We hear it all the time. One of my favorite inspirational speakers, Bert Jacobs, founder of “Life is Good” T-shirt company, says it best.
“Eventually we become conscious of the fact that joy doesn’t come from your circumstances. It comes from your disposition. Focusing on what’s going right and what you are grateful for, instead of what’s lacking and what’s going wrong, is a very effective strategy for approaching life.”
Let me preface this by saying, this mindset didn’t always come easy for me. Allow me to be vulnerable for a minute… My late teens and early twenties were full of shallow, artificial friendships. I was addicted to instant gratification, instead of taking the time to build the foundation for long term happiness. If I experienced any sort of pain, whether it be related to relationship issues, family emergencies, job related stress or quarrels with friends, I was quick to negate the issue. If I felt lonely, I would send out multiple texts to anyone and everyone, feeding off the replies, just to be affirmed that I had company. If a boy blew me off, I knew a tight-skirted Saturday night downtown could boost my ego. I had lost my identity in a mess of reckless actions, selfish tendencies, and facile aspirations. I was too proud to “be hurt”, and I saw crying as a sign of weakness. Oh how young and foolish I was…
I would love to tell you that this rather puerile, imprudent period of my life only lasted a few months before I came to my senses, but it didn’t. It took several years of failed relationships, major falling outs with good friends and family, and poor decisions that cost me financially and emotionally before I finally confronted the person in the mirror. This proved to be a very uncomfortable, trying period in my life, but without it, the growth I’ve experienced would be non-existent. It was time for an overhaul on my outlook on life. It was time to get back to who I wanted to be, what I wanted to represent, and how I wanted to live.
It started with a rather painful, raw evaluation of myself. How did I allocate my time? Who did I surround myself with? How do I treat friends, family and complete strangers? How have I handled stressful situations? What was the first thing I did when I woke up in the morning? Over the years, I started to re-program my mind, and I watched as things began to change. Now, when I say thing began to change, I don’t mean the bad times and tough situations just all of a sudden disappear. In fact, the trials and tribulations (mostly consisting of poor college kid syndrome, car issues and other seemingly trivial things) I experienced in my adolescence didn’t hold a candle to what I’ve been through since.
Having to close the book on a 5 year marriage to a wonderful spouse, whom I still respect and admire tremendously, and trade in the acreage in the country for a small townhouse in the middle of the concrete jungle wasn’t something I had in mind for my late twenties, or ever for that matter. The urge to relapse into that “quick fix” mode had never been more tempting. Loneliness and fear loomed ominously overhead as I laid in bed at night, listening to the neighbors yell obscenities to what I’m assuming was the television. I was forced to revisit the trying times I’d experienced throughout the years, the many mistakes I’d made, and the lessons learned. I knew coming out on top of this situation was going to require more faith, strength and most importantly patience, and in order to cultivate these things, there were certain things I needed to do, and certain things I needed to avoid doing as not to hinder this process.
- DONT- start your morning checking your phone. Studies show that receiving texts and social media likes trigger an increase in dopamine, which ontrols the “pleasure” systems of the brain. As a society, we are becoming addicted to this instant gratification process. The problem is, when we allow the number of likes we receive on a photo to measure our self worth, we fall into a hollow pit, void of substance and purpose.
- DO- wake up early, make yourself breakfast and sit with yourself in silence. Allow yourself the time to channel your thoughts in the right direction. Each morning, after I start the coffee, I read the Proverb and Psalm of the day, and relate it to areas of my life. If Christianity isn’t your thing, opt for self mediation. Next, I write down things I am thankful for in my gratitude journal. Even when the morning happens to be especially difficult, we can always find something to be thankful for, even if its as simple as “the smell of donuts courtesy of Dunkin Donuts located a few hundred yards from my place.” I mean, who can’t be thankful for the smell of glazed donuts?! But seriously, by jotting down anything and everything you’re grateful for, a small yet powerful change of mind takes place as the ink begins to fill the blank pages.
- DONT- Feel like you have to have total control over the situation at hand, or your life. This only increases anxiety and stress, and most often sets you up for failure. When we have the desire to be in control, we aren’t as able to “roll with the punches”, and lifes many curveballs can render us helpless.
- DO- Give it all up. Whether it be to the big man upstairs, or just something or someone bigger than ourselves. There is an awesome, liberating and calming sensation that blankets you after you truly give up all your worries, fears and doubts. **Please don’t mistake this with relinquishing all responsibility and thinking someone else is just going to step in and take care of you. I mean accepting and making peace with the fact that we are not in total control of this life, therefore, we understand that the unexpected happens, whether we want it to or not, and worrying and stressing over it only takes away the valuable time and effort that could be spent redirecting your thoughts and coming up with a solution.
- DONT- Put up walls to shelter yourself from the pain, and isolate yourself from those who love you. The tough exterior, and robot-like actions we think will help us heal, only prevents us from facing the situation, and holds us back from experiencing the real joy that life presents us. When you deny yourself the ability to “feel” you’re not only doing yourself a disservice in the long run, but you’re allowing yourself to remain “broken”, indefinitely.
- DO- Be vulnerable. If you would have told me 5 years ago that I would at one time suggest this, I’d tell you that you must be off your rocker. For someone who is inherently stubborn and proud, this was a tough pill for me to swallow, but its allowed me the most growth, spiritually and emotionally. Accepting that we live in a broken world, and that we are in dire need of grace and forgiveness isn’t easy, but it’s necessary if we want to experience that growth. Life is never kittens and rainbows, and that is OK. None of us have it all together, and that’s OK also.
- DONT- Deny forgiveness from those who have hurt you, or think you are “too good” to need forgiveness from them.
- DO- GIVE AND BE FORGIVEN. Forgiveness, along with kindness, is perhaps the most freeing, yet difficult concept for we as human beings to master. It requires that we set aside our self entitled pride, and reflect inwards. It is mandatory that we allow OUR OWN ugliness to be revealed to ourselves, rather than focusing on that of others. Grant forgiveness without expecting it in return. Things have a funny way of working out if you practice this forgotten art.
- DONT- Surround yourself with people and things who do not support your progress and growth. Yes, “friends” and sometimes family will be lost, but if the track you are on is mentally, spiritually and physically “healthy”, the right people will encourage your journey. Keep in mind, when you begin to thrive, jealously and envy will rear their ugly heads and your best and worst critics will be revealed to you.
- DO- Choose who you put in your life wisely, and choose how you spend your time wisely. Devote your time and give back to those who have praised you at your best, and loved you at your worst. Have coffee with your grandmother and take your grandfather fishing if they are still with you on this earth. Make dinner for your parents. Go see your best friend. Sometimes we are guilty of making our lives “too busy”. (Yes, I have been very guilty of this one)
- DONT- be taken prisoner by negative thoughts. Pity, envy, anger, resentment, fear, and bitterness work like roots that grow from the heart and devastate the mind and body. Negativity not only affects you, but the people you’re around, and what’s worse, is it’s contagious.
- DO- Be the positive cure. There is something to be said about someone who can maintain a good attitude despite his or her circumstances or surrounding. Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said, “Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.” A simple smile has the power to change someones day. Imagine what a smile accompanied by a positive attitude could do.
- DONT- Rely on another person for your happiness. Not only does this prevent you from being able to genuinely know yourself, it sets that person up for failure by creating unrealistic expectations. Expecting a spouse, friend, family member or partner to be responsible for our happiness is ultimately detrimental to the relationship.
- DO- Learn how to find your own joy, and cling tightly to what you’ve made of yourself. When you are able to sit with yourself in silence, take yourself out to dinner or to a movie, it doesn’t mean you more than likely have 34 cats roaming around your home and the highlight of your day is yelling at small children whose kick ball lands in your yard. Rather, it means you have learned to love yourself. You have grown to understand that though you are flawed and imperfect, you are worth something… and that in itself is something I hope and pray each and every person on this planet can come to know one day.
That being said, I do not claim to have life figured out, nor do I think all of my days will be easy. I haven’t completely mastered all of these things, and I still fall captive to an occasional negative thought. However, I do know that I’m in a much better place, and I have gained a better understanding of myself and a better control over my mind because of this outlook. Like starting an exercise routine or a new hobby, these things take devotion and patience in order to have success.
Looking back at my mistakes and my costly decisions, its tough to resist the urge to find a way to travel back in time, find my younger self, and smack her upside the head with a 2×4 multiple times in hopes of preventing myself from making them. However, I know each and every one of them served a purpose, and shaped me into the woman I’ve grown to be. I know not of what my future holds, but instead of fearing the unknown, I choose to embrace it. Instead of being paralyzed by the difficult days that we all have, I choose to channel my thoughts in a positive direction. Even the darkest clouds have a silver lining, we just have to be open minded enough to see it.
It’s just a start, but I hope that one or two of the things on this list can be the light for others when their world has gone black. Thank you for reading.
“There’s a sunrise and sunset every day. You can choose to be there for it. You can put yourself in the way of beauty.” – Cheryl Strayed