January 23, 2012 marked the beginning of the Lunar New Year (also known as the Chinese New Year). It was also the season’s first snow in the Tokyo area. We were at the Alishan Organic Cafe in Hidaka, Saitama celebrating the beginning of the Year of the Dragon with dear friends over steaming hot pots and hearty traditional Chinese New Year fare. As we prepared to head home after a sumptuous dinner, it started snowing. We were driving a loaded four ton truck back to Tokyo. The windshield was fogged over and taking a long time to defrost so my husband was hunched over the steering wheel looking at the road through a small clear spot. All vehicles were moving slowly and were being checked before entering the highway to make sure they had studless tires (I just recently learned what this was, being quite ignorant about winter matters). We had a long day and a full tummy that was making us drowsy and all we wanted to do was crawl into bed but it seemed that the journey home would take twice as long as usual. Every now and then, we would get spattered hard with snow by a speeding truck, which was not only startling but also dangerous. It was so easy to turn inward, slip into crankiness, and whine about our situation.
But then I took a piece of tissue paper, wiped the foggy glass in front of me and looked out. What a spellbinding sight! Snowflakes as big and fluffy as cotton balls drifted down ever so dreamily, swathing everything in a fuzzy blanket of pure whiteness. Everything outside was transformed. Gravestones stood more solemnly and the cemetery felt more like sacred ground. My favorite were the trees whose boughs caught the little shimmery balls of snow and glisten with magic. We had a free show right before us, and it’s way better than TV! Something inside me was also transformed. I suddenly felt like a child inside my very own snow globe. I wasn’t alone – the next day, friends shared pictures of how the snow made houses look like sugar cakes, and even the garbage bins look beautiful.
Our experience reminded me of the short film that I saw recently entitled Celebrate What’s Right with the World, which featured National Geographic photographer Dewitt Jones. This vision, to “…celebrate what’s right with the world, rather than wallow in what was wrong with it” was a simple yet profound attitude that changed his life. This message however is at odds with what we have been taught since we were children: That out there is a world of fear and scarcity and the only way to survive is to be strong and aggressive. When we believe this negative message and perceive the world as a threat, our tendency is to turn inward and disregard others, which is a reflex of self-preservation. Nature has a different message, shares Jones. And this is my favorite part of the film:
Nature never stood in front of a forest and said,“There is one great photograph hidden here. One photographer will find it and the rest of you will be hopeless losers.”
Nature said, “How many rolls do you got, Dewitt? Bring it on. Bring it on. I’ll fill them up. I’ll fill them up with layers of beauty and possibility beyond anything you’ve ever imagined. Right down to my tiniest seed.”
When we ask ourselves at every moment, “What’s here to celebrate?,” we open ourselves to endless possibilities. We connect with what excites us and gives us energy. This perspective validates the psychological findings that positive emotions have a broadening and expanding energy, while negative emotions tend to be narrowing.
How does this work? Positive emotions tell us that all is well with the world and we can allow ourselves to be more aware of, interested in, and enjoy our environment. This sense of joy, in turn, generates playfulness and creativity in us as we explore our surroundings with confidence. We feel more satisfied and contented with who we are and our place in the world. This is reminiscent of what I wrote in an early article about what Gestalt psychologists call “the ecological self.” Think about the people in your life that you are drawn to, and they are most likely joyful, genuine, and generous people who give of themselves.
One of my favorite people in the world is my sister-in-law Fran. At 50 years old and having raised four children, she is back to college working for a Bachelor’s Degree in Conservation – and I have never met a more enthusiastic student, soaking up all the fascinating things her classes have to offer and sharing them with us. Fran, a big woman with an even bigger heart, just bursts with curiosity and zest for life. I have such fond memories of her first ever visit to Manila. She would stop to greet and chat with the street vendors (in the middle of her jog!). She got such a kick out of riding a jeepney and passing change back and forth between passengers and the driver. She couldn’t stop laughing when someone had to push her butt to get her onto the light rail before the doors shut. For Fran, the world is home, everyone is family, and we are all in this together.
Similarly, my daughter Ruby, now one year and four months old, shows me what it means to live a life of positive energy from day to day. Often described by those she meets as a happy and energetic baby, she does not waste any time and is almost always on her feet exploring, as if to say, “I know I’ll find enthralling things here”. And she does find engrossing things at each step, stopping to pick up this and that interesting object, insistent that I should also give it the full attention that it deserves. When she’s excited, she claps, stomps her feet and does a little jig while squealing with delight. It is truly a sight.
What’s here to celebrate? Hopefully, this question leads to answers that leave you feeling refreshed, inspired, and creative.
First appeared on Eco+Waza’s now defunct webzine.