I’m sure you’ve had times in your life when you’ve felt sad. Perhaps beyond sad. Maybe even debilitatingly depressed or in mourning over a great loss.
And how about dread? More than likely you have felt deep dread or anxiety, worrying over something that might come to pass.
But my hope for you is that the sorrow passed over time, and the thing you dreaded most and lost sleep over never came to pass – or was not nearly as bad as your mind imagined.
These feelings we have are just feelings. Our minds can do some crazy things to us, turning an intangible like a feeling into something that manifests into a painful state. Beyond painful. A feeling can make us physically ill. It can prevent us from enjoying life. It can make food taste like sand in our mouths and keep us from the recuperative sleep our bodies need.
And it’s just a feeling.
A friend of mine, Betty (which is obviously not her real name because no one is named Betty anymore), recently relayed a story. She had gone to pick up her 12 year old daughter at day camp and the teacher watching the children seemed hesitant to release her child. “That’s my daughter,” my friend pointed, since the woman was looking in another direction at a different child.
“Oh. Really?” the teacher stumbled.
My friend is Chinese and her child’s father is black. The daughter is a beautiful blend of the two.
Before you groan let me just say that I love me some television. I watch dramas, reality television, sports, movies, and let’s not even get into my Food Network habit. But I know it’s bad for me.
A few months ago the price of my cable service went up, so I changed to a fairly basic package and sent back the DVR. No more dozens of hours of recorded television just waiting for me to click on. Now, if I wanted to see a show, I had to plan ahead for it and be in the living room. That quickly cut the hours I watched.
Then I read an article about how people in other countries are stunned by how Americans leave the television on constantly, as though it were filling a void of silence. Ooh, that hit home. Guilty as charged. I turned off the 24 hour news blab and the Pawn Star marathons. I began to feel as superior as a European.
Sometimes the people who spend a lot of time with us have great insight into our personality and help us reconsider our behaviors.
Roomie has been telling me that my mental shortcut responses tend to result in a “no” – as in, do you want to see a movie?
No. Would you like to go on a tour of a farm? No. Let’s try this weird, new vegetable! No.
And once she brought it to my attention, I realized — ohmigosh! — she’s right.
Negative responses become habitual, and when your life is a little stressful or you feel spread too thin, you start answering no to more things than is good for you.
I’ve read many articles about people who have the opposite problem; they say yes to everything. Would you like desert? Yes. Can you attend this party? Yes. Can you volunteer at this event even though you have a full time job, three kids, and an elderly parent to care for? Yes.
As you can imagine, responding yes to everything is just as bad. You may find yourself with too many extra pounds and too many obligations.
I may not be the best at math, but I’m good enough to realize that the California lottery system with its Megalotto, Superlotto and accompanying Scratchers games of all types and flavors, does not have the best odds for winning. In fact, it has terrible odds. It’s more likely that I will be struck by lightning and eaten by a polar bear at exactly the same instant than it is that I will win a million dollars.
And yet every time Roomie and I take our long walk into town, we manage to scrounge up a dollar for a ticket. Why am I being so frivolous? It’s not like me to waste money. I go out of my way, in fact, to be quite frugal.
But sometimes you need a little joy. And you always need a little hope. A dollar will not mean the difference between paying the rent or being out in the street. But when we see a little orange ticket stuck behind a magnet on the refrigerator, it represents that one in a polar bear’s chance that we might hit the money.
So be wise with money. Save for a rainy day. But spend the little amounts that remind you life is for living and dreaming.
I admit I am not a naturally happy person. I am a grumbly woman who was raised by two grumbly parents, and I must work every day to bring happiness into my life.
Are some people naturally happy? That’s one of those nature versus nurture questions that has a different answer depending on what study you read. While it may look like there is a genetic source to some people’s positive attitudes, it may just be they were raised in an environment that taught them to incorporate and express joy.
To achieve a more natural state of happiness that involves less deliberate effort, I would focus on creating an environment that has a balance of needs. Once you know what your needs are and in what ratio, surround yourself with those things and being happy will seem much more effortless.
A lot of what I do professionally is finding mistakes. Whether I’m editing an article or debugging website code, I’m basically looking for errors. The overriding theme is, “what’s wrong here, and get busy fixing it.”
And while I’m good at my job and proud of my atttention to detail, I realized I was taking it too far. Instead of finding mistakes only where I should be looking, my brain started finding mistakes everywhere. I was being critical of everything. I was starting to feel negative and unhappy.
Let’s admit it, there are mistakes wherever you look. A misspelled word on a sign, a bad parking job, a broken sprinkler, a chipped coffee cup. There are all kinds of imperfections in this imperfect world.
But that doesn’t mean we need to right all the wrongs. It doesn’t mean that every chipped coffee cup should require our attention. Even more, it doesn’t mean we should criticize others as though the error is their fault and their responsibility to fix.