It seems almost selfish to feel gratitude at a time when the world is reeling from bombings and gun attacks, when forest fires are raging in Indonesia, sending as much carbon dioxide into the air in a week as Germany’s annual emissions and when a dam has burst in Brazil, causing a massive outpouring of sludge that has made its way downriver and into the Atlantic Ocean.
Our world is in chaos, and many people think it is getting worse.
Yet, in spite of all that, I do feel gratitude. In spite of all that, I have quiet optimism about our planet, and our species.
I’d like to tell you I have super-sensory powers and can see into the future. I can’t. I did once read an account by a man who had a near death experience and who claimed to see into the future. He was (apparently) clinically dead for about 90 minutes and during that, he saw into the world’s future and it eventually heals.
I’ve also read his account isn’t true.
So I guess that doesn’t account for my optimism and gratitude.
Maybe it’s just my doggedness, my unwillingness to give up hope.
After reading an article by Lauren Apfel on how getting her kids to take a Myers Briggs personality quiz helped her understand them, I tried the test. My inner sceptic usually leaps into action with these, but the results were a little like looking in a mirror. INFP personalities are true idealists, always looking for the hint of good in even the worst of people and events, searching for ways to make things better.
So maybe it’s in my personality to look for the good in everything and everyone?
I’m not wholly convinced. One of my daughters used to get “extrovert” in these tests and now falls into the same category I do. So either tests change or people do.
Besides, I haven’t always felt this way, though I must have done as a child and teenager. Aged seventeen I was attacked by someone I was trying to help, and I remember my mother saying, “You always did look at the world with rose-tinted glasses.”
So maybe I am just Anne of Green Gables in disguise? Yes she’s listed as having an INFP personality, along with real people like Shakespeare, Homer and Johnny Depp.
But, but, but – for most of my twenties far from looking for the best in people, I hated almost everyone, including myself. I especially hated happy people because I believed they were faking it. I felt depressed much of the time, and though I didn’t know it then, it’s fairly common for depressed people to hate happy people and to believe they are faking it. (Interestingly, a search “do depressed people hate happy people” brought up several posts on various forums from people saying how they hate happy people and can’t stand to be around them, but no articles from psychologists appeared in the search results.)
Depression robs you of the ability to feel grateful. Oh, I was grateful for a few things – a new dress, a pair of fancy tights (pantyhose to Americans), a glass of wine at the end of a tiring day.
But mostly, even when I got what I wanted, there seemed to be something wrong with it. The job I so desperately wanted turned out to be beneath me, so I didn’t make much effort. The room in the house in a nice area only amplified my sense of poverty. Everyone else my age was buying apartments and all I could afford was a poky room in someone else’s house.
In a way, I wanted there to be something wrong with things. I would have felt too guilty if I had got what I wanted. I didn’t think I deserved it, and so because I didn’t deserve happiness and goodness, I had to look for the bad in things, not the good.
Focusing on what was wrong in the way I did is similar to what people do when they say the world is in a terrible state, nobody cares, or when they believe it used to be so much better and people nowadays are terrible.
A large part of the world’s collective mind-set is depressed. Cautious estimates suggest that around one in four people in Western cultures will experience depression. Those are just the people who seek help. Thousands more do as I did, and muddle through until they eventually find something that gets them out or else they just go on with low-level lack of enjoyment of life. Given this, it’s not surprising that the world’s press reports bad news. It’s what many people want to hear and to read – even when they say they don’t.
Most studies into what type of news items people choose either rely on self-reporting of items watched at home or are done in labs where people know the purpose of the study so are likely to be more careful what they choose. However, researchers at McGill University in Canada tried something different. To ensure people gave honest responses, the researchers were dishonest! They presented their study as being to track eye movements and asked participants to select political news stories to read.
They also asked participants what type of political news they liked to read. Participants replied they liked positive news stories and said there was too much negativity in the news. Yet the stories they most often chose to read were – you’ve guessed it – the bad news.
Many psychologists believe our collective hunger for bad news occurs because, like most animals, we evolved to be alert to danger, so our minds rapidly home in on potential threats. We’re even able to recognise negative words more rapidly than positive ones.
This all seems a little depressing, doesn’t it?
However, it’s not all bad news. (Sorry, couldn’t resist!)
Some scientists think it’s simply that human brain evolution hasn’t quite caught up with the new world we live in. We’re no longer in danger of being eaten any moment, so eventually we will stop reacting quite so quickly to negativity. Some scientists (and many spiritual teachers) even think that human consciousness is undergoing a period of rapid evolution and that this is partly why there is currently global turmoil. This might seem contradictory, but as anyone who has ever meditated will know, before the mind quietens you often get a storm!
Some quantum physicists think the universe may be a hologram and that we each contain the entirety of it!
This isn’t as strange as it might sound – a 2012 genetics study in Scotland found 100 different DNA groups for males and for females 150, from Europe, Asia and Africa. So races are far less distinct than most of us believed. Another group of scientists discovered that a rat under stress during pregnancy can pass anxiety on not just to her unborn child, but to her daughter’s children. The researchers suggest the same could be true for humans. Yet another study found that some people, as well as hosting bacteria and viruses like the rest of us, also may be carrying bits of other humans inside our bodies.
All of these studies point to something sages have been saying for ages – we are all interconnected, there is no “us” and “them.”
That’s why I feel optimistic about the state of the world. I know that what I do, and how I feel and think can make a difference. I can give in to the negativity, I can fight it – both of which will add to it. Or I can choose a third way – to meet it with love and gratitude to the best of my ability.
My contribution to world peace may not be huge, but whether or not I am a hologram, a microcosm of the universe, what I do affects those around me, which in turn affects others. Every time I choose gratitude rather than resentment or love instead of hate, my choice creates ripples around me. Every time I choose to berate myself, I darken my feelings and that adds to the world’s misery. Every time I suppress emotions such as anger or fear, I add to a time-bomb inside of me that will eventually explode. Every time I welcome a negative emotion, I release internal pressure and become more able to meet the negative emotions of others with love.
I’m going end this post by taking another look at those bleak days from my twenties. I looked for what was wrong with others because I thought something was terribly wrong with me. I couldn’t bear other people to be happy and good enough, when I was so awful. In that, I wasn’t so different to the terrorists of today. Sohail Ahmed used to preach hatred against the West. He considered suicide bombing London. He was, in his own words, “very homophobic.”
He was also gay. He says, “People are committing these horrific acts because they are running away from themselves.”
If I want to contribute to world peace, it starts with me, with love for myself, with gratitude. If you want to contribute to world peace, it starts with you, with loving you, with feeling grateful for yourself.
To read more about self-appreciation, read my post: Is it Okay to Appreciate Yourself?
This post is for 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion’s November link-up, which this month focuses on GRATITUDE, as well as the broader topic of compassion. To read more posts, or to add your own, click on the blue button below.
1000 Voices Speak For Compassion is a blogging initiative started in response to violence and alienation in our world. If you would to be part of a movement for loving change, join our Facebook Group, like our Facebook Page, or look for our posts on Twitter with the hashtag #1000Speak.
Write a post relevant to this month’s focus – gratitude – and add it to the link-up right here by clicking the blue button below.