The man next to me in 38C is frustrated because the flight from Boston has been delayed by two hours. He’s got an aisle seat and a drink in his hand, but he’s still very annoyed.
Meanwhile, I’m in the center seat, between two big guys who are taking the armrests on both sides. I’m sweating in my heavy coat because I ran to catch the flight. However unlike my frustrated seatmate, I’m thrilled to be there.
It’s a far cry from how miserable I felt the week before, when I was the complainer in the aisle.
Two back-to-back airplane experiences have me thinking about perspective, and the annoying way our mind sabotages our happiness.
Tonight I’m feeling grateful for my center seat because I’m lucky to be on the plane at all. The weather is bad. By 5 p.m. the Boston Logan airport is a mess of cranky travelers and competing announcements. I’m supposed to be on a 6:30 flight. Now they’re telling me it won’t leave until 8:30, putting me home well after midnight.
But wait, the 4 p.m. flight is also delayed. They have a seat left, if I run I might be able to catch it. A mad dash to the gate, and I’m on. Twenty minutes earlier I thought I was getting home two hours late, now I’m getting home 30 minutes early.
Score one for me; I’m the luckiest traveler of the night. My center seat feels like a gift.
As I relish in my luck, my mind goes back to the previous week when I flew to Amsterdam. We booked the travel late, so the tickets were outrageous. Typically when I do overnight flights overseas, I fly business class. But this time my business partner and I were in coach.
Oh, how I whined.
Where were the hot towels, and the nice dinner? As I envisioned the first class travelers up front lying down on their flat bed seats, snuggling into the fluffy white comforters while I sat upright, my inflatable neck pillow seemed even more pitiful.
Ten years ago I’d never even been to Europe, much less flown first class. However during the last decade, I’ve crossed the pond several times, speaking for groups all over Europe, growing accustomed to the perks of business class.
As I spent the evening twisting in my upright seat, I reflected. My ancestors crossed the ocean in wooden ships with no stabilizers. Yet here I am, their coddled little descendant, complaining about flying coach.
Picturing my forbearers enduring months on rocking dirty ships, with little sanitation or privacy, I wonder, how did they feel that morning when they awoke cold and hungry on a ship deck watching the Statue of Liberty come into view? I suspect they were grateful just to make it here alive.
Gratitude is a funny thing. It’s a mental frame you create within your own mind.
My center coach seat on the early flight was a gift compared to being late. Yet a similar seat the week before felt like deprivation when compared to the privilege I had grown accustomed to. My mental framing is what made one experience good and the other bad.
Comparing isn’t always a negative. It’s helped us humans improve individually and collectively over the centuries. It’s also human to acknowledge that 10 hours of sitting upright is not comfortable.
But if you ever find yourself complaining, and you want to hit the reset button, try gratitude. It’s always available.