Here’s the caveat: After my recent blog about focusing on the positive aspects of being a passenger on a commercial airliner, a blog which came on the heels of my musings about why attending the People’s Climate March in New York City will make me happy, my friend George found the juxtaposition odd. He asked me how could I write about my passion for protecting the environment and then just a few days later write about the joys of airline travel, given that flying is about the worst thing we can do in terms of our carbon footprint?
Good question, George. Here are my answers:
- First, I am not a purist. I have made many, many changes in my life — using a clothesline, buying local, eating less meat, etc. But we are all products of the systems we live in. That is one reason I support a Gross National Happiness paradigm and the People’s Cllimate March — because we need new systems. Those planes would all have taken off without me on them. The problem is too big for any of us to fix by our individual actions.
- Second, I do take such issues into consideration. Two out of three of my trips to visit my daughter and granddaughter since they moved half a country away have been by train, rather than plane, for both economic and environmental reasons (the third was by car, and there were three of us in that car, so that seemed a fair choice). Truthfully, I’ve flown very rarely. My recent trip was only the 15th time I’ve flown. Ever. And I’m not that young.
- Third, I went to North Carolina for important relational reasons. Relationships are tremendously important, not only in terms of personal happiness but also to exchange ideas and help us all move forward. I shared tales from the Gross National Happiness movement, and learned much in return. One friend, for example, showed me a new pond she had dug next to her off-the-grid cabin. The pond is stocked with fish, to provide a sustainable source of protein for her family. For me, that’s food for thought.
- My point with the previous flying blog was not to encourage flying, but rather to encourage a positive outlook toward an incredible option in our lives that most people treat with grousing rather than gratitude. Really, the environmental concerns about flying only add to the need for a positive attitude when one does choose to fly. Choosing to have such a negative impact, and then complaining about it, seems particularly self-indulgent. If you’re flying, the least you can do is appreciate it!
All in all, I’m grateful to George for raising this important point. Our individual choices can add up. I think the preponderance of organic choices in almost all grocery stores is testimony to that.
Now, when I do fly, I feel even more duty bound to focus on the positive.
Counting The Flying Positives, Part Two
The positive framing of my flight to North Carolina was so powerful, I felt like I had changed my brain. I mean that quite literally. Thanks to neuro-plasticity, I probably did, at least a little. One of the mot impressive aspects of the education I’m receiving from Tal Ben-Shahar and the Certificate in Positive Psychology program at Kripalu is learning how seemingly small interventions can have a long-lasting, powerful impact.
So it’s a strong possibility that I wore a new groove in my brain — the “flying is fun” neuro-pathway. Creating positive neuro-pathways is excellent for both our short term and long term well being. Plus, focusing on the positive absolutely made my flight to North Carolina a much more enjoyable experience. For those reasons, and because I wasn’t about to purposely focus on the negative, I decided to repeat my experiment to focus on the positives during the journey north.
It was definitely tougher going on the way home. I was, after all, returning from vacation, which for me was a bit of negative double whammy. First, that meant it was time for some of the fun and games to end. Even more impactful, I was wrapping up a week of way more sugar, caffeine, and wine than usual, and, sometimes less sleep than I need. Thus I arrived at the airport tired, a little sad, headachy, slightly sick to my stomach, and dehydrated.
Plus, it was not my happy little Burlington airport but rather the very busy (ie, stressful) hub airport in Charlotte. And I kept feeling that my time in the Smokey Mountains with my friend Jeannette — who I stayed with for the second part of my trip — just wasn’t long enough.
Aaaannnndd … I was headed home to my dear husband Bob and the Vermont I love so much — two giant positives. Maybe the ledger was even.
So, time to start counting the positives for that journey.
- Jeannette drove me three hours to the airport — a six hour round trip for her! That is friendship. Yeah, that is a friendship that started when we were only 11 years old. Sweet.
- Not only that, on the drive there Jeannette shared with me invaluable insight and information about the publishing process — exceptionally positive for me because (you heard it here first) I am about to embark on the writing-a-book path.
- When Jeannette dropped me off at the curb (we were running late, no time for her to park), I felt like I won the air traveler’s lottery! I dashed up to the curbside check-in with no line at all where a very friendly airline employee took my bag and gave me a ticket smoothly and quickly. He then pointed to my boarding pass, and the letters “TSA-PRE.” He said, “When you get to security, go the TSA-PRE line.” I thanked him, and rounded the corner where there were long lines for all the security checkpoints — except TSA-PRE where the line was non-existent! I went up to the lone employee there and showed him my boarding pass. I said, “I don’t know why I was given this, I’m just an ordinary passenger.” He smiled, checked my ID, and sent me right to the X-Ray area where I started to take my laptop out of its case. I was told, no, no, you don’t need to do that. And, I didn’t even have to take off my shoes! I whisked through security in less than five minutes. Amazing, just amazing.
- Later, on the plane, I read about the TSA-PRE program. There was a bulleted list of categories of eligible passengers. I was not in any of the categories! (Did someone tell the airlines I was writing about my experience???) (I must say, BTW, that the airline in question was United — though I think the positivity exercise would probably work equally well with any airline.)
- I had a mini (mini, mini) happy “reunion” when my seatmate turned out to be the woman who had moved her bags out of my way to give me a seat in the gate waiting area.
- Lift off — thanks to my meditative mode — was an almost blissful sensation, one of gliding to the heavens.
- Outside the window, I saw a cloud formation that bore a striking resemblance to a cement lion, the kind that might guard a driveway, bridge, or la-di-dah front entrance.
- It was once again quiet enough for me to meditate. I was still feeling a little crappy, so it was harder to lean into that experience, but it was still okay — it’s good to try!
- I didn’t spill anything on my seatmate.
- I had consolidated my packing to make it quite unlikely that I’d lose my laptop again. Hey, I learned something from my previous travels — woo hoo!
- Making my connecting flight was very stressful — barely enough time to get from my arriving gate to my departing gate, plus lots of unhappy looking people, and other sights I didn’t enjoy (like, rampant destructive consumerism). BUT I was determined to look at the positive, and I found it, especially in relationships. Adult children taking care of elder parents in wheelchairs, laughing children, people holding hands. There was a lot of love on display.
- I made my flight to Burlington!
- My seatmate was active duty military, a very conservative and exhausted fellow returning home from a long overseas flight. It soon became clear that our views on many topics were miles apart. Yet, we had a civilized and respectful conversation and, quite wonderfully, found ourselves in fundamental agreement on the concept of Gross National Happiness. Coming from opposite sides of the political divide, we agreed that measuring societal success solely based on money and materialism is unhelpful at best and destructive at worst. Further, he shared that his personal happiness is all about time spent with his wife and young children — family and relationships, just like the rest of us. We would never have had this very positive conversation without the airline throwing us together as seatmates.
- Finally — you may have guessed — my husband was waiting for me. We went out to dinner at a great farm-to-table organic localvore taco restaurant, and drove home through the lush late summer Vermont scenery.
Aaaahhh … there’s no place like home!
Home — which I am leaving again tomorrow morning, by train, to go to the People’s Climate March. There is no way I can count the positives for this trip — they will be uncountable, I am sure. I am no longer nervous about going, as I am traveling with friends, and staying with another dear friend. No matter the trip, relationships are awesome.
More on the Climate March later!