Friday, June 30, 2023

On being … outlook influenced

 By Ingrid Sapona 

Do you notice your moods? (I’m not asking if you think you’re moody – that’s a WHOLE different can of worms and I’m most definitely not going there!) I think I’m pretty average at identifying my moods. But, I’m definitely better at identifying bad moods and things that trigger them (traffic, politics, injustice, incompetence, etc.). Fortunately, I’ve found some things that are pretty reliable mood improvers, such as baking and turning on one of my favourite playlists. 

What I hadn’t really been aware of until recently is how my outlook can have an impact on my mood. Last week I took the car in for an oil change and checkup. I hadn’t taken it in for about nine months (I’m not driving as much) and the car is old – not “officially” vintage, but close. I was quite nervous about what the bill might be, but I need to keep her running and I trust Gord, my mechanic. 

When I handed him the keys, I gave him the usual marching orders: “Oil change and a check of whatever you feel you need to check Gord, but don’t find anything.” He laughed and went away. When he was done, he came back and said “$96.05”. I was so relieved I let out a little “Yeah, I can afford that” as I tapped my credit card. Later that day a friend who knew I was taking the car in phoned and asked how the checkup went. I enthused: “Great – $96!” adding, “It’s not too often I’m pleased to pay nearly $100 for something, but I sure was this morning!” 

My friend chalked up my glee to having managed my expectations. That’s a topic he and I have talked about many times before. He believes that by consciously keeping expectations low, you’re less likely to be disappointed. I buy into that philosophy to some extent, as I’ve certainly noticed a correlation between high expectations and disappointment. But low expectations aren’t a recipe for actually elevating one’s mood. In any event, that’s not how I’d characterize why I was in such a good mood on learning that the car cost $96. The anxiety I felt about possibly facing a biggish maintenance bill for my car wasn’t an attempt at expectation setting; it was about expenses and cash flow. My happiness was a function of being pleasantly surprised about the cost and the car’s continued reliability. 

The very next day I noticed my mood was also lifted by a letter I received. It was a pension statement from a place I worked at briefly a few years ago. I was only in the pension plan for about 15 months, so the pension is very small. It’s been a few years since I last got a pension statement and I was surprised to see the amount I’ll get on retirement is a bit more than I thought. (The slight increase is because it’s indexed to inflation, which I hadn’t included in my estimates.) 

Mind you, I admit that for a minute I felt a pang of regret when I considered what the payments might be if I’d been at that company for, say, 15 years instead of 15 months. But, I let go of that thought pretty quickly as I remembered how unhappy I was working there. So, as I filed the statement in my retirement folder, I realized I was smiling because it kind of felt like found money. Though I know the amount wouldn’t even count as pocket change to the majority of the pensioners from that company, I was still tickled. 

These two incidents – minor as they were – helped me realize the role my outlook plays in my mood. In a way, these incidents can be characterized as “looking at the up side, rather than the down”. In other words: yes, the car cost me nearly $100 – but it’s better than what it could have been had it needed other repairs. And though I’ll be getting a minuscule amount from that pension – especially by comparison to my former colleagues – “every penny counts” and anything is better than nothing. 

So, since we’re at the mid-point of the year, I’ve decided that for the rest of 2023 I’m going to make a concerted effort to focus on the up side of things. And, as the year progresses, I’m going to monitor whether doing so yields a shift in outlook that produces an overall lighter, brighter, more consistently positive mood. I’m betting it will… 

Care to join me in this challenge?? 

© 2023 Ingrid Sapona