“Pain is slight if opinion has added nothing to it; ... in thinking it slight, you will make it slight. Everything depends on opinion; ambition, luxury, greed, hark back to opinion. It is according to opinion that we suffer. ... So let us also win the way to victory in all our struggles, - for the reward is ... virtue, steadfastness of soul, and a peace that is won for all time.”
—Seneca, Epistles, lxxviii. 13-16
There is no part of our mind/body so qualified to make us sick or well, as our thoughts. Depression, frustration and joy are all emotions and, like every other emotion, they are derived from whatever we were thinking about just before the feeling. In an important sense, we are our thoughts.
The typical cop has a lot of thoughts about how junky the equipment is, how worthless the administration is, how lax the criminal justice system is, and so on. When we put all these thoughts into a big wooden soup bowl and eat from it every day, we can end up pretty cynical and burnt out. Over a period of decades, Cynic Soup can make you quite ill.
If we don’t pay attention to the content of our thoughts, we’ll become victimized by them. The good news here, is that we have complete control over our thoughts. It’s not easy to control all of our thoughts, all of the time, but we can - like putting some fresh spice into the soup - add a few thoughts.
May I recommend at this point, adding thoughts of gratitude. Several months ago a respected academic journal (Journal of Clinical Psychology) published an article by two big brains who reviewed the research on gratitude. They found that people who made time to really consider the things they were grateful for lowered their blood pressure, improved their immune system and had more energy than the rest of us ingrates.
The grateful bunch also had less anxiety, depression and substance abuse. So, it seems gratefulness was tailor made for cops, who are at increased risk for all the above maladies.
There are lots of ways to bring gratitude into our lives. You can think about the things you are grateful for that day, while sipping your morning cup of Joe. You could remove the crap rubber banded to the visor of your patrol car, and replace it with a piece of paper that has one thing your grateful for that day on it.
I’ve been keeping a gratitude journal for about a month now, and that’s amazing. Right before going to bed, I pull up my lap top and write a few things I felt grateful for that day.
Don’t worry that keeping a gratitude journal will turn you into a soft, Birkenstock wearing hippie. We still have lots of things to be pissed off and cynical about. In fact, you should only consider putting some gratitude in your life if you want to be a little less pissed off and cynical.
[[looking out my bedroom window feeling grateful for the lovely fall sunset]]