You want to smile, so watch these videos

Videos that make you smile: linked below. But, first, a few thoughts interjected….

A woman said to me the other afternoon, “People think I’m a snob, but I just like to talk to the people I like. If I don’t like you, I won’t talk to you.” I couldn’t help but feel this preemptively dismissive attitude would do her a disservice. Minus the repeated unkind offenders, those who I believe I may not like have an amazing capacity to surprise me. So I try not to commit to my initial judgments.  Seems to me, this woman reduces that range of surprise in her life by only interacting with people she decides she likes. Actively seeking to widen the joy in my life by learning from others, I find the greatest rewards. Many of my favorite moments are when talking with random people at a restaurant, grocery store, or event. This is how I’ve made great friends and learned valuable lessons. Opening ourselves to new experiences and people will certainly bring us perspective, gratitude, and – often – joy.

Instead I tried to change the topic, “Some people think I’m too happy, but I think no matter how hard my life is there is always someone with an equal or worse struggle they are enduring. I have no reason to not be happy.” The woman heartily agreed and left my company. I shared this with my hair stylist yesterday and she wisely noted, “If everyone placed their problems in a pile, most of us would rush to grab ours back up in a second. There are lot of people suffering out there.” It is very true, which is why I try to be grateful for what and who I have in my life. And this, in turn, makes me happy.

It turns out enunciating our gratitude creates happiness within ourselves. (See the video below.) The act of interacting with others brings us understanding and growth. As a wise kid put it, “We are all teachers. We are all students.”

As you may have figured out, I am a big fan of SoulPancake and Kid President. If you don’t know them, I recommend you take a moment and watch one or all of the videos below. Then subscribe to the YouTube channel – you can do it with your Gmail address easily. These folks are doing great work, reaching a lot of people out there and making the world a happier place.

The videos below are marvelous. Be ready to be surprised, to smile and perhaps cry, and feel like your heart is soaring. Happy beautiful fall weekend, my friends. I am wishing you all the very best happiness.

Gratitude Practice

Gopi Kallayil – a high level businessman with Google marketing – said to Yoga Journal (November 2011, page 76), “I perform a gratitude practice on my drive to work every day. I count 10 things that I’m grateful for.” Ten things every day. I wonder, how many people might find that difficult? Do they lack gratitude? Do they lack the ability to see good things, or are they simply not in the habit? Kallayil calls it a “practice.” I believe, like any discipline, this is exactly what gratitude is.

When I was a little girl, my mom came upstairs to say “goodnight” every evening. She would stand in the hallway between our rooms, and lead us in our bedtime prayers: Now I lay me down to sleep…. She had her own version of the classic prayer: at the end, we prayed for blessings for our loved ones. God bless Mommy and Daddy… siblings, extended family, friends, neighbors; each night we prayed for them all. My favorite part was the very end: what were we grateful for? Each night we got to think of something new. I would go through the day wondering what I would say I was grateful for that night. It was fun to find something new. After all, of course I was grateful for the important things like health, family, security, love. But the little things – the unusual things – this was their time to shine! I particularly remember three of mine – all of which I had seen on Sesame Street in a “how is it made” feature: Crayons, peanut butter and saxophones. I can still see the images in my head, and the sax was my instrument of choice in junior high band.

Every day I find myself more and more grateful for my upbringing. Because I was raised to be thankful, I learned how to step outside my circumstances to see my good fortune. In other words, to be aware of your blessings, you must be aware of the plight of others. While someone may have had it better than me, there were so many that were suffering more than I could fathom or even know. I learned to wish them an improved situation while simultaneously recognizing my own blessings. This was not simply a process of compare and contrast. There were difficult times in my childhood – like there are for all of us – and the ritual of nightly gratitude taught me to tune into the silver lining, to recognize the positive moments in the day, to rely on hope of the future, to find joy in the little things. It was okay to feel angry or sad about our situations from time to time (indeed, necessary), but we also worked to see our blessings because they were what carried us through the difficult times.

I suggest we find space in our lives like Gopi Kallayil does and create for ourselves a gratitude practice. After a week of this effort, how will it change our perspectives? How will it improve our lives? Let me know your experience here!

Silver linings only belong to storm clouds

How hard do you try not to hurt people’s feelings?

We hurt stranger’s feelings unintentionally, I am sure. We hurt some feelings intentionally from time to time, I bet, too.

But when you really try to do it all right… when you think about all the options and all the possibilities to your best ability so you avoid causing problems… and it still manages to result in hurt feelings, what do you do?

Recently I became aware my actions hurt someone for whom I care very much.  I had debated the possible actions and choices for months, and I knew that my options guaranteed some or all parties might be displeased. In the end I chose one version of happiness, and in turn created unhappiness. Days after learning of the damaged feelings, I am left feeling conflicted, sad, dismayed and confused. I know what it is to be hurt, and would not wish it on anyone. If I am supposed to learn from this – what is the lesson? Is it that I just cannot make everyone happy no matter the effort expended? Is it that my happiness must always fall second place to other people’s happiness when they are in conflict?

When left with these questions, I feel as though no matter which way I turn, I lose. My head spins with possibilities, and not one is a clear winner:

  • OPTION 1: Don’t worry about making other people happy.  Take the risk that your actions will cause discord and focus on your own happiness first. Problem with this: must deal with the aftermath of appearing “selfish.”
  • OPTION 2: Worry about what will please others, because bringing them happiness brings you happiness. Problem: This simultaneously brings the stress of anticipating the needs of those silent masses of people who matter in your life. This can create enough anxiety to eliminate any happiness you gain in considering their happiness in the first place.
  • OPTION 3: Realize you can’t win either way. If you focus solely on making others happy (preemptively) you lose your happiness (because you won’t be honoring any other need but the desire to please others). And if you focus on your happiness only, you degrade the happiness of others because you are not considering anyone but yourself. And trying to balance the two is like an endless process wherein one is trying to balance scales while gravity shifts under the seismic instability of emotional reactions and uncontrollable social variables. In other words: a futile effort.
  • OPTION 4: Exclude people from your life and decision-making so you eliminate the need to please them. But in the process solidify your sadness as you effectively make yourself an island.
  • OPTION 5: Accept their negative emotions (even though it is made difficult by your frustration at having tried so hard to avoid a negative result). Do you take ownership over their emotions? Do you assume responsibility for producing them? Or are we all the sole owners of our emotions with nowhere to place blame but within? To the contrary, if a person is brutally assaulted, their feelings of pain and anger are not entirely their responsibility and are certainly significantly the cause of the assailant. But in day to day social situations, to what degree are we responsible for the feelings of others? There seems to be no good answer. Do we simply allow the emotions to exist in the air that cushions our relationships, unresolved and untended?
  • OPTION 6: Rest knowing you had the best intentions. Rely on the fact that emotions are complex. Solutions are rarely cut and dry. Choices are often presented as a utilitarian balance of what is necessary and what is desired. This balance is tinged by the external variables in the moment, and – when taken out of context – may not seem like the best solution at later date. So again, trust in one’s decision is essential; confidence that we do the best we can at the time is an imperative. 

If the hurt is unintentional – if we truly believe we did the very best we could with the information and influences available at the time of our actions – then perhaps the best we can do is acknowledge the pain and express regret it occurred.

What saddens me, is that hurt feelings exist at all in these circumstances. Because even with the best intentions and the best efforts, the knowledge that we hurt someone unintentionally can in turn hurt us to a significant degree. It seems that hurt, no matter our efforts, is a driving force in our lives. It must often uncomfortably exists in our days, an ever-present reminder that maturity and wisdom are gained not only by the triumph of logic, nor the thoughtful assessment of pro’s and con’s, but also by the visitation of discomfort, sadness, and disappointment. Perhaps in coming to peace with this fact, one might finally achieve the most realistic sense of satisfaction.

The art of working within one’s limitations

Hi. Did I tell you I haven’t made my art in months? This from the girl that was doing her work every day? I got some tendonitis in my wrist and one of the instructions was: no weight-bearing poses in yoga, no embroidery, no scrubbing or chopping. Three things I loved: yoga, my art work, and cleaning (making things shiny) and cooking were off the table. What the hell was I supposed to do?

Luckily buying a house distracted me, but I am still left with a question. How will this change my art? How will I get back to yoga? Doing downward dog can cause my wrist to hurt for days, sewing tightens my fingers within minutes. Doing the things I enjoy brings terrible frustration. Not doing them brings disconnection and sadness. Ironically for choosing a form of art that demands patience, I am not incredibly patient with myself or my limitations. I opted for doing nothing rather than to work within those limitations and find a way out of the problem. Why? Because doing that is hard. And frustrating. And you encounter MANY failed starts. My expectation of doing things without trouble has consistently left me feeling dejected. (I can’t help but feel further guilty because this “limitation” is nothing compared to true disabilities people face in their lives. But that guilt won’t necessarily move me forward the way I would like, so I let that go.)

I am spending my days thinking how I will finish the two embroidery pieces I have going. How will my art practice transform? Answer: I have no idea. But this morning, I feel encouraged. My step-dad sent me a great Ted Talk about embracing your limitations. This man, Phil Hansen, has found satisfaction in making art that works around his limitations, and it is inspiring. Check it out. Just ten minutes of your life – well worth it.


What happy people do

Hello! I have been neglecting you, I know. It isn’t that I have forgotten about you, I am simply very busy! Jake and I bought our very first house (yay!) and are in that lovely period of unpacking and tending to the inevitable repairs that seem to be needed immediately. As a matter of fact, today’s tasks include groceries, a run for the fourth time to the hardware store to look for a groundhog – yes, a GROUNDHOG – trap. We have a freaking groundhog. It would be cute… if he wasn’t living under our porch. 🙂

So, rather than share my thoughts today, I am leaving you with a link to a great little article on what happy people do differently. It’s a fast, easy read and good food for thought. Have a great day!

“22 Things Happy People Do Differently” by Chiara Fucarino