Posts tagged #happiness

The Life-Changing Magic of Perspective

Life is a funny thing. It seems that all our lives we are told that pursuit of happiness should be our life’s purpose. That finding joy, elation, and contentment are the things that will bring us satisfaction in our lives, but as we look back over our own individual histories, I think we often find that the times that formed us the most…the times that caused us to grow most as people…the times that left the most lasting impressions on us weren’t the times of joy and happiness, but the times of difficulty and struggle. 

Difficulty works in an interesting way. While it is within our happiness that we may get to just sit back and enjoy, it is not within happiness that we forge ourselves. It isn’t within joy that the strength of our character rises up to meet the challenge. It often takes our adversities to get us to stand and say “No. This is who I am, and this is what I stand for.” And for that, I am truly thankful for all my difficulties. While ease makes almost no impression on us, struggle forces us to grow in ways that last well beyond our experiences of it. 

Though I am a white male and have had a relatively easy life, growing up as a gay man I have certainly been no stranger to discrimination. I have experienced what it’s like to be “other.” What it’s like to be called names—to be excluded. I’ve known what it’s like to feel that I would never be able to have a normal life. I’ve known what it’s like to be trapped by fear. Fear that my parents wouldn’t accept me. Fear that my friends would no longer be my friends. Fear that I would never be able to enjoy the life that I wanted. A life with a family. A life with a partner. A life with kids of my own….the most basic things that the majority of people so quickly take for granted.

Our challenges in life have the tendency to divide us. Someone is dealing with cancer. Someone is struggling with the death of their child. Someone is attempting to overcome the emotional abuse of a parent. Someone has just been diagnosed with a mental disorder. Or a thousand other circumstances that all make us feel like we are unique in our struggle. And while each of us does experience these things in our own way, there’s a time when we must realize that our struggle absolutely unifies us. No being on the face of this earth exists without difficulty. And here we can begin to find a sense of community. Of connectedness. Of comfort in knowing that whether we are brown, black, man, old, young, woman, white, christian, or buddhist… we all encounter pain and difficulty. The longer we keep our stories of struggle to ourselves, the longer we must carry their burden, and the longer we let them have power in our lives. In sharing our stories, we lighten our load, and when we refuse to feel shameful about them, we can allow them to positively affect us. As we come around to the idea of this sort of "community," we begin not just to discover our truth, but to forge it--to create it as we make meaning out of difficulty. With a deep opening of our hearts we courageously step toward vulnerability, and we can let that vulnerability empower us to take what is difficult, turn it around, and use it to create a sense of humanity. 

That isn't to say vulnerability is easy. To be vulnerable is to admit that we don’t have it all right. To be vulnerable is to admit that we have been hurt, and that we can still be hurt in the future—to admit that we have hurt others. It is to be unashamed of our emotions. To be vulnerable is to admit we’ve made mistakes. It is to open ourselves at the deepest level, stand there in front of someone in the full rawness of our life experience, and have no apologies about it. So while vulnerability is one of the scariest leaps one can take, it gives us the ability to look at another human being and know that they, too, have known pain. It allows us to look at one another and say “It’s ok. I’ve been there, too.” 

This experience can truly transform us as people. It transforms our relationships and our outlook on life. It lets us turn things upside down so we can stop saying “I am here DESPITE my struggles” and instead say “I am here BECAUSE of them.” With that, we take the first steps on a long journey toward the discovery of our identities, and we realize it isn't the ease of life but the misfortunes that create the power of our stories. It is within our story of struggle that we find community; from this sense of community we can look for the meaning in difficulty, and I, for one, am thankful for my difficulty. I hope you are, too. 

In health,

Sean

Transform Your Outlook on Life with One Simple Exercise

Gratitude-Ashwin KC

Gratitude-Ashwin KC

It's no surprise that our modern world is one of constant buzz. Of emails, texts, tweets, appointments, and phone calls. Of sales reports and morning commutes. The stress of our jobs, our spouses, and our health. Diets. Gyms. Routine upon routine. To-do upon to-do. In all of this busy-ness, where do we find time? Any time!? Much less, time for any sort of personal reflection.

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”
-Melody Beattie

Our time is vied for from the moment we awake to the time we lay our head down at night. Your co-worker is telling you about this new restaurant you just have to try. Your husband called you earlier telling he has a meeting that's running late so you'll need to pick up the kids AND make dinner tonight. Your doctor says to do this. Your therapist says don't do that. Your mother-in-law wants you to do the newest 15-day cleanse with her. With the constant battle to find balance and what is “right” for us, how can the simple act of expressing gratitude transform us a little bit every day? 

In his book “Spontaneous Happiness,” Dr. Andrew Weil discusses making a habit of showing our gratitude (large or small) in the form of a journal. In his book he expands on a study in which participants kept a gratitude journal and were reported as having “mood boosting” effects for 6 months from their daily journaling. I took Dr. Weil's advice, and at the beginning of the year I started my own gratitude and appreciation log. While it isn't as in depth as the full journal, I do take a minute to jot down moments where I was able to express appreciation to those around me, or even moments where I simply took a mental note of gratitude for something. It only takes glancing at that list on a stressful day to remind myself I have an endless amount of things to appreciate in my life.

So what exactly is gratitude, anyway? Sadly, many of us shy away from gratitude because we associate it with an inherent indebtedness to those to whom we are expressing thanks and gratitude. In essence, if we recognize or appreciate, we must pay back the favor “in equal.” It’s an unfortunate thought, and yet I think it is absolutely accurate for most of us. Liken it to passing co-workers in the hall. We ask how they are every day, but part of us hopes their responses are limited to “Great!” or “Good so far!” A response that required further interaction on our part would throw a wrench in our already spoken for day.

Dandelion--Bert Heymans

Dandelion--Bert Heymans

But what if we begin to dissociate that appreciation from people and expand it into other areas of our life? Author G.K. Chesterton writes, “You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink.”

This is the essence of gratitude. Appreciation. Not a contract to pay back the world. Not something to loathe or avoid but something to fully embrace. And how is this to improve our lives? When we begin to show gratitude we begin to cultivate a sense of other. It’s impossible to recognize the amazing abundance of goodness in our lives every day and not realize that there is more to the dynamic of the human experience than either you or me. Our grip softens by seeing the good. And as our grip loosens, our stress follows suit.

Think it's a struggle just to find the good? At first it may be difficult to find opportunities to express gratitude. Start simple. Someone else made the coffee at work this morning. I woke up in my home, in my bed, and under a roof. I have a computer with which I am able to read this right now. Just those three things are, unfortunately, experiences so many people in the world will NEVER experience. Not even once in their lives.  If even those are a stretch, you can start with yourself. I have eyes. I can walk. I am breathing and alive. Expand from these into areas of gratitude which are outside of yourself.

Take a moment and jot these down every day. At the end of the week, or any other time you are stressed, you can take a moment and look at it. Be reminded that there is something to be grateful for every day-I’m confident you’ll be happy with what you see.

Do you have difficulties expressing gratitude? Do you already incorporate these ideas into your daily routines? If yes, how? If no, why not?

Photos courtesy of Flickr and are licensed for commercial reuse