Reflections: How You See Things Matters

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I’ve been at this gratitude project for a little over a week. Every day, I’ve spent at least part of my day thinking, “I need something to write down. What am I grateful for?” The rest of the day my inner monologue is mostly unchanged. But at least I’ve spent ten minutes, maybe more, thinking about things I am thankful for every day. That’s something, right?

But I immediately worried that I’m giving thanks for really trivial things. Especially during a week like this one, when the news is a constant stream of terror and grief. Here I am giving thanks for my cup of coffee, when I should be thankful that I’m alive and whole. And then, of course, there are the personal tragedies and worries that dog my heels every day. These things are almost too big to grasp, except through grief. Just as big good things are hard to grasp except through joy.

We all feel the big stuff when it happens. But I’m concerned with small things.The daily battle to get by. Honestly, a lot of things that get under my skin are as trivial as the things I give thanks for. So, why not try to focus on the good, however small it seems?

This week I’ve been rereading David Foster Wallace’s commencement address to the graduates of Kenyon College in 2005 because it affirms this idea that how you see things and where you choose to focus your mind matters:

I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed. Think of the old cliché about “the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master”.

Wallace eloquently points out that if we unconsciously go through life without challenging the natural, easy assumption that we are the center of the universe, we will feel miserable and annoyed, enslaved to our own inner monologue. And that being well-adjusted means working hard to get outside the default setting, to construct meaning that sets us free instead of bogging us down.

So, I suppose that’s the real crux of my project. Not to express some kind of ultimate truth, but just to change how I see things. Will I see the world as barren and hostile? Or will I choose to see it as abundant and beautiful?

 

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