A matter of perspective

sunglassesI’ve always thought of myself as having a positive attitude. Not all the time, of course. I think we all have our good and bad days, the latter making positive thinking quite a bit harder, those days when if someone says ‘Think positive’, well, I’ll leave it to your imagination.

But in many instances, whether a day is a good day or a bad day is really a matter of perspective. Let me share an example of a day I had a few weeks ago.

I’d flown to Dublin on a Sunday evening for my 4th speaking event in 4 days, arriving around 10.30pm, and when I went to retrieve my case from the luggage carousel, it hadn’t arrived. I reported it at the service desk and they discovered that my case was still in London. I explained that it was full of books and that I needed them for an event I was due to speak at the next day.

The girl at the desk sent an email to BA to explain that my case was a priority. She then informed me that there was a flight due in from London at 8am the next morning and that she’d try to get BA to put my case on that flight. If so, she’d then arrange for it to be couriered to the venue.

I was really grateful because she seemed really determined to help me. I also received a text from BA at 4.19am the next morning to tell me that my case was now on the plane. I decided then that I’d just collect the case myself off the 8am flight rather than have it couriered to the venue. After all, I was staying at an airport hotel just a few minutes away. Plus, I had an odd feeling that something might go wrong with couriering my case to the venue.

Arriving at the airport, I was led through the staff security area, which was quite cool. I’d forgotten that I had a bottle of water in my bag so they had to take it off me, but the guy said I could come back and collect it once I’d retrieved my case, which I thought was a nice gesture.

Case in hand I then had to make my way into Dublin. I didn’t know until then that this was the day of the Dublin marathon, the annual 26-mile 385 yards race. It turned out that many of the roads were closed and therefore cars, buses, and taxis couldn’t get into the part of the city I was travelling to.

The bus driver only discovered this himself when we reached the point of a road closure. He said I’d need to get off and walk the rest of the way, which was one and a half miles (2.4km). So I did, dragging my two cases with me (I had a carry-on case as well). Oh, and there was a light drizzle of rain, the kind of rain that soaks you right through, and I didn’t have a hood or an umbrella.

Despite my walk, I arrived early and the venue hadn’t opened yet so I sat in a lovely coffee shop nearby, which was also nice and warm, ideal, in fact, for drying my hair and clothes.

The day went well. I chatted with loads of nice people, delivered a 1-hour talk and taught a 2-hour workshop, having to make a swift exit afterwards to get back to the airport to make the last flight home. With the traffic situation due to the marathon, I just made it!

When I got back home later that evening, I received a lot of ‘Goodness, what a day!’, ‘What bad luck, what with the case, then getting soaked’, etc, ‘especially after all the travel you’ve done recently’. I understood. I’d have said the exact same things if it had been someone else. These kinds of reactions are motivated by empathy.

But you know what? Until that moment, it actually never occurred to me that the loss of my bag following by getting wet while dragging my cases over a mile and a half in the rain was a negative thing.

That really struck me! Until that moment, it really hadn’t dawned on me at all that I could have viewed it all as negative.

Instead, I remember that my main feeling at Dublin airport was gratitude that the girl at the service desk was so kind and helpful in tracing my bag. I also felt gratitude towards BA for texting me to let me know my case was onboard the early morning flight, even though they texted me in the middle of the night. In fact it was moments after I received that text that I had the intuitive insight to collect the case myself rather than let it be couriered. Had it been couriered it would never have reached the venue due to the road closure situation. So I was grateful for the text in two ways: one, because I knew my case was in transit, and two, because it inspired the intuition to collect it myself.

I also recalled how much I enjoyed not having to go through the customer security process but going through the staff one instead. I enjoyed chatting with the staff, and even remember high-fiving myself that I got my bottle of water back. After all, I’d only just bought it and hadn’t even opened it yet. A small thing, perhaps, but it was a first and I was in quite a good mood.

I also appreciated that the bus driver, upon learning of the road closure, helped me to find the venue on the Maps app on my iPhone and showed me that the road I had to walk was actually a straight road, leaving little chance of getting get lost. I also enjoyed the walk. It was a lovely part of the city and I recall looking at many of the lovely houses and imagining how people probably loved living here. I also loved that the coffee shop was warm and cosy where I could dry off.

I recalled, also, that I really enjoyed the day, chatting with people, catching up with one or two friends who were also there, and that my talk and workshop had gone really well (and the audiences laughed at my jokes), and my relief that the taxi driver got me to the airport on time afterwards.

Reflecting on all this made me think of how much our emotional responses to things depend upon our perspective.

For example, two people could arrive for a night at a hotel and stay in identical rooms. One person could label it a bad hotel and another might consider it a lovely hotel. It’s the same hotel. All that differs is their perspective, which might be a consequence of past experience. It’s a person’s perspective that runs the show.

Depending on our perspective, we can view the same event in multiple ways, making us feel good or bad. One of the insights in life, I believe, is being aware of this, and one of the skills in life is using it to our advantage.

I suddenly realised that the gratitude exercises I’d been doing recently had kind of worked wonders. From time to time I make a point of working on gratitude. I don’t do it all the time, lest I get bored with the exercise, but I do it, as I said, from time to time. I basically spend a few moments a day listing all the things, people, circumstances, events, aspects of nature, etc, that I’m grateful for at that time. I had been doing it for a couple of weeks prior to this eventful day.

The exercise seemed to have created a habit in my way of thinking regarding what I focused on and how I interpreted events. Instead of focusing on negative things – I could easily have been frustrated that my case didn’t arrive off the carousel, especially as it was so late at night and that it would likely take at least a half hour to go through the process of reporting it lost, and that I was wakened by a text message in the middle of the night, and that I had to walk for over half an hour in the rain while dragging a heavy case – but my mind seemed to settle on other things, aspects of the situations that made them seem lighter.

That’s the power in gratitude exercises, when we’re consistent with them, that they create habits of thinking that alter the way we experience things.

Now, I’m not saying that gratitude will always work this way. It hasn’t always been that way for me. And it’s not like gratitude teaches us to ignore difficult or painful things. It really just seems to be that, in everyday life, the effect of a gratitude practice is that the detail that our minds settle upon in the landscape of the day contains more light than dark. That’s all.

For me, what really struck me was the degree to which the practice I’d been doing had done this. It had spared me a lot of frustration, which I might have experienced instead.

14 thoughts on “A matter of perspective

  1. Thanks for this article! It’s a great reminder that our power lies in our response to life’s events.

  2. haya

    Really nice
    I gratitude knowing your website and reading such things that interacts with everyday life.
    Me,recently have been trying to practice gratitude and seeing mercy of god in everyday encounters, its not easy ,but i know i will reach it ..
    Thanx dr.david

  3. Shelley Terry

    Thank you…find myself in the same kind of situation with my mini car repair….
    Blessings ,
    Shelley

  4. amerdeep

    Thank you for this lovely article. I have been practising gratitude a lot (partly after attending one of your workshops ) and it helps a lot.

    I love how honest you are. Thank you

  5. Ursi

    Brilliant! I just love your attitude to life. You have a very effective way of explaining challenging concepts.

  6. Teresa Corcoran

    Hi David. Loved your inspirational story re Dublin, very thought provoking ??. I am staying in a beautiful cottage in Derbyshire for a week at the moment. I am totally in love with it. I hope your cottage gives you this happy feeling I have since I arrived here. Love Teresa x

  7. Dawn Wisniewski

    I think you’re spot on about the fact that gratitude may not be able to block out all the difficult or painful things in life, but, as in your experience that day in Dublin, it can keep the smaller issues and disappointments from feeling like they are bigger than they are and dragging everything down with them. The molehills are just molehills, giving us the energy to tackles the mountains when they arise.

    BTW – I was in Dublin that day as well and had to walk quite a ways out of my way due to the marathon, and while I may not have been quite as positive as you were about it, I was grateful to have arrived in time to hear your first lecture, which was the first of the day. I attended both lectures and left feeling very inspired and empowered.

  8. Loveena

    Great story, thank you for teaching us that looking at the world through eyes of compassion and gratitude can change our mindset and make everyday more enjoyable.

  9. URSULA O'BRIEN

    Hi David , Great to hear from you again – it helps me to keep focused on my journey.
    yes – reframing is such a useful skill, its creative and gives control, joy and often a little smile. To be grateful adds another dimensions ! Ursula

  10. Thank you for this heartening post, which I wholeheartedly agree with. There is a lovely folk tale (I don’t know where it originated) that illustrates your point too. It goes like this:

    An old man used to enjoy spending his days sitting on a bench by a path in the hills above his village, watching the comings and goings. One day, he saw a traveller approaching with a heavy bag. The traveller stopped to rest on the bench, and asked the old man if that was his village beneath them. The old man replied that it was. The traveller then asked what the people were like there. The old man thought for a bit, then he asked the traveller “What were the people like in the last place you were in?” “Well,” said the traveller with a sigh, “I’m afraid they were a bad lot – cheats and swindlers, and not a friendly soul in the place. That’s why I had to get away, and I was hoping to find a better place to stay.” The old man then replied “Well, I”m very sorry to have to tell you that you’ll find the people here are much the same.” Dejected, the traveller passed on.

    A few days later, another traveller carrying a heavy bag on his back came along the same path, and he too stopped to rest beside the old man. He too asked about the village below them, and what the people there were like. The old man asked him the same question he had asked the other traveller “What were the people like in your last place?” The traveller replied enthusiastically “Oh they were marvellous, so friendly and helpful, I made wonderful friends there. I didn’t want to leave, but I want to see the world, so I had to move on”. The old man replied with a beam “I’m happy to tell you that I think you will find that the people in my village are much the same”.

    I wonder if you have heard of the Human Givens approach to mental health and emotional well-being? I am a human givens psychotherapist and I think you would find much there that would chime with you – it essentially provides an organising idea, a framework, from which to understand what it means to be an emotionally healthy human being:
    http://www.hgi.org.uk/

  11. David R. Hamilton PhD

    Thanks Ursula. It’s nice to hear from you again too. 🙂

  12. Awesome! I just wrote an article called The Gifts of Disappointment that had a similar slant. That must be why I resonate with you so much! I am an optimist, too! Keep up the great work, David! You inspire me!

  13. Lisa

    I enjoyed this article David and have been enjoying your Daily Boosts that have been arriving in my inbox each day.
    Thank you,

  14. David R. Hamilton PhD

    Thanks Lisa. 🙂

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