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In the Scheme of Things


Nan Russell

Apr 10, 2015

A Microwave Day

A Microwave Day

For days or weeks at a time, the microwave works perfectly. Then, for no apparent reason -- poof -- its buttons don't push, its timer stalls, and the panel goes dark. There's no way to anticipate whether the day will be a bad-microwave-day, requiring periodic trips to the garage to reset the breaker, or a fully functional day. Sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn't. Each time it does, we hope this is not the day it finally stops working.

The most curious thing about the microwave is its consistent inconsistency. There are weeks when every day is a bad-microwave day; others when none are. While replacing it might seem logical for a fickle appliance, it's not that simple. When we built our home, we built the microwave into a corner cabinet at counter level. Microwave sizes have changed in 10 years, so replacing it means a mini-renovation.

Trying to heat soup for lunch today was a bad-microwave-day. Three treks to the garage and three tries to make it work before the soup was heated. But the problem is, sometimes I feel I operate like that microwave. My day is going along fine, when poof, something shifts and with it my mood changes. As strange as that slight -- poof -- might seem in hindsight, it can exacerbate my perception of everything, even spilling into a downward spiral of doom or gloom feelings.

Given my microwave tendencies, I was delighted to discover I'm not alone. Researchers have found that we humans are affected by simple shifts and changes in mood. Even weather affects us. On sunny days, we give higher ratings to everything from food to people; in bad weather the same things (or people) can seem less positive since we're in more of a "huff," which accentuates negative perceptions or causes us to see more downsides of something or someone. Even being interviewed on a rainy day has been found to lower candidate ratings.

If something like weather causes us to overrate or underrate our experiences, the reality is we can lose perspective for other reasons, too; turning a tiny irritant - a rude email, an annoying driver, a moody boss, a disappointing occurrence into something bigger or more important. And when we do, it's hard to flip our equivalent of a personal-breaker-switch and reset ourselves. Instead, we operate as if, in the big scheme of things, these things were, indeed, hugely important.

But, they're not. One day an irritating driver is just a brushed off non-event, and on another day it feels like a personal attack or the last straw in an already "bad" day. Our moods fluctuate for a variety of reasons, weather included, and these changing moods change our perspectives.

In the scheme of things, when we have our own "microwave days" it's good, I think, to remember the challenge of fluctuating perspectives. How many of us are really having a bad day when someone cuts in front of us, sends us a snarky message, or rejects our work. How many of us are really having a bad day as long as we have people who care about us, enough to eat, reasonable health, and a warm, safe place to stay.

We do know that those really bad days of life are quite different. So when I'm having a microwave day, I try to reset myself by first remembering a quote that spoke to me from a Pinterest board: "There are people who would love to have your bad days." After all, isn't that the truth?

Nan S. Russell - Gellatio.png
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