How Am I Doing?

I’ve been “clean and sober” – no mention of you-know-who, (rhymes with “rump”) – for 21 days and I must confess, a change has come over me.

cherry-blossoms

I feel… a little happier. The birds are singing more beautifully; the blossoms on the trees smell more sweetly; and I’ve unplugged from most cable news.

In a March 1 commentary (La La Land), I vowed to stop writing anything about President… “you-know-who” (includes any mention of his name) throughout Lent. That’s a whopping 46 days if you include the 6 Sundays! (I had mistakenly written that it was a mere 40 days and nights!)

At the end of that commentary, I asked readers, “Can I make it?”

“You’ll never make it!” one reader wrote.

Well… I’ve surprised even myself. My Catholic grandmother is looking down on me at this moment, beaming.

Is there a causal link to this, or have I experienced a transcendent miracle?

“People who pay close attention to politics,” Arthur C. Brooks writes in The New York Times (Mar. 17), “might also tend to have some latent source of unhappiness. But behavioral science shows that the link might just be causal through what psychologists call ‘external locus of control,’ which refers to a belief that external forces (such as politics) have a large impact on one’s life.

“An external locus of control brings unhappiness. Three social psychologists showed this in a famous 2004 paper published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Review. Studying surveys of college students over several decades and controlling for life circumstances and demographics, they compared people who associated their destinies with luck and outside forces with those who believed they were more in control of their lives. They conclude that an external locus is correlated with worse academic achievement, more stress and higher levels of depression. …

“If someone,” Brooks continues, “is directly affected by a political action (having her immigration status changed or losing her health insurance, for example), her attention will naturally be occupied by events outside her control. However, the external locus of control can also be based on an illusion that something affects us — meaning that the resulting unhappiness is unnecessary. …

“When is politics like a tree? In his classic book Living With the Himalayan Masters, the Hindu guru Swami Rama recounts the day his master taught him the nature of ‘maya,’ or illusion. Without warning, his master tightly grabbed hold of a tree and cried out: ‘Help me! My body has been caught by this tree trunk.’ Swami Rama exhausted himself trying to pry his master off the tree, but to no avail. Finally, his master let go, and said, laughing, ‘This is maya.’ He explained that we needlessly attach our fate to external things, bringing misery. The simple solution: Just let go.

“…We all have political opinions — some of them strongly held. But much of what actually happens in politics is far beyond our individual influence. That doesn’t mean it is intrinsically unimportant, but let’s be honest: Many of us consume political news and commentary in a compulsive, concupiscent sort of way, voluntarily subjecting ourselves to gratuitous information and stimuli, particularly on social media. …

“So what is the solution? First, find a way to bring politics more into your sphere of influence so it no longer qualifies as an external locus of control. Simply clicking through angry political Facebook posts by people with whom you already agree will most likely worsen your mood and help no one. Instead, get involved in a tangible way — volunteering, donating money or even running for office. This transforms you from victim of political circumstance to problem solver.

“Second, pay less attention to politics as entertainment. Read the news once a day, as opposed to hitting your Twitter feed 50 times a day like a chimp in a 1950s experiment on the self-administration of cocaine. Will you get the very latest goings on in Washington in real time? No. Will that make you a more boring person? No. Trust me here — you will be less boring to others. But more important, you will become happier.”

Oooommmm. I am letting go of my external locus of control.

Oooommmm. I will not let someone else’s Twitter feed run my life.

Oooommmm. I have stopped listening to Wolf Blitzer, and started listening to Mike and Frank on American Pickers.

2 comments… add one
  • John Baldwin MD, FACS, Major, US Army March 22, 2017, 10:31 am

    Congratulations, Jim!

    For most of 2017 I have not watched The Five, Fox News, Wolf B or Hannity which were dominating pieces of my life in 2016. I can verify Jim’s feeling that life has become much sunnier and more enjoyable, and I have found renewed joy in reading books, cooking and with my wife and lab, and hikes in the Sierras where we live. A constant drum-beat of negative news, all of which is OUT OF MY CONTROL, even out of my understanding, has been rejuvenating.

    I also like Pickers and Pawn Shop and Antiques Roadshow and of course, Giants and Warriors…(over which I also have no control but so what!).

  • Steve Plone March 23, 2017, 2:54 pm

    Now that was a funny column!

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