Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Really Bad Things That Didn't Happen Today

Sometimes you have to be thankful that worse things didn't happen.

A lot of people in America are depressed, or just generally unhappy.  This comes as a surprise to people in the 3rd world, who just assume that if you have enough to eat, everything else sorts itself out.

And tragic things happen to people in this country.  But most of us are not unhappy because of a natural disaster, the death of a loved one, or because of some other great calamity.  No, rather, we are depressed because of, well.... it beats me.  We are bored, or we want more than we have, or we worry about money, or are upset that the guy ahead of us in traffic is on the cell phone and riding the brakes.  We get angry, we get depressed, we get upset, and over what?  The fact that our designer coffee was cold.

Sometimes, it is a constructive exercise to think about the "what ifs" that didn't happen to you and how they would play out in an alternate universe.  We all think about the "what ifs" that could have or should have happened to make our life better - but we rarely do the opposite.  For example, if we had stopped in the rest area when the rain started pouring heavily, that guy in the Mercedes wouldn't have run into us.  We all wish for a "do over" when bad things happen.

But look at it from the flip side - maybe your life right now is the "do over" from some horrible outcome in an alternative universe.  Maybe in a parallel universe right now, there is some alternative you wishing he was in your shoes right now.

I thought about this the other day when I was on the beach.  We met some chaps with a dog and it seemed like a good idea to let their dog play with ours.  But instead of playing, he went right for our dog's throat.  We broke up the fight before any serious harm was done, although our dog was bleeding from two puncture wounds.  That was bad.

But it could have been far worse.  If that dog had torn her throat out, we would have watched her bleed to death in a horrible, horrible way.  And maybe in an alternative reality - a parallel universe or whatever - that is what happened.   And in that reality, I wished I had jumped on that mean dog sooner and saved my dog's life.

But you don't think about that sort of thing.  You get upset at the asshole with the mean dog and take your dog home to heal and don't bother to think, "Gee, that could have been a horrific and devastating event!"  We fail to realize how lucky we are.

Or perhaps you are driving to work.   Some jerk-ass texting on the phone drifts into your lane and you honk your  horn.  "Asshole!" you shout, as he looks up and swerves.  And your blood pressure boils.   But it could have been a whole lot worse - suppose you were distracted, too?  Or he didn't swerve in time?  Your whole day, month, year, or life may have been ruined.  And yet, we fail to give thanks for the awful things that don't happen.

Or you go to the doctor for a checkup.  You are annoyed that you have to wait, and that your co-pay is up to $45 now, instead of $40.  But you don't bother to think about how different your day would be if the doctor had said you have cancer.  We fail to be grateful for the things that didn't happen.

It is funny, but when you are young, you expect everything to go your way, and get unreasonably upset when it doesn't.   And perhaps this is because we, as Americans, are incredibly spoiled, when compared to the global norms.  Most folks overseas expect things to turn out awfully, and are grateful for any little positive outcome.  Here, we whine when we have to wait five minutes for our drive-through value meal.

As you get older, however, and the bad experiences - and horrific experiences - in life start to pile up, either to you personally, or to someone you love, or someone you know, you start to think a little differently.  You realize that "but for" a lot of things going your way, a lot of real horror could occur or could have occurred in your life.  You are not brilliant, just lucky - in many regards.

So, whenever I feel a little blue, I think about how well things actually are going for me - and how much worse they could be, in other circumstances.  And I think about what is really important to me - life, health, love - and what is less important - money, things, status.   And that helps put everything in perspective.