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Come on Get Happy!

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The world of social work and psychology are always doing research and trying new approaches to help individuals and the world survive, thrive and bloom. These processes come in waves and the most current wave is in the area of Happiness or Positive Psychology. Trainings and new book offers arrive in my mailbox almost daily on understanding, using and living in the realm of happiness.

 I thought I’d share the information I’m getting. Some of this is, in my opinion, common scene. Other pieces of information, on the surface, may appear new, but with reflection I think you will find you knew this all along.  Here is the information:

  1. Happiness is considered 50% genetic, 40% within our power to achieve through activities and positive thinking, and 10% environmental (we experience something that brings us joy, laughter and pleases us).

2. Stay connected to people, places and activities that bring you positive energy appreciate and validate you.

3. Realize that everyone has problems. The key is the mind set: problems are temporary and solvable.

4. If you can’t get out of a bad situation, change your attitude. Play positive and uplifting thoughts, memories in your head. Listen to music you like. Be involved in activities that offset the situation. There are great stories from POWs using this technique to survive in captivity.

5. Stop focusing on what could have been, what should be or should have been. Stop trying to escape your problems and meet them face on.

6. Express your needs and concerns positively and take ownership of them. An example: When you forget to pick me up, I feel abandoned. Instead of I’m pissed at you for forgetting to pick me up or how dare you forget to pick me up.

7. In relationships, focus on WE instead of ME. Always ask – Will what I am about to do or say bring our relationship closer or pull us further apart?

8. Every morning, stop before starting your day and be grateful for what you have. Name them in your head. Your house, inside climate control, your car, family, food, clothing, fresh water, a job…

9. Acceptance, that you are not perfect and neither is anyone else. Have compassion toward yourself and patience and acceptance toward others. (This does not mean you have to agree with their behaviors or choices. It is honoring them as a fellow human being trying to make it).

10. Remember you can’t read other’s minds; you don’t need to judge their actions or  take them personally. Example:  He didn’t accept my idea. I know he’s out to get me and this is part of his plan to make me look like a fool. I’ll show him.

Give these a thought or two. My wish to you this day; may this St. Patrick’s Day bring you a renewed sense of happiness.

Sorry, the Life you Wanted is Currently Out of Stock

ImageDid you ever wonder if people living in third world countries sit around wondering what life would be like if….. (fill in blank here)? Is attempting to design our lives something that all humans contemplate or is it a manifestation of our society? Are we bred or designed to think in terms of what if?

I think the first time I was introduced to the concept of, there might be something better out there, happened when I saw Cinderella as a little girl.  You know the story, the down and out princess, abused by her stepmother and stepsisters dreaming of someone to love her and take her away from the hell.

Then there was Casper the Friendly Ghost. He was the child ghost harassed by his emotionally abusive uncles and longing for acceptance and love. I think if I really put my mind to it, I could name hundreds of characters or media sources depicting the theme, there must be something better out there.

In every case I can think of, the lead character gets to a point where they can’t take it anymore and attempts to force a change hoping for the better. But what is better and how do we decide when what we have is not good enough?

In my counseling practice I have seen people who appear happy living in relationships and in environments plagued with difficulties. On the flip-side, I’ve seen miserable people in what looks like great relationships or having more than enough money to live very comfortable. Where does the difference come from?

I’m sure you have heard the saying, when life hands you lemons, make lemonade. If you are one of the billions of people thinking or searching for the, there must be something better, this probably seems infuriating.  It got me wondering. If everyone lived by that saying, where would the world be?  Is the act of making lemonade a kin to fight the good fight or accept and learn to live with lemonade?

All these questions are important because depending on your beliefs, this maybe the only opportunity to live your life.  Are you going to buy into the somewhere out there life is better or things are great just the way they are? Of course there is any combination of both options that people vacillate between.

How many divorces occur because there might be something better? How many wars fought because owning someone else’s land, people or forcing your way of life on another group of people might make life better?  Only to have that something better happen and be startled that the something better is not that better after all.  Note I am not talking about people in abusive relationships.

The idea of, let’s get back to the good ole days is another example of this phenomena. I saw a book in the Smithsonian American History Museum entitled, The Good Old Days They Were Terrible!, by Otto Bettmann. It asserts that the concept of the good old days is a myth, a trick of the mind. If you look at the reality of our history, personal, national and global, he’s right.

I think this backward looking fantasy is not much different then, there might be something better out there, which is forward wishing.  In both cases the person has judged their current life as not acceptable.  How does this serve us, help us?

When I was in Northern Africa, I didn’t hear people saying things like, I’m an anchovy fisherman now but one day ……  Maybe they were hoping for a different future or desiring a glossed over remembrance of a life long ago and I was not made privy to their desires.

I have friends who spent a couple weeks in Haiti.  When they came back they were overcome with the positive, spirit-focused, mind-set of the people. Was this a representation of a select group of people, an outward expression designed to show outsiders or a genuine way of viewing the reality of their national and personal situation?

The ultimate question is who ends up with the least regrets at the end of life? The person searching, planning, acting in hope for something better or the person accepting and finding reasons in the here and now to be happy.

Happy does not necessarily equate to lack of regret or does it? Perhaps the real; key is not whether to search or accept but the mind set accompanying both

Can a person accept and “be” happy for the life they have and still search for something better? That almost sounds impossible, impractical. In my mind the act of being happy equals contentment. And if I’m content than I forget the future or pondering if there is something out there better?

I’m happy, content, but what if there is something better? Maybe better does not bring more happiness but a richer experience. Someone who says, I have a million dollars and I feel happy. I’m going to spend a great percentage in this helping people in need and that enriches my happiness. This is a very altruistic goal as opposed to the self centered thinking of Cinderella who was looking out for her own needs.

We all decide what will and won’t make us happy. Sometimes we are realistic and other times there is no pleasing. There will always be people who are never happy with certain elements in their lives. The will fault their fate, themselves or blame someone else.

I usually hear people make comments such as, if only so and so would do such and such, I would be happy.

I have also seen people attempt to go against who they are and against their desires and needs in an attempt to make another person happy. It typically doesn’t work. Why, because the other person is seeking change in someone else to make themselves happy instead of taking responsibility for their own happiness.

Thoughts of if only I had a better job, a better car, improved health than life would be better. I would be happier. There is no difference in any of these scenarios. They are externally focused. What if you are never able to have improved health or a better job? Are you destined to never be happy, content with a well lived life?

Are these thoughts byproducts of modern industrial society? A product of bombardment with advertizing telling us what we should have, what our spouse should look like, behave like, what the definition of success is? The birth of the internet and the six-hundred channels on a TV brings many of us further still from the realities of healthy human interaction to obsessive, unhealthy, unrealistic expectations.

How can a person navigate through all the sewage to find contentment, happiness? How do we balance what can’t be, what should not be, what might be with what is? How do we set up that reality check to keep ourselves headed in the direction of happiness, contentment and a life well lived? However you define that?

Do you make lemonade dreams for a better tomorrow? What do you do when you are told, sorry, the life you wanted is out of stock? You decide, it’s your life.

Finding the Land of Oz When Life Blows You Asunder

ImageI’ve been asked if there are any axioms I use to ground me when life tries to blow me away.  Yes, there are. I use the below axioms all the time when life is sunny. When life gets blustery, I sometimes have to remind myself that they exist.  If I remember and fall back on these axioms, things always turn out for the best.  It might not be the best I would have wanted, but I find myself relatively unscathed or able to bounce back quickly.  Kind of like the wizard in the Oz, The Great and Powerful or another well known film, The Wizard of Oz.

Restlesswanderer61’s axioms for surviving and thriving:

 1.     The only person I can change is me.

2.     No matter what life hands me, ultimately I choose how it effects me long term.

3.     Everyone has the same basic needs, only in different degrees. Love people including myself, even the ones hardest to love.

4.     Everyone’s behavior is purposeful.  They are the best choices I use or have used (whether healthy or regrettable, knowingly or subconsciously) to find balance. Don’t judge others or myself.

5.     I am energy at my deepest level and a spiritual being that can connect with anyone and is only limited to the constraints I place around me.  Even if I doubt or don’t believe, I can’t be disconnected from the creator or all of creation. It is no more possible then living without taking in oxygen.

6.     My brain is a creative and amazing devise. I will strive to develop what is not and prevent my thoughts from running amok.

7.     People have the most amazing resilience and overcome the incredible horrors. So do I.

8.     I am not perfect and never will be. There is no such thing as perfect.

9.     The answers to my problems will ultimately come from me even if I can’t see them currently.

10.   I have an amazing talent and gift, even when I don’t think so. Everyone has a talent or gift to be tapped to fulfill themselves and the world around them.  Let others shine, take the back seat and clap thunderously at other’s accomplishments no matter how big or small whether I know them or not.

11.   Never lose my childlike wonder, imagination and desire for play.

12.   Resistance to issues is futile. Deal with it, don’t repress or pretend it does not exist.

13.   It’s okay to reach beyond my comfort zone. In fact, I will grow from doing so.

14.   Strike a balance between being self-absorbed and other-focused.

15.   There is usually no such thing as the no win scenario. It’s only how to win and what “to win” really means.

16.   I don’t have to be correct all the time.  Pick my disagreements for when it really matters and let the rest go.

17.   Everyone has baggage and crap. Mine is no better or worse than someone else’s, only different. Accept it.

18.   Treat others the way I want them to treat me, even if they don’t.

19.   Unless I have no food, shelter or loved ones, I have nothing to seriously complain about. My life is fine, no matter what is happening. Be grateful for every person, everything I have and everything that happens to me.

20.   Be amazed by little things, joyful, laugh often and hard.

21.   I can make a difference in everyone’s life I meet. Even if it is a small one.

22.   Have patience. There is a reason things or people are as they are. Watch it unfold and learn.

23.   Dream big, make goals, explore, learn and strive to make those dreams a reality.

24.   Be proactive not reactive. This is my life, the only one I have, don’t get to the end and have regrets.  Make each moment count.

Do you have a list of axioms you follow? If you don’t or are not sure, it might be something to think about. If you have a code you follow that is true, there is no telling the wonderful places it will take you. You are your best and worst enemy. Find balance and find peace not only in times of sun but when the tornado’s in life blows your balloon off course.

The Healthy Relationship Part 4: What do I Really Want and How do I Get it?

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I’ve been breaking down basic rules for healthy relationships. In Part 3 we looked at identifying our NEEDS. Now we need to explore our WANTS.

 Ask someone what they want and often they can give you a very quick definitive answer.  But is that answer REALLY what they want?

I can say, “I want chocolate chip cookies.”  This sounds simple enough; however, it really isn’t. In this particular case, I’m watching television and I’m anxious about a meeting I’m having in the morning. I’m not hungry or deprived of sweets but chocolate chip cookies are what hits me that I want.

Knowing what I know about myself and human behavior, I know chocolate chip cookies are not really what I want. I don’t want the calories or the mess of making them. I’m not hungry. So, I start to dissect this WANT. Broken down, it looked like this:

  • I want chocolate chip cookies, more specifically
  • I want chocolate, more specifically
  • I want to stop feeling anxious, more specifically
  • I want to not go to this meeting tomorrow, more specifically
  • I want to feel I have more control over the outcome of tomorrow’s meeting, more specifically
  • I want to feel more confident in my ability to handle the unknown of tomorrow’s meeting

 Why is this important to me? Because I see myself as self-reliant, intelligent and due to my past, I have a strong need to feel in control.  When I get into situations where I can’t be or do these, I get anxious and feel out of balance. I need to do something to feel back into balance.

As I’m watching TV, my brain jumps to the old stand-by, carbohydrates! They are the building blocks of changing the body chemistry for a short period of time. Will chocolate chip cookies help me feel self-reliant, intelligent and in control? NO! They will only make me feel fatter and give me more dishes to clean.  Making and eating chocolate chip cookies is a horrible plan to get my needs and wants met. It’s time to plan another strategy. Instead of cooking and eating chocolate chip cookies, I can take that energy and plan a healthier way to prepare for this meeting.

 When you know your real wants, you can better evaluate what behaviors you are choosing to accomplish your want.  So, step one is to EXPLORE what your REAL WANT is. Step two is to EVALUATE if the behaviors you are choosing will get you closer to that goal. Step three, if the answer to step two is no, INVESTIGATE other options. Get more information. Think about in the past, what you might have done that did work in a similar situation. Step four, make a PLAN and follow through.

In my case, I had to address the demons in my thinking. I had to explore the negative images and thoughts I was allowing to run amok in my brain. My poor body was only reacting to my thoughts. The result was anxiety and the desire to feel better through food.  I also had to relax, journal and start saying a positive mantra.

Patterns of behavior do not change overnight, but you have to start somewhere. I was still anxious, but much more in control of me, feeling more self-reliant because I took the steps and therefore feeling more intelligent and back in balance.

If your behavior (thinking, feeling or acting) does not get a need met or a want achieved, a re-evaluation is in order. More than likely, what you think you want is only the surface-want or you are using the wrong behaviors to get you there.  Dig a little deeper and do the steps.