“I don’t want this dinner…I don’t like brussels sprouts…I hate milk,” my children whine way too often. And bucking all expert advice about the limitations of reasoning with small children, I often can’t help but respond by telling them how lucky they are to have food on their plates at all. “There are kids in this world who don’t have any dinner at all. Or any breakfast. These kids go to bed hungry and wake up hungry, and they would be SO VERY HAPPY to have what’s on your plate. Think about that, and let me know if you want to keep complaining,” I often say to them, hoping that some fraction of perspective might seep into their souls. This technique usually quiets them and sometimes even inspires some interesting questions, but it most definitely doesn’t stick. A few days later, they’re on to refusing their brussels sprouts yet again.
This isn’t that surprising — it’s really, really hard to hold onto a sense of perspective. We have moments of awakening when we read a tragic story or experience a personal health scare, but all too easily we go back to complaining about things that aren’t burdens, but in fact, modern day luxuries. Lewis C.K.’s famous skit, “Everything is Amazing, and Nobody is Happy” captures this perfectly – “People come back from flights and they tell you their story and it’s like a horror story….Everybody on every plane should just constantly be going, oh my God, wow you’re flying, you’re, you’re sitting in a chair in the sky…”
Is holding onto a sense of perspective easier said than done? Absolutely. But can we get better at it? You bet. We can re-frame the conversations we’re having in our minds. For example…
- That run you’re dreading? Remember that someone halfway across the world would love to have safe, quiet streets to run on where they can get lost in their thoughts and fill their lungs with fresh air.
- That rainy bike ride you’re worried might be cold? Give thanks that you have a bike. That your body is strong enough to ride a bike. That you have time in your day to ride a bike.
- The sugar you’re struggling to give up eating? Keep in mind that having a choice about what you’re putting in your mouth is a luxury. Lots of people have no choice about what they eat, consuming whatever is accessible and affordable.
- That partner who is driving you crazy? Did you know that researchers estimate that 20% of the U.S. population feels lonely, and 12% have no one with whom to spend free time or to discuss important matters? Embrace the goodness that companionship brings, and learn to let the frustrations go.
- Those kids who are screaming at each other in the backseat? Know that you will blink and those kids will be all grown up. Their carseats, cheerios on the floor, and daily battles will become distant memories….memories you may even look back on with a smile.
The first step toward perspective is consciousness that there may be another way to look at every situation we’re in. It’s about looking at it through someone else’s lens and re-thinking our reactions. It’s about daily practice and repetition. It’s about more gratitude, less criticism…more half-full glasses and fewer half-empty ones…and maybe one day, more brussels sprouts.