So at Least There’s That…
I was listening to a recent podcast where the discussion was about how we value the support structures in our lives, as well as the obstacles put before us. Not surprisingly, the conclusion was that people tend to overstate the latter and underestimate the former. In other words, we tend to see the glass half empty rather than half full, and thus to focus more on what’s missing, what’s in our way, what we want next — instead of appreciating the gifts and blessings we already have.
This wasn’t exactly a revelation, personally or in the grand scheme of things. Yet some of the nuances were interesting to consider for our lives and the kinds of social systems we participate in and strive to create. For instance, focusing on impediments and roadblocks sets up a ready excuse if we don’t succeed, and a more heroic posture if we do. Likewise, when we actually gain what we’ve been seeking, the good feeling is fleeting as we set our sights on the next goal in search of another positive (yet temporary) input. For many people — and for various movements and communities as well — the idea of struggling righteously against the tide can be motivating.
This is all somewhat intuitive by now, but it raises questions about the consequences, including that it makes happiness transient and elusive, perpetuates a “rugged individualism” mindset by undervaluing the support systems that help us succeed, and fosters a stressful perspective of lack and scarcity. It is also makes it challenging to maintain a sense of gratitude — expressed toward ourselves in the form of self-care, and toward others in the form of appreciation. By perpetually moving life’s goalposts, our gaze is drawn away from the progress we’ve actually made already.
Processing all of this and contextualizing it within our lives, a 2017 article (by Colin Beavan in YES! Magazine) looks at many of these attributes through a robust lens of self-care and social movements alike. The article describes three reflective activities in particular that could help connect the personal and political dimensions in our lives and work: (1) sharing in people’s good work and giving thanks for it; (2) grasping our complicity in (and responsibility for) the world’s problems; and (3) striving to build a positive world rather than primarily reacting to negative events. The article concludes that “caring people need to take care” — to which we might add, appreciatively, that caring people also make care more palpable around us. Thanks for caring!
The dual nature of this is important to consider. Self-care doesn’t negate care for others: it actually enables it. Likewise, self-actualization isn’t the opposite of social change, but rather its necessary foundation. The more active we are in creating better selves and societies, the less reactive we have to be in response to the things that impinge upon us in negative ways. And a big part of the basis for doing this comes simply by recalling that — at the end of the day, and despite evidence oftentimes suggesting the contrary — life is good! Seriously. Think about it. This doesn’t negate the obvious awful things that happen in the world, but instead asks us to consider the alternative of lifelessness and no possibility for growth and change. No thanks and ’nuff said.
So yeah, life is good. Get used to it, and get on with it. The ride is short and it goes by fast, and even the scary parts can be empowering if we meet them head on. Now is the time to embrace it.
NOTE: A note-to-self in essay form, from circa 2017 or so, trying to hold fast to the sense of possibility on the journey, to see things through a lens of gratitude and humility and self-care.