Tag Archives: attitude

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

The Perils of Indecision

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Do you have trouble making decisions?  Is a decision as simple as what to eat for dinner or which movie to see enough to send your head spinning?  Do you second-guess your decisions immediately after you make them and wish you could turn back the clock and do something different?

Indecisiveness is a common problem and one I’ve suffered from tremendously over the years.  I have driven myself crazy when wrestling with all types of decisions, from the large to the seemingly insignificant.  I have wasted countless hours in weighing pros and cons and wracking my brain to make the “right decision,” and I have lost out on things I’ve wanted by taking too long to make up my mind.

Dennis Prager on Indecision

I recently listened to a broadcast of Dennis Prager’s Happiness Hour on the topic of indecision.  Both Dennis and his callers presented some powerful points on this important topic which have made a difference in the way I approach decisions in my life.  This post highlights some of these key points and I hope it will help you to combat the perils of indecision.

Dennis Prager gave an example of a man who was looking to buy a house.  He found two homes which met his basic criteria; both homes were great, but the man couldn’t make up his mind.  He had spent months trying to decide which home to buy and will very likely lose out on both options as a result of his indecisiveness.  I have had this type of thing happen to me with job offers and potential purchases.  Because I couldn’t make up my mind, the decision was made for me and I lost control of being able to decide my own fate.  I was paralyzed by my fear, so I didn’t get what I wanted.  I lost out on both door number one and door number two and was left “back at the drawing board.”

Looking for Absolute Certitude

Those who have difficulty in making decisions are looking for absolute certitude that they will make the right decision.  Unfortunately, that is something we just never get!  As Prager said during his broadcast, “Where in life do we ever get absolute certitude?”   Most of the time, we just don’t get to know what’s right beyond all shadows of doubt, so we have to proceed without knowing the outcome.

The indecisive don’t trust themselves to know or do what’s right.  They are plagued by both fear and self-doubt and are constantly looking for external validation.  It is not uncommon for such people to ask everyone they know for their opinion on a pending decision but not feel helped by the input at all.  They continue to engage in their “paralysis by analysis” and all their frenetic pondering only serves to keep them running in place and not moving forward in life!

Surprisingly Simple Advice

The advice given by Dennis Prager is surprisingly simple.  He recommends that when we are struggling to make a decision, we should ask ourselves, “What is the worst thing that could happen if I make the wrong choice?” A healthy attitude to adopt regarding decisions is to say, “So what if I make the wrong decision!” It is very rare in life that we can’t undo a decision.  Most of the time, we are able to turn things around if we find ourselves going down the wrong path.  Sure, it can take some courage and effort to course-correct, but it’s doable in most instances.

Even if a choice can’t be undone, often the gift of time will bring us perspective such that we don’t end up regretting what we’ve chosen.  For example, many divorced people do not wish they had never married in the first place.  Rather, they are grateful for the good times in their marriages, as well as the lessons they learned as a result of the dissolution of the union.

Two Good Choices, No Bad Outcome

When you think about it, many decisions are between two good choices and there are really no bad outcomes.  The man who was wrestling with his house decision had two excellent options before him.  While it’s possible that one house was a bit better than the other, neither would have been a bad place for him to live.  My struggle to settle upon a career bears strong similarities to the house example.  The options in front of me were all good and I seriously doubt I would have been miserable with any of them.  My indecision has led me to dabble in a variety of professions instead of resolutely following a singular path.  Thus, I have not achieved the level of career mastery that I would have hoped for at age 44.

My brother experienced similar career confusion for much of his life and found himself paralyzed by indecision for a number of years.  Fortunately, through the encouragement of his wife, he finally made a decision (without certitude) and became a teacher.  A decade later, he is satisfied with his choice and has made a difference in the lives of many young people.  Would he have been just as happy in one of the other professions he’d considered?  It’s very likely, as his options were based upon research and consideration, not random selection.

Set a Time Limit for Decisions

Dennis Prager recommends that we give some thought to the options before us and then make our decision!  It can be very helpful to set a time limit for rumination and consideration.  Keep the time limit short and after it has elapsed, force yourself to make a decision.  I remember a trick I learned (I forget where…) in regards to decision-making.  If you’re stuck between option A and option B, flip a coin.  On which side the coin lands is not nearly as important as your reaction.  You likely know in your gut what you want to do, but you are letting your emotions lead you astray.  The way you react to how the coin lands can tell you a lot about what you truly want to do!

Key Points on Decision-Making

I close with a recap of the salient points made by Dennis Prager:

  1. We never get to have absolute certitude regarding decisions.
  2. Ask, “What’s the worst thing that could happen?”
  3. If you wait too long to decide, you often lose out on BOTH options!
  4. Much of the time, the choice is between two (or more) good options.
  5. It is rare that a bad decision cannot be undone.
  6. Set a time limit for rumination and then make a decision!

While the points above may not immediately “cure” you of your indecisiveness, they can make a big difference in the way you approach decisions moving forward.  Setting a time limit can stop the “paralysis by analysis” phenomenon that can present a strong roadblock to your happiness.  Decision-making is a skill like any other.  With practice, it gets easier and you do a better job with it.  Won’t you join me in combating the perils of indecision?

Gratitude Revisited

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As this is the week of Thanksgiving, it seems apropos to revisit the important topic of gratitude.

I believe that gratitude is one of the critical ingredients for happiness!  When we are grateful for what we have, we are better able to live in the moment and enjoy our lives.

The Glass is Half Full!

No matter how many troubles we have at a given point in time, we can always find aspects of our lives that we appreciate and enjoy.   This “glass half-full” type of attitude can help us to embrace what’s right in our lives instead of lament that which we feel is wrong.

Some “Greatest Hits”

As this is a holiday week (and hence, there is more to do in less time…) and I have written quite a bit on the topic of gratitude in the past, I have decided to highlight a few of my past posts instead of creating all new content for this week.  The three posts which I have chosen to revisit all focus on the ever important topic of gratitude.  Please see the post summaries below and click on the post title to view that post in its entirety.

I hope you enjoy some of my favorite past posts.  As usual, your comments are welcomed!  I wish you and your families a very Happy Thanksgiving!

It’s been said that the biggest key to happiness is gratitude, and I believe it’s true!  When we are present to all that is wonderful in our lives, it’s difficult to feel depressed and despondent.  In this post, I outline a few simple yet powerful practices to help us stay present to the many blessings in our lives.

As human beings, we have a tendency to focus on what is missing instead of on what is present.  This post focuses on a concept introduced by author Dennis Prager in his book, “Happiness is a Serious Problem.”  I present an overview of the concept of the “missing tile syndrome,” as well as the three main ways for dealing with it.

This post was written at the halfway point of my year-long quest to heal my health and my life.  Since beginning “The Healing Project” on February 3, 2010, I have gained a number of powerful insights about myself and about life.  I summarized my insights in four categories:  gratitude, attitude, hope, and healing.  I expand upon each of these items and commit to continuing my healing project and sharing even more wins related to health, relationships and success moving forward.

Don’t Be a Debbie Downer!

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Gloomy looking womanHave you ever heard of the term, “Debbie Downer”?  This term, based upon a fictional “Saturday Night Live” character, refers to a person who is frequently negative and complaining, thus bringing down the mood of everyone around her.  Sadly, I have to admit that I can be this person at times, and since my name is Debbie, that makes it even worse!

I don’t mean to complain a lot, but there are times when I catch myself spouting out all kinds of negativity.  At least I catch myself more often these days, but I am still dismayed when I realize I am whining and complaining.  My husband gets the worst of it, and this normally very tolerant man has been known to lose his patience with me on occasion.  Yesterday was one of those times, which is what has prompted me to write this post.   I will look at why we complain, when it’s okay, and how to reform our tendency to gripe and moan.

Why We Complain

Why do we complain?  Often it stems from a need to vent our frustration and feel “heard” by others.  We want to be validated for our pain and aggravation, and sometimes we feel better after we get things off our chests.  We’ve all heard the saying, “misery loves company,” and when we complain to others, we often find people jumping on the bandwagon to add their own grievances to the mix.  But do we really feel better when others share in our disgruntled state?

Sometimes we complain because we’re looking for solutions.  In my opinion, that may be the only time when complaining is really okay.  If the person to whom we’re complaining is in a position of power to change the situation, that’s a best-case scenario.  Unfortunately, however, the people to whom we gripe often have no influence over our circumstances and can do little more than helplessly listen to our complaints.  I’ve known some wise souls who have cut habitual whiners off at the pass by simply suggesting, “Why don’t you tell this to someone who can actually do something about it.”  At the very least, that sentiment might make the whiner think twice before complaining to that person the next time around.

People Want to Help

The people who are closest to us want to help us.  They want to see us happy and doing well in life.  If we come to them with a legitimate problem and ask for their help in solving it, they will generally do their best to help us find tangible and reasonable solutions.  However, if we don’t heed their advice and keep coming back to them with the same problem over and over again, they may lose patience with us. We may wear out our welcome with them, no matter how much they love us.

We need to temper our impulse to go to our friends and family with problems on a regular basis.  Our close relationships should be based upon much more than a friendly ear and a shoulder to cry on, although those elements are both desirable and important.   We need to strive for balance in our relationships and ensure that the enjoyable experiences outnumber the trying times as much as possible.  If you think back to your last five encounters with a given loved one and remember complaining to them on more than two occasions, perhaps it’s time to inject a bit more fun into that relationship!  Resolve to either cry on someone else’s shoulder or heed some of the advice you received from a prior confidante.

Taking Advantage?

I often complain too much to my husband because I don’t have many other people in whom to confide.  When I go to him with problems, I feel that I am genuinely looking for solutions, but I have to admit that I often don’t take the good advice he gives me.  I go back to him hoping for different answers instead of first giving one of his useful tips a try.  When I do this, I’m not being fair to him.  I’m taking advantage of his good nature and his love and concern for me. Doesn’t he deserve to have a happy wife instead of one who whines and complains about the same things ad nauseum?

Moral Obligation to Act Happy

Radio talk show host Dennis Prager would say so.  For close to fifteen years, he’s dedicated one of his fifteen weekly broadcast hours to the topic of happiness (he has also written an excellent book on the topic called “Happiness is a Serious Problem”).  Prager asserts that we have a moral obligation to act happy, even when we don’t feel happy.  He believes that happy people make the world a better place while unhappy people contribute to the ills of society.

While one may assume that Prager is advocating inauthenticity with his prescription to act happy, that is far from the truth.  Rather, he values honesty and clarity in interpersonal relationships and believes that we should be open with our intimates about our life challenges.  However, those topics should not dominate our interactions with loved ones by any means.  We owe it to the people who love us to work on cultivating a happy disposition and to overcome our tendency to focus on the negative aspects of life. We should always endeavor to act as happy as possible and we will often be pleasantly surprised to find ourselves feeling more upbeat as a result.

Breaking the Complaining Habit

So how do we break the habit of complaining?  It is helpful to consider the distinction between actions and reactions here.  Often we simply react to situations in our lives without any consideration.  This is the proverbial stimulus-response chain which is cultivated through social conditioning, much like the salivation of Pavlov’s dog upon hearing a bell ring.   But there is another way!

As human beings, we can and should involve our powerful intellect instead of merely acting upon instinct.  It is helpful to take a breath and pause before responding.  During this brief time-out, it is helpful to consider the following related to complaining:

  • Is the person to whom I’m speaking in a position of power to change the situation?
  • Is what I’m about to say constructive?
  • What type of response am I looking for here?  Do I want advice, or am I merely looking to get something off my chest?
  • What is the ultimate result I’m wanting in this situation?

If you simply want to “vent,” I suggest that you either write in a journal about your feelings or set a time limit for your complaining (e.g. “I can vent for 5 minutes, and then I will work on solutions”).  If what you are considering saying will not be constructive, perhaps you should consider not verbalizing it at all.  It’s entirely possible that both you and your companion would be better served by conversing on a more pleasant topic!

Remember the “Law of Attraction”

In closing, it is helpful to remember the Law of Attraction in regards to complaining.  Simply stated, this “law” states that like attracts like.  In other words, when we focus upon something, we attract more of it into our lives.  Focusing on the negative will only serve to attract more negative, and none of us want that!  Instead of looking at what’s wrong or lacking, I suggest you heed the advice given by Michael Losier in “Law of Attraction.”  Ask yourself, “So what do I want?” Then focus on what you need to do to create that result.  Easier said than done, it’s true, but much more productive and sanity-producing than complaining!

Don’t Worry!

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This message is a cautionary tale from a longtime “worrywart” (or as my father-in-law used to say, “worryhorse”).  I have wasted many hours and sacrificed endless enjoyment by worrying about all sorts of things, most of which never came to pass.  It is my hope that my insights today will help other worriers to reform their ways and increase their happiness in life.

Reasons Not to Worry

I recently listened to an episode of the Happiness Hour from radio talk show host, Dennis Prager.  The focus of this hour was on worrying, so I knew I needed to listen carefully.   Unlike many people who have “blind spots” in terms of their weaknesses, I knew full well how much of a detriment my habitual worrying was to my life and my happiness.

Dennis Prager stated that there are two powerful reasons to break the habit of worrying:

  1. Most of what we worry about never comes to pass.
  2. When one is worrying about what might happen, it is impossible for him to be happy in that moment.

Freakish Accidents and Ailments

Let me explore both of these reasons and relate some personal experiences.  In the past few years, there have been some high-profile celebrity illnesses and deaths, some of them from rare or “freakish” accidents or ailments.  Two which come to mind are the death of actress Natasha Richardson from a seemingly minor skiing accident and the near-death of singer Bret Michaels from a rare type of brain hemorrhage which strikes without warning.

After I read about the death of Natasha Richardson, I started to become terrified after even a minor head bump which would occur around my house.  I worried that I would suffer a fatal brain bleed like that of Ms. Richardson.  I was so fearful that I even went to the emergency room after bumping my head on an open cabinet door back in April 2009.  While I did feel dizzy and lightheaded, I learned that most dangerous head injuries are coupled with unconsciousness or severe symptoms within a short time period after the injury.

Many Worrywarts Out There…

During my ER visit, I was given a CAT scan which revealed no hemorrhaging and was sent home shortly thereafter with instructions to rest in order to recover from the slight concussion I had experienced.  I was also told that the incidence of ER visits for head injuries had increased exponentially since the death of Natasha Richardson.  Evidently, I’m not the only worrywart out there…

It is common for people to worry about being struck with a life-threatening ailment, but what we have to realize is that the worrying doesn’t do anything to prevent such illnesses from occurring.  Yes, we can modify our lifestyles to minimize the risk of certain accidents and diseases and we should endeavor to do what we can to prevent ourselves from becoming ill.  However, there is only so much we can do to mitigate our risk.  After all, even a person who never leaves his or her house could be victim to earthquakes, tornadoes, break-ins, or errant plane crashes!

Wasted Worries…

A caller to Dennis Prager’s show related a powerful experience.  She was hit by a truck and was lying on the ground waiting for the ambulance to arrive.  As many thoughts went through her head, including the fact that her injuries might prove fatal, she had one thought that was especially poignant to me as a lifelong worrier.  She said that she wished she hadn’t wasted so much time worrying about breast cancer.

When we are in a state of worry, it is impossible for us to enjoy what we’re doing.  Worry is almost always future-focused.  We concern ourselves with what could happen and what might happen, and in the process we are not present to where we are and what we’re doing in the moment.

Personal Experience With Worry

My husband and I periodically travel and leave our two cats in the care of a very caring and competent pet-sitter.  The pet-sitter comes to our house twice a day to feed our cats and give them love and attention.  I know my cats are in good hands, but that doesn’t stop me from spending quite a bit of time and energy in worrying about them.

I noticed myself doing this on our recent trip to the San Francisco Bay Area and was able to stop myself.  There I was on vacation and spending time with my mom and my husband at one of my favorite art festivals, yet my mind was at home in my apartment with my cats.  Fortunately, I was able to alleviate much of my worry by checking in with the pet-sitter a couple of times and then using self-talk to shut off the automatic “worry machine” which seems to continually operate inside my head.

Gay Hendricks on Worry

Gay Hendricks provides some useful tips for eliminating worry in his excellent book, “The Big Leap.”  He correctly asserts that “worry is useful only if it concerns a topic we can actually do something about, and if it leads to our taking positive action right away.”  He suggests that when we find ourselves in the midst of worry, we ask ourselves the following two questions:

  1. Is it a real possibility?
  2. Is there any action I can take right now to make a positive difference?

If the answer to the first question is no, that should be a cue to stop worrying!  If the answer to both questions is yes, you should take the action you’ve identified as soon as possible and then stop worrying.  If the answer to question one is yes, but the answer to question two is no, then you should also cease your worry because it is counterproductive to your enjoyment of your one and only precious life.

Those Cancer Worries…

Let’s take the example of breast cancer.  According to the American Cancer Society’s website, the chance of developing invasive breast cancer at some time in a woman’s life is slightly less than 1 in 8 (12%).  So developing breast cancer is indeed a real possibility for women.   However, there may not be any action many women could take to reduce their chances of developing the disease.  While an overweight smoker with a poor diet could make lifestyle changes which could help, many healthy women can do little to affect their chances of developing breast cancer (although regular screening is definitely recommended).

Powerful Words to Remember

Fortunately, I spend very little time worrying about breast cancer, but it would serve me well to remember the words of both Dennis Prager and Gay Hendricks when I find myself immersed in other worries.  Some additional insights can be found in the Serenity Prayer, something which I’ve posted previously but bears repeating:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

I vow to face my worrywart tendencies head on.  Eliminating needless worry (and much of it is that!) is integral to my journey toward healing my life and becoming a happier and more peaceful person.  If like me, you also suffer from consistent worrying, I invite you to join me in becoming an ex-worrier.