Looking Back and Moving Forward

Looking Back and Moving Forward

The year is almost over.  Hard to believe – it seems to flow by faster as I get older.  It’s traditionally a time of reflections – best of and worst of lists abound.  And don’t forget “the year in review”.

2014 started out with sadness – death.  But there was also hope – the possibility of healing – rebuilding damaged relationships.  But in the end that was not to be.  Moving on is all I can do – learning what I can and letting go as well.  I will not dwell in loss – I will cherish what is.

The black cloud that hung over my head threatened most of the year.  One event – that one letter in the mail turned my world upside down.  But I took action to help myself – to not let it take away what was good in my life.  And so much came out of it – learning about happiness and gratitude and courage and faith and hope and letting go and moving forward.

Through all this I have learned more than anything how to build on the positive things in my life – and now I see that there are many!  I’ve learned to appreciate and be grateful. I’ve learned that I can choose happiness.  I have learned to be mindful, grateful and charitable.  I am more resilient, more at peace, more optimistic and yes happier – with a much deeper understanding what happiness really is.

I often think on that day as a watershed, a pivotal point, a fork the road.  No it was not good, but good came out of it because I chose to focus on the good.

So as I break for the holidays, I want to take this opportunity to wish you and yours a very happy holiday season.  Enjoy!

 

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How to change other people

How to change other people

I used to think that someone else could make me happy.  If they just changed, I’d be happy.  If someone loved me, I’d be happy.  If I had great friends, I’d be happy. If my family, boss or coworkers gave me credit for what I did for them, I’d be happy.   When these people didn’t measure up, I was unhappy.

I made a fatal mistake – depending on other people to make me happy – thinking if they changed, I’d be happy.  I put my happiness in the hands of others. All along though, my happiness was under my control.  I could decide to be happy even if I was single, friendless or unappreciated.

Happiness is my perspective on my life, not based on the feedback of others.  I have to change if I want to be happy.  I need to love myself to be happy.  I need to be comfortable being alone to be happy.  I need to be confident in my own actions to be happy.

I really believe that you can’t be in a successful, fulfilling relationship if you don’t love yourself.  I don’t think you can have good friends until you know how to be a good friend.  I don’t think you can do a good job at anything if you constantly need someone telling you how great you are – the motivation, the feeling of accomplishment must come from within.

And when things are not going well, I know I am the one who needs to make some changes.  Only I can change my life.  You can’t change other people.  Don’t even waste your time.  You can try to influence other people but only they can change.  So don’t look to others to make you happy.  Look in the mirror.

 

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A Search for Simplicity

A Search for Simplicity

I live a pretty simple life.  I don’t go out much – dinner once a month or so.  I come home from work and cook dinner, do a little crafting, watch a little TV and am in bed by 10pm – even on weekends.   On weekends, we do home renovations or yard work.  My entertainment budget is my gym membership.  When weather permits, we may get on the bike and I’ll take my camera along to get a few shots.

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I don’t party hard, shop till you drop or take elaborate vacations.

But I don’t live simply.  I still have way too much “stuff”.  It fills drawers, shelves, closets and is piled on flat surfaces.  Every room is cluttered.  I have multiples of lots of things and my bathroom is full of products I don’t use anymore – like molding paste from the short hair days.  Pens that don’t write, books that I won’t read and shoes I don’t wear.

2015 will be the year to simplify – to pear down.  It begins now by using up what I have.  I don’t have a game plan yet but I’ll be doing some reading and researching on simplicity.

Part of the problem is getting over the two biggest hurdles – I paid good money for that and I might need that again.  I still don’t have a way to get over those hurdles.  I think both the shredder and the folks at the Goodwill drop off center will know me well.

If any of you have any strategies, I’m all ears!  And if you’ve traveled the path to simplicity, I’d love to hear your story.

My Black Friday

My Black Friday

On Friday, November 21, I signed some papers which put an end to the nightmare that birthed The One Little Thing Project.  That Friday was my Black Friday.  Now that it is over, almost, I can share the story.

In 2011 after a two year separation, my husband of nearly thirty years and I finalized our divorce.  Due to the economy, the house was left in both names.  Selling or refinancing was out of the question, due to it being “upside down”.  I figured in the future, he would want to sell and I would sign whatever was necessary and whatever he made on it was his.

About 15 months after the divorce, he was diagnosed with cancer.  I didn’t find out about any of this until the doctors told him there was nothing else they could do.  In January of 2014, the battle was lost.

After his death, I waited to hear from the executor to determine what to do with the house.  I never got a call.  Rather, I got a past due notice from the city for real estate taxes.  Conflicting and confusing information followed.  It was horrifying to learn that I was over 225,000 in debt and I shared ownership of the property with my two estranged daughters.

I was WAY over my head and sought the help of a real estate agent and real estate attorney to go over the options.  I had to pay back bills, judgments, keep up the property and had to wait while others decided my future. I eventually negotiated a short sale with the lender, but each day for more than six months the huge black cloud over my head got larger and darker.

I lived each day in fear.  Fear that I’d check my bank account and find it frozen.  Fear that the mail would bring another surprise.  Fear that my credit, which I had worked so hard to build, would be ruined.  Fear that my paycheck would be zero because of a lien or garnishment.  Fear the my future would be cat food and a cardboard box.

Living in fear is not a pleasant experience.  Eating and sleeping were a problem.  Keeping my mind on work was a problem.  Making ANY decision was a problem.

But what I learned through this adversity will last a lifetime:

  • What was done was done – if only’s didn’t change a thing.
  • Live on day at a time – tackle one problem at a time – try not to get caught up in what if’s.
  • Ask for help and accept support – lean on others and respect their expertise.
  • Work on Plan A but having a Plan B or C gave me comfort.
  • Don’t forget the good things in your life – hang on to them and let them encourage you.
  • Let go – the Serenity Prayer helped me tremendously on my darkest days.
  • Ignoring things will not make them go away – take what action you can – actually doing something can give you a feeling of control.
  • Take care of yourself physically, mentally and emotionally – eat right or even better, exercise and practice relaxation techniques like yoga or meditation – all these things will help you deal with stress.
  • Don’t stop living – as tempting as it might be to hide or do nothing, keep living as normally as possible. Yes you may have to change some things or scale back but don’t stop living as normal a life as possible.  It is still okay to have a little fun.

While I’m sure there will be more fallout, I’m confident that I can get through it with what I’ve learned. And most of all, despite it all, I’ve learned how to be truly happier!

serenity prayer

An Optimistic View of Failure

An Optimistic View of Failure

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been working on a new project. I’m getting back to my creative side and working with some new mediums.  Taking the idea from my head to a finished piece is both exhilarating and frustrating. Sometimes a technique works and sometimes it doesn’t.  Sometimes a color or finish is just what I envisioned and sometimes it is less than pleasing. Sometimes it isn’t what I anticipated and is even better. As I struggle with the right amount of material and the right choices, I find I am disappointing in the results – it’s like making a recipe that sounds delicious, but ends up not so good.

But I haven’t thrown in the towel! As tempting as it might be to pack away my supplies and move on to something “safe”, I’m soldiering on with an optimistic attitude. Each less than perfect attempt is a learning experience. It is one more piece of the puzzle that will result in success. Persistence pays off. I am learning about technique and tools and process. I’m growing and I will bloom.

Did you ever meet someone who if they aren’t the best at something, they won’t do it again? Or someone who won’t play a game or sport if they don’t win the first time they play? I think they lose twice – and the loss of the opportunity to  learn and grow and achieve is far worse than the first loss.

“Failure” has so much to teach us if we rise to the challenge and see it as a positive things – a motivational thing. Failure can spur us to learn, re-evaluate, problem-solve. Sometimes the biggest lesson from failure is to show what we don’t want. (I think this is particularly true of relationships). Sometimes in overcoming a failure we encounter someone or something that adds an extra layer of richness to our lives – a coach, a mentor, a new friend, a new direction, a new insight.

This happened to me a few years ago. I won an interior design contest and the prize was the opportunity to attend a design seminar by a very popular, high-end designer.  It was a fabulous prize and something I could never afford on my own. I traveled on my own for the first time, stayed in  fancy hotel and got to meet not only this designer, but several others as well. The other attendees were all people who shared my passion for interior design. I wouldn’t call the experience a failure but it wasn’t what I envisioned. However I learned so much, mostly about myself and what my true passion is – not designing fancy houses but helping regular folk enrich their homes with their own style with accessories and styling. And so I help my neighbors lay tile floor, pick out paint colors and accessories and rearrange furniture. A disappointment lead to a new insight and direction.

Here is another example. My guy is going back to school to get the degree he needs to advance in his job. With 15 years experience, he really wasn’t too keen on the idea of sitting in intro classes in his field. At first people gave him vague answers or referred him to someone else. He kept getting the run-around. Oh, and it was frustrating. Another person might have just given up and taken the classes, spending time and money. But no, for him, it was a challenge and he prodded, followed up, pushed and demanded answers and in the end was rewarded with credit in several classes, shortening his time in school by at least a semester.

I think it also helps if you go into something expecting to have challenges and problems or roadblocks so that when you encounter them, you are already in an optimistic mindset to see them as a challenge and an opportunity.

Has “failure” ever turned out to be a good thing for you?

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Tis the season to be materialistic?

Tis the season to be materialistic?

Today I’d like to follow up on my earlier post this week on experiences vs material goods when it comes to happiness.

You can’t watch TV or go into a store without being reminded that the gift giving season is just around the corner. Maybe you already have a case of the “I wants” and I’m sure your children do.  There are tantalizing things on sale everywhere and even previews of “Black Friday” deals on the net.   I am not Scrooge or the Grinch.  I love giving gifts and carefully consider each one. But is there a downside to gift-giving?  Can we make the holidays more happy?

In an article published in the Global Mail, Psychotherapist Graham Music, of London, England and author of the book, The Good Life: Wellbeing and the New Science of Altruism, Selfishness and Immorality, argues that over-busy parents and out of control materialism results in  meaner and more self-absorbed children.  They lack empathy and are more concerned with what a person has than who a person is.  I don’t think that Music is off base here. Studies show that as  people become more materialistic, their relationships suffer. Think kids holed up in their rooms with computers all night and who look at their phones more than they look at their parents or siblings!

I am as guilty of this as the next guy.  We want our children to be happy so we get them what they want. The problem, as I pointed out, is that things bring only momentary happiness.  I would even go so far as to say that things drive people apart rather than bring them together.

So how do we tame the “thing monster”?  Give the gift of experiences.  I’m not saying go cold turkey and give no “thing” gifts but maybe consider some of this year’s gifts to be experiences.  If you are going to spend the money anyway, why not do something that might create more lasting happiness and promote connectedness to others?  Maybe an activity trip – like skiing or skating?  Or maybe a Mom/Daughter pedicure or spa day?  A day trip to a rock climbing wall or indoor skydiving venue or laser tag.

Thing gifts can be geared toward activities as well.  Board games that can be played by the entire family vs a computer game that only one person can play is another option.  Last year I bought myself a camera for Christmas and have used it to record visual reminders of the many wonderful experiences I had this year.

Instead of buying gifts for teachers and family members, how about making something – cookie mix in a mason jar, hand decorated picture frames or Christmas tree ornaments.  Yes this might be more work than running to the store and picking out some pre-made items but the lesson will last a life-time.

And in the long run, you might be happier too!

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Anyone care for pie?

Anyone care for pie?

Do you know someone who is a Gloomy Gus?  Or someone who is always Sally Sunshine?

Some argue that our disposition – our intrinsic happiness levels – are hereditary.  Some people are just naturally happier and others naturally sadder.  I don’t disagree that we are born with certain personality traits.  I would argue with those who say  we can’t do anything about it.

Scientist estimate that about 50% of our happiness ability is genetic.  I take that as good news!  Another 10-20 % is life circumstances and the remaining 30-40% are within our control! That is excellent news!

Our life circumstances can be changed – maybe not all of them but many of them.  You can get a new job, make new friends, have a new romance.  You can earn more money (or live simpler on what you have).  You can find new hobbies or learn more to improve your situation in life.

Likewise, you can do things that make you happier – be mindful, develop gratitude, give and be more helpful.  You can balance your life, eat better, move more, meditate, engage in creative endeavors, laugh more, play more.  You can learn to love yourself and care for yourself.  You can learn to more productive, live more simply, challenge yourself, be more adventurous, be more social, stop negative thinking, stop comparing, find meaning in little things, be curious.

So grab your fork and join me in a big slice of happiness pie!

happypie