As I stood in line waiting for a table last week, a couple of people were leaving the restaurant. One of them was complaining about the food, the few waiters, and how long it took to get their order. Meanwhile, the other person was saying: “Gosh, I don’t know. I liked the variety of the menu and the friendliness of the service. I didn’t pay attention to much of anything else.”
Dang. Talk about a difference in perspective! It occurred to me that perspective is really what often makes the same experience fun for one person, and miserable for another. It all depends on what you choose to focus on. And what you choose to ignore.
Choose is the operative word. There is no doubt that there is always enough going on in each of our worlds to find something to complain about or something to appreciate. My personal solution to getting caught in unexpected traffic, for example, is one of two “appreciations.” Either I crank up the music I’m listening to, or I look with admiration at the trees and bushes that persist in growing at the side of the freeway regardless of that day’s air quality. I am deliberately choosing to ignore how annoying the unexpected traffic is. Because otherwise, I’ll arrive at my appointment out of sorts, cranky, and inflict my orneriness on nice people who don’t deserve it.
Yes, stuff happens. Yes, your boss may be a pill, but there are no doubt some aspects of your job you can enjoy if you just let yourself. You don’t need to focus on the awfulness of your boss all the time. Give yourself a happiness break, i.e., change your focus if only for a few minutes.
Of course, there are nasty life circumstances that require our full attention and which we cannot, and should not, ignore. But these are not what constitute the majority of our time. And even within nasty life circumstances, one can choose to focus on the parts of the experience that lean into the good, rather than only observing that which is bad. This is how 7-year-old Talaya Crawford, daughter of pro boxer, Terence "Bud" Crawford, won a 200-meter sprint at her school. Talaya lost a shoe at the start of the sprint, which by any athlete’s definition is “nasty.” How can you possibly race with only one shoe? If Talaya had chosen to focus on the lost shoe, she could easily have given up. Plopped down right there on the course. But no! Talaya chose to focus on her gumption, her “not gonna quit” belief in her abilities, and ran her way to victory.
It doesn’t matter if it’s an athletic feat, getting through your work day, or having lunch out. What you choose to focus on during the experience is what will determine how happy – or not – you are. The more you choose to focus on what brings you joy, and the less emphasis you put on the parts you don’t like, the happier you will be.