The climate and weather of your mind

 

Sunset Tornado

I was watching “Cosmos” the other day, and Neil deGrasse Tyson was describing the difference between climate and weather. He was walking along the beach with a dog on a leash. The dog was unruly and curious, running off this way and that to sniff a patch of ground or chase after some new movement, while the man was walking in a relatively straight path along the shore line. Neil deGrasse Tyson (love that guy!) was using this demonstration to show that climate is the steady, average course that the man walks along, and weather is the up and down path of the dog. In other words, just because weather fluctuates, climate is really the overall trend that belies a more steadfast and useful truth.

I see that our moods are similar to weather and our minds are similar to climate. Mood goes up and down depending on circumstance, whether you have slept well, eaten well, are experiencing hormonal changes or other medical happenings. One’s mind belies the deeper, more enduring realities such as who we love, who nurtures us, what our personalities are, what our ambitious proclivities, skills and predispositions are, and many other types of longstanding personal/life traits. Being able to distinguish between a mood and the climate of your life is essential to cultivating goals and strong relationships. Mood tells us what “feels true”, just like weather tells us what it feels like outside. Ever heard of someone denying global warming because “It’s cold and snowy where I am right now”? Sometimes mood can be that way too–it makes us overlook or deny reality, reject fact and doubt truth because the climate of our moment dictates otherwise.

Don’t be fooled by the transient weather of your mood though, because inevitabley the climate of your life will override any fickle variation. One day you may feel like the most capable, loved, attractive and lucky fella you know, and then the next day you feel depleted, overburdened, self-pitying rejection. In one moment, the person you love is the biggest jerk and you can’t wait to get divorced, and the next you wonder how you ever lived without him. Our ups and downs are the manifestation of a feeling and engaged mind. Taking these divergences toward the polarities of reality are part of living, part of being in the moment. Don’t curse or judge yourself negatively for feelings, but do remember to keep the more entrenched and sustainable perspectives in mind, as they anchor you to the real value of your enduring existence.

Guilty appreciation

 

Happy man celebrating a success or solution

“I have finally decided I am ready to leave my job. It has been a long time coming–several years in fact. The only problem is, I feel really bad for deciding to change, like I am letting my coworkers and clientele down. The other day, I had a meeting with my boss, and even though he doesn’t know I am going to change, I left feeling really bad because he’s done so much for me,” says Cindy.

“I think it’s great that you can acknowledge how much he has contributed to your life, and you should certainly tell him so before you leave. However, it seems like your gratitude is turning into guilt,” I respond.

“Right? Like the more thankful I am to people, the worse I feel if I have to let them down in some way,” Cindy comments.

Cindy, like many of us, is caught in the guilt trap. She feels bad for making a change that is in her best interest, and this is part of her alignment of usually thinking about the expectations and needs of those around her a lot more heavily than she thinks of her own needs. I caution her, and you, to be aware that this course of self-neglect often leads to job burnout, resentment and other negative social and psychological sequelae. In this session, it occurred to me that gratitude often worsens guilt, and that people who are preoccupied with the perceived well-being of others will let gratitude prevent them from acting on the behalf of the self. There have also been “unexpected” findings that people with eating disorders rate higher in overall sense of gratitude to those they love. For me, eating disorders are almost always associated with a lot of inappropriate guilt, so it doesn’t surprise me that guilt and gratitude are linked.

Gratitude can transform into a sense of duty to another, a sense that you owe them. In this position, you are a lot more likely to be negligent or dismissive of your own priorities and wants so you can continue to fulfill the role that the other person wants you to play. Ultimately, feeling like you owe people can poison a relationship in both directions, leading to power differentials and imbalanced exchanges.

Thanksgiving inspires us to reflect on what we are grateful for. I hope I’m not ruining that for you by saying that gratitude can have a downside if you are already off-balance. If you are prone to putting yourself as a seventh priority behind everyone else, you may need to look at the degree to which gratitude might be eroding your ability to act on your own behalf.