advice

In his worthwhile book, The Hapiness Hypothesis, Jonathan Haidt argues that the advantage optomists have over pessimists naturally compounds.

It’s true that the world is structured such that the rich tend to get richer as the poor get poorer, but it’s also true that the happy are likely to grow further happier than the sad.

When it comes to dealing with circumstances which are making them unhappy, “optimists expect their efforts to pay off, [so] they go right to work fixing the problem.”

Even when things fail, they have an inherent understanding that things tend to work out for the best.

When things go wrong, optimists naturally seek out the potential benefits buried within misfortune.

The narrative optimists write for themselves then, is one of constantly overcoming adversity.

Pessimists, on the other hand, live in a world with more apparent risk and less confidence to deal with it.

From the pessimist perspective it’s natural to feel trapped within a narrative wrought with hopelessness; one where bearing the consequences of injust circumstances seems more natural than attempting to change them.

Optimists and pessimists can be dealt the exact same adversity and each write opposing translations.

What’s frightening is that the way each retells the events in their own internal narrative has ripple effects on the remainder of their narrative.

Optimists are more likely to grow from adversity because they can antipate rewards for their efforts.

Pessimists are more likely to be enslaved by adversity because they spend more time managing their pain than resolving their adversity.

This doesn’t mean pessimists can’t grow from adversity. It just means they find it more difficult to do so on average.

“The key to growth is not optimism per se, it is the sense making which optimists find easy.”

Optimist, pessimist or anything inbetween, find a way to make sense of adversity. Come to terms with it. Relish it. Grow.

Receiving an unexpected call from a good friend is a delight; especially if they’re not calling because the need something.

Many of us have resorted to sending messages when we intend to have little conversations, because it’s quicker, easier and usually more convenient.

We shoot people messages to check-in, to organise, and to notify, because it’s a quick time save – if the person isn’t available in the moment you’re trying to contact them, it doesn’t matter.

By replacing dynamic conversation with text based alternative, we’re missing opportunites for connection.

For a week, try calling someone first every time you get the the urge to start a conversation which could be had over the phone by sending a message.

If they respond, great! After doing this repeatedly, see if you notice any difference in how connected you feel to your circles.

When people don’t respond, that’s okay too! Just send them the message you intended to send from the beginning.

I’m willing to bet that the extra 10 seconds invested listening to dial tones will reward you with immensley richer conversation.

Pursuits are meaningful when they allow you to grow towards serving those you care about.

You could spend all your days and nights becoming the world’s best potato peeler, but unless you’re peeling potatoes to feed people you love, what’s the point?

When we ruminate too intently on the pains our future might hold, we experience a portion of that pain in advance.

People with empathy internalise the pain of others when they witness suffering. It helps us to connect, to understand one another, and to care for eachother.

When making a decision, we usually consider the effect it might have on others. In doing so, we are essentially imagining future versions of the people our decisions may effect, allowing us to empathetically consider the potential outcomes of our actions.

We are so good at this that we usually do it intuitively.

I don’t take an online yodeling class at 1:30am because I can imagine that my neighbours (and their baby) might find it difficult to sleep in the presence of such glorious sound.

Unfortunately, there is a little glitch in this otherwise wonderfully human system; we can’t help but also imagine ourselves as a future person. We possess an inescapable and often rather concerning future self.

Anxiety is the pain we absorb while empathising with our future selves.

Harbouring a bit of this pain is sensible, but too much acts like poison.

We consider people ‘anxious’ when the pain they are experiencing in advance is disproportionate to the actual risks their furute presents.

“There are more things … likely to frighten us than there are to crush us; we suffer more often in imagination than in reality.”

Seneca

Your anxiety is as useful as it is actionable.

If you can’t do anything to address a concern, there is zero gain in accepting preliminary pain on your future self’s behalf.

You’ll have to deal with it when your future self arrives at the worrying destination, so what sense is there in experiencing the pain twice?

Getting stuck empathising with future you is dangerous because this process feeds upons itself.

Once painful worrying becomes a habit, you might find yourself worrying about the worrying.

All of a sudden, your introspective empathy has turned toxic, and you’re so caught up inside yourself that you can barely muster the energy to look out.

Illustration by Catherine Lepange from Thin Slices of Anxiety: Observations and Advice to Ease a Worried Mind

There is no simple fix to this cycle.

It’s a grueling, often shameful, thing to break.

But it can be done.

I suggest starting with one of these:

Describes the natural tendency to react to a positive action with another positive action;

You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.

You get out what you put in.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

It’s all reciprocity.

Reciprocity is the glue which binds us.

It’s the social chain reaction which inspires deep friendships, and even love.

It’s a powerful force which demands the careful balancing of social expectations and experience.

Relationships intensify when your partner’s reaction to a positive effort matches, or slightly exceeds, your initial effort. But relationships shatter when one’s reciprocity is too disproportionate.

Say you made them breakfast, then they picked up your groceries on the way home. A week later, you do a load of their washing and a week after that they clean the house on their day off. The back-and-forth exchange of favours enhances your trust and appreciation for one another. How sweet.

Now instead, imagine you made them breakfast, then that afternoon they returned home in a new car they’d just bought you.

Even if you wanted the car, you probably wouldn’t stay with them any longer than it took to sign the liscensing paperwork.

Even if the gift was genuinely bought as a selfless gesture, because money wasn’t an issue and they knew how much you wanted it, there is a fine tuned part of your brain which analyses these situations with scrutiny;

What do they want?

What do I owe them?

Could I repay them?

Am I sure I want to?

When reciprocity goes to the extreme our scepticism is triggered.

This scepticism exists to protect us from threats or deceptions. The more disproportionate the reciprocity, the more sceptical we will be of the intention behind the positive act.

Scepticism is exhausting, anxiety enducing and awful to be on the receiving end of.

If meaningful relationships are what you want, it’s best to build reciprocity slowly.

Give, give often and give warmly. But be mindful not to overwhelm others with your generosity; whether in the form of gifts, kind deeds, or your time and attention.