Stress – It Doesn’t Have To Be

Robert Sapolsky discusses physiological effects of stress

So we do it to ourselves: Stress the manifestation of idle time with intelligence. I love the line where professor Sapolsky says, “Primates are super smart and organized just enough to devote their free time to being miserable to each other and stressing each other out”. So there you have it, an educated explanation of why haters exist.

Indeed the realization of what stress does to you, should be enough to make people slow down and reassess why we do what we do. We all seem to believe that money does not buy happiness, but we rarely act on it. A book by Richard J. Leider and David A. Shapiro entitled repacking your bags – lighten your load for the rest of our life is a nice complement to the arguments professor Sapolsky discusses. In different ways, both support the notion that chasing a dream defined by your relative position to others is just disastrous.

My learning to identify the things in life that give me joy precipitated a big improvement to my health and sanity. The trick I think; was my understanding the difference between things and experiences that I wanted to share with those close in my life as opposed to things and experiences I sought purely for the privilege of possession.

For example, there was a time in my life when I played 50-60 rounds of golf a year. Many of those days, I told myself “this is grate, beautiful scenery, pleasant day in the out doors, a bad day of golf is better than a good day working”, but there were others when I said, “What am I doing, is this really fun”. You see I’ve come to understand that while I do enjoy a round of golf there is no thrill that makes we want to describe the round to my closest confidants. Even when I had a hole-in-one, I did not think it the thrill of a lifetime. That should have told me something.

Now on the other hand, I spoke with one of my goddaughters last night for almost an hour, which truly brought joy to my life. To be able to have a conversation with her, to experience her thinking, and to assist in her effort to find a way in life, is priceless. So when my wife got home I relayed the conversation in full. What a rush.

Professor Sapolsky ends his article with a challenge to do whatever we can to reduce stress in our daily lives. I hope no one argues with that suggestion. For me the route to stress reduction comes down to finding and getting closer to a vision for yourself: A vision that is front and center in you life. One you use to make choices and one for which you harbor no regrets and no pride at the inevitable comparisons to others in your society.

I do believe comparisons are inevitable. Before reading this article I would have proclaimed them a part of human nature. But, as I’ve learned this morning comparing social rank and then stressing about the comparison is indeed the nature of primates, or of intelligence. When we let, comparisons lead us to pride or regret we inevitably induce stress. Rodney King famously asked “can’t we all just get along?” Apparently, the important question is “can we acknowledge differences absent judgment of ourselves?”

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