Ten years ago, I was going through hard times — hard times being relative. I was feeling down about the direction my career was going. My love life had taken a left turn.
Compounding this — I kept looking at how good things were going for my friends and colleagues. It was your typical, run-of-the-mill grass is greener stuff. I should have been watering the grass I was standing on.
And then — from some random place in the abyss of my mind — I got this crazy idea.
At the time — I was a voracious reader — my ability to visualize was as good as it had ever been. I started doing this mental exercise, and it really did lift me up — in a big way.
This is going to be a bit counterintuitive and weird. Some of you are going to do better at this than others. To make it work — I ask that you to muster the best imagery and visualization skills you have — like it is a great book and you are standing right there in the scenes you reading.
After this line — it will start. It helps if you read slow and immerse yourself.
You open your eyes.
The ceiling is cement.
You are lying on a cot-like bed. It’s firm and uncomfortable, with several bars running underneath the thin mattress.
You sit up. You are in a dark, grey prison cell.
Years ago, you were convicted of a terrible crime. You will either spend the rest of your life in this jail cell.
Or — you will suffer a more severe fate.
The bars to this room keep you contained for 23 hours a day. Your cell is small, 12 feet by 12 feet. There is little to do here besides read a bland book. Much of your time will be spent sitting, standing, waiting — for nothing.
A prison guard will walk by your cell and he will look at you — every hour, every day — for the rest of your life.
It will never be quiet. Metal doors will slam shut at all hours.
Prisoners will make vulgar noises well into the night. They will keep you from sleeping. And if they don’t — the uncomfortable cot will do that job for them.
You will share a public toilet — in full view of the other prisoners.
You will be subjected to full body inspections on a regular basis and without warning.
You will never hug your family members ever again. You will never pursue your dreams. Every goal you’ve ever had is a bygone fantasy.
Everything is gone.
You will never hold your own child in your arms.
You will never taste good food again.
You will never sit outside the confines of this prison. You will never walk on a beach. You will never pause and watch the sunset, holding the hand of someone you love.
You will be surrounded by people that don’t care about you. Many of them — will hate you — for no reason.
Your life will be devoid of color, happiness, and freedom.
On some days, you will be forced to fight other prisoners. Some days, you will be hopelessly, mercilessly, overpowered.
Your life will be dark in a way that you’d never imagined it could be.
And — every dark and terrible day will repeat itself — as you spend each and every second of the rest of your life rotting in this cage.
Step away from this reality.
Look around the room you actually sit in. Feel the chair or the couch you sit or lay on.
Take a moment to appreciate the space around you. Look at the colors. Listen to the sounds that aren’t vulgar and cold.
Look at the doorways without bars. Look at the doors that aren’t locked.
There are no guards watching you.
You can open your window and smell the fresh air. You can use the bathroom in privacy. You can go places. You can do things. You have options.
Consider all those little boring things you’ve taken for granted. There are so many things you have that so many others don’t.
Consider the greater things: Your family, your free will, your health.
They are all yours.
And now —one more time — consider the dark reality that was just described.
And if that doesn’t work, consider darker realities, because there are plenty of darker lives that are being lived as we speak.
Happiness is simply an exercise in appreciation.
Take time each day to step back, to see the little things you have. Appreciate that they are yours — because not everyone can say that.
Things could be far, far worse than they are right now.