ACCENTUATE THE POSITIVE
A popular song with that lyric and title was written by Johnny Mercer, a troubled alcoholic who fortunately was buddies with Bing Crosby, the singer every song-writer wanted to pitch a song to. But he was right, happiness is a choice, and what you focus on will grow right in front of your eyes. If you find yourself staring in fascinated horror at something ugly, pretty soon the whole world will seem just as ugly.
If you are extremely jet-lagged, as I am at this moment, and you can’t sleep because the middle of the night is the middle of the afternoon where you just came from, you have a choice. You can toss and turn in bed, or get up and watch dawn brighten the skies and listen to the birds wake up. Every day offers a hundred chances to make similar decisions, and how you choose will determine your emotional reaction to that day. In fact, no matter what happens or doesn’t happen, just making a decision to accentuate the positive will make you feel happy.
I know this, but knowing it doesn’t help. What about when I feel bored, or sad, or anxious? Should I take action? If so, what?
There must be something that I can do to make my life more enjoyable and meaningful, but there are many things I can do nothing about, and I must merely accept as they are if I want to have a chance at peace of mind. Yes, Pakistan and India may be on the brink of nuclear war, yes boats loaded with unwelcome immigrants frequently sink, drowning all aboard. If you watch a lot of news broadcasts, it always seems like the world is in a terrible state, that turmoil is normal, and that peace of mind or satisfaction are only possible for the especially lucky or super-rich. This lie is quite seductive, and the persistence of its telling only amplifies its negative power.
There must be a way to find what is real, and thereby determine what is individually important. What do I really want to do? I can only answer that by first letting go of what I think somebody else thinks I should be doing. Following somebody else’s guidance isn’t going to get me anywhere. I won’t, however, be able to accurately guide myself if my thinking is clouded because I’ve been accentuating the negative and I feel like I’m marooned in a sea of problems.
Back when navigation was more difficult, people somehow managed to steer boats across vast distances and arrive at their intended locations. On a journey that took weeks, they did this by taking many measurements and making many small corrections. It’s not fast, it’s not simple, but it works. Today, GPS can tell you where you are within a margin of error of two centimeters, anywhere n the planet. Still, there are many lost souls wandering the globe, waiting for something to happen that will give them a sense of destiny and a feeling of being at home.
I know, I’m one of them. But I don’t read maps so much as make decisions based on intuition. That valley over there looks interesting. Wonder what’s just beyond that next rise?
I find that maps are a tease. They give you a false sense of security, of knowing a place when you don’t really know it at all. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked at a map and determined it will take me two hours to travel from one point to another, only to find it took twelve hours, because the road that seemed only inches long ended up as a twisting lane through spectacular scenery. Other times, I’ve endured the most uninspired landscapes merely because a map suggested it would be the best way to get where I was going. No, I try not to pay any attention to maps, because map makers and I aren’t interested in the same things.
My traveling decisions are made on a gut level, bypassing my brain completely. I’ve enjoyed some pretty dumpy places, and been bored silly in some pretty nice ones. I surely wouldn’t want to be in the business of recommending travel sites and accommodations to others, because I don’t think most people are delighted by the same things I am. That’s my beef with travel writing. It assumes a lot, and it pretends that recreational travel is more exotic and transformational than it can ever hope to be. It’s promotional writing not just for the places it mentions, but for the whole concept of travel as a drug, a remedy for an empty life.