Press Pause

 


F I V E

Press Pause


Stop and reflect on your life regularly. Pressing the pause button to practise gratitude is the way to make it a constant in your life.

‘I love those who can smile in trouble, who can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection. ’Tis the business of little minds to shrink, but they whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves their conduct, will pursue their principles unto death.’

—Leonardo da Vinci


Worli Sea Face has some of the most expensive homes in the city. Business tycoons, movie stars and even cricket players; the postcode is littered with famous names. I pointed at one of the new-builds shooting up. ‘That belongs to one of my close friends,’ I said. Harry looked at me with surprise.

  ‘I was under the impression that I would be your richest friend,’ he said, shrugging innocently.

   ‘You are one of them, of course. For your age, no one can mock your success. But these people are playing in another league. This building is going to be ten floors!’

   Harry bent his neck to look outside my window to see men in thin neon jackets and yellow helmets hard at work, constructing a billionaire’s paradise.

   ‘I wish I could afford an apartment in it,’ he said.

   ‘I think you misunderstood, Harry. The ten floors are just for the businessman’s family; there are no separate apartments.’ With my friend’s mouth wide open, I continued. ‘The fact is that I’m sure this man works as hard, if not harder than you. He’s the chairman and chief executive officer of one of India’s most prosperous companies. But I know him personally and therefore I know that he always makes time to reflect on the positives. It’s psychological—when we are thankful for what we have, we become poised to receive more. 

   Otherwise, we tend to squander opportunities that may come before us. That is as true for business as relationships. We must prioritize our gratitude. We must press pause and stop to smell the roses.’

Joshua Bell

It was Hans Christian Andersen who said, ‘When words fail, music speaks.’ But that is only the case if you make time to listen.

   Over ten years ago, a short, unassuming article was published in one of America’s leading newspapers, the Washington Post. The paper is famous for covering the nation’s political landscape, but this piece was different. It was about a social experiment that highlighted some harsh truths about the society we live in.

   Most of the mid-level bureaucrats disembark at L’Enfant Plaza station, located in the heart of federal Washington. On Friday, 12 January 2007, as people slurped coffee and scarfed down doughnuts, as they scurried off to work, an inconspicuous man, in jeans and a T-shirt, stood next to a dustbin inside the station playing a violin. In a city like Mumbai, it would not be considered highly dignified for someone to play music on the street. The perception in the States is different. They are not part of the aristocracy, but not considered impoverished either. They are just seen as street performers, who can at times attract quite a crowd and media attention.

   If you see someone playing music in a public area, do you stop and listen? Do you ever give any change to show your kindness? Or do you hurry past in guilt fearful of your lack of time? That winter morning, theWashington Post conducted an experiment to see if people would stop for one of the finest classical musicians in the world, playing the most elegant music ever written, on one of the most expensive violins ever crafted. Would they accept their free front-row ticket to witness the musical genius or squander their opportunity, as they rushed to Capitol Hill?

   The artist was the internationally renowned violinist, Joshua Bell. Thirty-nine at the time of the experiment, Bell had swapped the concert hall for the Metro hall, and an adoring audience to one who may just ignore him. Days before the experiment, Bell had filled Boston’s stately Symphony Hall, where run-of-the- mill seats sell for $100. This was a test of context, perception and priorities: Would people pause to appreciate beauty when it’s right in front of them?

   Bell was a child prodigy. His parents, both psychologists, decided to get him formal training when they noticed that their four-year-old was making music with rubber bands—he would stretch them, opening and closing them across side-cabinets, to vary the pitch. His fame was amplified as a teenager. ‘Does nothing less than tell human beings why they bother to live,’ one magazine interview commented. But would the humans at the train station tell him that? Would the masses recognize this disguised genius playing perfect masterpieces on a violin worth $3.5 million?

   So what do you think? A free concert by one of the world’s most famous musicians! You would expect a swarm of commuters around him.

   The opposite happened.

   It was at three minutes that a middle-aged man glanced at Joshua for a split second, but kept walking. Thirty seconds later, a woman threw in a dollar and dashed away. It was six minutes later that someone leaned against the wall, and listened. The stats were dismal. In the forty-five minutes that Joshua Bell played, seven people stopped and hung around for at least a minute, twenty-seven gave money amassing a grand total of $32. This left 1070 people who were oblivious to the miracle happening only a few feet away from them.

   The Washington Post recorded Bell’s whole performance secretly, creating a time-lapse video of any incidents, or in this case, lack of them. ‘Even at this accelerated pace, though, the fiddler’s movements remain fluid and graceful; he seems so apart from his audience—unseen, unheard, otherworldly—that you find yourself thinking that he’s not really there. A ghost. Only then do you see it: he is the one who is real. They are the ghosts,’ the article said.

   Can we label the thousand people who ignored Bell as unsophisticated? Not necessarily. The German philosopher Immanuel Kant said that the context of a situation matters. ‘One’s ability to appreciate beauty is related to one’s ability to make moral judgements,’ he said. But to do this, the ‘viewing conditions must be optimal’. Art in a gallery and art in a coffee shop are going to be treated differently. In the coffee shop, the art may be more expensive and of a higher value, but there is no reason to pay attention as people sip a variety of mochaccinos. In most galleries, the ‘optimal’ conditions have been created to appreciate beauty. Light in the right place, enough room between the art and the viewer, a description of the piece, etc. Funnily enough, many have lost ordinary objects in art galleries later to find that people are gathered around them taking pictures thinking that they are exhibits! Context manipulates our perspective. Therefore, we cannot make judgements about people’s ability to appreciate beauty because Bell did just look like a humdrum violinist. However, what does this say about our ability to appreciate life?

   I have found that we as a people have got busier over time. We tend to exclude parts of our lives which are not directly related to hard work and accumulating wealth. The construct of the modern world is such that we have less time to press pause, and appreciate beauty. Minding their own business, stressed, with their eyes forward, people on the escalator ignoring Joshua Bell have the capacity to understand beauty, but it seems irrelevant to their lives so they choose not to.

   If we cannot take a moment to listen to the beautiful music, played by one of the best musicians on the planet; if the drive of modern life supresses us, so that we are deaf and blind to that spectacle, what else are we missing?

Prioritize and Practise Gratitude

Naturally, the Sea Face attracts all types of people. Tourists snapping away (with only the Bandra–Worli Sea Link between them and the horizon), families strolling, couples holding hands and runners doing what they do best. The road had become a parking lot again. ‘Do you see him over there?’ I gestured at a man, who seemed twenty-five years old, working out on the pavement. ‘A body like that does not come by chance. It must take years of practice to achieve what he has. It takes years of working late nights to create an overnight success.’ It looked like his muscles had been chiselled, his arm bigger than the average man’s legs. Harry tensed his left arm and visually measured his biceps. He laughed, realizing his lack of muscle in comparison to the Hercules now doing push-ups on the beach.

   ‘Similarly, we must train the muscle of the mind. To some, gratitude is a natural disposition; to others, it’s a conscious priority. But like any muscle, you must “use it or lose it”. At heightened levels of practice, we do not need to consciously practise gratitude—we live in gratitude. That’s a joy like no other, never missing moments like Joshua Bell!’

   ‘How do I reach that stage?’ Harry questioned eagerly.

   ‘There is one evidence-based thing we can do. The only price is commitment and consistency. This is writing a gratitude log daily, which is based on three principles of gratitude: recognize, remember and reciprocate.’

   ‘Wow, thank you. Please tell me more!’ Harry interjected.

  ‘Exactly, “thank” and “you” are two words that have so much power, but are overused without understanding. Let me explain,’ I said. ‘We should firstly recognize what good has been done to us to say “thank you”. This is easy to do in the moment; like when someone holds the door for us or buys us a hot drink. The next stage is to remember what others have done for us to mean that thank you. Contemplation is by far one of the best methods to develop gratitude. Spending time with our own mind in silence, without any gadgets to stimulate us and contemplating on who has helped us internalizes our gratitude.’

   Harry hummed and nodded as if contemplating on someone at that moment.

  ‘Finally, we should reciprocate. We should live a thank you. Saying and meaning a thank you moves to the next level through our actions. Beyond words and feelings, to truly give back is the basis of living a life of long-lasting gratitude. So what are you grateful for?’

   ‘Well, I guess I’m grateful for this traffic jam that I have time to spend with you!’

   With incessant horns surrounding us, I explained the gratitude log in more detail.

Gratitude Log

This log can be kept on your phone and written on your journey to work, or you may want to write it in your diary in a quiet space. This is a simple exercise that will take approximately ten minutes a day to do, and there are no hard or fast rules. It is best to do this activity in the morning, because starting your day with gratitude will leave you feeling positive for the rest of the day.

Exercise

Reflect on the last twenty-four hours and identify three to five people or situations that you are grateful for. The more descriptive you are, the easier it will be to excavate the emotion of gratitude from within you. The daily description should consist of three to five people or things you are grateful for, and once every week, it should contain three to five action points to thank the people you are grateful for.

   You can be grateful for anything—something as simple as someone smiling at you, giving you a seat on the train, or a co-worker buying you lunch.

   We cannot repay every action of kindness towards us, but we can start with the people closest to us. Pick one of your weekly gratitude action points and act on it. Did you thank your partner for cooking your dinner? Did you thank your mother for washing your clothes? Did you thank your partner for paying the bills? And importantly, what actions you will take to thank them. Write it down and feel the happiness you felt when the good was done unto you.

We were still bumper to bumper.

   ‘It’s a great exercise,’ I said. ‘It doesn’t have to be long or wordy, just honest about what you are thankful for that day.’

   He paused, appearing contemplative again. ‘Can I ask you something personal?’ he asked nervously.

   It was rare for people to ask me questions about myself, but it was a refreshing change. Relationships are about give and take. ‘Of course. You have shared stories of your life with me, what would you like to know about mine?’

  ‘Have you ever been in a situation where you found it impossible to be grateful, where you could see no silver lining?’

   Another silence fell between us.

   ‘Do you want to know how my first video went viral? It was not something I wanted, and when it was happening, I certainly was not grateful,’ I said, thinking about that disturbing time. I talk about the episode in the next chapter. For now, let’s summarize this chapter on gratitude.

Summary:

  • We must learn how to press pause and reflect on what we are grateful for. It is not good enough to say that we are too busy to be grateful.
  • If we do not press pause, how many beautiful moments of our life are we missing?
  • The ways to start practising gratitude are: to recognise the good that has been done unto us and say ‘thank you’; to remember the good and mean it; and to reciprocate through actions of giving back and live by the same values.
  • Gratitude is not merely an emotion; it is a way of life which can be learnt and practised. We must prioritize the time to practise gratitude, and one of the many ways to do it is by writing a gratitude log daily.



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