Sitting in a pew at Our Lady of the CBC, I caught a show about happiness. (Happiness by Design is worth a listen if you like radio.) One portion recapped a book, “The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking.” Author Oliver Burkeman suggests that trying to fill our heads with happy thoughts is an ineffective strategy for happiness. Instead, he says, we should imagine the worst possible endings for situations we fear. This will lead to the realization that reality is not nearly as worrisome as we thought. Do something you’re afraid to do and see for yourself, he advises.
Burkeman’s challenge got CBC producer, Liz Hoath, to consider her fear of dancing in public and test out his theory. She contacted a man named Spandy Andy who makes people smile by dancing in unexpected places. Together, they went dancing.
I was thinking of Oliver Burkeman’s challenge as I walked into Value Village. A display of purses en route to kids’ shorts reminded me that my own purse was falling apart. My eye caught on a shiny bright yellow purse the size of my entire torso.
I think I might get this, I said to Girl one.
No you won’t, she said. You’ll get the plainest, boringest purse they have.
I almost bought the yellow purse on principle after that, but I couldn’t bring myself to purchase something big enough to fit my wallet, check book, and three or four chickens. Instead, I declared myself in the market for the wildest thing I could handle. A group search for a purple purse ensued. I bought a red change purse for good measure.
Spandy Andy calibre I am not. I have watched the video of the park dancing more than once and felt happy and proud for Liz Hoath. Problem # 1: she did not look stupid enough. Problem #2: that there kind of experience is just plain out of my league.
I think about Oliver Burkeman. My heart remains strangely moved by Liz . I look at my purple purse and know it’s not enough. I take more than a week to write a list of terrifying things. Every time I sit down my fingers say that thinking like this is a bad idea. To unstick myself I say it’s a list of ideas, not things I’ll actually do. I write down everything that comes into my head. Once the list exists, I try to pick one to attempt. Only I can’t. Re-watching the park dancing video doesn’t help. I leave the list another week or two not sure.
The part of my brain with a very dark sense of humor remembers poison ivy. A few years ago I got a very bad case of poison ivy. (This can occur when you decide to clean out a bed of weeds and not worry about potential poison ivy because you’re not that allergic and how bad could it really be anyways.) The only good thing about the raging case of poison ivy that ensued is that I became quite knowledgeable about poison ivy and its treatment. One of the harmless things that works to treat the itch – as opposed to the smushed banana peels that catapult the odds of infection from possible to guaranteed – is to put the itchy parts under water as hot as you can stand it.
The first sensation when you do this is more itchiness. Quickly the itch becomes so intense you can hardly stand still. Following this you are almost literally lifted off your feet with the insanity of the itching sensation tearing into you. After a minute or so (you can only take so much fun) you shut off the water and feel the miracle. Itch is gone. Relief lasts for hour or more at which point you can repeat treatment. The theory is that you overload your nervous system with so much stimulus that it rewards you by temporarily shutting down. (For poison ivy relief, I swear by this method.)
Of course you can’t do one truly terrifying thing, said the black humor part of my brain. You have to do them all. As close to at the same time as possible. Six hours, something like that. The terror will overload your circuits the same way the hot water did. You’ll be hitting that fear factor right out of the park and you’ll hardly feel a thing.
Coming later this week . . . A story of six hours