As many of you know, this week brought with it a huge rivalry game between UNC and Duke Men's basketball. I'm not here to talk about the rivalry, the tragic loss, or how much I love my team. I'm here to talk about the phenomenon that is the student ticket lottery. When I received that fateful email stating that I had gotten a UNC v. Duke ticket, I was thrilled. I was phase three (which means that I would most certainly be in the upper level, as I was in the third section of students to enter the Dean Dome), but I didn't care. I was going to be there. Shortly after this, FaceBook lit up with posts offering money, favors, and everything in between for a better ticket. At first, I thought, "This is dumb. Why can't these people just be happy that they're going to the game, even if they're going to be in the last group of students to enter?" But after a day or two, I got sucked in. I scoured the student-run FaceBook groups hoping to be the first to respond to someone posting that they were selling or trading a ticket better than mine. I started to lose appreciation for the fact that I was going to be at arguably one of the biggest college basketball games of the season all because I wanted a better seat.
This is just one example of a phenomenon that I've noticed lately that I'm going to call "can't-be-happy-with-what-we-have-itis." It's sweeping the nation, especially among my generation. We seem to have lost the ability to cherish what we have because we're too busy thinking about what we don't have, or what we want to have. This happens on all levels and to everyone--it's not just college kids. Are we spoiled? Yes, but we don't seem to recognize it. So what's the solution here? We could go off on a big tirade about the dangers of capitalism and greed and all of that, but I think there's something more simple that we can do on a daily basis to recognize the positive aspects of our lives that can so easily slip away. It's called mindfulness.
My first introduction to mindfulness came from a friend who I spoke with often about anxiety. I've always been an anxious person, and over thinker, and a snowballer (I'll start with one small scenario and then snowball all the way down the hill to turn it into something huge and terrible). She taught me that mindfulness is about recognizing those thoughts, accepting them as they are without judgment, and letting them pass through the mind without letting them take hold and do the damage that they so often can. I'm not an expert, but I've been working on mindfulness for about two years now, and it's made a really big difference in my life.
Mindfulness often comes with the idea of meditation, which usually instantly freaks people out and makes them bring out their "anti-hippie" pepper spray to fend off the weirdness. Let me just say, I was a doubter for a LONG time. My mom would suggest it, I would roll my eyes, and I'd go right back to my anxious thought patterns that did me no good. This all started to change when I read a book by Dan B. Harris called 10% Happier. One of my favorite parts of this book was when Harris discovers the utility of the phrase, "Is this useful?" It's such a simple thought, but it has so much power. Stopping to consider, "Is this useful?" certainly isn't easy, but when you can do it, you start to realize the nasty tricks that our minds can sometimes play on us.
To continue my journey with mindfulness, I downloaded Harris's app, 10% Happier, with the awesome subtitle, "Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics." Through guided mediations and discussions, Harris and Joseph Goldstein (who I would define as a meditation pro, although I'm sure he would disagree) help you start on the journey to mindfulness, just five minutes and then ten minutes at a time. I've stuck with it for a couple of months now, and although on some days I forget, I've found that it's made a big difference in my day. Starting off the day with meditation makes me aware of the anxious thoughts in my mind, and allows me to notice them, accept them, and try to move past them.
The biggest benefit of mindfulness and meditation is that, at least in my experience, it makes you notice the small positive things that happen on a day to day basis. Obviously it's not perfect--this week, I still wanted better basketball tickets--but when I'm having a bad day, I find that I'm able to notice how happy I am thanks to the smaller things like the running into a friend unexpectedly in between classes or seeing a particularly beautiful autumn day when the leaves are changing to orange and red in the quad. If you've never given meditation a try, I strongly encourage it. It's going to feel weird, uncomfortable, and quite possibly useless at first, but it's not. Give it a go and hopefully, with some time and practice, you'll see it for all it's worth.