“Art consists of limitation. The most beautiful part of every picture is the frame.”― G.K. Chesterton
On the eve of my 64th birthday, I realize I have spent the bulk of my life in a less than stellar frame.
As you probably know by now if you follow my writing, my perfectionism and hyper-vigilance have spent way more time driving my bus than I would like. Colouring my view of my life and what surrounds it. No matter what the scenery outside the window, I saw only the pre-dreaded and dark clouds of the unseen. I have typically always looked for the black lining of every silver cloud. I thought that this methodology would prepare me to deal with the inevitable bad shit that would be coming down the pike.
I could have been taking my kids to the zoo on a sunny day, and secretly have spent the whole day worrying about rain, or a car accident. Or, you know… Les Nessman’s WKRP frozen turkeys dropping out of the sky. I could have been away on a beautiful anniversary weekend and instead of enjoying the moment, I was obsessing that my dress was a wrong choice. That my hair was a mess (well, ok, that one COULD have easily been true), or that my partner really didn’t want to be there. Oh wait, that might have also been true in hindsight… but nevertheless, you get my point.
I recognize that some of my ugly frame could have been painted by anxiety or depression and their mutual distorted lenses on the world. But there were also a lot more times when it was just the bad by-product of looking at everything that could have gone wrong, instead of all that was going right.
Why do any of us take the beautiful art that is our life, and stick it in the ugly frame of focusing only on the negatives? Negativity bias.
Negativity bias works on the principle that negative information is easier to absorb than positive information in our brains. That we more quickly absorb and assimilate negative or potentially dangerous situations around us than the positive and life affirming ones. Because even in this age and place where it is mostly assured, survival is still at the top of our priority list, whether it be physical or emotional.
In my case, this made perfect sense. If my brain was already pre-wired to pick up the potential negative signals, of course I would follow those negative thoughts to their conclusions. As well as assume that the negatives facing me were the defining factors of my life. But… how to change the frame, and put a much nicer and more enhancing one around the life that I was given?
Cavemen followed their negativity bias to generally successful conclusions. Staying away from potentially dangerous stimuli would more often than not protect them from harm and let them live longer than their neighbours. But we are not cavemen here in 2021 North America. We are generally safe from the constant predatorial dangers that threatened our ancestors.
It takes a lot of constant re-assessment of our own thought processes to remind ourselves that we are safe, loved, and moving forward in our lives. Yes, of course, I could sit and obsessively worry about what might happen to derail my train. I could 100% focus my day’s energy on the one less than stellar interaction I had on any given day. And largely, throughout my life, I have lived this way. Which of course led me to believe that my life was largely unfulfilled and unhappy. That “bad shit just followed me around”.
I was wrong.
Yes, some bad times and less than stellar circumstances had found their way to me. But so have a lot of uplifting and inspiring moments. So had love, and fulfillment, even if only momentarily in some cases.
Time to disassemble the art from the frame it came in, and find a better one.
What if, instead of constantly reminding myself of all the fails, bad interactions and negative circumstances, I instead focused on all the little sweet moments and happenings, like they were the main focus of my life, and the frame of reference to put around the art that this life is? What if I stopped defining myself by my sad times, and started defining myself by the happy, loved, engaged moments and recognized the bad shit as just little speed bumps in an otherwise wonderful life? What if I just sometimes ignored the negative stimulus and focused instead on all the simultaneously evident positive ones?
WHAT IF I DARED TO SAY THAT I AM HAPPY? LOVED? IN A GREAT PLACE?! Would some crazy bad shit come jump on me to remind me that I was indeed a crappy person living a crappy life?
And so, just for a day… I did. And then I did it for another day, and another one after that. And once I did, I found that I defined myself as a gifted and loved person, not a rejected and flawed person unworthy of love. Turns out, the more I focused on the happy in my day, the better and happier my life looked in total.
I had finally found the frame worthy of the beautiful art that this life I have been gifted with, is. I hope that you all find the way to your best frame too. Because the world always needs more beautiful art hung out there, for all the world to enjoy.
I’m a 64 year old aging hippie with a sarcastic tongue and out of control ginger hair. I am passionate in advocating for women “of a certain age”, especially we single ones, because we aren’t quite dead yet, in spite of the fact that we are often largely invisible and made to feel redundant on many levels. I hope to make you think, make you laugh, and mostly, feel like no matter where you are in life, you are never alone, and whatever dumb thing you think is going to sink you, won’t. Because heaven knows if that were true, I wouldn’t be here.