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Thursday, December 17, 2015

Happiness Is . . .

Back to blogging with my three co-bloggers!  Each week, one of us chooses a topic and we all post a blog entry on that topic, usually on Thursdays.  (Usually we are on time.  Usually.  Ok, mostly.  Sometimes?  Don’t judge me.)

Here are the links to the other fabulous blogs:

Merryland Girl           
Moma Rock

Merryland Girl chose this week, and she asked:  Tell Us Something Good.  It can be about good things that happened in your life or good things you’ve heard about online, from people close to you, etc.  Anything goes!  Here’s my take:

            I’m often guilty of focusing on the negative and not the “happy.”  And lately, I feel like there’s been a spate of bad news:  people getting sick, people dying, people shooting people, etc.  It is so easy to focus on those horrible things, to feel overwhelmed by the unhappy.  It’s tempting to just give in and give up. 

            But then I noticed something.  I began to see a trend where, when something bad happens, something good follows.  A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about Daniel Fleetwood, a young Texan who was diagnosed with a rare, fatal cancer and whose dying wish was to see the new Star Wars movie before its release – because Daniel knew he wouldn’t live to see the opening day.  Daniel got his wish, and he died a few days later.  But the campaign that bears his name – #ForceforDaniel – has not died.  Amazing things happened while Daniel was alive, and they have continued now that he is no longer with us.  People have continued to raise money for his young widow, Ashley.  Moved by Daniel’s story, an artist created a painting of Daniel, which was then turned into t-shirts and posters.  Others are printing out small versions of that painting with the tag #saveaseatforDaniel, and they are taking they picture with them to Star Wars showing across the globe; Peter Mayhew, who plays Chewbacca, took the print to the Star Wars premiere.  A scholarship is in the works.  The outpouring of love for Daniel and his wife and his family is amazing.  It fills my heart.  It makes me happy, even though the underlying inspiration was, at its roots, quite unhappy.

            Similarly, I recently read about a young California man who was killed in an accident mere days after he did a random act of kindness for a total stranger, paying for her food at a grocery store when she herself could not.  When the woman went to find Matthew to repay him, she learned of his tragic passing.  The woman decided to pay Matthew’s kindness forward, and Matthew’s Legacy was born.  If you like the Facebook page of the same name, you can read almost daily stories of people who randomly do good deeds for others, or who have been on the receiving end of such gifts.  I can’t read these without tearing up, but in a good way.  I love these stories.  I want more of these stories.  They truly make me feel good.

            Just this week, I shared on Facebook a story of a little girl who is hospitalized atUCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles.  Lexi Brown posted a sign in her hospital window saying that she wanted a pizza.  Well, Lexi’s room faces one of the tony frat houses across the road, and a few of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon frat brothers saw her written request.  A handful of the brothers went out and bought Lexi a pizza.  They brought the food to her room, along with balloons and a guitar, and they proceeded to serenade her.  Lexi told them she likes soccer, so they told their soccer-playing frat brothers, who showed up with t-shirts.  They spent time with Lexi, passed along positive energy.  And then, as if they hadn’t enough, those young men DECORATED THEIR FRAT HOUSE with a message to Lexi, one she could easily see from her hospital bed.  I cried when I saw the photos.  The frat brothers’ acts of kindness gave me hope:  hope for today, in a world that so often seems overwhelming and unkind; and hope for tomorrow, for a generation I don’t always understand, but which seems filled with empathy and good.

            I love these stories.  I love when someone goes out of his way to brighten someone else’s day.  Sometimes just a little goes a long way.  When we moved to the South, I noticed that women often compliment each other.  “I love your shirt,” one might say, or, “Pretty earrings!”  At first, I found it unsettling.  I mean, I liked receiving the compliments, I just wasn’t used to it.  Now, I try to do it myself.  I have seen the way another person’s face lights up when I just say something nice to them.  “I like your hair!” can make someone’s whole day.  Trust me.

            I was in Target a few weeks ago, just about noon, and I came up behind a woman who had a toddler in her cart.  A tired, hungry toddler, who began to whine out of protest.  The woman became visibly nervous; she was clearly concerned that her child was disturbing me or other shoppers.  She maneuvered her cart toward an empty aisle so she could dig out a snack to appease her child while she hurried to finish shopping.  I walked past and smiled at her.  She smiled back, a look of relief washing over her face.  She was clearly relieved that her child did not bother me, that I understood, or at the very least didn’t mind.  I looked at the little girl and said, “You can’t cry!  You’re too cute to cry!”  The mom laughed and the baby stopped, just for a moment.  I walked on, happy I could even slightly ease these woman’s already frazzled nerves.  It took so little – virtually nothing. 

            The Internet – hell, the world – is full of so much stress, so much negative.  These stories provide a nice balance.  I hope we can create even more good out of all of the seemingly endless bad.  So, now I would love to hear your stories, stories about little kindnesses you have given or received, little things you have read about or heard about or followed online.  These small moments of happiness are worth so much, and these tales fill my soul in a way that no material gift ever could. 

            So, live on #ForceforDaniel, live on #MatthewsLegacy, live on Lexi Brown and the Sigma Alpha Epsilon brothers.  I send you my love and my energy, and I thank you for the gifts you’ve given me, without even trying.


Thursday, December 3, 2015

Well, If I Were You ...

Back to blogging with my three co-bloggers!  Each week, one of us chooses a topic and we all post a blog entry on that topic, usually on Thursdays.  (Usually we are on time.  Usually.  Ok, mostly.  Sometimes?  Don’t judge me.)

Here are the links to the other fabulous blogs:

Merryland Girl           
Moma Rock

            This week, I chose, and I asked everyone to write about advice you give to other people and follow yourself AND/OR advice that you give other people but which you struggle to follow.  Here’s my take:

            Ah, advice.  We mean well, don’t we?  We all have and hear and even heed lots of it.   Lots.  We are inundated with unsolicited advice on a regular basis.  Sometimes, it feels like pressure.  Do this!  Think this!  Avoid that!  I’m guessing the last thing any of you, my Five Loyal Readers, needs right now is more advice, so I’ll just write about it, but I won’t expect you to actually take it.  I can barely follow my own advice as it is (well, not consistently), so I’m going to write about a piece of advice I actually tend to both give and follow, as well as some advice I often give but with which I still struggle.

Feel Your Feelings

            I say this all the time, and I truly mean it.  Nothing makes me crazier than when someone says she’s upset/sad/angry/etc. and someone else tells her to cheer up or get over it.  Telling someone she is “strong,” when she actually feels “weak” is not particularly helpful.  Negative emotions are a part of life, and unless someone feels them to excess, these feelings are normal.  I will never understand why we are so quick to urge others not to feel these feelings.  (I do understand encouraging someone not to dwell on them forever – that’s different.)  If you’re angry, feel the anger.  Yell.  Vent.  Let it out.  Sad?  Go ahead, have the blues; cry if you want to cry, wallow with a gallon of ice cream if that’s what you feel you need in the moment.  It simply cannot be healthy to constantly push away negative feelings, and it isn’t healthy to encourage someone else to act that way, either.

            Overall, I’m fairly good at feeling my feelings.  I do try hard not to remain “stuck” in a negative mode, but some days are easier than others – and I remember that.  I don’t beat myself up if I’m “in a mood.”  You might not see my mood, particularly if I am feeling sad (I don’t like to cry, so sometimes my “sad” looks more like “angry”), but I feel the feeling.  I think about it, think about why I’m feeling that way, think about whether there’s a cause or a remedy, assuming one exists. 

            Good can come out of feeling one’s feelings, even the negative ones.  Change often grows out of feeling uncomfortable.  If you’re constantly angry or negative about your job, by acknowledging and feeling those feelings, you will eventually realize that it’s time to look for a new job, or maybe even a new career.  The same applies when a situation or a person makes you feel sad or angry or tense.  Listen to your body.  You wouldn’t ignore a constant ache or pain – why ignore negative emotions?  Feel them.  Listen to them.  Give them the credence they deserve.  You’ll feel better, I swear.

Don’t Judge

            Although I’m almost an ace at feeling my feelings, I struggle with this one.  I talk the talk, certainly.  I tell my kids, “Don’t judge,” and I remind myself not to judge others.  I know that I don’t know enough to pass comment on other people, and I know it’s not my job in life.  But it is so much easier to say than to do.

            I’ve become fairly proficient at not judging people in situations.  A story:  One of my siblings (my sister) isn’t fond of my other sibling (our half brother).  We three didn’t grow up together, and we have fairly significant age gaps between us.  My sister and I had the luxury of being raised together, in the same house, with both parents.  On the other hand, my brother grew up with only his mother and a small parade of stepfathers (at least one of whom was not good to him).  He has three half sisters and did not live with any of us for any significant amount of time.  His mother (we share a father) passed away fairly young.  Not surprisingly to me, my brother is not sentimental, and he does not put a lot of energy into things like greeting cards and phone calls on holidays.  This?  Does not bother me, at all.  This?  Drives my sister crazy.  She has imposed the paradigm of her own life – timely birthday cards, regular visits to see our parents, spending time together – upon my brother.  Because he doesn’t do things the way she does things, he is wrong.  He doesn’t care.  She’s “not fond” of him.  She excludes him.  That, in turn, makes me crazy.  My brother is a decent person.  My biggest complaint about him is we don’t have a lot in common, but we are also almost 15 years apart in age.  He feels more like a cousin than a sibling – but I love him and I wish I saw him more often.  While I know our father would love if my brother reached out more often, I can also understand why he doesn’t (incidentally, my father is also not sentimental and never buys or sends greeting cards).  My brother wasn’t raised the way we were; he didn’t have the family my sister and I shared.  I refuse to judge him the way my sister does.  I never will – unless I see him mistreat someone.  I am able to refrain from judgment in this situation and in situations like this:  if I haven’t walked in someone’s shoes, who am I to say how I would behave?

            My struggle with judgment comes at a more subtle level.  I unconsciously – and immediately – judge appearances; whether I mean to or not, how someone dresses or speaks instantly pops an opinion into my head.  Once I catch myself, I try to push the judgment out of my head, but I still get frustrated that it showed up there at all.

            Now, I understand that judging each other is both natural and necessary, I do.  We have to assess each other so as to determine whom to friend and whom to fear.  And I know attraction is unconscious; we can’t really help being drawn to someone, or repelled by someone else.  But those thoughts aren’t really what I mean.  What bothers me is that I still think things like, “What is up with her hair?” or “Leather pants?  Really?”  My thoughts are unnecessary and unwelcome – even by me.  They don’t add value.

            Another story:  There is a mom whose child swims at the same time my daughter swims.  I don’t know this mom (her child swims with a different group), but I’ve caught myself judging her.  She caught my eye because she is super loud; she likes to yell to other parents across the large waiting area, or out to her child at the pool (which is noisy and behind a thick pane of glass).  Now, it’s fine that her behavior bugs me; that’s not so much a judgment as a reaction.  But I don’t like that I’ve mentally decided I don’t like her.  I don’t even know her!  She may be a lovely person who just needs a little attention; for all I know, she gives all of her money and time to charity.  I don’t know.  And that’s the point:  I don’t know.  So I shouldn’t judge.

            I am particularly sensitive to this because my first impressions of people are so often wrong.  Knowing this, I truly have no business forming opinions without more information.  And, yet, I still do.

            I hope I will eventually heed my own advice and not rush to judgment based upon appearances or first interactions.  Is it possible?  I’m not sure.  But I’ll give it a shot.  I also hope that, in the meantime, you won’t judge me for judging others.  But, then again, go ahead, feel your feelings.

            Or, even better, forget I said anything.  Who needs that kind of pressure?