Wednesday, March 18, 2020

The Magic Question

Many are feeling panic and stress. Neither's helpful, and they affect not just your own happiness, but the happiness of those around you. Your panic and stress literally change the world. It's another curve to flatten!

People who've known me for a long time will tell you that I'm far less stressed and more happy than I ever was in the past. It has nothing to do with worldly outcomes (my life drama has actually been pretty traumatic). Much of it stems from a simple mental practice I started years ago: Whenever something goes wrong and you're about to trigger an "oh shit!", or if some noxious toxicity bubbles up from your gut for no particular reason, ask yourself this question:

"If this is the worst thing that happens today, would that mean it's been a good day?"

That's it. You can ask/answer in under 10 seconds. It soon becomes a habit, supplanting the more familiar "oh shit!" response. Don't try to apply it to big lofty issues. Only what happens to you in the here-and-now. Vexation by vexation in your personal experience.

And don't imagine you can foresee the results. You've never done this. No one has. You must do it long term to see the results....which compound in unexpected and magical ways.

I have yet to answer "no", though some legitimately awful things have occurred. That's because while we irritate easily at minutiae, we are remarkably resilient in the larger picture. And the act of stepping back to a wider view forces us to react to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune from our oceans of resilience rather than our thin puddles of irritability.

Eventually, the question morphs into an exclamatory, triumphant statement: "If that's the worst thing that happens today, this is a really good day!" A parking ticket or a lost wallet can feel like a relief - a small sacrifice to the Gods of entropy. It works for cracked cell phone screens and red lights, but even for blown job interviews and romantic breakups. In fact, it works for everything. I spent a perfectly lovely weekend in hospital once after a heart attack (I'm fine; they inserted a stent, I still run up staircases). Sure, I was concerned. But I was still me, just living straight through it all, come what may. Untouchable.

I usually don't like to spoil the outcome. Better to let people discover the effects on their own. But it's critical right now, so I'm spoiling the upshot: it's literally always a good day, and by examining events (and your reactions) on a case-by-case basis your windshield clears enough to recognize that we're living in Paradise...even now, while we're experiencing many smart people's long-feared Worst Case Scenario, and are forced, for a few weeks/months, to remain cozily snug in our homes working through Netflix queues and developing cooking skills.

The above is a repackaging of this older posting

Further Reading:
We're Living in Paradise

Paradise Lost

The Problem With the Serenity Prayer

Ballasting Happiness

The Evolution of a Perspective

...and many of the "Popular Entries" indexed in the left-hand margin.

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