How one ice-cream can change the world

It’s been a month and a half since I became unemployed. My bank account is starting to feel the strain but so are my nerves. Round-the-clock job hunting can be soul-destroying, and all the days in the week seem to blend into one long despondent journey…

One of the few luxuries I still indulge in regularly, for the sake of my mental health, are classical music concerts at the Royal Festival Hall. I am such a classical music aficionado, if it ever came to a choice between going to a concert or eating, I’d happily starve for the music.

Luckily, such a drastic measure hasn’t yet become necessary. The main reason I now frequent the RFH more than any other venue is that it offers cheaper tickets, at the lower end of the scale, than the Barbican, the Cadogan and the Wigmore Hall. For £10-11 you can get a seat at the back end of rear circle or top of balcony with unobstructed view of the stage and great acoustics. It’s a small price to bear for a two-hour immersion in classical heaven and incomparably cheaper than shoes-and-handbag shopping.

The RFH also offers heavenly ice-cream tubs in multiple flavours at £3 a shot. Ice-cream at concert halls is like popcorn at the cinema – junk food you know you shouldn’t be having but whose consumption enhances the totality of your experience.

A few weeks ago, however, I made a decision to abstain. I convinced myself that if I ate an ice-cream every time I attended a concert, I’d put on weight, and there could be nothing more degrading than being unemployed and fat.

But that isn’t the main reason I sacrificed ice-cream consumption. I reckoned if I didn’t buy one, I could suddenly afford to give away £3 to at least a couple of the homeless people that gather along the Southbank’s Golden Jubilee Bridge in the hour before and after a concert.

I never used to give money to beggars before I lost my job. But the moment I realised that no matter how little you have, you still have enough to give to others, was hugely empowering. Instead of feeling sorry for myself that I no longer had an income and might soon be so impoverished I’d have to give up on my concert treats, I gained back control…over my capacity to make a difference in someone else’s life.

One ice-cream not purchased was all it took to make a couple of rough sleepers happy and make me feel a little wealthier (and healthier). Of course I have no way of verifying these men and women are indeed homeless. Some of them may be using the money to purchase alcohol or drugs; even then, they’re less fortunate than me.

This attitude has kept me in a mindset of “enoughness” and has greatly helped reduce my anxiety over work and money. I stopped suffering in anticipation from the effects of a tragic destitute future, which may never arrive. I stopped starring myself as the heroine of a tear-jerking movie. In other words, I got real: things are a little bit bad, yes, but in relative terms, if I think of Aleppo, or if I think of the homeless population in town, I still have enough to be grateful for

The secret is this: remind yourself circumstances don’t create unhappiness but your thinking about them does. Stop being a victim.

You can choose to be anything but unhappy whether you have a job or not. It’s not so much about thinking positive(ly) as it is about being positiv(ity).

When I go to the JobCentre to have my dole signed off, I’m not thinking, “I hope my advisor will be nice to me today.”  I am cheerful and courteous regardless of her attitude towards me. Whether I’ve been having an amazing day or I’ve accidentally stepped on stinking dog poo on the way to the JobCentre, I’ve got enough sense of humour left to share in case anyone’s having a tough day.

Compare the two perspectives below.

  • Thoughts of lack: I’m so poor I can’t even spare £1 let alone £3. The homeless may not have a roof over their heads but I may lose my roof soon too, so my situation is just as dire, why should I help. I don’t have. I may lose. It’ll be taken away from me.
  • vs. Thoughts of sufficiency: I didn’t buy ice-cream. I have £3 to give away. I made someone happy today. I’m happy too. I have. You need it more than me. You can have mine, there’s enough.
  • Thoughts of lack: I’m unemployed = I need everyone to have compassion for me = I’m not in a position to give compassion to others = how come you’re not feeling sorry for me?!  I don’t have a job, money nor status; I feel like a nobody, poor poor me.
  • vs. Thoughts of sufficiency: I’m unemployed = yay, new opportunity in life = I’m compassionate and understanding = who can I offer my compassion to today? I suffer, therefore I understand your suffering. I have compassion. How can I help? 

Can you see the difference? When your perspective is one that focusses on having maybe not much but certainly enough, the power’s back in your hands. You’re not waiting to receive anything from anyone (except your benefit payment..) and looking for opportunities to give what you have enough of: money, security, love, kindness, compassion. When you’re in “give mode”, you don’t feel life (with all its hardships) is happening to you but that you’re in charge of your destiny, making life happen through you.

Try starting each day with a prayer of gratitude even before you get out of bed. You can address it to God, Jesus, Allah, Buddah, a dead relative, Tinker Bell or your teddy bear depending on your faith or lack thereof; it makes no difference as long as you actually feel grateful in your heart.

Be thankful for what you know you have but also for what is still to come. By thanking rather than pleading/asking as in traditional prayers, you’re not allowing any doubt to creep into your mind that these things will happen: “Thank you, Tinker Bell, for the new exciting job coming my way, which will be aligned with my values. Thank you for the material abundance it will bring me. Thank you for the opportunities it will give me to fully express who I really am. Amen.”

Unemployment give us all the reasons in the world to be miserable: no job, no money, no dignity. No ice-cream in my case. Depressing JobCentre appointments. Yet when I choose to be what Maya Angelou called “a rainbow in somebody’s cloud“, like magic, a rainbow dissipates my own clouds… I can see clearly again.

Try it. You too may come to the conclusion there are greater pleasures in life than eating ice-cream on your own.

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