Feeling Down or Angry? Get Some Perspective

We've all had periods in life where problems, mistakes, and/or idiots accumulate and drag us down.  Perhaps a relationship has just ended, or never even started.  Maybe you didn't get the job that was perfect for you, or did but lost it in the economic downturn.  Perhaps a very average person took pleasure in shitting on your dreams.  It's not fair, is it?

Earth as seen from the Moon.  The farthest any human has ever traveled.
I once heard a colleague make the observation that, we have a tendency to let poor circumstances dictate how we feel, rather than taking charge of the situation and dictating to our circumstances.  It sounded insightful at the time, and you'll find many books written about successful people point out the biggest difference between them and the rest of us is their ability to dust themselves off after a fall and get right back on the saddle.

Whatever the case, the best we can do then is to make our peace, forgive ourselves and others if necessary, let it go, and move on.

Another thing that negatively affects geeks' happiness is that we often get needlessly angry over insignificant details.  Maybe it was which programming language or coding conventions to use on a new project, or perhaps you've had an argument with someone over a charged issue like the current health-care debate in the US.  These arguments have a lot in common with "painting the bike-shed".  This has been described as the phenomenon by which the amount of noise generated by a change is inversely proportional to the complexity of the change.  Avoid this, as it is also a vast waste of time.

So how do we avoid getting bogged down in negativity?  While the passage of time always helps I'm not aware of any ways to get mistakes, depression, or painful loss behind you any faster.  Nevertheless, during the last week or so I've noticed a pattern in the newsfeeds I frequent and think I've found one possible answer.  A change of perspective is needed.  A shift great enough to help clear our minds.
You're not your job.  You're not how much money you have in the bank.  You're not the car you drive.  You're not the contents of your wallet.  You are not your fucking khakis. —Fight Club (1999).
Below are a few truths that will demonstrate how unimportant almost every thing in our lives is—and conversely, exactly what is.  Let's take a trip.  First stop, Mars.  3, 2, 1, Ignition!

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Earth and its companion as seen from Mars

Is there anything you recognize in the shot above?  It isn't easy to make out, but South America is the bright spot on the right side of Earth.

Looking back, you may have already noticed at this point that as we travel farther and farther away our troubles become smaller.  Much smaller. 

Continuing on, our next stop is the beautiful Saturn.

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A stunning shot by the Cassini Orbiter from behind Saturn, which is eclipsing the Sun.

In the photo above, click to view the full size photo linked at the NASA site.  Look hard at the tiny blue dot in the top left of the outer ring.  When reflecting on this amazing photo, I can't help but think of the words of the late Carl Sagan regarding a similar photograph of Earth from Voyager I from 6 Billion! kilometers away.

Let's go there now. Warp two, helm.
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From this distance, Earth is but a tiny dot, not big enough to fill an entire pixel of Voyager's camera.

Earth from the edge of the solar system.
A spec of dust in a sunbeam.
Consider again that dot. That's here, that's home, that's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives ...

There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world.
—Carl Sagan

Let's take a minute to dwell on that before continuing on ...
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ▼ ∞

Along the same lines, a few days ago I came across the fascinating applet below that allows one to investigate sub-sub-sub atomic particles all the way to the limits of the estimated size of the universe.  I invite you to take a look.  Take your time, we'll be waiting when you get back.  Full size link.

Not bad, eh?  Coming back to Earth for a moment ... I hope this virtual journey has helped provide some perspective on things and benefits you as it has benefited me.  Friends, family, and this tiny spec of dust we cling to are all we've got.  Everything else, and every problem is tinier than the grains of sand on the beach.
You had to give it to him: [Tyler] had a plan ... No fear.  No distractions.  The ability to let that which does not matter truly slide.
—Fight Club (1999).
Finally, before I leave you with these humbling thoughts, all this talk of the wonders of the Universe has reminded me of a little ditty from Monty Python's The Meaning of Life.  Play us out, Eric.

Further Reading:

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