In Full Catastrophe Living, Jon Kabat-Zinn writes, “As long as you are breathing, there is more right with you than there is wrong, no matter how ill or how hopeless you may feel.”
From the moment you are conceived, right up until the moment you take your last breath, there is more right with you than wrong with you.
It’s very easy to lose sight of this. When something good happens to us, we often don’t celebrate much and so don’t take it in. And when we do celebrate it’s often almost momentary. And yet we obsess about things that bother us.
Imagine a friend has said an unkind word to you. Often you’ll call that event to mind over and over. Sometimes you’ll elaborate the fantasy by imagining retaliations on your part. By sheer repetition, and by vividly imagining the scene over and over again, you carve pathways associated with the emotions of anger and resentment into your mind. But when a friend says something complimentary to you, you may just experience a lift in your mood for a few minutes. Unless you’re a very unusual person you probably don’t find yourself, months later, thinking about the compliment you were paid, the same way you would with an insult.
Similarly, we tend to obsess over things that we think are wrong with us. We think over and over about the habits we want to change, and mentally beat ourselves up over them, whether it’s that we think we drink too much, or we think we’re lazy, or cowardly, or too unkind. But we ignore all our good habits. When we’re surfing the net late at night we castigate ourselves for our lack of willpower, but when we’re brushing our teeth for the second time that day or having our daily shower we don’t spend our time in the bathroom celebrating how wonderful it is that we take care of ourselves. Instead, we let the mind drift. And what does it drift to? Half the time we’re probably giving ourselves a hard time about our faults!
(This reminds me of a saying of the Buddha, where he’s describing the thoughts an ethical person has regarding others: ime sattā averā abyāpajjhā anīghā sukhi attānaṃ pariharantū’ti. This is usually translated as something like “‘May these beings be free from animosity, free from oppression, free from trouble, and may they look after themselves with ease.” But the word “ease” here is “sukha,” or joy, so the last part could just as easily be “May they look after themselves joyfully,” implying that we should rejoice and appreciate the good habits we have that involve taking care of ourselves.)
When we’re ill, we obsess about what’s going wrong in the body. We don’t think about the fact that since we’re alive virtually everything in the body is going right! And when we’re healthy, how often do we celebrate our good health? Hardly ever, for most of us.
So I’m going to suggest that you devote more mental space to celebrating and rejoicing in the ordinary things that are going right, and that you’re doing right, in your life.
- When you’re driving, notice that you’re driving with care and attention, and celebrate this. Say to yourself things like “Yay, me!”
- When you’re reading, pause once in a while and rejoice in the fact that you can read. (As a father whose oldest child is only just beginning to stumble through reading primers, I’m at the stage of recognizing how amazing this is.)
- Notice that you’re conscious. What an amazing thing that is! No one has the faintest idea what consciousness is — how matter interacting with matter can create this thing called “experience.” You’re a miracle!
- Pause and celebrate your good health. Say “thank you” to your body. If you’re in bad health, rejoice in the fact that your body is forever trying to heal itself, and that most things in your body are in fact functioning.
- Celebrate having access to clean drinking water, clean air, food.
- Celebrate having clothing and having possessions. If you’re poor and live in the developed world, you’re probably still richer than 90% of the world’s population.
- Celebrate family and friends.
- Celebrate the fact that you’re alive.
- Celebrate that you’re able to celebrate.
We really need to make an effort to celebrate, because of the mind’s inherent negativity bias. We need to consciously celebrate in order to carve pathways associated with joy and love into the fabric of our brains. And when we do celebrate, life becomes joyful.
There’s more right with us than wrong with us. And that in itself is something to be grateful for.
PS. You can see all of our 100 Days of Lovingkindness posts here.