Tag Archives: appreciation

Holidays and Appreciation

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Festive holiday wreathAs this is the holiday season, I gave some thought as to what might be an appropriate post for “The Healing Project.”  While for many people, this is a joyous time of year, for countless others, it’s a time of stress and despair.

As I am not a particularly religious person (I always call myself “spiritual but not religious”), I have had to give some consideration as to what this time of year represents to me.  In this post, I share some of my personal insights on Christmas and the holiday season and what I consider to be the greatest lesson for this time of year.

It’s the Holidays – Time to Buy!

As Christmas approaches, we start to see the holiday decorations in the stores and television and newspaper ads for gift suggestions and sales.  We are told to show our love for those in our lives by buying them the “perfect gift,” often at a premium price.  Since many people are already strapped for cash in the midst of the recession, the stress induced by the pressure to buy is higher than ever.  We wrestle with questions of who to buy for, what to buy and how much to spend.

We rush out to crowded shopping malls and comb the packed aisles and racks in search of a gift which will either serve to express our love or fulfill an obligation.  Most of us don’t stop to wonder, “Is this what Christmas is all about?”  Religious or not, we can probably all agree that Christmas has been distilled down to a shopping  and buying related event in this country for many people.   If we think about it, we may consider it a sad reality, but a reality nonetheless.

No Gifts – Bah Humbug?

In my family and circle of friends, there isn’t much gift-giving that happens anymore.  This started a few years ago with one family member opting out of giving gifts, and like a domino effect, virtually everyone else jumped on the “no gifts” bandwagon.  I now only buy gifts for a few people, although I enjoy spending time around the holidays with a number of others.  I consider it a win-win proposition, as I experience much less stress this time of year yet I still get to enjoy being around the key people in my life. However, without the hubbub of purchasing, wrapping, and sending gifts, I’ve had to give some introspection to the topic of what Christmas means to me.  More on that topic later in this post…

A Thanksgiving “About Face”

On the other hand, for many years, I dreaded Thanksgiving.  As someone with a long history of eating disorders, I didn’t like the association this holiday had with overindulging in fatty food.  I considered Thanksgiving to be a day when I would either have to veer off my Spartan eating plan or be faced with a barrage of questions as to why I wasn’t stuffing my face like everyone else.

I have since changed my perspective on Thanksgiving dramatically and now consider it to be a more authentic occasion than Christmas.  After all, the purpose of Thanksgiving is to simply reflect upon the blessings in your life and express gratitude for all that you’ve been blessed with.  If a person is religious or spiritual, showing appreciation toward God for what he has given you is a part of the occasion, but it also includes the expression of thanks to those in your life who have shown you kindness, respect, and love.

A Beautiful Thanksgiving Gesture…

I received a very touching letter (handwritten at that!) from a friend this Thanksgiving.  In this letter, my friend simply expressed her sincere and heartfelt appreciation for my friendship.  It wasn’t a long letter; in fact, it probably took her less than thirty minutes to write, address, and mail.  Yet this letter is one that I still have on my desk so I can read it every now and then, and it continues to bring tears to my eyes.  It feels so good to know that my presence in this person’s life is meaningful.  This friend doesn’t buy me Christmas presents, but I don’t care.   Her letter meant more to me than any Christmas present ever could.

The True Meaning of the Holidays

I shared the story above because I have decided that the true meaning of the holiday season for me is the message which Thanksgiving represents, gratitude and appreciation.  I’ve decided to not just take one day to reflect upon the blessings in my life, but to consider the true gifts that I’ve been given throughout the entire holiday season (Thanksgiving through New Year’s – and hopefully beyond)!   I believe that most of us don’t take enough time to pause and express thanks for the bounty that exists in our lives.  If we think about it, the majority of us have more blessings in our lives than curses.

The Glass is Half Full

I’ve decided that I’m going to adopt a “glass half full” attitude toward life.  It really is true that whatever it is you are looking for, you are sure to find it.  If you search for what’s missing in your life, a list of the things you lack will be easy to compile.  However, if you take a moment to reflect upon what’s present, you’ll create an even longer list AND you’ll feel much better for it.

Don’t Wait to Appreciate Your Life!

I don’t want to wait until I receive a dire diagnosis or lose someone dear to me to count my blessings.  I especially don’t want to list my blessings in hindsight.  I want to enjoy them in the moment, where they exist each and every day.  So instead of lamenting my lack of significant income, I am grateful for the freedom I have to pursue my interests and passions and to be able to spend the majority of my days doing what I choose to do.  And instead of cursing the wrinkles and gray hairs which now mark my middle-aged visage, I am happy for the wisdom which I’ve amassed through spending 44 years on this planet.

I will not take for granted that I will be blessed with another 44 years or more, as that may not be the case.  The countless tragic stories we hear on the news and experience in our personal circles make it all too clear that we cannot control how much time we have.  In a flash, this miracle of life can be taken away from us.

Fear Not, My Friends…

The uncertainties of life do not have to make us sad or afraid.  If we live in the moment, we can experience joy and gratitude in every breath and in each blessed day.  I am so happy to be alive and I am so grateful for my life, flaws and all!  I appreciate the blessings which I have been given and I vow to carry that appreciation with me as I move forward in life.  As this holiday season progresses, I will strive to make every day Thanksgiving.

Closing Quotes on Appreciation

I close with a few quotes which I feel punctuate my message well:

  • Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take but by the moments that take our breath away.” – Hilary Cooper
  • When you are grateful, fear disappears and abundance appears.” – Anthony Robbins
  • As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” – John F. Kennedy
  • If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, “thank you,” that would suffice.”  – Meister Eckhart
  • He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.” – Epictetus

Missing Tile Syndrome

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Today’s post focuses on a concept introduced by author Dennis Prager in his book, “Happiness is a Serious Problem.”  I highly recommend this book as a concise and extremely informative book on the often elusive subject of happiness.  Dennis presents a number of life-changing philosophies in his book, but one of the best is the concept of the “missing tile syndrome.”

Imagine this Scenario…

Ceiling TilesImagine that you are in a dentist’s office having your teeth cleaned and are thus focused on the ceiling above you.  As you glance around the room, you notice that one of the ceiling tiles is missing.  Although the majority of the ceiling is pristine and perfect, you would likely be transfixed upon that one missing tile for the remainder of your visit.

As human beings, we have a tendency to focus on what is missing instead of on what is present.  That is fine for ceilings, as they can be perfect.  The danger is when we apply the same focus and filter to our lives…

Even if we have a wonderful and full life, there are always areas which we feel can be better.  The positive side of this is that we continue to focus upon learning and growing and bettering our life circumstances.  The downside is that we may end up obsessing on that which is missing to such an extent that it detracts from our happiness.

Examples of “Missing Tiles”

A few examples will help to illustrate this point…  I had a friend who struggled with infertility issues a number of years ago.  She lamented to me that everywhere she went, all she saw were pregnant women and babies.  I also knew a divorced woman who would venture out on the weekends, only to notice couples kissing and holding hands all around her.  These two women were so completely focused on what they didn’t have, a baby or a partner; they felt as if they were the only ones in their respective positions.

I can think of a few personal instances of “missing tile syndrome” in my life.  I mentioned my obsession with straight, sleek hair in a previous post.  I used to feel that every woman I saw had beautiful, frizz-free hair and that I was the only one around who struggled with managing coarse, frizzy locks.  Similarly, I have often lamented my thick hips and thighs and felt they were out of proportion with the rest of my body.  When I would be out and about, all I would see would be slim-hipped women with model slim legs.

Focus and Gratitude…

Of course, not all women are pregnant, not everyone is coupled up, and not all women have sleek hair or slim thighs.  However, when one is suffering from “missing tile syndrome,” the focus is only upon what is lacking, not on what is present.  When we focus on what’s wrong instead of what’s right in our lives, we are generally less happy as a result.

As I’ve mentioned previously, gratitude is one of the primary keys to happiness and well-being. If we look for what’s right in our lives, we will surely find a number of things to celebrate.  Similarly, if we look for what’s wrong, we will be guaranteed to find those missing tiles.

Dealing with “Missing Tile Syndrome”

Awareness of “missing tile syndrome” is a first and powerful step, but Dennis Prager offers some additional suggestions for how to effectively deal with this problem.   He suggests that you do one of the following things in regards to your missing tile:

1. Get It

If you determine that your “missing tile” is absolutely essential to your happiness, you can find a way to get that which is missing in your life.  For example, if my friend with the infertility issue was unable to have a child of her own (fortunately for her, she was finally able to get pregnant…), she could have chosen to adopt a child.   Although her initial desire was to give birth to a child, adopting a child would have given her what she dearly wanted, a child to love and to raise.

2. Forget It

Although this option may not seem feasible, it is a viable solution in certain cases.  There are some missing tiles which cannot be gotten.  Dennis Prager wrote about sharing custody of his son with his ex-wife following his divorce.  Whereas he had previously gotten to spend each and every day with his child, that was no longer the case after his marriage ended.  He found himself seriously missing his son when they were apart, but he couldn’t change the fact that they now spent less time together.  Consequently, he had to dismiss the desire to be with his son all the time and instead focus on making their time together as enjoyable as possible.  When they were apart, Dennis would keep busy doing other things he enjoyed and he gradually came to accept the new situation.

3. Replace It

Sometimes, we are not able to get the exact things we want in life, but we can discover a viable replacement with which we can be satisfied.  A somewhat trivial example may concern a man who is fixated on buying a new Porsche but doesn’t have the money to make such a purchase.  This man may choose to either buy a used Porsche in good condition or he may end up purchasing a domestic sports car at a lower price.

A more serious example of replacing a missing tile may involve a woman who wanted to be an Olympic gymnast but never made it to the upper echelons of competition.   This woman may choose to open her own gymnastics studio or become a coach to young children.  By doing one of these things, she can still pursue her great passion for the sport even though her initial goal was not reached.

Personal Conclusions

Let’s get back to the personal examples which I mentioned above.  After my trauma following my recent attempt to obtain straight and sleek hair (see the post “Perspective and Appreciation”), I have decided that I need to forget about getting this missing tile.   I am choosing to accept the reality of my hair and to be grateful for what I have.  If I find myself feeling sad about the hair which I do not have, I will focus on the aspects of my appearance with which I am satisfied.  I will reflect upon my positive qualities and be grateful for those blessings instead of thinking about the “missing tile” of perfect hair.

The same is true for my thighs.  I have done all I am willing to do to make them slim and muscular.  I work out regularly and I eat well, but my thighs have not assumed the desired shape.  Since I am unwilling to pursue liposuction or extreme diet or exercise measures, I feel I need to forget the “tile” of perfect thighs.  I choose to focus on the fact that my legs are strong and effectively carry me through life.  I also choose clothing which puts less emphasis on my thighs and more emphasis on the body parts which I more readily embrace.

Self-acceptance and gratitude are key in terms of dealing with “missing tile syndrome.”   Be grateful for your blessings in life and put your focus there.  Work on accepting yourself and your life as they are, and stop lamenting your supposed “flaws” to the detriment of your happiness and inner peace.   Although I know these topics will continue to surface as I proceed with my “healing project,” I will close with the ever famous and always powerful Serenity Prayer:

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.

May we all live in peace and serenity and embrace our life challenges with courage and wisdom!

Perspective and Appreciation

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Most of us have things about ourselves which we don’t like or even hate, and we often waste a lot of time and energy resisting or fighting these things.  For most of my life, one of my “hates” has been my hair.   I have very thick hair, so thick that hairstylists have often commented that I had enough hair for two or three people.  In addition, my hair is naturally wavy and predisposed to frizz, tendencies which are intensified by the humid Southern California weather.

My God-given hair was not the type of hair I wanted.  I wanted the straight, sleek hair of a Scandinavian girl – or Jennifer Aniston.  I have been fighting my hair texture for as long as I can remember with countless hair products, daily flat-ironing, and a multitude of chemical processes.  None of these armaments ever worked to my satisfaction, so I continually searched for the next best thing.

Magic Bullet or Nightmare?

This past November, I thought I had found it.  I spent about four hours and over $300 at the hair salon getting what is known as a “keratin smoothing treatment.”  The result was not the nirvana I had anticipated; instead it has been a nightmare which I couldn’t have imagined.  I experienced some serious breathing problems from the formaldehyde released by the chemical process, and since the product was bonded into my hair, I was unable to remove it despite repeated washings.  Consequently, I opted to cut off close to half of my hair in order to minimize the deleterious effects.

Just when I thought I was past the worst of my nightmare, a delayed side effect occurred.  I started to lose large amounts of hair on a daily basis.  By the time I realized what was going on, I had lost so much hair that I could see parts of my scalp at my hairline and my ponytail diameter was only about half of what it used to be.   Fortunately, I think the hair loss has subsided at this point, and because I had so much hair to begin with, it is not as noticeable as might be expected.  However, I am still planning to see a dermatologist to make sure I am able to salvage my hair.

Two Key Lessons…

This is surprisingly difficult for me to write about and I am not sharing this experience to garner sympathy.  I have learned a great deal from this particular struggle and the point of this post is to share my insights.  I have titled this post “Perspective and Appreciation” because those are the two key lessons I’ve gained from my hair experience.

I would love to be able to turn back the clock such that I had never gotten the so-called keratin smoothing treatment, but I have come to understand that I needed this experience to learn what I needed to learn.  The Universe has been trying to teach me the lesson of appreciation and self-acceptance for many years.  Instead of appreciating what I had, I continued to fight it and wish for something different.

Taking Things for Granted

My hair is only one aspect of myself which I would berate and negate. While I would often receive compliments on my thick and lustrous hair, I would never take them in.  I was filled with hatred for my hair because it wouldn’t bend to my will.  Because my hair wasn’t sleek and straight, I didn’t show any love or appreciation for it; all of the energy I gave to my hair was negative.

Now that my hair is no longer long, thick or lustrous, I have been given the gift of perspective.  How true it is that we often don’t appreciate what we have until it is gone.

How often do we take things – and people – for granted until they are no longer in our lives?

Declaring a Truce

I am declaring a truce in the war against my hair.  I am now treating my hair more lovingly and am showing appreciation for the hair that is left on my head.  I am affirming throughout the day, “I love and appreciate my hair.”  I believe that this love and appreciation will help me to save my hair.  It was not only the chemicals which destroyed my hair; it was also my negativity and distain.

How many of us treat ourselves worse than we would treat our worst enemy?  How many of us are our own worst enemy?  How much would we thrive if we were to begin to treat ourselves the way we treat our treasured pets or children?

New and Empowering Vows

From this moment on, I vow to treat myself with much more love and appreciation.  I vow to start looking more at what’s right about me instead of what’s wrong.  I know that I will stumble along the way, as old habits are hard to break.  However, the perspective I have gained from my hair trauma has shown me that I must break those old habits.  It’s time to stop beating myself up and start appreciating all of the wonderful characteristics which I know I possess.

Will you join me in my new and empowering vows?  Many of us wish and pray for peace in the world, but peace begins from within.   Stop fighting yourself and choose to love yourself instead.  I know it’s hard, but we can help each other to live a more peaceful and loving existence!