Day 92

Childhood habits are hard to break. Too many of us see the world through a cracked lens put in place when we were young, and too often that lens has become permanently clouded. People taught optimism, cheerfulness, and happiness as children — those trained to see the glass half full, to walk on the sunny side of the street, to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative — are blessed with a lens that filters out what’s bad and leaves a lasting snapshot of good, positive, happy, smiling faces and experiences.

But what about those of us who learned to filter out the positive and focus on the negative? This tendency to focus on what did not go right and to minimize what did leads us to ask, “Is that it?” rather than saying, “Thanks for everything.”

I realized how pervasive this tendency was when I grew up and began meeting people who see the world through a brighter lens. People who’ll say at even a tiny gathering of 3 or 4 people, “Look, we’re all here,” rather than sighing and saying, “It’s only us. Where are all the others? And why are we left out?’

Here’s the thing: if you always feel like the party’s somewhere else, then it is.

MyBigWalk is a project begun in part to help me focus on the positive by bringing positive daily experiences into my life in small, reliable doses. I started it with the belief and the hope that with a positive daily practice that takes me out into the community where I can smile at others and project the vitality I want to feel in my life, I might accentuate my own positives and minimize my own negatives.

Likewise, I wanted very much to see others in a positive light, engaged in positive activity, feeling good about the days and the hours we’re living and sharing. The goal could be stated in this way: project out what I want to receive, and receive what I want to project. A sort of healthy-granola twist on the old adage Do unto others….

And how did this project fare?

Not long after I started MyBigWalk, I discovered Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project. Actually, Gretchen discovered and wrote about me, but that would be quibbling, wouldn’t it? And quibbling drifts toward the negative, which I’m trying to filter out of my life.

Anyway, Gretchen’s yearlong quest to become a happier person has led her to read, write about, think on, and interview people who study, practice, or otherwise promote happiness. Among her 12 Commandments for Happiness are 3 that absolutely reinforce my own goals for this project, this year, and my life in general:

* Act the way I want to feel

* Enjoy the process

* Do it now.

This year I’ve had the blessing and opportunity to spend an hour walking and talking with many friends, old and new. Invariably (albeit with a few exceptions) people are cheerful and upbeat when we’re out walking together.  I’ve had the great joy of driving to friends’ houses for a walk and finding even those people who were going through real life traumas opening the front door with huge smiles on their faces and saying, “you have no idea how much I’m looking forward to this!”

Even when I carried my own problems with me on my daily walk, they literally began to feel lighter as I marched forward. I suppose it shouldn’t   have surprised me as much as it did — after all, I started the project for a reason, right? And I’ve always known that I carry my own anxieties, sadness, and fears literally in my body. If something is upsetting to me it lodges in my shoulders, in my lungs, in the pit of my stomach. It dwells there and confuses me, fogs my thoughts, clouds my vision.

In other words, it puts that negative filter front and center, so that everything I do and everyone I see appears in the negative.

Thankfully, the walking itself tends to clear away that filter. Just like wind blows away clouds, stretching soothes tight muscles, and putting a smile on your face even when you don’t feel happy is scientifically proven to help boost your mood.

And so I’m grateful for MyBigWalk in ways I could not have predicted. It’s helped me lift away the negative filter, project happiness, and receive happiness on a more reliable basis. It’s given me a now moment in every day — so that the project isn’t only one of making commitments, setting goals, and planning outings or trips, but one that involves me with other people in a positive and simple way each day.

I can honestly say I have not had a single negative walking experience in my first three months of walking.

There’s been sleet, rain, snow, bitter winds, disappointments, anxieties, meltdowns, arguments, broken promises, and general life annoyances. There have been money worries, career snags, car troubles, health issues, and a lot of aches and pains. And yet each walk is a new start. And when that walk is over, there is tomorrow’s walk, and the one after that, and the one after that. In that way, each day’s walk is linked in a chain of positive hours that string my year — and my life — together with a network of small, lovely, beads of happy now moments.

I really believe that old adage that if you don’t know where you’re going, you’re going to wind up somewhere else. I also believe that life is not a destination, but a journey. MyBigWalk has allowed me to put these two beliefs together into a simple daily affirmation that is the walk itself. And the walk is my life.

Happy New Year. May you be blessed with your own joyous discoveries, large and small, in 2010. And may the filter you bring to each day be sunny, and full of promise.