Is that all there is?
“The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds; and the pessimist fears this is true.”
― James Branch Cabell, The Silver Stallion
Today I enjoyed the new article on Tiny Buddha by Samuel Gentoku McCree, titled Do You Define Yourself and Your Life Negatively? It relates well with my own thoughts about creating your own narrative when defining your life. The question is, is it any better to define your life positively?
Personally, I’ve never cared much for affirmations for that very reason. I was given a copy of The Power of Positive Thinking as a young man, and found that the little declarations of intent were not only ineffective but also a lot like lying – telling yourself one thing while another part of you whispers that you know it’s not true. Never a good experience.
A Sharp-Dressed Man
There are times that I feel like I might be false advertising, in fact. When I travel, I enjoy dressing up – shiny shoes, cufflinks, Stetson fedora, leather blazer. I present to the world this image of urbanity and success quite consciously imitative of James Bond and Don Draper (though to be honest, it’s more imitative of the image of my father going to work in New York City when I was growing up).
The thing is, people don’t realize that the cufflinks were bought for $2.50 at a resale shop, or that the fedora was bought at a megashop in North Carolina. I portray this image of “success” when I may, at any given time, have only a few bucks in my pocket.
There are self-improvement experts who will say this is “faking it til you make it”, that you have to dress the part to be the man or any number of other slogans. Others would say that it is focusing too much on material things – as one dating consultant told me, “Grown men don’t care about what other people think of their appearance.”
My response was “Grown men don’t care about what other people say grown men don’t care about.”
A Realistic View
The Third Wave Psychologists methodology is called ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy), which says that we should acknowledge that negative thoughts recur throughout our life and instead of challenging or fighting with them, we should concentrate on identifying and committing to our values in life. – Psychology Today
As it happens, work by Dr. Joanne Wood and others has shown that one of the powers of positive thinking is the power to harm (see the above link for details). Is it possible to see the world as it is and not be depressed? Can a realistic assessment of your life be positive?
Personally, I think so, and that’s part of why I enjoy dressing up. It’s not to “offset” any particular deficiency, nor is it to impress someone else. It’s because it’s fun. I enjoy playing with my hat (juggling, anyone?) and just a little thing like learning the “proper” way to roll up my sleeves can make that little part of my day an added joy (I’m using method #2 today, in case you’re wondering).
So in conclusion: the first step towards having a more joy-full life is to stop trying to substitute what it should be for what it is. That shouldn’t take more than a decade or so of meditation, right? And then you can start either appreciating what is, or changing what you feel like changing.
OK, I’m kidding about the decade or two. It helps, sure, but as a certain smart saxophonist is fond of telling me, “it’s really just NOW, all the time.” Both the easiest and the hardest thing in all the world. That’s life, alright.