Coulda, Shoulda…Enough of It!

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That the birds of worry and care fly over your head, this you cannot change,  but that they build nests in your hair, this you can prevent.  – Chinese Proverb

Today I’m sharing a post from Daylle Deanna Schwartz’s blog: Lessons from a Recovering Doormat. She talks about “Could vs. Should”  and highlights the importance of changing just a few letters in that word.

Daylle makes some nice distinctions between the viewpoints when we use those two different words:

I should…” sets us up with expectations, duties, perfectionism, and guilt when we don’t meet all those self-imposed goals. (And look out for Should’s cousin “I’d Better“! Semantics. Same idea.)

I could…” sets us up with choices. We may still decide to do the thing we thought we “should” do, but it feels better, doesn’t it?  Remember when you were little and kids would say, “I’ll do it because I want to but not because you tell me to!”  Usually said in a snotty tone, but look at the message: self-empowerment!

We are always making choices! I’m about to quote you some Rush here (?!?) “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.” Thanks, Geddy Lee! And you thought all he sang about was the Great White North…

Anyhow, the happy smiley sunshine is here to remind us that when we take responsibility for our choices, we feel a little bit more free. And when we feel a little bit more free, we feel happier.  Of course, you know that the entire purpose of your life is not to feel happy 100% of the time, but it never hurts to up our Happiness Quotient on any given day.

The Chinese proverb I picked as a reminder that when we say “could” instead of “should”, we let worry fly on by rather than sticking with us unnecessarily.  We turn the volume down on that non-stop chatterbox in our heads, telling us all the things we SHOULD be doing, and all the ways we’ve failed everyone we’ve ever known, in ways large and small. What, your chatterbox doesn’t say that? Uhh….heh heh. Yeah, neither does mine…

“Should” isn’t necessarily a horrible word.  Many times, it connects us with our values, which is a good thing. But sometimes, we say it when we are beating ourselves up, or holding ourselves to some standard that might not even be what we, in our heart of hearts, want for ourselves.  So don’t think you must banish the word from your vocabulary; that’s just setting you up for more perfectionism and striving. But let’s be mindful of the phrases we tell ourselves and others.

I could get back to work now, since I’ve taken a lovely short break. And so I will. Because I want to!

Things to Think About: Making Things Happen

 

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“It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.” – Leonardo daVinci

I loved this quote when I saw it, and then almost immediately started questioning it.  This is a tough one. I’m certainly not one to pooh-pooh the wisdom of daVinci, and I’ve been accused of making a fair number of things happen in my day!  Part of my favorite brand of therapy (ACT) advises us to identify our values, set our goals that lead us in the direction of our values, and get busy working toward them.

At the same time, other wise people advise us to relax, take a step back, and let things happen as they will.  We’ve discussed before how constantly striving to have things OUR way (eeek, CONTROL!) often leads to unhappiness. Because, let’s face it, things don’t always happen the way the little movie playing in our heads says they are supposed to. Sometimes, in fact, very little of what actually occurs is anything close to how we wanted it or how we thought it should be.

So, when things aren’t going our way, what should we do? Go out and “make things happen”? Or take the view that it’s happening the way it is supposed to, and our desires in the matter are not necessarily relevant? To further confuse the matter, how much of what we think we can control is actually in our control, anyhow? Deep thoughts for a Friday, I know!

You’ve probably heard the idea that each life is a thread in a grand tapestry, so as we go along our business, we are part of a larger plan in ways we could never comprehend from our own viewpoint.  I think of the way, at football games, bands march into a formation.  From the field, everyone is just looking out at their band buddies, hoping they are on their proper mark. From the stands, we say “Hey, cool! A duck!” Or whatever. You get the idea.

If that’s true, then the “grand design” might have something even better in store for us than whatever it was we wanted. Or the grand design might have something in store for us that isn’t so fabulous, but it’s still what’s supposed to happen. Personally, I’ve had plenty of situations in which I didn’t get what I wanted at the time, and I’m so grateful for it now!

Other times, I’ve set a goal and worked toward it, not letting obstacles or naysayers get in the way. And I accomplished that goal, and that seemed like the right thing to do. And I thought, Wow, if I hadn’t worked to make that change, how awful would that have turned out?  Hmmm.  Maybe I was right. Maybe not. Maybe no matter what I did in that moment, at that choice point, I still would have ended up where I did, just by a different path.

I don’t have an answer here. And I suspect that there is not ONE right answer. I’m guessing it depends on a lot of factors. Sometimes you have to make things happen, and sometimes you have to let things happen.   Like the “serenity prayer” – change what you can, accept what you can’t change, and be wise enough to know the difference.

Still pondering this one. If you have any insights, or cool quotes, feel free to share!

How to be Happy: Don’t Eat The Poison!

poison apple“Taking things personally makes you prey for predators. They can hook your attention with one little opinon, and feed you whatever poison they want. Refuse to eat poison!” don Miguel Ruiz

I’ve been trying to finish this post for weeks. And I’ll warn you, it’s lengthy. That’s what happens when I wait 6 weeks or so to post…

But maybe it’s good that it’s taken so long, because several events have occurred that reminded me of this topic, which gave me more examples and more insight. Things happened to me, or to those close to me, that led us to feel various unpleasant ways, from furious to grumbly to hurt to vaguely discontented and annoyed.  But each time, once we stop to think about the problem, the root of it is (or at least a large part) that we’re taking things personally.

Remember the Four Agreements (Don Miguel Ruiz)? Just in case, here they are again:

1) Be impeccable with your word.

2) Don’t take anything personally.

3) Don’t make assumptions.

4) Always do your best.

Now, being me, I like to try to reword things to the positive when I can, so sometimes rather than using the don’ts, I say : It’s not personal, or Make no assumptions, or something like that. Semantics, reallly.

The issue is this: when we care about other people, we will get hurt. That’s just a fact of life. Sometimes people are going to let us down. They’re not going to do what we want. They’re going to say mean or hurtful or thoughtless things. They’re going to do things that hurt us emotionally. Sometimes that will even be on purpose, because they are hurting and they want someone else to pay for it.

Pain is part of the deal we make when we choose to care, and that’s okay. Sounds weird, maybe. But (here’s a little more ACT for you) suppose I gave you a choice:

Option A: you have all your feelings and care deeply about other people. This means you get all the good feelings, and it also means that sometimes, you’ll be in a lot of pain because someone you love or care about is hurting, or is doing things you don’t want them to do. Sometimes you’ll even be upset about things happening to people you don’t even know.

Option B: I take away all your feelings. No pain, no anger, no frustration, no jealousy or loneliness. But here’s the kicker – nothing good either. No love, no affection or fondness, no passion or joy.  No enthusiasm or curiousity. Nothing really matters, because you don’t feel anything.

Of course this is a theoretical experiment – you can’t really remove ALL your feelings, even if you try to by numbing yourself with distractions or drinks or drugs or food or work.   So we may as well accept that feeling anything means feeling everything.  Because there’s no middle ground. There’s no “I’ll just feel the things I want to feel – the good stuff.” We know that.

Which do you choose? Most people, despite knowing that caring will sometimes lead to pain, choose option A. So we know that overall, we’re going to have some rough patches, because other people mean something to us.

But sometimes, we take on excess pain, which is then properly classified as suffering, when we care too much about what others think of us or what they do to us.  Don Miguel says that what others say and do is much more about them than it is about us.  Not that we have no effect on others, but taking your co-worker’s curt hello or a spouse’s distraction personally leads us into a spiral of self-doubt, hurt feelings, rumination, emotional discomfort, you name it! And if you could magically crawl inside their heads, you might be surprised to find that the movie in their head stars them, not you.

This can be comforting. When working with clients who have anxiety, therapists can remind them of this truism:  most people are much more concerned with themselves than they are with you – many times, no one will even notice if you are a little anxious.  (Or if they do, they will probably feel sympathetic toward you rather than mocking.)

It’s not a nasty thing to say about someone. It makes sense to put your own interests high on the priority list if you want to be mentally and physically able to be there for all the people you love, and to do all the things you are put on this Earth to do. It’s not selfish to care about yourself or what you want or need, unless you’re some kind of sociopath with no true feelings for others, in which case I’ll venture a guess you’re not reading this blog anyhow.

Anyhow, don Miguel calls it  “eating emotional poison” when we let other’s words or actions hurt us unnecessarily.  When other people use their words or actions to be insensitive or thoughtless or unkind, we can either choose to take that in and let it affect us, or…not. Easier said than done! It does get more automatic, the more you practice it. Realizing that we are each on our own path or journey, with our own struggles, challenges, and triumphs, means that no one is experiencing the world exactly as you are.  Each one of us is creating and watching the movie of our lives, starring us.

We can connect with each other very strongly, and know one another incredibly well, but if we really think about it, we never do understand someone else’s viewpoint 100%, even when we think we do. That’s making assumptions – another no-no.

But is that so bad? Do we need to fuse with one another to enjoy life together? Nah. Khalil Gibran said “Let there be space in your togetherness”.  We can travel alongside one another, enjoying the view in our unique ways, helping each other when we hit a rough patch – precisely BECAUSE we are different.  Someone else can see something you do not, and that can be just what you need, when your own viewpoint is limited and can’t see a way out.

So don’t eat the poison! We don’t have to let other people’s issues, which lead them to act in ways we don’t particularly care for, cloud and ruin our days.  We can care about the person without letting his or her behavior tell us how we need to feel about ourselves. This is not an “I don’t care what she says” kind of attitude – it’s a kinder, more loving sort of mild detachment.  I don’t ever want to stop feeling things for other people. What a joyless, crappy life that would be! But my feelings for others don’t have to mean that I allow myself to be jerked about by their whims and reactions like a marionette.

This doesn’t mean you should not take accountability for yourself and your actions. If you make a mistake, own up to it. Apologize and do your best not to repeat it. But a lot of times, when someone else has a negative reaction, we feel we’ve done something wrong when we haven’t. We perseverate and second-guess and fret and fuss.  We get angry or sad or whatever, and tell other people about this horrible thing someone did. (Anyone who will listen, typically!) We rally others to our side, gaining support and feeling justified in our indignation. But for what? That’s just more negativity. That’s giving  the power and control of our emotional barometer over to someone else. If we think about it like that, it’s pretty unappealing.

You can step back and look at the situation differently. Maybe it’s time to drop that struggle.To care without letting it consume you if the other person isn’t behaving how you think he or she should.

What poison have you been eating?

How to be Happy: Just Do It!

time will pass anyway It’s right about this time of year that, if we made any resolutions at all (or as a wise friend of mine relabeled hers, simply “goals”), we’re maybe starting to flag a little. Or a lot. Let’s be honest, here. The gyms are starting to be a bit less packed, the fresh produce is rotting in the crisper…you get the idea. It’s the season of giving up! Or at least “letting-it-slip” time.

Side note – I wonder if anyone has done research to see if fast food companies have a slump in the first few weeks of the new year..and then a lovely little rebound? (mmm, fries.)

Anyhow, as you know, I made two resolutions.  They were simple but broad, and I’ve since modified them somewhat (which is FINE by the way; go ahead and tweak yours if it works for you).

NEW AND IMPROVED 2013 GOALS: (ta da!)

1) Be kinder than necessary

2) Follow through whenever possible – especially using the one-minute rule: If it takes less than a minute, do it NOW.  Thank you, Gretchen Rubin and Rita Emmett for both, individually, introducing me to that lil’ bit o’ wisdom. Sometimes I mutter it to myself as I dash around the house, doing whatever it is that should only take a minute or less. That’s weird, I know, but we’ve already established that I’m fine with that.

Today’s post is about that special time when we begin lose that motivation, when we start to question whether or not this ONE TIME only will it make any difference if we just loaf on the couch for another hour, or put off making the phone call to check in on someone, or push that one task to our list for another day.  A lot of our goals/resolutions/what-have-you are going to take time to really pay off, and it’s hard to wait! It’s way more fun to surf the Internet, or watch TV, or chat about nothing in particular. Instant gratification, baby.

And actually, the answer is, it doesn’t make much difference at all. You can put it off.

This time.  And maybe, the next time.

But here’s the rub: If we consistently give ourselves one more hour on the couch, or put off the call, etc., what then? We have goals that go nowhere. We have self-fulfilling prophecies that we work incredibly hard to fulfill without realizing it. Boo!

“It’s going to take too long” is a great excuse for not doing something. “It’ll be hard” is another. I’ve heard ’em all. I’ve used ’em all.  100% correct. Most things worth doing don’t come easily.  Which is not to say that the pursuit of our goals has to be a joyless, grim struggle. No way! Hard work can be FUN.

Yes, I just said that. Hard work can be fun. And even if it’s not “fun”, it can be fulfilling, if you remember why you’re doing it in the first place. And that’s sort of fun, too. Acceptance and Commitment therapy is big on this – values. That’s the “commitment” part in the model. We have to decide what’s worth doing in our life (values) and then decide the steps we need to take to move in that direction (goals) and then…..just do it.

Even if it takes time. Even if it’s hard. Even if it’s scary. The time will pass anyway, and you can either look back and congratulate yourself on a job well done (or at least well in progress, or at least well started), or you can make excuses.  You don’t have to be perfect. Fall seven times, stand up eight – but keep standing up!

The time will pass anyway, of that we can be certain. Let’s make it time well spent!

Grappling with the “100/0 Principle”

“When you argue with reality, you lose – but only 100% of the time.” – Byron Katie

I said I’d revisit the book The 100/0 Principle, and so I shall.  I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit lately.  One of the questions in the book is “Would you rather be right, or would you rather be happy?”  Honestly, I’d rather be both.  But let’s suppose it’s one or the other. Happy, sure. Obviously I’m tipped that way…

One of the points made in the book is that sometimes we get so busy defending our beliefs/opinions and what we “know” is right, that we lose the relationship for the sake of confirming our expectations.  The ACT literature takes this on too, and asks us to hold our beliefs a little more loosely, so that we are open to other perspectives and interpretations.  A lot of the time, we hold beliefs about ourselves and other people: I’m not a morning person, he’s shy, I’m a procrastinator, etc. that  paint with a broad brush and create expectations that we often fail to question. We fall into ruts and describe ourselves and others in predictable ways, and stay within the limits of what we say we (or they) are all about.  If I’m “not a morning person”, but I want a job that will require that I get up early, I have to decide how important my identity as a night owl really is.  If I begin waking up full of energy, then I’m “wrong” about who I am. It’s outside my comfort zone.  Yes, we can all change, but as I said before, often we don’t care for changing, even if it’s in the service of something good.

The quote for today is true – when you argue with what is, you’re always wrong.  However, I also want us to challenge our assumptions about what is.  Sometimes our belief about reality is not actually reality. Sometimes we think we can’ t possibly do a thing to change something because it’s just a fact, and we resign ourselves to it, or actively work to accept it.  This might be helpful, or it might not.

So how does this relate to 100/0?  Well, the basic idea of the book, as I read it,  is that success in life is largely dependent upon your relationships with other people. And that if you want good relationships, it’s up to you to make them that way.  So, if you and your boss don’t see eye to eye, or  your marriage is on the rocks, or you constantly squabble with family members, you have to decide if you want the relationship to succeed. And if you do, it’s up to you to put 100% effort into it, and expect 0% from the other person.

That’s right. Nothing! Nada. Zip, zilch, big fat goose egg. The other person can make absolutely no effort to change or improve or treat you nicely, and guess what?  You give them 100% anyway. You treat them with respect and kindness and you hold up your end of the relationship with steadfast determination.

Huh?

When I first read this, I thought this man was a bit touched. I’m typically of the mindset that relationships are two-way streets, with both partners giving some. It’s going to vary, sure. Sometimes it’s 50%/50%, sometimes it’s 80%/20%, you get the idea. But the idea of a consistent “I give all, and expect nothing” mentality sort of grated on me. Shouldn’t I demand respect? Shouldn’t the other person meet me at least partway? Isn’t it “enabling” bad behavior to expect nothing of someone close to you? I am not interested in being a doormat!

To tie in my little picture for today, this 100/0 notion was way outside my comfort zone.  I’ve read the book a few times now (it’s a very quick read).  It is about more than just “giving all” – it describes learning to listen and seeing the perspective of another person, and gives helpful notions for building better relationships.   I came to understand that, even though in the short-term, you are giving 100% and expecting nothing, in the long term, what typically happens is that the relationship improves because your perspective has improved.  You’re happier because your happiness is no longer tied to the other person meeting your expectations. This leads to the other person’s attitude and behavior changing, and they start to give more to make the relationship function better.

What if they don’t change?  According to the book, even then, interesting things happen. You take control of your happiness about the relationship out of the hands of the other person, and into your own. You take full responsibility for doing all you can to make the relationship work, and you don’t allow their behavior (or lack thereof) to affect you negatively.  They don’t make you happy or unhappy; you are in control.  So paradoxically, by expecting nothing, you lose the pain of unmet expectations. All the other person can do is meet your expectation (by giving 0%) or exceed it (by giving anything more than 0%).  I know this sounds a little  bit like a pessimistic viewpoint – I’m not expecting anything good to come of this – but really that’s not the tone of the book at all.  It’s more of an optimistic, take-charge by taking responsibility feel.

I’ll admit, I’m still grappling with this one.  But I’m intrigued, and I’ve tried it out here and there. There are, of course, caveats in the book about types of behavior that are not acceptable and should not be tolerated (criminal behavior, abuse, etc.). Short of those types of problems, though, the premise is that even a pretty crappy relationship has a good chance of being turned around.  It’s sort of like the way you unconditionally love your kids; no matter what they do, you’ll always love them, and do all you can to have a good relationship with them.

What do you think? Ready to give 100% to fix a bad relationship, or improve an okay one? Let me know if some magic happens…

Making the Best of It

“Success is getting what you want; happiness is wanting what you get.” — Dale Carnegie

Today’s post is, by necessity, brief.  But that doesn’t mean we can’t activate our brains a little…I really liked this saying in the picture below (which my 2-second Internet research tells me was coined by “Unknown”) and I think it’s true.

However, where does that leave those of us who are striving for more or to improve things? Should I just “accept what is” and be happy without trying to reach higher goals?  Nah. Where’s the fun in that?  Still, endless striving and never being content with what one has is certainly no recipe for happiness. Hmm, how about balance?

We all know the Serenity Prayer, right? God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.  Maybe that’s the key – accept it when we can’t change something–though we should really examine that assumption – there may be more we can change than we think–change what we can, and know the difference between the two.  Easier said than done, maybe, but it’s a good rule of thumb.

In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, there’s obviously a lot of talk about acceptance – it’s the first word in the name of the therapy! But acceptance doesn’t mean embracing,  resignation and it doesn’t mean tolerance. It’s more like acknowledging that something exists, neutrally. NOT EASY!

When we refuse or are unable to accept what is, we are “struggling against the Universe,” according to Deepak  Chopra. And who am I to argue with Deepak?!  Accepting where we are right now and what is happening is the first step to determining what we might be able to change, or what we can’t. Sticking our heads in the sand, or complaining to all who will listen, bemoaning our fate, doesn’t move us forward.

It’s okay to be cranky! I said that before. But at some point, we have to decide what we really want to be doing, and get busy doing that, even if it means we have to drag around some not-so-wonderful things with us or deal with not-so-fabulous circumstances.

What can you work on accepting today?

It’s Okay to be Cranky!

“What fresh hell is this?” – Dorothy Parker

Yes, the overwhelming topic in this little old blog is…well…happiness.  But sometimes, as I’ve said, even the most optimistic people get a little glass-half-empty, too.  And although we might think at first that this is a bad thing, I hope by now you know it isn’t. Because it’s real. It’s how we feel at that moment in time.  And acknowledging our emotions is always better than denying or stifling them.  Sometimes we can’t SHOW how we feel, because it’s not the time or place, but at least we KNOW how we feel.  Even though I don’t want to let my negative thoughts and annoyances and dire predictions take over my entire emotional landscape (at least not for too long), there’s nothing at all wrong with them being there.  Nothing!

A good vent can be very liberating!  You might be surprised what words sometimes escape my mouth, behind closed doors, anyway. I see no problem with admitting that something is upsetting, and getting it out of my system if it’s okay to do that then.  Just so long as it’s not a habit. Sometimes I make myself come up with a positive or two after I’ve gone on and on about something annoying me,  just for a little perspective. Other times, I just rant away, and then take a deep breath and get on with it.

I was talking to Girl Child (who’s really a ‘tween now) about this the other day.  I stole Russ Harris’s idea about negative emotions being like clouds in the sky.  They come and go, and we really can’t do anything about them being there. We might not want a cloudy day; we might prefer the sun, but do we really have to stay indoors just because it’s gray and gloomy? Nope. Negative thoughts are like that – they’ll be around every day, sometimes more than others.  We can try to minimize them, but remember when we directly try to squash them…white elephant!

The presence of negative emotion does not have to stop us from doing what we want to do.  It would be ludicrous to say, “I’m not going to apply for that new job until there’s not a cloud in the sky!”  But don’t we all say, “I’ll be happy when..” or “I can’t do X until I feel more confident/better/happier…blah blah blah”…  Sure, it would be BETTER to feel confident and happy all the time, we’d enjoy what we’re doing more if that were the case. But being cranky or worried or whatever else we feel doesn’t have to stop us from getting done what needs to be done.  Often, the sooner we get into it, the faster those negative emotions reduce, at least somewhat.

Have you been putting off doing something you want to do, or avoiding pushing out of your comfort zone a little bit – waiting until it “feels right”?  Here’s a thought: maybe it will never feel right enough if you don’t push yourself. Something to think about, anyhow.  And now, let’s laugh at the turtle.

Why you’ll never be happy all the time – Part Two

 Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.  – James Baldwin

In my previous uplifting post (ha ha), I talked about the fallacy of continuous happiness. Now, I know that probably no one really believes they can be happy ALL the time – we’re all pretty realistic people, right? But we do often get trapped into thinking that we should be happier more often than we currently are. And that bothers us, and when things bother us, what do we do?

We either (a) run from the problem – including denying the problem, or (b) try to fix it.

One way to run from the problem, that was covered earlier is tuning out. Getting busy with something else, losing ourselves in some other pursuit. And of course, this is not necessarily a bad thing, at least not in the short term and as long as it doesn’t involve criminal activity or something really harmful. But I didn’t really need to tell you that part, did I? J

I tune out bad things all the time. I’ve included one of my favorite Calvin and Hobbes comics as an example. Sometimes when people do things that don’t seem to follow what I think they should (the nerve!!) I go into a cleaning frenzy, or grab a book, or work out, or hop on Facebook, or write a blog post. Most of these things are fine to do, at least in moderation, but if I don’t deal with what’s bugging me, it’s unlikely to change. It’s a short-term fix, and I know it. But at least my kitchen is clean…

Another way to deal with problems is by trying to fix them. Most of the time, you’d think this is a pretty good idea, and I agree. But some problems can’t be fixed by you, or at least not at that particular moment, because they’re someone else’s problems, not yours. What happens when you try to change other people, and they don’t particularly want to change, or don’t have the capability right now? I’ll give you one guess.

And other problems are your problems, which is actually a good thing, because it means you can do something about them. One that I’ve struggled with is this whole concept of happiness. I told you I’m a happy person most of the time, and that’s true. But what about the times I’m not? What about when I wake up and think “Uh-uh, no way, not feelin’ it today.” Days when I’m actually sort of dreading what’s ahead? And then the mind chatter begins – you shouldn’t feel like that. Your life is great! Think of that show you saw last night where the guy was trying to lose 200 lbs and he had to break up with his fiancée and he was homeless and living in his car and then his son died? You have NO problems! YOU SHOULD BE HAPPY! If you’re not happy, you’re ungrateful!

My mind is right! I should be happy. I should be grateful. I should be carpe-ing the diem. But, in that moment, I’m not. And so the game begins. The mental tug-of-war between how I feel and how I think I should feel. The berating myself (how are you going to help anyone else if you can’t even help yourself), etc.

I know I’m not alone in this. Russ Harris, who is one of my very favorite authors in the ACT realm, has a great book called The Happiness Trap. I’m stealing liberally from him and also from Steve Hayes, who has another book I like called Get Out Of Your Mind And Into Your Life. These guys openly and readily admit that their minds beat them up all the time – and they are ACT gurus!

One time I stopped and listened to all the crud my mind was spewing about a particular topic and I thought, Wow, I would never be friends with someone who talked to me like that. Hmm. Interesting.

I’ll talk more about what we can do when our minds are blathering away in an unhelpful fashion in the next post. Ah, the suspense! But this post is getting too long…so until next time, what is your mind going on about right now? Noticing it is step one.

Testing, testing…and food for thought

“The things we hate about ourselves aren’t more real than things we like about ourselves.” -Ellen Goodman

This is another speedy quick post, predominantly to see if my RSS feed magic has worked correctly, and if it has I have Zack to thank! Even if it doesn’t, thanks Zack! 😉

This little picture made me laugh when I first saw it, so of course I promptly stole it for all of you to enjoy. Birds with french fries do appear quite happy.

But what if you’re having a craptastic day? How are you supposed to be like that little guy happily ingesting trans fats and whatnot?

As I mentioned earlier, you won’t (and honestly can’t) always be happy. But what you can be is intermittently happy, and sometimes all those intermittent smidges (or blobs or whatever units you like to measure your happiness in) add up to a pretty good afternoon, day, week, etc. Even though things are going to happen that stress you out, depress you, worry you, anger you, good things are going to happen too.

Your job is to see the good stuff, to notice it, and take advantage of it. Like that bird with the fry.

The tricky bit has to do with all our judgments – we’re SO good at judging things, people, events, ourselves. The quote I picked for today, though, made me think.

What if our judgments of what’s “wrong” with ourselves or other people or whatever just happened that we may be judging….are wrong? Or at least not completely right? What if the things we think are so awful are really products of our viewpoint, and not so much the external reality (whatever that is). Oops, I’m going a bit metaphysical.

What I’m saying, really, is that the way we evaluate things, good, bad, or neutral – these are really just stories we tell ourselves. One isn’t necessarily more true than another, depending on how you look at it. I’ll have more to say about this when we get to  The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz.   And when we talk more about ACT.  For now,  maybe we can all work on questioning those automatic judgments a little more, especially when they start to lead us down a mental trail of crankiness or gloom or anger.

Now I’m going to try really hard not to eat fries with lunch!

Why you’ll never be happy (well, at least not all the time!): Part One

“Seek to do good and you will find that happiness will run after you.” – James Clarke

I know, what a horrible title! Here I am, supposed to be doling out smidges of happiness, encouraging and inspiring you, blah blah blah…and now…this? If it weren’t free to read this here blog, you might want your money back. I understand.

I have to admit, the first time I started learning about Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT; remember, I told you I’d have more to say about this) I was more than a little disheartened to find out that the goal was not to make my clients HAPPY. Come on, I thought. How am I going to motivate myself or anyone else by letting them in on THIS little secret?  After all, isn’t that what we all want?

We want ourselves to be happy. We want our loved ones to be happy. Everyone on TV and in the movies seems to be happy, or else their story is so dire that we feel happier by comparison whilst viewing their plights. Hey, isn’t our whole entire country founded on “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”?   Happiness must be a pretty big deal.

Here’s the clincher:  YOU CAN’T BE HAPPY ALL THE TIME.  Some days, you can’t even be happy MOST of the time. Ugh. What a downer.  And I’m a therapist!

I’ll say it again, you can’t be happy all your life. People who say they are happy all the time, well…how do I put this delicately? They’re lying.  Or delusional.  I’m often accused of being happy all the time. Not true, though I will freely admit that I’m in general a happy person. And I’m happy about that. 😉

You can’t be happy all the time. Nor should you be, really. Think about it: if you were happy all the time, you’d have to be completely unaware of the world around you. There is so much that is good in the world; very true.  At the same time, there is also ugliness, pain, and crappy annoyances. “Turning every frown upside down” just isn’t realistic, and this is coming from a relentless poster of inspirational sayings.  So to live in this world well and fully, we have to truly see the world, and sometimes what we see is going to make us feel the opposite of happy.  It sounds like that is a bad thing, but it really isn’t.

Buying into the lie that unless you are happy all or most of the time, there’s something wrong with you is a very dangerous path. It leads you to do all sorts of things to “feel better”, most of which are fine or at least minimally harmful in the short term/in moderation, but are quite frankly a hot mess in the long term.

What do I mean?  Well, tuning out for one. How many times have you been sad/annoyed/frustrated/vaguely discontent/angry and turned to something to help you escape?  It could be surfing the Web, checking out Facebook, watching TV, mindless gorging, even reading a book. Anything to check out of your life and into something else, just for a little while.

Sometimes we don’t even realize we’re doing it, this disconnecting from the here and now. We were out to dinner one night recently,  and I looked over to see a family near us – every member of the family was on his/her phone.  They weren’t saying a word to one another.  I’m not lecturing; I’m noticing.   We all have a tendency to fall into the immediate gratification trap.  Not a problem here and there. Actually, if you are really upset, sometimes distraction is the best thing to do, while you let things percolate in your brain a bit. However, over the long haul, if you medicate every un-fun feeling by attempting to turn away from it, it doesn’t work.

Thus endeth Part One – more to come.  For now, do me a favor: if you are currently trying to tell yourself that you should be happy all the time, and beating yourself up when you’re not, allow yourself to at least question that statement.  Ironically, when you stop running after happiness, it sneaks up on you.  And, as the quote I opened with suggests, there’s more to living the life you want than your happiness…hmmm…