Double Negative

I’ve never been much for touchy-feely, self-absorbed, Oprah-type navel gazing. But I’ve surprised myself by climbing on the “gratitude journal” bandwagon, listing a few things I’m thankful for in a notebook every morning.

I’ve been stressed lately and had some health problems, which pushed my mind onto a negative track that led nowhere. It surprised me, because I’m consciously aware that I’m the luckiest person I know. I’ve had so many dreams come true in the past year that I feel guilting for griping about anything — but berating myself for not being ecstatic over my good fortune every moment of every day became part of the spiraling negativity.

And if there’s one thing I dislike, it’s negativity. Yes, I’m negative about negativity.

It’s hard to stay positive these days. We’re battered by bad news all day, every day as the media, consumed by the need to keep us glued to our televisions, preys on our vague discontent and stokes paranoia and hate.

Human beings crave strong emotion. That’s why we read thrillers and romance novels, cheer on our favorite NFL teams and watch cowboys ride bulls. Maybe we need daily doses of fear and excitement because we’re designed to be hunters, striding forth from the cave each morning to slay giant sloths and mow down mammoths. We crave adrenaline, and our daily lives don’t offer many opportunities for hand-to-hand combat or life-threatening encounters with ferocious beasts.

So those who create credible threats reap big benefits in money and influence. Be afraid, they tell us. Be very afraid. Fear illegal immigrans, Joran Van der Sloot, and hurricanes. Fear socialism and liberals, and if that doesn’t scare you, fear neocons and the tea party. But fear something, because then you’ll watch more television to see if your chosen bogeyman has found his way under your bed yet.

I find it ironic that every doctor’s office I visit has Fox News playing on their big screen TV. Even if you agree with every word Bill O’Reilly says, their coverage is designed to make you angry at forces you can’t possibly control, creating frustration. Frustration leads to stress, and stress exacerbates illness — so if you’re not sick when you walk in, don’t worry; you’ll feel terrible after a twenty-minute wait. I’m convinced it’s a self-perpetuating cycle consciously designed by doctors.

The point of this rant is that listing ten good things in the morning provides a defense against all that negativity, inoculating you against the hate. The exercise helps me focus on the little things, things I can control, rather than bemoaning the state of the world.

So I’ve been Oprah-ized. Today’s list? Friends old and new, fresh-mown grass, living in a house I love, a great conversation with my son last night, having five books in my head I can’t wait to write, the birds outside my window, and Scrape’s kids, among other things.

I feel better already.