‘Choosing your attitude’ or ‘how to brighten your day for free’

I guess I am right in thinking that most of us love free stuff. And you are reading because you either like free stuff, want your day brightened or both. This way to brighten my own day is something that struck me a while back, as you will see later. It gets hammered home periodically in no uncertain terms, and I am reminded that I needed to, once again (along with most of my resolutions…) readopt this one.

A few weeks after I started my job, my colleagues and I went on a course thrillingly entitled ‘Creating Positive Communication with Customers’. We looked forward to it with as much anticipation as you can with a title like that (i.e. none), and were pleasantly surprised to arrive to a display of scented marker pens and an array of glitter wands, tangle toys and Jacob’s ladders to fiddle with. I find it incredibly hard to sit absolutely still, and maybe it was the tangle toy that I played with for two solid hours that means I took a great deal away from the morning.

Perhaps it was actually a lot of sniffing the marker pens…but I actually quite enjoyed the course. The way to brighten your own day, and probably everyone else’s for free, came from there. It’s a simple formula and only needs you.

Your attitude influences your behaviour and your behaviour can influence your attitude.

In the age old words of the song: (please lip sync along.)

Smile, though your heart is aching,

Smile, even though it’s breaking…

…you’ll find that life is still worthwhile,

If you just smile.

The behaviour you choose to exhibit can change your attitude about something, and how you feel generally, which makes your behaviour better. So simple. So straightforward. So very very easy to forget to do, or to get swept up in self-importance and being cross.

I was very struck by this on a chilly Monday morning in mid November. 20 minutes of nap time into my journey, the train stopped at Basingstoke as it usually does. It waited, which it usually doesn’t. Over the tannoy we heard that a trespasser was on the line at Clapham. Then they terminated the train – everyone off a good 50 minutes from the destination. Our tickets became valid on other lines and the platform swarmed with people. Twitter was a hive of information. Eventually I got on a train to my destination and off we went again, albeit standing this time.

What I noticed was the attitudes on the station and all over Twitter.

People threw around the word ‘selfish’, suggested how inconvenient it was, and wanted them out the way so they could press on.

Was I pleased to be late for work? Not really no.

Did I enjoy standing for an hour in heels? No not really, especially when it was followed by a further hour of standing later.

Have I learnt my lesson and worn sensible shoes since? No!

Was I determined to be gracious to and think kindly of the rogue trespasser? Yes – that was my new party line.

Come the 30th December, I had apparently forgotten my loving attitude towards the world, and audibly groaned in the office when Twitter shared the delays and cancellations from a death on the line. I told my colleague what had happened and then caught myself. I was complaining about the delay. I had reason to complain; my journey home had the potential to be a colossal pain in the backside; my head was aching; who knew when I’d get in.

This week it happened again – Twitter, apparently my mine of information – shared that a fatality had shut many lines, including the line home. Online, people berated South West Trains for the lack of information, the delay to service, wanting to know why they hadn’t got their stock and staff in the right places. Of course they could have figured this out themselves in moments, but instead they vented their frustrations.

Let’s hold on a minute world.

Someone has died. 

Someone has felt they had no other option than to walk in front of a train.

Have we become so fixated on our own lives that we don’t care about anyone else’s? Is me arriving at work bang on time more important than someone feeling they have no other way out? Is me getting home and not having to stand in a crowded station in central London worthy of my moaning? Of course it’s not fun, and it’s either sweaty and hot or bitterly cold, but is it the end of the world? Where had my compassion gone?

Where has our compassion gone?

While discussing commuting with a couple of fellow travellers on different occasions, they both mentioned that your sympathy quickly diminishes for suicidal people on the route. I don’t want that to happen to me. My gut reaction is usually ‘oh you’re kidding me,’ when I’m chucked off the train at a station far from where I wish to be to stand on a freezing platform, when I have to call my boss and tell him I’m going to be in ‘later’ with no idea when that is, when I realise I’m going to stand in a packed station and have to run for the platform when it eventually is announced. Standing nose to nose in a sweaty carriage isn’t fun, no.

But my gut reaction does not have to be my attitude. I choose my attitude. Yes, it’s annoying, massively inconvenient, and probably either unbearably cold or uncomfortably hot. However, I choose to remind myself that my loved ones are alive and well, that I am fortunate to have a job I love, that my bosses are gracious and understanding about the situation I’m unexpectedly in. I arrived at work (not especially late in the end), fairly relaxed and without raised blood pressure or a strong dislike of humanity. I don’t have anything so incredibly pressing that I can’t rearrange and I got home in the end.

I chose to be happy that December evening that I had long enough to purchase a caramel latte and stuck in my earphones. My up-beat playlist (yes, it’s actually called that, for times such as these) had me toe tapping, which in turn improved my attitude. This then led me onto my great idea – wouldn’t a train be a great place for a silent disco? It’s nightclub-esque in that a person is pressed together with sweaty people they don’t know, and dancing would certainly cheer everyone up. Maybe I’ll initiate it next time, or start a hashtag?

A verse from the Bible I misread for a long time was this:

‘I have learnt what it is to be content in all circumstances.’ It doesn’t mean you’re permanently happy which is how I read it – in fact if you’re permanently happy maybe you don’t have a clue what’s going on!

Looking in context Paul, author of said quote, shares that he has had times where he’s had plenty, he’s also had times where he has been without anything (for which read ‘shipwrecked, flogged and dying’), but he has learnt the art of being satisfied with whatever he has at the time. He wasn’t necessarily full of joy, he was content.  

Did I feel content in separation? Wow, what a challenge. I certainly wasn’t happy. But boy did I learn stuff. I learnt to live in the ‘now’ and be content with what I had at that time.

Am I content right now? Despite delays, yes, I’m choosing to be content in getting home late. I’m choosing contentment in being divorced, being single and fairly penniless. Three years ago I would never have thought that to ever be true.

So I’m trying to choose my attitude. I’m behaving like I’m content, which in turn makes me feel more content. I’m rejoicing in the small stuff, those little snippets and moments that make me like life. I’m reminding myself of the suicide victim, the train driver who knew they’d never stop in time, the emergency services bringing dignity to the person in death. If you notice me with a bad attitude, please challenge me – and maybe we can start to challenge the default world attitude too?

*As I decided to post this today, I arrived at the station where all trains were cancelled following a broken down freight train. Challenged to keep to this attitude I drove to the next nearest station with running trains, taking 3 fellow commuters who I now know a little bit better! And at Basingstoke I ended up with 2 seats to myself – bonus! I think everyone else had given up!*

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