The Pollyanna Perspective
I was walking through Sydney’s Kings Cross on my way to work. It was 7AM and the place was fresh and clean. A cleaner was busy getting the last stains off the glass of the phone box. The garbage collection was in full swing, and all the streets were still damp from the intense pressure cleaning.
The following day, I passed a man having a psychotic episode. He was in an insanely angry state threatening everyone who walked passed. I rang the police and they sent a car to pick him up. In my mind it was a case of protecting him from himself as well as a concern for the general public.
We can choose any perspective on both of these scenarios, we can think of the filth generated in the Cross every night. We can think of the sad story that might have led to the psychotic episode.
But we can also choose to think:
‘What a blessing to live in a society that is so well organized! A society where things work, where the policeman was concerned and professional, where the cleaners do their job well. Where café owners put out their furniture every morning so patrons can enjoy the sun while sipping their coffee.’
This perspective is often labeled ‘naïve’ and ‘Pollyannerish’ – and I often hear people being a bit sheepish if that is the perspective they take.
A 15 minute focus on appreciation results in an immediate and significant increase in levels of an immune antibody called secretory IgA.
Secretory IgA is one of the body’s primary defences against invading microbes.
And that really is the reductionistic view.
What about the experience? How is the experience of appreciation versus the one of problem focus? We also know that every experience affects the brain. In a way we are always creating our future by what we are paying attention to in the present.
It is easy for the problem focused perspective to become the dominant one – it might even be that by taking the negative view we feel that we understand how things ‘really’ are. Except things aren’t really in any way, they depend on our perspective and as long as we are conscious, that is within our control.
Part of what influences our perspective is our mind-state. The more ominous perspective tends to arise out of the dark mind-states. Whereas the lighter mind-states give rise to appreciation, joy and wonder.
We can however also influence the mind-state with the perspective we choose. The chicken and egg question, really we just have to start somewhere.
The more we experience appreciation, joy and kindness the more we increase the certainty that we will experience more of it in the future.
If you would like some fuel for appreciation then have a look at the little book: ‘The Sweetness of Life’ by Francoise Heritier. It has become a best seller in both France and Italy. The book is very unusual, it is one long list of the things in life that make life sweet.
The list starts like this: ‘Wild laughter, phone calls made for no real reason, handwritten letters, family meals (well some of them), meals with friends, a beer at the bar, a glass of red or white wine, coffee in the sun, a siesta in the shade, lounging on a sofa, setting a table beautifully, reading the paper, walking in the rain, going to an exhibition etc etc’. I could add; ‘Hanging out washing and letting the sun and breeze dry it, sharing tea on a sunny bench on a weekend morning, seeing friendly chats, seeing others enjoy themselves’.
So appreciation arises out of a light mind-state, it is also worthwhile to notice what thoughts arise out of a dark and heavy mood. The heavy mood might be due to a range of factors; much darkness in the past, to the weather, what you ate, not enough exercise, a conversation you had or a sorrow that you carry. Watch these thoughts and understand them as products of a mind-state. In other words don’t take the perspective they offer too seriously – and then see if you can pick a more delightful perspective instead.