A couple of months ago, I watched Neil Pasricha’s wonderful TED talk, The 3 A’s of awesome. I had not heard of Pasricha before watching this talk; he started writing a blog called 1000 Awesome Things and that led to a Webby award and then a book.
You should watch the talk but the short story is that Pasricha figured out at a low point in his life that he needed a way to look at the positive side of things. He decided to do that by writing a blog about all the things that he thought were awesome: everyday, mundane stuff that we (mostly) take for granted.
Then, last month I heard Shawn Anchor on the HBR Ideacast Why a Happy Brain Performs Better . In that podcast, Anchor mentions something similar to what Pasricha talks about, writing a thank you note (or email), as a way to focus on the positive things and how that starts to make a difference in your (work) life.
A couple of days ago, I watched Martin Seligman’s talk on TED in which he talks about positive psychology and about how psychology is also looking at mental health as opposed to just the mental illness.
I’m sure you sense a theme here: Yes, I have been watching TED talks and listening to HBR podcasts.
Seriously though, there is no question that we notice many things in the world that have gone wrong. Maybe it’s the lizard brain that makes us much more susceptible to noticing the “dangers”.
But, the flip side is that we don’t tend to notice the things that are right often enough. I’m not suggesting a pollyanna-ish attitude to life, just one where we are aware that there are also many things in the world that are, as Pasricha says, awesome. I wrote a blog post a while back about some simple inventions, and if you look, you can find tons of things that are amazing in almost every facet of life.
A good way to start is to genuinely notice the things that are right with the world and feeling grateful for those things. For example, isn’t it amazing that I’m typing this blog post in a text editor and that I’ll copy it to WordPress.com and then publish it to the world wide web. WordPress will also let me publish this post to Twitter and Facebook, and you’ll read it either on the web, via email, or in an RSS reader. Heck, maybe you’ll read it on your phone, something you couldn’t have done a few years ago. I’m not even going into the networking technology that makes all this possible–that’s mindblowing stuff.
So, all this reminds me of this voice-over at the end of American Beauty:
I guess I could be pretty pissed off about what happened to me, but it’s hard to stay mad when there’s so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I’m seeing it all at once, and it’s too much. My heart fills up like a balloon that’s about to burst. And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it. And then it flows through me like rain. And I can’t feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life. You have no idea what I’m talking about, I’m sure. But don’t worry, you will someday.
It’s a nice feeling, that gratitude. We need to feel it more often.