My wife hates that I have an affinity for watching and reading about true crime stories. Turns out I’m not alone.
Anyway, there’s an odd reason I’m hooked on watching murder documentaries, and they lead to the two strategies I use to continually be happy and raise my baseline for happiness.
No, I don’t have some twisted fascination with crime. But it reminds me to not sweat the “small stuff,” and most everything is small.
True crime stories = happiness and gratitude?
When I watch true crime documentaries, I look beyond the human tragedy (which my wife cannot do) and instead experience immense gratitude and perspective, two things that scientifically can lead to happiness.
True crime shows me how lucky I am to have my loved ones while being able to pursue my best life. It gives me a punch of perspective, a mental knife that cuts through the fog of trivial complaints and zooms in on what truly matters.
I recently did a Cameo video, a pep-talk for a man who was enduring struggles in his life. In that video, I tried to share these two ideas of gratitude and perspective, as they were the strategies that guided me during my rough times, as they do today when I’m complaining about tax increases, corrupt politicians, and rude people.
Take war, for instance. There’s someone, right now, literally fighting to survive. Conversely, you might be in a metaphorical battle to get that promotion or launch your startup. Recognize this for what it is—a privilege.
Think about that.
You’re fighting for a dream, while others are fighting for food, shelter, and water. They’re fighting to survive. If you’re currently able to fight for your dreams because you’re not busy fighting for your life, well, you’re doing spectacularly well.
The same can be said about health. I might dread the idea of my early morning walk, but hey, I *can* walk without the threat of being bombed, mugged, or kidnapped. Whenever I lose perspective, I mutter to myself, “Well, you don’t have pancreatic cancer,” which, by most measures, is a death sentence. This simple, morbid statement is another mental punch that knocks sense into me.
Another cognitive gut-punch I use is freedom, which most of us take for granted. When faced with the angst of some trivial matter—someone cut me off, scammed, or misled me—I tell myself that I’m not pacing in a prison cell convicted of manslaughter or subject to reeducation in some gulag while doing back-breaking labor. I’m still free to think, speak, and exist as I am, as are you. This simple autonomy is a cornerstone of your well-being that we too often overlook.
And let’s not forget the little black mirror we all carry—our smartphones. I preach a lot about social media toxicity but remember, the entire repository of human knowledge is literally in your pocket. Hell, if you had Elon Musk or Taylor Swift’s telephone number, you could immediately reach them from your pocket. Again, think about amazing truth. Between this knowledge and access, previous generations would’ve killed for this privilege. Don’t squander it with endless doom-scrolling on TikTok.
So when life beats you down—bills, tax increases, poor ad results—remember the THREE WARMS: If you have a warm bed after a warm shower following a warm meal, congratulations; you have a lot to be thankful for. You have an opportunity not just to survive but to pursue your dreams. Your best life.
None of this is some woo-woo I made up. The psychological benefits of gratitude and perspective are well-documented. One seminal study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that participants who kept weekly gratitude journals were more optimistic, felt better about their lives, and exercised more than those who focused on neutral or negative aspects. The grass is already greener in your pasture. This research, led by Robert A. Emmons and Michael E. McCullough, lends scientific credence to the idea that focusing on what you’re thankful for can positively impact well-being (source).
Another study delved into how the mere act of reframing a situation—again, perspective— to see the silver lining could foster better mental health. Published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine, this study suggests that optimistic thinking styles, like positive reframing, are associated with various health benefits, including lower levels of depression and even better cardiovascular health (source).’
In a world where the narrative is often tuned to what we lack or how we could be better, flipping The Script is not radical but revolutionary. The powers-at-be want you to be angry, divided, and depressed as it makes you controllably monetizable. Don’t be a slave to their whims.
So here’s the mic-drop that only perspective and gratitude can deliver: If you’re physically, mentally, and geographically able to pursue your dreams—your best life— you’re already living the dream.
MJ DeMarco, Entrepreneur, Author
PS: Here are some questions to ponder regarding perspective and gratitude in your life.
1) How can you practice gratitude daily beyond acknowledging our current treasures in life?
2) How do you balance a heightened sense of perspective for happiness so it does not deter you from achieving more?
3) How does the digital age contribute to our skewed perspective, and how can we counterbalance that?