A lot of things in life feel fantastic. That first cup of hot coffee in the morning? Fantastic. A slice, or three, of your favorite kind of pizza after moving day? Fantastic. Having someone give you a backrub? Fantastic.
But nothing feels quite as fantastic as replying to someone who’s gone ahead and done you wrong with a heartfelt expletive.
When it comes to telling people off, I’m the best of the best. I’ve looked right into the eyes of someone who loves me and let them have it. I’ve used obscene hand gestures toward my own mother. For a long time, if given the opportunity to air my grievances, I did so, and with gusto.
Did telling these people off, in these moments, make me feel better? Honestly, yes.
But did I still feel better an hour or so after doing it? No.
See, what happens after you open your mouth or let loose your typing fingers to unleash the proverbial fury is that you’re left feeling like an unhinged bully who can’t blend in in polite society. And once your rational mind kicks back in, you’ll be left to contend with a lapful of consequences for your momentarily delicious actions.
A thing called mindfulness, when properly learned and applied, can do wonders here.
WHAT IT’S NOT
The opposite of mindfulness is, plainly, paying no mind.
Now think about this: That’s what babies do. When a baby is confused, he or she will do some really out-there things.
If a baby wants something and you don’t give it to them, your liable to get smacked in the mouth with sticky baby hands. If the child is of speaking age, you might get confronted with an impromptu “You have a DUMB HEAD!” This is how babies respond to conflict and hurt feelings.
Do you want to live like a baby? Probably not.
WHAT IT IS
Mindfulness is the practice of being in a situation or being confronted with information, be it welcome or unwelcome, and taking a beat or two before you respond. Learning how to think before I speak took more than half my life, but it’s now one of my most cherished and important abilities.
I went from being a person in my 20s and early 30s who couldn’t hold down a relationship, friendship or job because I thought it more valuable to constantly “speak my mind” (aka say the first imprudent thing I could think of) to being someone who is half of a thriving five-year marriage and who waves at neighbors while walking the dog, as though in the opening credits of a documentary about being happy and nice.
Now I pause before I respond to things so my childlike first reactions have some breathing room to calm, collect and go with option B, which is something along the lines of “OK!”
When you’re at a loss for how to respond to something, just say or type “OK!” And then allow yourself the option to think more about it later and do whatever you decide is best.
The holidays are a great time to practice some mindfulness.
It comes in handy with that uncle who loves filling your Facebook feed with Trump content, who will say something at dinner that will make you want to lash out, which will only make him say more stuff you don’t like. And before you know it, the turkey is cold and the day is ruined.
Instead, take a deep breath, count to five, and say … nothing. And for your reward, glance up slowly for a good peep at the offending person’s befuddled face, red with frustration over your refusal to engage. That’s better than sweet potatoes with crispy marshmallows. Tastes like some piping-hot mindfulness.