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?



  1. Sue T says:

    I really like this for traffic annoyances!

    I’ve used gratitude as a motivator when avoiding working on household decluttering. Sometimes it works to help get me started, sometimes not so much, but it’s always worth trying.

  2. Janet Bailey says:

    @Sue T – I like the idea of using this for household decluttering. Maybe appreciating the benefits that the object or paper brought me in the past, so I can then it go.

  3. Mark Ellwood says:

    On a related subject, here is a tip on how to become a better driver and less stressed at the same time. It’s a simple formula. I’ve tested it thoroughly, though I confess my sample size is small – one, me.

    Every time you see an orange / amber light, stop for it instead of trying to make it through. Make a concious decision to stop, which after all is the law. Don’t worry about cars hitting your from behind – they won’t.

    When I did it, I noticed all kinds of changes in my driving behaviour after a few weeks. More calm, more consideration, less stress, and probably better driving.

    Try it.

  4. Janet Bailey says:

    @Mark – Thanks for your simple formula! I’ve tried this from time to time, and when I slip back into beat-the-yellow mode, I do find myself asking, “Wow, what’s the big rush?” I’ll recommit and see what I notice after a few weeks.

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