Friday, August 2, 2019

Happiness Is a Choice

My beloved pup, Ringo, crossed over the Rainbow Bridge a couple of weeks ago. It was quite unexpected. Even though he was 14, had arthritis in his hips, cataracts and couldn’t hear worth a darn, he was one happy healthy boy up until his final week. Then suddenly the aggressive cancer in his spleen (that I didn’t know about) overwhelmed his system and he was gone in a matter of days.

My remaining pup, Baer, who’s all of 7 going on 3 (one Energizer Bunny battery too many), is confused. What happened to his big brother? We were a pack of three, now it’s just “Mommy and me.” He trots his favorite toy, a stuffed dog, around the house, through the doggie door, back into the house, brings it to me. Takes it back outside. Buries it in the garden. Unburies it. Aargh. The boy does not know what to do with himself. I keep telling him, “Be patient, I’ll get you a new brother soon,” but words just aren’t cutting it.

As I sit there petting him, missing our Ringo, I am reminded that happiness is a choice. I can remain depressed, low-spirited and unhappy over Ringo’s passing or I can choose – yes, choose – to see what’s right with right now, and choose to be happy. Jumping up and down happy? No. But OK. Appreciating what is. That I can do.

So I look at Baer, and marvel at this wonderful doggy-companion the Universe has gifted me. I think about how much I appreciate his snuggling with me at night, how fun it is for him to wake me by laying his front paws on my chest and licking my face. What a goof ball he is when he runs rings around the living room sectional, as if on a track doing laps.

I remember good times with Ringo – how much he loved his car-rides, how he loved to roll over on his back and stretch out all 95 pounds of himself for a righteous tummy-scratch. How he would tussle with Baer in his younger years, without ever hurting him. How his version of what you do with a bunny-rabbit lost in the backyard is not to kill it, but to lick it all over, as if to return it clean and unharmed to its “pack.”

As hard as it is to lose a loved one – animal or human – as long as we are still alive, there is something to be happy about. Something to appreciate, something or someone to live for. We don’t help the departed by being miserable, nor does it make anything better for those still here. That we should mourn and grieve, yes, absolutely, but never to forget that appreciation, of what was and is, is what will pull us through and onward.

After all, what will Baer’s someday new brother want? A miserable, depressed family? Or a happy one, eager to welcome him into the fold . . .

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Sixty and Me: If You Think You Can, You Can – and Your 6+ Decades Can’t Stop You!

A couple of my friends decided to take up tennis recently. They’re both in their mid-60s, neither of them particularly athletic, both in decent health.

Tennis seemed like a fun activity that would get them out in the fresh air and doing something together that would be good for their bodies. They joined a tennis class to get started.
One of the gals, let’s call her Amy, didn’t stop complaining from Day 1. “It’s hard,” she said, of virtually everything she had to learn. It didn’t matter if it was picking up the ball or learning the correct stance for a serve, “It’s hard” was her constant refrain.

The other woman, “Jane,” had a different approach. She just went about trying to learn the game. Both women did their best to follow the instructor and both stuck with the class, but which one do you think actually learned how to play? Jane.

Jane didn’t have any more natural ability, talent, or special tennis-ready muscles. She simply didn’t get in the way of her brain learning a new skill.

Our Brain Holds the Key

Our brains are what it’s all about. As Donald Hebb, PhD, one of the foremost scientists who pioneered research into neuroplasticity and neuropsychology, said, “Neurons that fire together, wire together.”

How we think on a regular basis is what determines how our brain wires itself, which in turn, determines how we perceive our world and shapes our experiences.

Amy telling herself “It’s hard” at every tennis move, pretty much guaranteed that her brain would wire itself accordingly. She would continue to see everything in tennis as “hard,” making it even more challenging for her to accomplish her tennis goals.

Jane, on the other hand, didn’t shape her brain one way or the other. She let the tennis experience be whatever her body and mind made of each new step as it came along. This resulted in a fairly easy learning curve and achievement of her goals.

Pushing Our Brains

We can take this understanding one step farther by saying, “I like this!” or “Yes!” or “Wow, I can actually do this!” which would wire our brains to see the activity or behavior as pleasant, doable, something we could master.

This is precisely what Kris Machnick does. At 80, Kris’ passion is ice climbing. She climbs ice mountains for the joy of it and to raise funds for neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

Kris didn’t start as a mountain climber until she was 62, and then only went for indoor gym climbing. It took her a couple of years to go for outdoor climbing. From there, her passion for ice climbing evolved.

Had Kris taken one look at a mountain and thought, “It’s too hard,” her brain would have dutifully absorbed that information and literally made it too hard for Kris to climb.

Fortunately, Kris not only had the thoughts that allowed her brain to approach the experience in a positive manner, she continued thinking that way after she suffered a severe knee injury. Kris did what she had to do to recover and climbed right back up her beloved mountains.

No matter what activity you would like to pursue, be it learning a new language, growing tomatoes, or hiking the high hills, help yourself succeed by wiring your brain for success.

Tell yourself, “I can do this,” or “Others have learned this, so can I,” or “It’ll be fun!” Any thought with a positive spin will help your brain help you.

Just remember, the little train’s “I think I can, I think I can” got it up the hill. We’re all like that little train. “I think I can” takes you a long way towards the joy of “I can” and the fun and sense of achievement that goes with it.

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Saturday, June 29, 2019

Defending or Explaining? Resolve Anger with Genuine Explanations

As a peace-loving Libra, I’m always looking for ways to minimize conflict, ways for us to get along better, regardless of our differences.

So I was quite taken with a post a friend forwarded to me: “Explain your anger, don’t express it, and you will immediately open the door to solutions instead of arguments” (author unknown). Sounds nifty, doesn’t it?

Defending or Explaining? But here’s the thing: most of us think we’re explaining our anger/upset, when what we’re really doing is defending it. For example, you’re upset your S.O. blew a chunk of your mutual savings on a new computer. In response to their “Why are you so upset? You know I needed it,” you explain, “Well I need a vacation/new car/fill-in-the-blank, and now we can’t afford one.” There. You’ve explained your anger.

No, you haven’t. You’ve justified it. Which doesn’t lead to any solution. Since problem solving really is the name of the game in relationships - platonic, romantic, or with co-workers – this kind of “explanation” doesn’t fly. You’re still upset and nothing’s been resolved.

Make Your Explanation Genuine. A genuine explanation might run along the lines of: “We have a limited amount of savings. I’m uncomfortable with your making decisions on how to spend that without us having a conversation beforehand. So we can agree on what gets spent where. I’m upset because I feel left out or that what I want isn’t important. I’m upset because it feels like we’re not working together, as a couple, on couple things. I’m not upset about your buying the computer, but with how you went about it. I would appreciate an opportunity for us to agree on some way we could talk about these things ahead of time. That would make me very happy.”

Yes, this sort of explanation takes more time, thought and effort. Yes, it may seem overwrought and sometimes unnecessary. But shortcuts aren’t always the road to happy endings, and what you want in your life, are happy endings. To everything! Or perhaps, better stated, resolutions that are satisfying to all concerned.

Be willing to go for your genuine, in-depth, authentic explanation of upsets. Your relationships will benefit greatly, and you will enjoy a whole new dimension of peace.

Monday, June 17, 2019

From Sixty and Me - Happiness: the Key to Good Health in the Years of Maturity

Last week I had lunch with a dear friend who later texted me, apologizing for having spent most of our time together moaning and groaning about various things going on in her life. She hoped she hadn’t been a drain on me.

I texted her back that no, she hadn’t. On the contrary, I value our friendship and appreciate our being able to share whatever’s going on in our respective lives. That made me happy.

Not happy, of course, that my friend is going through a rough patch, but happy that we can talk about such things, support each other, be there for one another. And certainly not happy as in jumping for joy, but satisfied, content, pleased with our friendship and our sharing.

Happiness Is Good for Your Health

Happy comes in many different shapes and colors, but here’s the thing. Regardless of what makes you happy, whether it’s the content/satisfied version or the jumping-for-joy version, happiness has a direct and unmistakable impact on your health.

Extensive research – over 150 studies – show that happiness, what scientists like to call “subjective well-being,” supports better cardiovascular health, a well-functioning immune system, faster healing from wounds, and lower likelihood of getting colds or the flu.

How do we get there? What if your finances are less than wonderful, your health imperfect, your family annoying, your work life disappointing? Or worse? Where’s the happiness in any of that?
It’s not. So don’t look there.

Watch for the Tide

Happiness isn’t an all-or-nothing experience. Happiness, for most of us, comes and goes. The more aware we are of what makes happiness come, so to speak, the more we can tune in to those events or situations.

For example, my friend loves to watch tennis on TV. No matter what else is going on in her life, she can lose herself and forget about her problems while watching a tennis match. For that time, she is happy.

For me, it’s dance. No matter how dreadful my day, no matter how awful some part of my current experience may be, I will come out of a dance class uplifted and happy.

For others, such as Jean Bailey, it’s volunteering. At 98, she could sit at home by herself, but that’s not what makes Jean happy. She’s been volunteering at Methodist Women’s Hospital since she turned 62, escorting patients to scans and offering assistance to RNs and techs wherever she can be of service.

Jean doesn’t volunteer for the recognition, although she recently received the Methodist Health System’s “honorary lifetime V.I.P. Award” for her greatly appreciated and valuable service.
Jean volunteers because she enjoys people. It makes her happy. Her “happy” certainly supports her being healthy, as her spry 98 years show.

What makes you happy may be simple, like diving into a good book, or more involved, like kayaking. It doesn’t matter. Find something – find several things – that make you happy no matter what, and engage in those activities as often as possible.

With that, you will enjoy the health that your happiness brings.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Just My Luck

Someone cuts you off in traffic, you get stuck behind the person with 30 items in the 10 items or less line, your hair dryer fails in the middle of your blow-dry, the cat throws up on your favorite shirt, and every time you say to yourself, gritting your teeth through it all, “Yup, just my luck.”

You say the same thing when your flight is delayed, or your luggage lost, or your supposed new boy/girlfriend forgets you exist – the list goes on.

You never say, “Just my luck” when the traffic flows freely and easily, the cashier opens a new line up just for you, your blow-dry is impeccable, and your cat uses the litter box for its intended use. Yet, you could. After all, why does “Just my luck” have to be said only of negative events? Why not turn it on its head and make it your happy go-to for when things do go your way?

Because I guarantee, if you’re still walking on this planet, that most things go your way. The sun rises and sets right on cue, you wake up and get your coffee/tea to face the day. You may not have your ideal job, but you have work or you can figure out a way to get some. You may not have your ideal mate, or for that matter any mate, but somewhere in your life there is someone (or some pet) that loves you. You do have “luck,” which in this regard, is simply a short form for “things to be grateful for.”

Why not go for it? Why not start noticing all the “lucky” things that happen to you every single day, and say “Just my luck” with a smile? You just might get even--luckier.