If you consume news fodder you’ve probably seen the word “chaos” in the headlines quite frequently this year. If you believe the headlines, it would seem that the entire world is suffering from chronic emotional acid reflux. They say it’s unprecedented. It isn’t, but that kind of news doesn’t keep shareholders happy.
Nevertheless, news fodder presents a problem for those of us who want to stay informed without sacrificing happiness or peace of mind. Fortunately, we can do just that.
Since we’re dealing with chaos, perhaps “chaos theory” might offer some clue as to how we can navigate the snark-infested waters of the information age. Chaos Theory is a branch of mathematics that examines “complex systems whose behavior is highly sensitive to slight changes in conditions, so that small alterations can give rise to strikingly great consequences.”
If you’ve heard of Chaos Theory you may also have heard the metaphor about how a butterfly flapping its wings in the Caribbean can initiate a chain of events which leads to a hurricane. Humanity intuited this truth long before mathematicians attempted to codify it. “A stitch in time saves nine.” “For the want of a nail, a shoe was lost. For the want of a shoe, a horse was lost. For the want of a horse, a rider; for the want of a rider, a message. For the want of a message, a kingdom was lost, for the want of a nail.”
So it follows that the very first opportunity we have to influence the complex systems that are our daily lives is that moment early in the morning when we become aware that our eyes are still closed. You might be amazed how a prayer at that precise moment can set the tone for the day, and not just any prayer, but one of gratitude. Gratitude begins the process of curating the elements of our day, emphasizing what is useful, and disregarding what is not.
As thinking beings and responsible citizens, we like to stay informed, so many of us set the tone for our day by consuming news products. We already know what the headlines are going to say, but they are habit forming. They stimulate the rubber-necking, roller coaster riding, horror movie watching, adrenaline producing centers of our brain, plus we get the self-satisfying feeling that we are well informed.
We never quite make the connection that the worried, unsettled, unhappy and angry feelings that we carry for the rest of the day, that influence our decisions and empty the bottle of antacids in our desk, all begin first thing in the morning. Oh, and just in case the nasty begins to wear off or we develop a tolerance for it, we can always up the dosage with a booster shot at lunch and dinner, or any time in between that we open any of the most popular websites.
As for being well informed, let’s pause for a moment and list the ten most memorable headlines that made us happier or richer or a better person. Top five? Just one headline? Well now! Perhaps we’re looking at the wrong headlines. Maybe what Maddow said about what Trump said about what Pelosi said about Trump is not very useful after all. OK, what if we eliminate political opinions and just stick to the facts? That’s a start, but maybe knowing the precise details of the 5 people out of 327 million who got shot last night, or will get shot tomorrow night, is not something we need to know every hour of every day.
Yes, these events are “news” in the sense that they did happen, but they are not truths. They are not the whole story, because 326, 999, 995 people did NOT get shot last night, and of the 800,000 police officers currently serving in the United States, 799,750 did not shoot anyone last year. You see where we’re going with this.
Death happens. Bad things happen. But that’s only a fraction of the whole story, and we’re not going to see the rest of the story unless we look for it. How many of us knew, for example, that billionaire, Charles Feeney just fulfilled a lifelong dream of giving away his $8 billion fortune? Or that a Connecticut teenager saved a mother and her three children by pulling them out of a burning car? Did you hear about the 13 year old who invented a kit to prevent drowning? How about the group of teenagers who transformed a liquor store into a food market to serve a needy community?
You probably didn’t hear about these stories because good news is not good for the current business model of the companies that control information. They remain relevant by keeping us worried, angry, divided, and addicted to the little doses of adrenaline and serotonin they provide throughout the day. They take no responsibility for their influence over our mental health, which directly affects our physical health, but our pharmaceutical companies stand ready to help us out there.
The solution isn’t easy, but it’s simple. Begin the day with gratitude. This is the nail that saves the kingdom. It’s not as habit forming as chaos, but if you keep at, it it will transform your life like exercise and eating right. Be well informed, but shop for information like you would shop for the best deal on a used car. Curate your life experience.