ROCHESTER Minn. — Until a few years ago, I habitually picked fights in every city I visited.
It wasn’t an all-out brawl, but enough to spoil the flavor of the day. My enemies weren’t evil but may have annoyed you at some point. They would break my flow, block my path, slow me down, and force me into boredom.
Their name? Traffic lights.
Seeing the light turn yellow and then red while approaching the intersection increases the blood flow to a particular part of the brain that hosts negative emotions: the amygdala. The two long minutes it takes the light to turn green are moments of pure boredom and impatience, partially comforted by music or a phone call
Even between the traffic lights, I picked enemies. In my neighborhood, I gave competition to the blue Subaru that was slowly reversing on the driveway. Emerging on top, I merged on the highway.
On the highway, my competition continued. My lane had five cars ahead of me while the next lane had only three. I changed the lane only to discover that a truck had merged ahead of me. I felt claustrophobic and came back to where I was lest I blow off too much carbon dioxide.
Keeping the fight alive, as I was pulling into my parking spot, I realized that the blue Subaru I thought I had left far behind reached before me. So much for the adrenaline rush, gastric erosions, loss of hippocampal neurons, and diuresis. The only plus was that my fight kept me awake.
I have now changed — for the better. I have redefined travel. It isn’t about reaching or speed; it is about having a good time with my co-travelers — on the road, and in life. I now try my best to practice compassionate driving.
People reversing on the driveway are in an awkward position; they deserve my patience. Lane changing should be for a good reason, not to win the highway dash. Instead of silently honking at the other drivers, best to send them kind attention. And of course, my enemies, those traffic lights — I use those moments to remind myself who I am grateful for (with my eyes open).
The result is a safer and more enjoyable experience. I have also lost many enemies — actually 300,000 of them, which is the estimated number of traffic lights in the U.S.
Dr. Amit Sood answers your questions about stress, resilience, happiness, relationships, and related topics in his column. Email email@example.com.