terribleturnip: (Goat)
[personal profile] terribleturnip
Here, let me give you another way to be a happier person.

Be gracious.

Yep, that's it. I don't mean "practicing gratitude" as it's often referred to -- where you consciously think about the good things in your life, the things you're grateful for. I mean, okay, that's not at all a bad thing. But it's pretty expletive self-centered. I'd prefer you think about the good things that are in the WORLD, like just being glad that things like chimney swifts and olunguito and grimpteuthis exist. But, okay, baby steps, and if you're mired in all of the things in your life that are going to hell in a moldy handbasket, conscious recognition of what's NOT in that handbasket can be helpful. So, you go do that. And then come back, because I've got some wisdom to deliver.



What I mean is - - genuinely be thankful. Practice thanks. Aim it at people. (Look, you want to start your morning thanking that bee for pollinating your tomato plant, well, that's between you and the bee. Whatever floats your boat. But I'm giving you the side eye on effective use of your time. For the record, Bee doesn't give a rat's patoot what you think, unless it's your attitude toward pesticide, and even then, Bee doesn't have time to chat, Bee's got bee stuff to do.)

Here the thing: it's very easy to not notice the people who do the things that make YOUR things possible. Start there. The people who deliver your packages and mail, who clean your office, who punch your train ticket, who wave you through work zones, who ring up your groceries, who stock the shelves...take a few minutes to think about all of the people you interact with on a daily basis (your mileage may vary) and barely give a thought to. Just people who're doing the thing and you don't really notice them. Take a minute and try and remember who all of them were, the last time you were out and about.

Okay, now that you've got them in your head, now think about you. How do you feel when people take YOUR work for granted? (Maybe you're always appropriately appreciated at work and at home. That's way cool. Just don't tell me if you want to stay friends because I will just explode from the unfairness of it.) But when people just take you, your work for granted? Yeah, it's not a good feeling, is it?

Now put that on hold and think about the people who are just assholes to other people. Who act as if there's this whole class of people beneath them. Don't give me that look; you've got a list. You're telling yourself that you're a better person than they are because you don't actually treat other people as if they're beneath you. You're not actively mean.

And you know what, you ARE a better person than those assholes. Pat yourself on the back, darling.

But you set the bar at "asshole". C'mon, mate, you can do better than "casual indifference".

Try this: make eye contact, smile, say "thank you" and expletive mean it. However you need to justify it in your head -- thank you for cleaning the restrooms so I don't have to endure filth and disorder, thank you for picking up my trash and making it go away, thank you for making sure I don't crash head on into on-coming traffic because it's the DC metro area and we can't be trusted to look before proceeding in a one-lane situation.

Or, I'm going to be thankful and treat the cleaning lady in the office as a human being so that when I screw up and forget to break down my boxes she'll take them anyway because now she likes me. Or, I'm going to wave and yell "thanks" to the town crew when I see them picking up my yard waste because then they'll cut me a break when I violate the "no brush longer than 30" rule. Or because the guy that cleans the office lobby will actually hang on to that $20 bill that flew out of my purse while I was fumbling for the keycard and give it back to me the next time he sees me.

In the first couple of cases, you could just be a nice person; in the second a bit of a sociopath...did the personalization of that second set reveal where I tend to land?

Anyway, I don't care WHY you do it. You can do it because I told you to and you're vulnerable to being told what to do. Do it because I give good advice, mostly, and you could use some good advice this week.

Either way - - it's going to pay off. Oh, in a metaphysical, pay it forward kind of way, sure. Because you're contributing to my personal mission of bolstering civility to the world, one person at a time, okay. Because those people you're now treating like fellow human beings may be in a position to do something nice for you at some point...yeah, but you need to realize that in order to build this as a reflexive habit, you can't just pick and choose the people who might be of some benefit in the future. You actually need to do it regularly, whenever possible, and to everyone, whether you think it's going to pay off or not.

Because it IS going to pay off -- just not only in the way you think. How? Listen, poppets, and gather closer.

Smiling, making eye contact, thinking of someone else as a valued person, saying thank you...releases hormones in your brain that make you feel good. Seriously, we're actually addicts for positive social interaction. We are hard-wired for it, my possum-children. Even going through the motions releases a little hit. The more you do it, the more genuine it becomes, the bigger hit you get. And you're likely STARVED for it.

(Caveat: Hey, this kind of social interaction may be very difficult for you, maybe even impossible. Do whatever bits of you it you can. If the in person stuff is all excruciating to you, see if you can pass a note, send a thank you letter or e-mail, leave a card or post it note, whatever.)

So, smile and nod, mouth "thanks" to that guy waving you through the traffic work zone. Hey, maybe he doesn't react (don't be discouraged...not everybody notices or cares. Pull up your stamina pants and keep going) or maybe he just stares at you like you're a lunatic (but he's probably going to smile later, remembering it) maybe he's just surprised (surely you find that fun, don't you?) and maybe you get a smile right back.

No surprise that the person you're aiming it at feels better; you understand that. And it's not much of a leap to realize that the person you're aiming it at is more likely to be nicer to the next person they interact with. But did you know that even people who just witness positive social encounters will feel better?

Yeah, that's right, you can be the expletive pebble of graciousness thrown into the pond of your habitat, spreading ripples of goodness all the way out to the edge.

Don't ever think you can't change the world. Start in your corner of it. Go, be that pebble.
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