First, I joined the Big Girl’s second-grade field trip to the Empire State Building. (I’d never been there before; I think I was more excited than she was.) While walking around, I overheard a couple talking to each other.
“Well, this was another one of your brilliant ideas,” said the wife contemptuously. “It must be 30 below out here.”
“If you used half a brain when you get ready in the morning,” he answered, “instead of dressing like a teenager going to the mall, you wouldn’t be so cold.”
Several hours later, when I was standing in line to buy a salad, a woman rushed in with a baby SCREAMING in his stroller–not just sobs, but piercing shrieks. The woman looked around the store with wild eyes, pushed to the head of the line, and asked, “Did anyone find a brown pocketbook? I was here an hour ago!” The clerk shook her head, and the woman hurried out the door.
After lunch, I settled down with my laptop in the New York Society Library, where the guy sitting next to me was diligently working his way through a Kaplan workbook for one of the graduate-school tests. MCAT? LSAT? GMAT? I couldn’t tell which one he was preparing for, but I remember all too well poring over those workbooks when I was studying for the law-school test and for the bar exam.
I didn’t take pleasure in these people’s unhappy situations, but witnessing each scene did lift my spirits in an odd way. I felt so thankful that I didn’t have that kind of marriage; that I wasn’t dealing with a hysterical baby and a missing purse; that I wasn’t studying for a standardized test. Though with the woman and the baby, the relieved happiness was mixed with a feeling of wishing to help–it was frustrating not to be able to do anything. I did look around everywhere for her purse, alas, not to be found.
I started the morning feeling very annoyed because my home Internet service is down for the second day (I’m posting this from the library). I tried to fix it, the Big Man tried to fix it, now we’ve been told there’s a service outage in our area.
But now my day has made me feel lucky to have that problem.
That’s called “downward comparison.”
In one study, people who were asked five times to complete the sentence “I’m glad I’m not…” reported being significantly more satisfied with their lives than were people asked to complete the sentence “I wish I were a…”
By comparing myself to someone studying for the MCAT instead of someone with working Internet service, I’ve made myself a lot happier.
Pollyanna Week continues. Although I’m not making much headway at all, the exercise has certainly shown me how frequently and automatically I make negative comments. I even caught myself complaining about the size of the orange bracelet that I wear as a reminder not to be negative .
Wait! I’ve just realized that today’s post itself violates Pollyanna Week. Aargh.