In the wrong mood on a bad day I can fill my head with the irritations of modern life and the things I do not like.
The X Factor for example - it’s just a very long karaoke night. Liverpool Football Club - not my favourite team. Or Nick Clegg - a ball of emptiness in a suit. And obviously I have worked in mental health long enough to know that if I carry around the ugly things in my head all day, they seep out in the way I behave. Frankly, if I think of the world as a place that thinks these things are a good idea, I generally feel unhappy with the world. And unhappiness breeds a lack of appreciation for the good things around us.
We can mock the irritants of life but looking for something to appreciate requires a little more skill doesn’t it? A nursing day may be full of attending to pain, despair, dependency or frailty but most nurses can see beyond those things and take pleasure from the recovery, resolution, peace or courage they’ve witnessed. Indeed, it may not be too wide of the mark to say that nurses, more than most, have a capacity to appreciate the good or important things even when they are not at their most apparent.
This is pretty good because some new research suggests an appreciative eye may help to fight the battle against obesity. Researchers in America have discovered that, when asked to rank the activities they valued the most, students placed “being paid a compliment” above both “having sex” and “indulging in beer and pizza”. And in case we don’t know what this means, they wheeled in a ridiculously overpaid psychologist to tell us “everyone likes compliments”. So a heartfelt “Nice hair” or “Good shoes” is preferable to comfort food and may combat obesity. Great news. Because something needs to.
“We could recruit and train people to stand outside burger bars complimenting rotund customers on their facial hair or shoes”
Figures - forgive the pun - out this week tell us that one in 10 of the world’s adults are now obese. That has doubled since 1980. It seems that despite extensive health education, limitless information in the form of the internet and increased choice over what and how we eat, many of us still plump for the kebab and the family-size Toblerone.
Now, frankly, I have always been uncomfortable with the liberal conception of obesity as a disease borne of low self-esteem, poor education and/or faulty glands. I think that kind of perspective belittles people, strips them of the ability to control their lives and turns them into something even less human than those smug commentators who label them in the first place.
However, I rather like the idea of a collective decision to start handing out compliments to people who may just be about to make an unhealthy life choice. We could recruit and train people to stand outside burger bars complimenting rotund customers on their facial hair or shoes. They may still go in but the afterglow of appreciation might just make them choose the salad option. Then we could hit the pubs and see if a few nice words about someone’s spangly top and matching eyeshadow could prevent them from having their 14th pint of cider, and save them from waking up with the smelly bloke in the ill-fitting dungarees who they wouldn’t have looked at twice if they had been sober.
Of course, it may not work. But finding something to appreciate in someone else shouldn’t cost us much should it? And let’s face it, when it comes to combatting obesity, maybe we should just give it a go? Nothing else seems to be working.
Mark Radcliffe is senior lecturer, School of Nursing and Midwifery, University of Brighton, and author of Gabriel’s Angel