Have you hugged a red light today?
Last week, on a mild evening, I was riding my bike toward the waterfront. A few blocks ahead, I saw the light at a busy intersection turn green. As an optimizer who’s often in a rush, I know that particular light stays green for about thirty seconds, and once it turns red, it stays red for long, long minutes.
I noticed my urge to race toward the intersection and make the green light. I chose not to be the jerk on the bike speeding through stop signs. The light turned red just before I reached the intersection. I’d done the right thing, but I was annoyed.
Earlier in the afternoon, I’d been reading Stress Free for Good, about simple, practical, research-based ways to reduce stress. The chapter I’d just read talked about the power of appreciation, so gratitude was on my mind. I got a crazy idea: What if I were grateful for the red light? It’s a long light (did I mention that?), so I had plenty of time to think. I thought about how traffic lights keep me, and others on the road, from getting injured. (There’s been a lot of press lately about the harm done by light-ignoring cyclists, but that’s not the fault of the lights.) I thought about how, despite the recklessness of some drivers and bikers, most of the time the system works pretty well. Looking at the rush-hour traffic, I felt a surge of affection for the people heading home, and a sense of wonder at the engineering that keeps traffic flowing.
The light changed back to green, and I rode the rest of the way on a gratitude high.
Hm. If a traffic light can prompt appreciation, what else might, if I keep my eyes open?