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Monday, July 30, 2012

Everyday Happiness

Be happy now.

Don't wait until you find a better job, a mate or a better home. Don't put it off until you finish school or the kids get older. Don't think that tomorrow will be better and there will be time for happiness then. Be happy now.

Think you can't be? Think again. Better yet, redefine your definition of happiness. Happiness can come from a big event like a wedding or graduation or retirement. However, those big events are few and far between. So how we you feel in the quiet times between those big events?

I've come to realize, in my own life, that happiness isn't necessarily a long, on-going period of bliss. Happiness is not the absence of any problems or obstacles, happiness is a choice and we chose to be happy, in spite of those things.

To be happy everyday ...

Don't sweat the small stuff, enjoy it! A great cup of coffee, a funny conversation with a good friend, something silly your child does. These are everyday moments of happiness.

Don't dwell on the bad stuff. When something annoying or irritating happens, learn to refocus your attention and let it do. Replaying that bad event in your head is a recipe for stress and most of us aren't happy when we are stressed.

Don't let others steal your joy. Don't allow someone else's bad mood or sour disposition affect you.

Don't inflict your bad mood on someone else. The goal is to have some happiness every day but that doesn't mean you won't have bad moods or unhappy moments. Of course you will. However, you don't have the right to inflict your bad mood on someone else. In those moments, try to stay as much to yourself as possible. And, remember, this (mood) shall pass.

Do prepare to be happy. I have YouTube clips on my computer that make me laugh. I have my favorite music cued up in my car. At home, I have Marty (otherwise known as America's Favorite Pooch) and his antics. I have friends on speed dial. All of these mood enhancers, can quickly coax me out of a momentary bout of moodiness.

Can you be happy all day, every day? Probably not (and still be considered sane). However, you can chose and prepare for more happiness than you already have and more happiness is always a good thing!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Compassion for Strangers

The events of last Thursday night still have me reeling. James Holmes walked into a movie theatre and unleashed an unfathomable terror that left 12 dead and over 50 injured. While we wonder what motivated him, our hearts reach out to those who were lost, those who are mourning and those survivors starting the long road to recovery. Even those witnesses who managed not to get shot will have a heap of healing to undergo.

On Friday, I was listening to my favorite talk radio shows, the Dennis Prager Show, and, of course, this was the top story. As the host and callers expressed their shock and dismay, one caller, a 17 year-old man, had a different perspective. Actually, he had a question. Why did we care? He just didn’t understand. He didn’t get why all of us, who weren’t there, were so concerned about the people who’d been shot. After all, he reasoned, people get shot and killed every day so why was this incident such a big deal? It wasn’t like the host or the callers actually knew these people. For him, expressions of concern and caring only made sense when applied to a loved one and these people were strangers.

Other callers weighed in trying to explain his lack of compassion. Everything from psychological disorders to his youth were suggested. Maybe he’d never been touched by tragedy and couldn’t relate, another suggested.

Here I am days later and I still don’t know what to think about that young man. I guess I start by feeling sorry for him. Yes, I feel a compassion towards him he’d be unable to feel towards me. In my eyes, it’s the appreciation of loss and suffering (or happiness and elation in the good times) which makes us human.

Most of us are capable of both empathy and sympathy. Empathy being the ability to connect on a mental level with what someone else is going through. Even if you have never experienced a loss of your own, the empathetic reaction allows you to look at that situation and recognize how difficult it must be. You can imagine what it might feel like to have that experience.

Sympathy is the actual feeling of that connection. Anyone who has lost a loved one or experienced the fear of losing a loved one will feel badly. Naturally, they won’t feel it to the depth of the person who experienced the loss but they will feel it. A parent fears the loss of a child or a spouse the loss of their other half or a friend the loss of another. When someone else actually has that experience, it triggers something within us and we respond. We sympathize. We empathize. We care.

It is this caring that allows a passerby to stop and aid a person in trouble. It is this caring that prompts a stranger to run into a house based solely on the cries of help from a child they don’t know. It is the caring that lets a stranger embrace an anonymous someone who has suffered a terrible tragedy just to give this stranger some comfort.

So while we pray for those victims of this senseless tragedy, let’s also say a prayer for those persons unable to reach out beyond their inner circle and experience the kind of feeling that connects us all into a living, breathing mass called humanity.

Monday, July 23, 2012

You Can't Unring a Bell

You cannot unring a bell - or undo most mistakes - for that matter. Once the bell is rung, it's done. You can apologize for things you have said and done but you can never really take back those painful words or actions. However, that doesn't mean that the sound of the bell must continually reverberate in your ears. 

One of the worst things we can do is to replay our mistakes loudly in our heads. Yet, we all do it. It's second nature. We have to make an effort not to do it. Yet, that effort is essential. Without it, we tend the soil where the seeds of a fear of failure will grow.

Putting our mistakes on an endless loop means that we are focusing our mental energy and effort on them and when we focus on what we have done wrong, we aren't focusing on what we could be doing right or even on what we could have learned from our errors.

Focusing on failure inevitably forecasting that failure into the future. If we did it before, we'll do it again (or so we think). What a paralyzing thought!

We can't unring the bell but we could learn to hear it less frequently or on a softer volume. How do you do that?
  1. Learn from your Mistake: Mining your mistakes for the lessons there are to learn helps to immediately lessen the volume.
  2. Plan for the Future: Now that you know where you've went wrong, you can plan for the future in a way that will prevent (hopefully) that same mistake from happening again.
  3. Give yourself a break: Everyone makes mistakes and if you live long enough, you'll make more. However, move forward with the confidence of knowing that you probably won't make the same mistake again!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Blue in the Face

Let’s play a game! It’s called Who’s Blues are Bluer? It’s an easy game to play, just tell your story and let the other person tell theirs. The winner is the one who has it worse. The one with the bluest blues or the hardest hard luck story wins!

Blacks vs. Hispanics, Jews vs Christians, Men vs. Women, me vs. you, there are a variety of ways to play this game. You can do it on a macro level and break it down by race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation. You can also take it to a micro level and play it based on your own personal history when compared to someone else’s.
Any way you chose to play it, it is a losing game.

Some games you play for fun. Other games teach a lesson or a skill. This game does nothing positive. Even if you win, what exactly have you won? Fighting over who is the biggest victim serves no purpose.

All of us have suffered our share of setbacks, failures and disappointments. I maintain that it isn’t those hindrances but how we respond to them that make a difference. It is how we bounce back from those obstacles that creates character and ultimately determines the direction of our lives.

I find that people who play The Blues are usually not very happy people, even if they manage to find success. They are too wrapped up in their victim status to be happy and people who see themselves as victims (and therefore at the whim and control of others) can never truly be happy. They constantly seek the negative and ‘proof’ of how bad they have it.

Blues players are usually not grateful for what they have because what they have is never enough and never good enough. They always feel they deserve more and living from the perspective of lack is a recipe for dissatisfaction.

I’m not saying that individual people and specific groups have not had it hard, or been dealt a raw deal. We all have and, I’ll admit some worse than others. To deny that truth would be to deny a very painful reality. I am saying that staying in that place and refusing to see beyond it, perpetuates the pain and almost guarantees that the player will not get over it, through it or ever put it behind him.

If the end game is happiness, contentment or satisfaction, then you will never get it playing The Blues.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Status Update

The year is over half-way over. So, how are you doing on the goals you set at the beginning of the year? One of my goals was to have more fun. I planned on doing that by reinvesting time and attention to two hobbies that fell by the wayside (cooking and photography) and one I had always wanted to try (dance).

Cooking - I've invested in new cookware and bakeware. I've made risotto from scratch and tried my hand at a few new recipes. So I have made some progress. This month my goal (mini-goal) is to go through some of my cookbooks and find a few dishes to try before the end of the year.

Salsa - I've always wanted to dance and this year I decided to make that dream a reality. I signed up for a six-week Salsa class. I've progressed through Salsa I and Salsa II. I'm just about to start Salsa III. I've also recently purchased my first pair of Salsa shoes! I'm really enjoying my lessons. Now my new goal is to make it through four levels of salsa and audition for the competitive amateur team!

Photography - After reviewing my Nikon manual and the DVDs that came with the camera, I decided that the only way I was ever going to get better at photography was to actually get out and take some photos. My friend Cindy is a professional photographer and I asked her to include me on any photo excursions we take. So far we've been to the Riverbanks Zoo and a local sunflower field.

I thought I'd share the best of those pictures with you.

So if you'd like, share the progress you've made on your goals this year.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Smartphones are Smart!

I'm old enough to remember when you had to pick up a phone to find out who was at the other end. The phone you picked up had a cord and you could only go so far across the room with it. I remember waiting by the phone for a guy to call and Heaven forbid someone actually try to use the phone while I was waiting! LOL! Have kids today even heard a busy signal??

Times have changed. Everyone has a cell phone now, and not only that, many of us have Smartphones: i Phones, Androids, Blackberries, HTC, ... the list goes on. Our lives are on our phones. Phone calls are the least of it. You can play games, send and receive emails, keep up with your contacts and more. You can practically run an office from your smartphone.

Here are three things that smartphones can teach us.

  1. There is always room for work and for fun. You have apps for email, and work but, I bet, on that same phone, you have games to play, music to listen to and maybe even an app to watch TV or to read books. If your phone can strike a work/fun balance, so should you!
  2. Every so often, you need to recharge your battery. Even the best phone's battery will drain if it doesn't get recharged. In fact, you can only push it so far before the battery completely dies and the phone shuts off. The phone forces a recharge. Some times we continue to work long after we should have shut down. Take time, on a regular basis, to recharge your own batteries. Ironically, you'll find that the time away will make you more effective when you get back to work.
  3. Sometimes you need to update your apps. App updates are great. They come with new features, bugs get fixed and hopefully, you end up with a better app. Every once in while consider an upgrade. Learn something new. Do something differently. Take a chance. Upgrade yourself.

Yes, your smartphone is smart, but I don't think it will ever be as smart as the person using it!

Monday, July 9, 2012

What a Baby Knows...

One of the first words a baby utters is "No." Sure, he might say "Mama" or "Dada" first, but one of the first words he'll utter after that is "No." Next, he'll start saying it and saying it often. It's a word kids hear often so it makes sense that they say it. Babies and toddlers are constantly told what not to do, not to touch and what to stay away from. So it's one of the words they are most familiar with.

Yet as we mature, it gets harder to say No. There are consequences. There are hurt feelings. There are disappointments. So, often we start saying 'Yes' when we'd rather say 'No.' As a result,

We get overwhelmed because we take on too much and end up overworking ourselves. 

  • We build up resentment because we are now stuck doing things we didn't want to do in the first place.
  • We say "Yes" to keep the peace and end up causing more problems down the line.
"No" might never be for us, the fun game it is to babies and toddlers; but it is a word some of us need to get reacquainted with.

First of all, No is necessary. People who are miffed or upset because you've said "No" to a request will get over it. In fact, when people ask, they realize that there is a possibility that the answer might be "No." Saying No to a request that you don't have the time, the money, the ability or other means to fulfill just makes sense.

Then again, you might not need to say "No" at all. Maybe you want to counter the request with a counteroffer. No, you cannot do what is being asked of you, but here is what you
can do or who you can recommend to help. This way you are offering you assistance without overextending yourself. 

Think about it. In someways a No can be just as empowering and positive as a Yes!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Not This Month!

Several friends of mine and I are undertaking a major challenge for the month of July. For 31 days, we have sworn off spending. For this month, we can pay bills, purchase groceries, and fill up our gas tanks. That's it. There will be no eating out, no restaurants, no shopping, no stopping by the store for make-up or knick-knacks.

Since I do movie reviews on my other blog, I did purchase an AMC gift card on Friday (the second last day of June) to use for this month. After all,
Spiderman opens today and The Dark Knight Rises on July 20th. Other than that, I'm looking forward to this experiment. How much extra will I have at the end of the month? Hopefully, it will help me break the eating out habit I have (when it's just you, it's often easier to grab something than it is to prepare something). 

Not spending means more planning, I see that already. Planning meals and snacks. Planning for free time since I'm going to have to find things to do for free. It means really thinking things through since so much of my spending is on spur-of-the-moment kind of deals.

Not spending also means more questioning. Do I really need that? Do I already have something at home I can use? Is there a free alternative?

So wish me luck, I am actually excited about how this experiment will go. I'll keep you posted on my progress. 

Since its only the 2nd day of the month, anyone else interested in joining me?