Last Saturday morning, I had an early flight to western North Carolina to celebrate a friend’s 70th birthday. I’ve been trying to say “yes” to life’s opportunities more often, so when the invitation came from my friend Lynn, I figured out a way to afford the airfare. I also love that part of North Carolina. These friends live about an hour east of Asheville, where the mountains are spectacular. Plus, I have another dear friend — a high school era BFF — an hour west of Asheville. This was a chance to spend time with her, too. It was all very last minute, but I said, “yes!” Yes, to a pleasant, meaningful, happy trip.
Then in the car, I started complaining to my husband as he drove me to the airport. I said, I’d be much more excited if I was driving*, not flying — because, of course, everyone “knows” flying is just no fun anymore. It wasn’t major complaining, but I was definitely leaning into my brain’s negativity bias (which, by the way, your brain has, too!).
Yet, about an hour later, when I heard the pilot speak in a delightful Irish brogue, I realized, “I’m having fun! I’m enjoying my air travel experience!”
That realization made me think about the power of intention, and attention. In any given moment, we choose (usually sub-consciously) what we pay attention to — and what we don’t pay attention to, don’t even see. It is simply impossible to pay attention to everything all the time. We can consciously choose to focus on the positive, or we can choose the negative. If you doubt the power of attention, try this quick video test. I’ve seen other versions, but I think this gets the message across.
In turn, that led me to mull over one of the fads currently making the rounds on Facebook. I’ve been repeatedly challenged to “name three positive things” each day for a week. I’m not at all opposed to the “three positive things ritual,” but buckled in my seat and waiting for take-off, I thought, “Why just three? What if I count all day? How many positives will I rack up?”
It was immediately apparent that counting all the positives is impossible. I mean, the sun rises and my heart beats and I have running water. Not to mention, I was about to be, as comedian Louis C.K. puts it, “partaking in the miracle of flight.” I also wake up almost every day in Vermont, a place that is so special to me and where I am always grateful to live. The scenery between my house and the airport is stunningly beautiful. On a more personal note, I wake up most days next to a loving and devoted husband, to whom I am also enormously grateful. Etc. Life overflows with positives. With all that as a baseline, here are just a few positives from August 30, 2014:
- Yay for a 7:30 AM flight! Many flights leave Burlington at 6:00 AM. It is ever so much more civilized to leave the house at 5:30 AM than to leave at 4:00 AM.
- For some reason, I was totally prepared and ready to roll out of bed and into the car. Patting myself on the back!
- Bob offered to accompany me into the airport, not just drop me off outside. So sweet. So Bob.
- The check-in was totally smooth and pleasant. I didn’t even have to use one of those automatic machines which make me anxious. Instead, I got to deal with a pleasant and helpful human being.
- Yay for Skinny Pancake! It makes me happy to have this Vermont franchise, with its emphasis on local and organic products, in the airport gate area. Plus, I could buy bottled water from them in a resusable glass battle! Awesome.
- Coffee!! ‘nuf said.
- Pleasant interaction with a woman and her young adult son waiting to board. They were flying to Colorado for the start of his college career. Fun to wish them both well.
- Pleased to have a seatmate who doesn’t want to talk (though, I would probably also be pleased to have a seatmate who does want to talk!)
- Phew!! Especially pleased that this seatmate (a young man) seems to have a pleasant disposition. That is, he didn’t get upset when I spilled water all over him.
- Good thing it wasn’t coffee.
- Flying over my beloved Vermont and seeing some special spots from the air (like Shelburne Pond).
- Glad I chose only yogurt at the Skinny Pancake and not a muffin. I always seem to gain weight while traveling. At least I’m off to a good start.
- Happy also to fly over the Adirondacks, a magnificent wilderness area I can often see from the Vermont side of Lake Champlain. Though I would love to spend some time on the ground in the Adirondacks, we never do, because Vermont’s mountains constantly beckon. So it’s nice to get a good view of the Adirondacks this morning.
- It is a beautiful summer day.
- I laughed out loud (but not too loud) when the flight attendant announced, “For the comfort of other passengers, please securely close the door behind you when you use the lavatory.”
- I was inspired to write! I so love it when I am visited by inspiration.
- An article in the in-flight magazine about Dutch aeronautical student Boyan Slat, who has developed a method of cleaning up the massive floating plastic garbage dump in the Pacific Ocean, fills me with hope.
- Traveling with a bathroom. Really, that’s soooo much better than mile after increasingly stressful mile in the car, wondering where I can possibly stop to use the restroom.
- Feeling like such a goofus on the plane — bumped my head, scrawled some ink on the back of the seat in front of me, and of course spilled water on my seatmate — but (and here’s the positive) — feeling so okay with this. Sometimes I get to be in a group where I am the wise one or sparkle in some other way. Sometimes, I’m the goofus. It is really okay.
- Plenty of peacefulness on the plane, making it easy to meditate.
- Appreciating the fact that meditation has become a joy and not a chore, and that I no longer worry about whether I’m doing it “right.” I know it’s right by how I feel, even squished into a tiny seat on a crowded plane.
- More signs of hope. They are everywhere, it seems. Solar panels, windmills, and, in Chicago’s O’Hare airport, of all places, a poster about the airport’s own vegetable garden. Awareness seems to be growing re sustainability changes we all need to make.
- I love Vermont but it is exceptionally homogenous. It is fun for me to see such a diverse population as the passengers in O’Hare.
- Talking with my granddaughter on the phone — really, talking with my daughter, because my granddaughter was too happy playing in the background for a phone call right now. I think that’s great. I’m happy she’s happy.
- Fun exchange with the flight attendant about the fact that non-dairy creamer is a poor substitute for half-n-half.
- I did NOT lose my laptop in the Charlotte airport! I put it down near the baggage claim area, to call my friend Lynn and let her know my status. After I grabbed my suitcase from the carousel and started walking away, I realized I no longer had my laptop with me! Mild panic set in, but I went back to where I made the phone call, and there was my laptop. So, so relieved. That would have put a real damper on this positivity list! Instead, it’s one of the highlights.
- Yay for “Eat More Kale” stickers! Montpelier artist Bo Muller-Moore hands out free, mildly subversive “Eat More Kale” stickers. I had stuck one on the plain black suitcase I borrowed from Bob, so this suitcase would stand out from all the others just like it on the baggage claim carousel. It worked! I spotted the bag right away.
- When Lynn picked me up, I really enjoyed looking at her simple but effective turquoise drop earrings and her matching turquoise blouse. Very pretty.
- With an hour drive to her house, Lynn and I had time to reconnect in the car after four years of not seeing each other.
- Then when we arrived at their house, I could reconnect with Mark, the birthday boy — once also known as my college adviser. Very special.
- Later, all three of us sat out on the deck drinking wine and eating crackers and cheese. Delightful.
- Lynn made a simple but scrumptious stir fry dinner, with chicken, bok choy, and rice. Perfect.
- The guest bed is super super comfortable!!
- With the windows wide open, I can hear the crickets chirping as I fall asleep.
All in all, a good day made so much better by focusing on the positives — so much better, in fact, that I feel like my brain has been at least a little bit re-wired. I honestly look forward to my flight back home to see what joy it brings me.
This was such an easy exercise. Let me know if you try it — I’d love to see your list!
* Of course, driving would have been a terribly selfish choice, environmentally. I know some folks I know refuse to fly on environmental grounds, but nurturing relationships with lifelong friends seemed like a good enough reason to fly in this case.
Comments on: "Only Three Positive Things?Or, Remembering to be Happy While Flying" (3)
I especially like number 8. And number 10.
This strikes me as odd Ginny. How can you be concerned about climate change and love flying in a jet plane which is absolutely the worst single thing you can do to generate carbon emissions?
George, I understand your puzzlement. Of course, you raise a good point. I flew to visit my friends because I think nurturing relationships and community is also extremely important for both individual happiness and our collective strength going forward. The point of my blog wasn’t to glorify flying, and I wouldn’t say I do love flying — I don’t. But I WAS flying, and it is — despite the huge drawbacks — an incredible miracle. My point was, instead of giving into the crowd psychology of, “everyone knows flying is so unpleasant,” I wanted to focus on the positives — which, on the personal level, abound.
Also, is it really worse, environmentally, to fly than for one person to drive alone from Vermont to North Carolina?
The whole aviation system also highlights for me why the climate march is so important. Each of us can only do so much individually — I try hard and have made a lot of changes in my life, but there are areas where I am weaker and don’t rise to the ideal. We need the big systems changes, too.
BTW, this is only the 15th time I’ve flown in my life.
And, I totally see your point. I’m going to go back in and change the title of the blog right now.