One of my favourite aphorisms is “Happiness is the very opposite of selfishness”, attributed to Anthony Seldon, vice-chancellor of Buckingham University and obsessive historian of Tony Blair. [Read an elucidation of his aphorism on the BBC]
This aphorism is a great tonic for when I find myself footling around in my brain for that elusive drug, happiness. It gently nudges me back onto the path, calibrates my compass, gets me out of my head and connects me with others.
But there are times when it doesn’t work. Sometimes – mostimes, even – my worries worry themselves ragged over other people, their opinion of me, and my relationship with them. Selflessness, directed as it is at these other people, can actually precipitate the spiral of rumination. What then?
Well, I’ve come up with my own aphorism, following the same model as Anthony’s: Work is the very opposite of worry.
Unlike Anthony’s, this might need a little claification. I don’t mean Work as in your day job: that might be a very prominent source of worry. I mean work as a verb: doing the do.
I could rephrase it as Doing is the very opposite of worrying – but that isn’t as concise and aphorisms adore concision.
When you do work, you are in the moment: fully focused (I hope) on the practicalities of whatever it is that you are doing. There is no space in your mind for worry, for worry is almost always hypothetical: worry about what might happen in the future, or worry about what might have happened in the past.
Mindfulness implores you to ease your worries by focusing on the minute shade of light cast across the room, or the call of crows outside your window, or the mild scent of daffodils on the roadside. These techniques can be a quick way to flip your mind out of the worry-state, but none have the sustaining power of work.
I should add caveats to this aphorism as a life philosophy, particularly: don’t become obsessed with work and use it as an avoidance strategy; sometimes worry is an important life skill. But the tool for now is useful and appealingly practical.
In the course of my DuckDuckGoing to find out whether or not this was a truly original aphorism, I found the following Psychology Today review of a book on parenting called The Opposite of Worry. The author, Lawrence J Cohen, decides that hugs, soothing self-talk and befriending your emotions are the opposite of worry. But that can’t be summed up in a snappy aphorism so is probably false.