Practicing a positive perspective for a happier life nowThe Gay Boy Next Door Thursday, May 26th, 2011
Social Chaos: The Gay Boy Next Door
I’ll admit to using moisturizer and Rogaine, but never have I feared getting older. I’ve always appreciated the wisdom that age brings and looked forward to maturity. I figured that my built up database of experiences would lend itself to an expanded perspective of the world and would help me better prioritize and maintain happiness.
So I’ve lived life with that expectation, always broadening my horizons and trying to be a jack-of-all-trades, but I’ve never felt like it was enough. Having diverse experiences and getting older won’t magically mature, change or make a happier me. It’s up to me to practice perspective and train my brain to think positively every single day.
I visited my 89-year-old grandmother at her retirement community recently, and was reminded that age and experience do not alone guarantee happiness. Even with a failing memory that resets every five minutes, my dear grandma managed to complain for hours at a time about anything and everything. I wanted to blame her negativity on the frustrating mental condition, but she was a grouch before the onset of Alzheimer’s and, according to my father, even worse before that. I love my G-ma, but there’s no denying she lives life wearing shit-colored glasses.
Her apparent misery left me unsettled and wondering how experience and age could be more effectively used to build happiness and perspective. Then suddenly, as I bent over to sign out on the residence clipboard, I felt a finger go down the back of my pants. My shirt was on the short side and my pants must have been a little low, because an elderly lady had no trouble approaching and brazenly poking around.
I stood up stunned and turned to confront my attacker. She smiled widely and exclaimed, “Sorry, I couldn’t help myself!” Still a little surprised, all I could do was smile back and laugh. “That’s what I get for not wearing a parka,” I joked as I ran for the door.
Looking back at the situation, I can’t help but admire the woman for going after what she wanted. I’d never condone sexual harassment or assault, but I was obviously safe and glad to brighten her day. In return, she gave me an experience worth adding to my collection, and one more tool with which to build perspective and happiness.
She also helped me to see the part of aging and life I was missing. The lesson was right there in my molester’s bold moves – I had to just go for it.
I’ve since realized that I can’t spend my every present day collecting experiences and memories so that I will be happy and wise in the future. I have to start practicing positive perspective and using it to live a happier life now, before I wind up like my wonderfully bitter grandmother.
Taking a page from the aging handbook, I actively use my diverse experiences to see problems in a new way. Now whenever I’m hungry at work and feeling cranky, for example, I try to remind myself of my trip to Bolivia and all the starving children my mom forced me to see. It’s hard to feel ungrateful or unhappy when I start thinking in those terms.
But as diverse as my life has been and I continue to make it, I can’t fake age and experience. There’s simply no way for me to match the mental tool collection and reference material of a middle-aged man. Thankfully, there’s a way for me and other less experienced people to fake, and reap the benefits of, future wisdom.
My favorite technique for emotional well-being requires a little imagination. Using the experiences I do have, I’m able to create perspectives based on possibilities rather than past realities. All I do is remind myself that there are an infinite number of events that could follow any given situation, and therefore it’s impossible for me to know whether or not a conflict will benefit me down the line.
For example, instead of being miserable because I’m working late, I remind myself that it’s entirely possible that, had I gone home on time, I would have been caught in a horrible accident. Or if I’m stuck at a party I want to leave, I tell myself that if I’m patient I might just meet the person who will lead me to the job of my dreams or the love of my life. I may not have relevant reference material for every situation or ever experienced the fortuitous situations I invented, but the mere possibility of these “what ifs” makes me feel happier about the problem.
Now every time I face conflict, I reconsider my beliefs and expectations about the situation. It surprises me how often I can manipulate my thoughts to change an emotional experience. I find that being open to new mindsets is just as important as being open to new experiences. And while maturity and experience provide the tools for emotional well-being, personal beliefs and perceptions govern the same emotions and stress levels.
By controlling these variables with collected experiences and imagination, I’m able to ward away negativity and develop early wisdom. I might not yet be older and wiser, but I can actively feel happy and well. And if nothing else, I’ve learned a very valuable lesson: always wear a belt when visiting grandma.
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