Paradise? It Depends on the Person

I’ve seen a lot of articles lately about happiness and how to achieve it.  When we see a headline like that, we are drawn to it. We all want to be happy – to find our paradise.  If only we could find that magical key, then every day will be sunny.  Throughout the Old Testament of the bible, the land of paradise – the place where everyone wants to be – is the land of milk and honey.  It sounds truly beautiful.  But when this phrase was mentioned in church recently, the [possibly inappropriate] thought popped into my head that I actually do not like milk. I do not like honey.  I like them in my cosmetics I guess. When beauty products list milk or honey as ingredients, then I imagine I will have shiny hair and smooth and creamy skin. But to eat? Not my cup of tea. To me, paradise would perhaps be the land of chocolate and french fries.

I bring this up because we all have one thing in common – we all want to be happy. But that is ALL we have in common.  What happiness is, or what makes us happy, is different to each person.  There are a lot of practices, books, gurus, well-meaning friends, and wise people who have ideas of what can make us happy, but do they work?

Yes, I think that seeking wisdom is definitely a good thing to do, as long as we don’t expect those things we learn to make us happy. Rather, we are to learn those things and use them to teach us how to create our OWN happiness, that comes from inside of us.  Wisdom and learning can help us find our own definition of happiness that will apply to our own God-given unique selves.  But it is up to us to make it happen.  So, here are a few things that I believe contribute to making us happier:

  1.  Keep a gratitude journal. Yes it’s corny.  Yes, when we are in certain moods, it’s hard to think of anything to be grateful for. But we all have something.  Our problem is that we don’t appreciate our gratitude for what it is. I can say I’m grateful for my friends, but so-and-so has more friends who are more fun and who have perfect (so we think!) families too.  This is a thought pattern that many unhappy people have. Whatever I have, someone else has a better one.  So think Part A of the equation “I am grateful for…”. And STOP.  Don’t add Part B to that thought! As the saying goes, the grass may look greener elsewhere, but it usually isn’t.
  2. See the best in people. Try to see everyone with eyes filled with compassion, even if you don’t agree with them. Even if they did something mean.  I once read long ago (in a historical romance novel of all things) some wise words that I have always remembered. If you understand your enemy, he won’t hurt you, because you will know why he is doing the things he does. Seek to understand people instead of judging them. I can be just as guilty as anyone sometimes about judging and lacking understanding, and I’m a trained social scientist.  So it isn’t easy. But it is necessary. Most of the time we are miserable because of things other people are doing.  But if other people can’t make us happy (which is common wisdom), then they shouldn’t be able to make us mad or sad either.  Those emotions come from inside of us.  Yes, we will still feel negative responses from the actions of other people, because we are human. Have compassion for yourself when you feel those emotions. Accept them. Acknowledge them. But figure out why they are stirring up frustration/hatred/anger or whatever you are feeling. Understand your emotions so they don’t control you – you control them. And one final thought about people.  Most people are going through life, just as we are, trying to experience the least amount of pain. Some are better at this than others.
  3. Don’t remain upset about things you cannot control, BUT you can control more than you think!  One day I was sitting next to my mother at a children’s event. My mom was never a “kid person,” she tended to be very nervous, but she adored my niece so we would take her to loud, chaotic and crazy venues so she could have a good time.  (I still have a funny memory of my mom walking into a Chuck-E-Cheese, going straight to the manager and asking where the smoking section was).  One day some children were horsing around next to my mom, and she looked at me with this expression of intense pain and frustration. I pointed out to my mom that the seat on the other side of her was empty, which would leave plenty of space between those children and herself.  She was so busy suffering, that she didn’t see the answer right on the other side of her.  How many of us do that, either intentionally or unintentionally? Often we can do something to change a situation that makes us unhappy. And if we can’t, then we need to try to let it go.
  4. Happiness comes in our moments, not in the future. We’ve heard this often, but it bears repeating.  Happiness won’t happen when we meet our goals. It won’t happen when our dreams come true.  It won’t happen when we win the lottery.  It won’t happen when we retire.  It won’t happen when we lose 20 pounds.  That’s the bad news. The GOOD news is that we can be happy right now. We don’t have to wait for something to happen.  Happiness comes from changes in thought processes, not in our situations.
  5. Bad things will still happen, and we will grieve or become angry or hurt.  Life still happens.  This is why it is so important to remember where happiness comes from.  It comes from inner peace, not outside events.  Go ahead and cry, grieve, become angry.  These emotions are real and they are part of us.  Just remember, our happiness is still there, and the more we practice using our happiness, the sooner we will recognize it when it returns. And it will return.

There are many more steps people can take, these are just a few of them.  They are very general steps for a reason – only you can know specifically what makes YOU happy.  So, do you know what makes you happy? What is your paradise?  Define it for yourself, then seek it.

The New Politically Correct

The New Politically Correct

The phrase “politically correct” has been bandied around a lot lately.  People either encourage it or they resent it.  The people who resent it say “I used to be able to tell jokes or speak my mind freely, now I never know if what I say will offend someone.”  It’s true that times are changing.  Things that people used to say may not be as acceptable as they once were.  People may be saying something that they think sounds innocent. It may be something they’ve always said. But suddenly out of the blue someone says “you know, what you just said may be hurtful to someone,” or “hey, that hurt my feelings.” What’s a person to do?

There are a number of ways we can look at why using politically “incorrect” language matters – or in some cases doesn’t matter.  Here are some perspectives:

  1.  Sometimes we don’t realize what we are saying can hurt someone.  For instance, I just graduated from one of the most liberal, open-minded school programs in existence.  I mean, everyone from the School of Social Work should know what to say and how to say it for all occasions, right?  After all, we were learning to be counselors.  The objective of a good counselor or social worker is to do and say things to make people feel safe and comfortable.  You would think that everything that came out of the mouths of the teachers would be all peaches and cream, palatable for everyone.  I was the oldest student by far in the entire class.  I got really tired of hearing teachers say “I was teaching before you were born.”  These teachers were my age, so no, they were not teaching before I was born.  After I heard this a few times, I wanted to scream I AM HERE TOO.  DON’T YOU SEE ME???  I felt overlooked and ignored.  I already was having trouble finding my “place” because of my age. I made a lot of friends, and I loved everyone, but my fellow students were in a different place. They were just starting out, and I was starting over.  These are very different approaches to life.  I was feeling isolated, and these teachers, without realizing it, made me feel more isolated.  Often we may not think that what we are saying is insensitive, but maybe someone is kind of hurt. We will not always know whether what we are going to say will cause some pain to others.  And this is ok. No one is perfect.
  2. Times HAVE changed, and we do need to change with the times. Our social circles have widened.  Because of this, we are surrounded by people from other cultures who think and perceive things differently.  This is a GOOD thing.  If we do say something that is insensitive, I think it’s best to be open and honest, and to be curious.  For instance, I was at a multi-faith event a few nights ago. I walked up to an Imam and I asked “where is your church?” He said I don’t go to a church, I go to a mosque.  I knew this, but I said what comes more easily to me.  He was nice about it. I said you know, I probably knew that, but used the wrong word, but I guess that’s why we are here – to learn from each other. He said that’s right, we are.  We had a very nice conversation.  We all say dumb things, intentionally or unintentionally.  But it’s fixable when we are open to acknowledging our goofs and learning from them.
  3. Other people’s feelings aren’t stupid.  (And this one is a toughie for all of us!).  Yes, our jokes may be funny to some people.  Or maybe we didn’t mean to sound mean.  But someone heard it that way.  We are tempted to think that it’s their own stupidity that makes them feel offended, but it’s not.  It’s their feelings.  We don’t want anyone telling us that our feelings are stupid, so we shouldn’t tell others that their feelings are stupid.  If it is hurtful to them, maybe they didn’t hear it correctly. Take the opportunity to clarify.  Or maybe it really was hurtful to them in a way we will never understand.  In that case, we may need to just try to understand.
  4. People speak up now when they don’t like something, and we didn’t used to.  Growing up, I was told to be polite and not to make a fuss.  This was especially told to young ladies.  This is a painful story I will share.  My father’s new wife’s father did not know how to keep his hands to himself.  When my sisters and I would visit my father on holidays and he was also there, he would greet us with a big sloppy kiss on the lips.  After he was done we would look at each other and whisper “gross.” But we were too polite to say anything, it’s best not to make waves and maybe he didn’t mean anything by it. Once he came up behind me and popped my bra strap.  I was seething inside, but again I didn’t say anything, because I didn’t want to hurt my dad or cause him any stress or force him to divide his loyalties between his wife and his kids.  But finally one day I was washing my hands in a small bathroom, and he came in, closed the door and started hugging me too tight and pulling me towards him.  That’s when I started screaming and kicking at the door to get out.  I finally caused a scene, and the man actually told me I was “being ugly.”  But THANK GOD we don’t live in those times anymore.  Children are raised to TELL now.  These days we can speak up when we are feeling invaded or hurt, whether it was intended as an invasion or not. It’s how we feel that counts, and feelings are important and should be respected, even if we think they are dumb (see #3).
  5. Sometimes we say things that may be offensive because we don’t know the whole story.  A lot of “politically incorrect” talk happens because people are casting judgments on people or issues they don’t know anything about.   I have to admit that when people put down others because they receive government handouts, it kind of steams me up.  I don’t care what political party you come from, talking about people you don’t know anything about isn’t nice.  EVERYONE gets government handouts.  Corporations, politicians, business people, government vendors, poor people and rich people too.  Yes, a few people in all of those categories take advantage of the system.  But sitting around criticizing people isn’t solving the problem.  Which brings me to the final point:
  6. Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.  Ephesians 4:29.  This is a command from God, directly from scripture.  Yet we all struggle with this simple command.  If we lived by this scripture passage, we wouldn’t have to be concerned about whether something is politically correct or not.  We would all just take care to make sure that what we are saying is kind and helpful.  We should always endeavor to be encouraging and uplifting to our fellow humans, no matter who they are.

Instead of worrying about whether what I am saying is politically correct, I’m going to work hard to make sure that what I am saying is helpful and useful. I’m going to try to avoid negative talk and focus on saying positive things.  This is not easy, but I’m going to try, because it’s something God has commanded that I do.

Multitasking and the Art of Fear (or, Love the One You’re With)

Multitasking and the Art of Fear – Or, Love the One You’re With

Be a bridge, work for Unity!

I used to think I was a great multitasker.  As I’ve been writing this article, I’ve done around 6 work-related texts and laundry (and removed my cat from the keyboard several times). Modern conveniences have made this possible.  In the past, I would have been hanging laundry outside, possibly with my neighbors.  And work was done entirely on location.

They say as we grow older, our ability to multitask decreases.  But recently I realized that young people cannot multitask either. Case in point: I was in Winn Dixie returning some items.   All was going well with the young woman behind the counter until her friend arrived. The employee was then chatting with her friend while trying to complete my transaction.  Two of the items I was returning cost $3.79 each.  When I saw that she gave me a credit for $1.99, I tried to communicate to her that it was the wrong amount, but I couldn’t get her attention away from the conversation she was having with her friend. I finally got the message across, and she said “oh.”  She fixed the transaction and credited the rest of my items. Then, she finally interrupted her conversation long enough to tell me that I owed her $15.  I said no, this is a CREDIT, remember?  And she said “oh, right, I don’t know what I was thinking.”  So I blurted out “you were not thinking because you were not focusing on the task at hand, that is the problem.”  I got some looks that said that I was a big meanie, but whatever.  I’m getting tired of being in a culture where it is becoming acceptable for people to not pay attention to the person who is right in front of them, for whatever reason.

We often think we are multitasking, when what we may be doing is wasting our time.  I have recently changed my schedule to allow for free time for prayer and meditation, as well as writing and some self care, so I can determine what I want to do with my life.  Of course I want to do counseling and social work, but I also want to do research; write; volunteer; do community activism; read all of the books on my shelf (and buy some more); help people start businesses and nonprofits, and connect with people who share interests similar to mine. I want to see the world and get to know people from all walks of life.  But what am I doing?  I’m at level 218 on June’s Journey (computer game).  I check Facebook, which sometimes results in steam coming out of my ears, or it makes me depressed because other people have great husbands, kids, are skinnier, have better jobs and travel more.  I am making some progress, but I could be doing so much more.  My challenge is this: It seems that we are doing a lot.  The days seem to fly by.  But what are we really doing and who are we doing it with?

Our lives are becoming too distracted.  Recently I found myself eating a delicious salad concoction I had created.  I was eating it in front of the TV while a playing a computer game.  I suddenly realized that I was not tasting my food, and I didn’t know anything that had happened for the past 15 minutes of my TV show.  This is how we seem to live these days.  We don’t take the time to enjoy our moments. We don’t enjoy each other.  We don’t even take real pleasure in our food.  This is why I wanted to spend some of my time doing meditation and practicing mindfulness.  Mindfulness calms us down; it reduces stress and helps us to recognize and process our emotions.  And just as importantly, it helps us to recognize and enjoy the moments we are in, instead of making ourselves numb by doing so many things at once that we don’t know what we are doing or how we feel about it.

Mindless activities can hamper our ability to have real human relationships.  The most popular people in a room practice a form of mindfulness, because they live in the moment. If they are talking to you, they are focused on you.  They are interested in what you are saying.  In some of our mindfulness trainings, we practiced our listening skills.

Distractions such as Facebook, computer games, TV…these are relatively new phenomena that I’m finding kind of scary.  One of the books I’m reading is a book for our church’s next book club by Brene Brown, called Braving the Wilderness.  I just read a chapter on fear, and how it can divide us and damage human relationships.  She writes that after 9/11, for a while we came together as a country, but then we became divided when we could not agree on who our enemies are supposed to be.  She adds that the intention of terrorists was to make us fearful. I vaguely recall the unifying cry of defiance – “we will not be afraid of you!”  Tom Petty’s “Won’t Back Down” topped the charts.  That was then.  Now, many social media posts are designed to scare us.  In that sense the terrorists have won, because I see a spirit of fear on Social media, and an increase in divisiveness as we have begun to fear one another instead of a common enemy.

Before the advent of social media, if we feared our neighbors, we were still forced to see them and talk to them.  And if we got to know them, in most cases we learned to not fear them, and often to love them.  Now, we only learn about people from memes and posts on social media that often aren’t factual, are partially factual, or are just plain mean. These posts are meant to divide: my side is right, yours is wrong. I love my guy, so I must I hate your guy. These are the right things my guy is doing; these are the wrong things your guy did.

This social media phenomenon worries me because I see people becoming meaner without even realizing it. When a news story was shared recently about women who happened to be swimming, and were therefore in bathing suits, the only comments on the post were about their weight (which wasn’t relevant to the article).  I see church people posting things that call people who disagree with them “libtards.”  Do they think that term makes them look smart? Try reading a book instead. Or Ephesians 4:29.  Or try talking with others who differ from you and see them as fellow children of God just trying to get along in this world like everyone else.  Since when is it acceptable to call people names who disagree with us?  I used to enjoy William F. Buckley’s Firing Line debates.  If you want to see a classy way of debating your point, find reruns of those and watch them.

Recently I was in the company of someone from another country, and while I was waiting for him to finish his errand I checked Facebook.  There, I found people saying ugly things about immigrants as comments on a Facebook post.  When he came back, I found it hard to look at him without wanting to cry.  If you knew this person, you would see what a wonderful person he is.  I wish these people knew him.  Name calling, living in fear, and doing the things people do on Facebook these days is not classy. It is not living. It is not real life.  It is not swaying people to your point of view. Instead, it is helping to create a worldview that is sometimes ugly and scary.  If you feel strongly about your opinions, come out and do something positive to change what you do not like.

It makes me so sad to think that we are being led down a path of disunity, hate, and division, all while looking at our computer screens and avoiding real life.  We no longer spend time with people we agree with or disagree with.  No one agrees with others 100% of the time unless we don’t have a mind of our own.  We have forgotten how to be with people and to either politely disagree or change the subject. It’s called human interaction. Are we forming real relationships any more?  People think that they are connected to groups because they share the same posts with those who think like them and call the other groups names on social media.  Are those people going to take you to doctor’s appointments when you are sick or give you food when you are hungry? We aren’t gonig to meet people who will be with us in our time of hurt unless we get off of social media and meet them in person.

Online relationships and activities are a diversion from real life.  Sometimes that’s a good thing.  But there are times when we may spend so much time looking at screens that we forget to live.  We are not talking to real people as often as we did in the past. I remember after Hurricane Katrina standing in the long lines at the grocery store talking to the people around me. For weeks afterward, people’s greetings to friends and strangers alike were along the lines of “so how did you make out?”  And we cared and listened to the responses.  This is no more.  Now, even when we are having dinner with people we care about, we are usually checking our phones to see if people on Facebook are having more fun than we are, or posting our own photos to show the Facebook world that we are having as much fun as they are.

I am not bashing Facebook. I think it’s a wonderful thing.  I’ve reconnected with people I haven’t seen in years! I’ve “lurked” to see what old boyfriends are up to (not stalking, I promise, just curious).  I am using social media to post this essay, hoping that people will read and enjoy it. Social media has helped writers to have an audience we may not otherwise have had.  But perhaps we should check social media at intervals during the day, and focus on our other tasks the rest of the time.

I’m saying this because I don’t know about you, but my life isn’t over yet. I want to accomplish more. I want to do more. I want to see more (with my own eyes and not because someone else did it and posted it).  If we do this, we will see that multitasking is a myth.  We are losing our ability to focus on our moments, and this can have long-term damaging physical and mental consequences, as well as causing a lot of regret at the end of our lives when we wonder where it all went, what else we could have done and who we could have done it with.

P.S.  I don’t like to post problems without solutions. Here are some suggestions on ways to have real human connection with people:

  • Invite someone to lunch or dinner
  • Invite people over to play hearts or bridge or scrabble
  • Start a book club or bible study
  • Attend an event on your own, so you are forced to talk to people you don’t know
  • Volunteer at a local nonprofit
  • Join a gym
  • Attend church
  • Take classes, either at the local university or a community college, or in an area of interest, such as photography, writing, art, history
  • Attend lectures

Do you have other ideas?