Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Great philosophy with real life application

The Simple Secret to a Happier Life

WebMD Feature from "Redbook" Magazine
By Charlotte Latvala
In the immortal words of the Rolling Stones, you can't always get what you want. And you know what? That's really okay. Discover how letting go of impossible (and draining) dreams puts you on the path to peace.
In the 37th week of my third pregnancy, I was cruising right along with no major health problems until — bam — I developed Bell's palsy, a partial paralysis of the left side of my face. I couldn't close my eye, I drooled when I ate, and, worst of all, I couldn't smile normally. Doctors assured me that the condition was temporary, and that my muscle function would return within months. But my progress was slower than expected, and I spent the next year feeling self-conscious and sad. I just longed to look normal again.
Eventually, I went to specialists, did countless hours of physical therapy, and received therapeutic Botox injections (at times, I felt like a human pincushion). It all helped, but my smile was still somewhat crooked. I felt depressed, defeated.
Then, on a visit to my mom's house, I happened to glance at the framed copy of the Serenity Prayer she keeps in her bedroom. You know the one: "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." Reading those words made it crystal clear: It was time to put my disappointment behind me and focus on the positive parts of my life — my family, my work, the simple pleasures of my day-to-day existence. I had lost something, to be sure, but feeling bitter and shortchanged wasn't the way I wanted to live.
So I quit mourning the loss of the "old me." I finally allowed myself to accept my less-than-perfect grin, and in the process, to make peace with the fact that life rarely turns out the way you expect. And that's true whether it comes to physical setbacks, relationships with people you care about, or even your hopes and dreams for your kids. It's tough to let go of something you want badly, but if you release yourself from the relentless pull of your If only... thinking, a sense of peace, and even joy, will rush into that mental space instead, says C. Leslie Charles, author of Why Is Everyone So Cranky? "When you can just 'be' with a situation," she says, "things usually begin to relax, turn, and reshape — for the better."
Giving up long-cherished dreams doesn't mean you need to deny or disown them. "Your dreams will always be part of you," says Charles. "But getting too focused or obsessed with a goal or yearning can leave you feeling cheated." Letting go, by contrast, means making a choice — you decide not to give in to thoughts and actions that waste your time, not to dwell on what you don't have.
And that can be the first step to a more blissed-out, less stressed-out existence. Read on to learn how to let go of those unrealistic longings — ones that you believe hold the keys to your happiness, but actually hold you back — so you can love the life you have right now.
If you long to be closer to a family member...
For years, Nanci Schwartz hoped for a tighter bond with her brother. "He never saw eye-to-eye with my dad, and is now somewhat estranged from the whole family," she explains. Every time Schwartz tried to reach out and was rebuffed, she was hurt. "The final straw came recently, when my husband and I planned a birthday get-together for our parents," says the 41-year-old from Fruitland Park, FL. "My brother never even bothered to respond to the invitation, and once again I felt completely let down."
Perhaps you, too, have a family bond that's coming apart at the seams. Or maybe you just have a sneaking sense that something is missing in your relationship with your parents or siblings. "No matter what has gone on before, we all have expectations about what our family relationships are supposed to be like," says Lynn Robinson, author of Divine Intuition. "Deep down, we believe that our family should always be there for us through thick and thin." Plus, it's normal to want to draw closer as we start to get older and realize how quickly time is passing, adds Robinson — since the family members you bicker with today may not be there tomorrow.
How to Let Go
Slowly, Schwartz has begun to accept her distant relationship with her brother. "I finally realize that it's not my fault we're not closer," she says. "It's his choice — and looking at it that way has lifted a huge burden from me. Now I can stop spinning my wheels, trying to make the impossible happen. I'm not thrilled with the situation, but it's not going to consume me, either, because there's nothing I can do about it." The (very liberating) bottom line here: You can't ever control someone else's behavior — you can only control your own.
You'll be happier, not to mention more sane, if you focus on the relationships in your life that are reciprocal — the friends and loved ones you can rely on, says Robinson. "Your peace of mind ultimately doesn't depend on the closeness or distance of one person," she explains. "The more healthy relationships you have in your life, the better."
If you've had a long standoff with a relative and you're aching for some closure, consider writing that person a heartfelt and compassionate note, she adds. "Make it simple, not a rehash of past events," Robinson suggests. "Tell them what you appreciate about them and that you look forward to hearing from them on their time and terms." Mail it and let it go, telling yourself that you've given it your best shot. Or write the letter and don't mail it — instead simply use it as a way to release and sort through your feelings. That process alone will make it easier for you to find peace.
If you want to get it all done — and perfectly — at work...
Museum educator Nikki Manning used to feel compulsively driven to complete all her work by the end of the day — and when she couldn't, she carried her anxiety home. "I'd wake up in the middle of the night and begin to write down things I needed to do the next day," says the 27-year-old from Columbia, SC. "My bathroom mirror was covered in sticky notes."
Sure, being a productive and valued staffer is a good thing, but knocking yourself out day after day — whether to achieve perfection on a project or feel "done" — doesn't make sense, since at any well-structured job there will always be fresh deadlines to meet, more paperwork to do, and the like. (It's sort of like the laundry at home — you're never completely caught up.) Plus, if you're consistently working late, you're likely neglecting your well-being, health, and relationships, notes Robinson. Ultimately, the satisfaction that you get from being "on top of things" is fleeting and not a true source of happiness — and it simply isn't worth the steep personal price you're paying.
How to Let Go
Watch what you tell yourself. "Saying things like, ‘I'll never catch up,' or ‘I'm always stressed,' will overwhelm you further and keep you working late," says Robinson. Instead, she advises, repeat calming (and true) messages such as, "When I clock out at a decent hour, I'm so much more productive the next day," and "Nothing tragic will happen if I turn this in tomorrow morning instead of at 8 tonight."
Try to step back and pinpoint why you're being so obsessive about your job. Could it be that you're avoiding problems at home or other personal issues? That your self-esteem hinges entirely on your career? "Ask yourself, What's missing in my life? What would be fun? " suggests Robinson. Then, make little steps toward positive change — get yourself to the gym instead of staying an extra hour at work, or meet a friend for coffee on the way home.
For Manning, letting go meant carving out official downtime. "I promised myself that two days a week I'd walk away from my desk at 5:30 p.m.," she says. "I literally scheduled time with my husband and daughter so I'd be forced to leave, and vowed not to check e-mails or my BlackBerry at home." Setting boundaries made all the difference. "Now I can sit and breathe and enjoy dinner with my family," says Manning. "I'm still getting as much work done — yet I have a life now!"

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the reminder:"You'll be happier, not to mention more sane, if you focus on the relationships in your life that are reciprocal — the friends and loved ones you can rely on."

3:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It wasn't an attack, as those aren't my words. I was quoting your actual post, word for word, and sending a genuine "Thank You" for reminding me of what is important in my own life. I believe in spreading thanks to strangers you stumble across, who give you positive reminders by chance occurrences. I choose to be anonymous because you wouldn't know who I am anyways.

4:37 PM  

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