particularly if you feel like the storm cloud has been following you for months. But I’ve found that with practice it really does get a lot easier, and the sky gradually becomes clearer. At the moment my best moods tend to occur in the morning when I’m fuelled up on coffee. (This is basically the same as taking mild anti-depressants, and as there is no sign of a coffee shortage, I’m fine with that.) I will have a dip in mood between about 2pm and 5pm (when the caffeine’s worn off), where I will start thought-swatting again until teatime when everything starts looking better.
I actually started writing this post two days ago at about 3pm, as it was the only time when both kids were asleep. I was struggling to find inspiration, and getting frustrated as I wanted to publish it that evening. I started wondering why I was even writing the stupid thing in the first place, surely no-one was interested and everyone would think I was weird. I felt determined to get it done though, surely I was feeling bad because I wasn’t writing well enough and just had to try harder. I was doing this for about an hour before I realised I was trying to write about bad moods whilst in a bad mood. I started again this morning and it feels completely different and so much easier. This afternoon I know I will feel a bit pants so I will do something else, get on with thought-swatting and wait for my bad mood to pass like I would a headache. Minus the paracetamol.
The world hasn’t changed, despite what my mind is telling me – it’s just that sometimes I can’t see through the clouds.
If I was rich I would buy all the printed copies of Dr. Richard Carlson’s books and send them to everyone I know. He’s probably not the only one to talk about this sort of stuff but that’s where it started for me. I still go back to his books every time I start to lose my way and feel rubbish, and they always make me feel better.
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