Written by: David J. Volk, Esq. | June 5, 2017
You are not a special victim of the universe. Life is certainly, routinely, ever ceaselessly difficult. And we have to work hard at looking past that part and looking hard and long to see the roses. We have to, in fact, stop. Look. See them. And, wait for it, it’s almost here, there it is: smell the roses.
The confusion preventing us from stopping and smelling the roses is all around us. The confusion is because what we wanted is not easy and not as wonderful as we thought it would be.
A job that is tough and we forget how much we wanted to get chosen when we applied for it is confusing. It probably seemed like getting chosen for it was the most important thing in the world at that moment. We get the job and that is when the trouble starts. ‘The work is too hard and my boss is unrealistic in his expectations!’ ‘My co-workers don’t do their fair share.’ Or, ‘They work too hard and are making me look bad. They are competitive! They want the promotion I deserve. How dare they! How dare this job not be all I thought it would be. All of my plans are going up in smoke.’
A child confuses and frustrates us, yet they were our dream to have. We have the child, the apple of our eye and that is when the trouble starts. The child seems like a never ending series of challenges, demands, and mysteries that are hard to figure out. ‘Why does he insist on throwing things? Why won’t she quit hitting my boyfriend? Why won’t she lay down and go to bed when I know she is exhausted? Why does he pick those kids, of all the kids in the world, to be friends with? How dare my seemingly perfect child not be perfect. All of my plans are going up in smoke.’
A relationship that is important to us can be confusing. ‘She is a beauty, and smart! She gets me! She likes me! I can’t believe she likes me. I hope she will go out with me again.’ (Now, I hypothesize on how women think.) ‘He is a guy I just seem to click with. He gets me! He is nice to me. We are perfect together. I hope he calls again.’ Then, it works out and that is when the trouble begins. Now, he or she becomes irritating. ‘They don’t do everything I want to do. They do not do what I expect them to do. They have their own interests which takes time away from them being obsessed with me.’
To paraphrase and riff on Bishop Fulton Sheen, we find someone we think is perfect, a magnificent marble statute to be admired, and we find out they have feet of clay. 'How dare he or she not be all I expect that person to be. All of my plans are going up in smoke.'
What is the constant; the theme running through each of these scenarios? We routinely want something important and when we get it, we are no longer happy with the positive aspects. The negative aspects have taken over. The negative aspects dominate. We don’t see the positive aspects. Those are taken for granted. ‘I have the job, the child, the relationship. I achieved it, I am entitled to them. I am awesome!’ And, that is when the trouble starts. We want it to be perfect and it is not perfect.
Wake up call: it will never be perfect. I read a great story about famous chef David Chang. David said, “Nobody tells you success is hard." We think it will be easy once we get the job, or child, or relationship, or cool car, or big house, or fine balance sheet, or, even, a good brand of sauerkraut. Even good sauerkraut needs proper care. The best must be refrigerated. The expiration date must be monitored. ‘Who knew? It just tastes good so I thought that was enough,’ you explain to your dinner guests that you just gave food poisoning to.
This sort of thing happens to all of us. Again, you are not a special victim of the universe. This happens to all of us. Why does this happen? Generally, we have to work harder at positive thinking.
“In our brains, there are two different systems for negative and positive stimuli. The amygdala uses approximately two thirds of its neurons to detect negative experiences, and once the brain starts looking for bad news, it is stored into long-term memory quickly. Positive experiences have to be held in our awareness for more than 12 seconds in order for the transfer from short-term to long-term memory. Rick Hanson describes it in this way: “The brain is like Velcro for negative experiences but Teflon for positive ones.”’ Ray Williams, Are We Hardwired to Be Positive or Negative? https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/wired-success/201406/are-we-hardwired-be-positive-or-negative.
“Psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentimihalyi contends that unless we are occupied with other thoughts, worrying is the brain's default position. This is why, he says, "We must constantly strive to escape such 'psychic entropy' by learning to control our consciousness and direct our attention to activities which provide 'flow' activities which give positive feedback and strengthen our sense of purpose and achievement." His views echoes those of Martin Seligman and Rick Hanson who both make the point that while negative emotion always has the ability to “trump” positive emotion, “We have to learn how to keep negative emotion in check by amplifying positive emotions.” Id. (That is a lawyer citiation meaning same source as the one above.)
We get used to the good and can forget about it if we do not force ourselves to appreciate it. Adaptation causes us to quickly adapt to our circumstances and consider them our normal. Then, we tend to focus on negative aspects of our lives because we simply believe the good stuff is normal. “The taking for granted syndrome is clearly related to the phenomenon of adaptation, the process by which we quickly ‘get used to’ new environments and situations. When we’re first exposed to new experiences and environments, they affect us powerfully. For example, the first few days in an unfamiliar foreign country, the first few days in a new job, or the first exposure to a new smell or taste. But these experiences and sensations quickly lose their sensory power as we become habituated to them. There almost seems to be a psychological mechanism of ‘desensitization,’ which quickly filters out the intensity of experiences, turning newness to familiarity. Steve Taylor Ph.D., The Power of Appreciation, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/out-the-darkness/201407/the-power-appreciation.
So, ultimately, if you want to smell the roses and make that the important part of how you live instead of focusing on the negative aspects, you are going to have to work at it. Mindfulness is the new buzzword. You have to be in the moment and appreciate it for what it is. That, to me, means seeing the good and the bad. The bad reflections will win if we let them. We must make a conscious effort to reflect on and appreciate the good aspects of our life and be grateful for the truly tragic experiences we are not living. If you could start each day and end each day in conscious positive reinforcement, you could change your life. Some suggestions for that period of meditation:
Get the picture? If you truly want to be happy, you own the responsibility to be happy. You are going to have to work hard, but the effort will bring benefit. Just like all those things we wanted so much when we did not have them.
The matters discussed here are general in nature and are not to be relied upon as legal advice. Every specific legal matter requires specific legal attention.
The law is constantly changing and matters discussed today may not be the same tomorrow. Legal matters are also subject to different interpretations by attorneys, judges, jurors and scholars. No attorney-client relationship is intended or created as a result of matters discussed here. You should consult counsel of your choice if you have any dealings in these areas of the law. Volk Law Offices, P.A. and its attorneys make no representations or warranties with respect to the accuracy or completeness of the matters addressed.