Not everyone wears their heart on their sleeve for all to see. Stoicism is still in practice, albeit perhaps less so by Millennials. Sometimes, however, the hardship is just staring at you, as it did me last week. Two elderly ladies, dressed a bit like nuns, were crossing the street with a younger woman in her 30s or 40s. Clearly she was in their care. They may have been sisters. Age and life’s hardships had wearied all three. On Thursday night they won’t be drinking champagne. Different versions of that story are in every suburb and every town. Unfairness is everywhere. We know it. We shouldn’t add to it.
That’s why we have to be as fair as we can. It sounds banal and simplistic but it’s true. Life is unfair so don’t make it any worse.
Have you ever been watching the news and wondered why it is all so negative? There’s a temptation to blame the media but the truth is we are hardwired to look for bad news. It’s a survival thing. Your brain is on alert for bad things you need to steer clear of. Metaphorically speaking we are listening carefully for that rustle in the bushes in case it’s a tiger or a snake about to strike.
However, we can’t live by fear alone. Surely good news is nourishment for our wellbeing. Sitting back and waiting for it to be served up in the mass media might leave you short-changed. We all have to become hunters and gatherers of good news. Maybe even creators of it.
This is not a call to ignore hardship, pain or bad luck. Bad things are everywhere. Whether we face ill-health, loved ones have died, we’ve lost a job or an investment has gone belly-up. But good things are there as well. You just have to recognise them.
We can do it for ourselves. If everyday you just quietly ask yourself what you can be grateful for you might surprise yourself. Being alive, having a job and a roof over your head are not insignificant. Having friends is worth more than money.
Last week I received a Christmas message from an old friend. She and I started school together. We see each other a few times a year. It’s a sign of the changing times that she and I were the only kids in grade one who had a surname different from our mothers. Both our fathers had died and our mothers had remarried before we started school. It’s often the point of common difference that draws you to someone. The warmth and happiness I got from that simple message can’t be bought. I feel much richer for it.
Last week I joined a few former members of my office for a Christmas drink. Parliamentary and particularly ministerial offices work hard and there are always difficult issues. Thirteen years on I still really enjoy their company. I felt richer for being included. Ditto when an old friend, out of the blue, sent a great, easy and different recipe. She just knew it would work for me. There is real value outside of money and we don’t pay enough attention to it.
Everyday we read about the rise of mental health issues. Our money and consumer-focused society is often blamed for increasing the pressure on everyone. There’s an element of truth to that but I don’t think it’s the real problem. We need money and consumer goods. It’s the lack of balance that’s the problem in my opinion. You know the old saying: Man does not live by bread alone. Giving time to build the non-material good things in life is worth every second. Just a quick thought everyday and you will be richer than you think. Yes, it’s true, for just a few minutes a day you can become rich.
Amanda Vanstone is a former Howard government minister and a regular columnist.
Amanda Vanstone is a former Howard government minister, and regular columnist.