I never knew his name. It seemed strange considering we met every day for over ten years. I did try to interact more, but whenever I did, his body language would alter and he would hasten his pace. He would stare at the sand like a chastised child, veer to his right, always his right and give me a seriatim of seasonal unpleasantness. He always wore the same clothes – a navy blue waist length windbreaker (it looked like a bag for life with a hood), white shirt, navy tie, grey slacks and black shoes. Save for the bag for life he was modish and moody. If it was a beautiful sunny morning, he would say, “stifling today, the heat would kill ya”, or his favourite seemed to be “it won’t last”. When it was raining, he would shout at me, “miserable weather!”. On winter mornings his melancholy mantra was always the same, “you wouldn’t put a milk bottle out in it” – although I did like that one! When it was windy he always ran by me and wouldn’t say a word. What seemed even stranger was that over the ten years I walked that beach I had never once seen him anywhere else. Odd when you live in a close-knit seaside village. This gentleman like so many others chose to spread gloom. Spreading gloom is common practice. Personally, spreading gloom doesn’t make me feel content, so I opt not to take part in the ritual. But everywhere I go I hear gloom – whether it’s eavesdropping in the queue at the bank, at the barbers, or listening to the ‘barstool philosophers’ in awe of a player before the game started to shredding him to pieces following it (aren’t we all entitled to an ‘off’ day)?, and not forgetting politicians – they seemed to have mastered the art of spreading gloom!
So why do we have a propensity for pessimism? The need to seek out, attract, and spread bad news? In his book, “The Power of Now”, *Eckhart Tolle tells us, “complaining is one of the egos favourite strategies for strengthening itself” and that the ego feeds on bad news. We have only to turn on any news channel and instantly see and hear what they are selling. Doom and gloom, clandestinely packaged to sell fear. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors didn’t have Wi-Fi in their caves and they weren’t too concerned about keeping up with the Kardashians. Any drama had to be attended to immediately for survival. Their principle foe was the sabre-toothed tiger. Modern man’s greatest foe is stress, the first cousin of fear. We now care more about negative news than good news. Because of this, we get more fearful and each time we experience fear, we trigger a spike in cortisol, the stress hormone. So we are effectively training ourselves to be miserable. So turn off the news, stop watching the soap operas and go for a peaceful walk on the beach. And if you bump into the weather man, please tell him there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing and a change of perspective.
Written & researched by Aidan Carroll
*Eckhart Tolle ‘The Power of Now’