Time is Life

It happened in church. Something the speaker said triggered a distant memory, and although I had a sketchy image or two in my mind of the event and the principal players, I couldn’t for the life of me recall the day of the week—or even the year. It was probably not a Saturday or Sunday. Of that I was certain. Could it have been a Friday? Memory is a hot topic in psychology, and yet there I sat, someone who’d been teaching about behavior and mental processes for a couple of decades, feeling lost.

I had probably lived (at that time) 16, 425 Fridays but could recall fewer than one hundred of them—or maybe fifty. Truthfully, I had a hard time coming up with twenty. Where had all the Friday nights gone? How had they been spent? And what about the Tuesday mornings? The only one I remembered with any detail was the Tuesday at 3:10 a.m. when my daughter Elizabeth was born.

Church ended, and I forgot about the time thing. Sort of forgot, that is. It was always in the back of my mind, and I made more of a conscious effort to commit some moments to memory by jotting them down in gratitude journals. Years passed, and a couple of years ago I began taking and posting a Pic of the Day on Facebook. My iPhone made this an easy task. In fact, it was a pleasure and forced me to take notice of things going on around me.

Later I became aware of a website entitled 100 Happy Days and decided to participate in that. Several people I knew were doing it so I jumped on the bandwagon with them. Sharing the 100 days with like-minded people added to the fun and challenge.

What was especially enjoyable about the two above activities was the visual record of sights I had either seen that day or that someone had shared. I made a Shutterfly book of the Pic of the Day photographs, and the 100 Happy Days site printed 100 photos for me—for a price, of course. Since many of the photographs include scenes and people of interest, family members enjoy looking at them almost as much as I do. It helps them recall places and things too.

One day this past week I listened to an NPR podcast (TED Talk) about the shifting nature of time. It was right up my alley, and I found it educational and interesting. Psychologist Dan Gilbert’s comments were particularly thought-provoking…maybe more so than those of the physicist who talked about when time began. Since I don’t know as much about physics as psychology, I had to work harder to understand him.

But the speaker I’m latching on to this morning is Cesar Kuriyama who has developed an app entitled the One Second Video. Easily downloadable, the app helps a person “stitch together moments of your life into mini movies that you can share with anyone, or keep for yourself.” At the end of a year, you’ll have 365 one-second videos spliced into seven and a half minutes (or thereabouts).

In Mr. Kuriyama’s words, “I have seconds that look incredibly boring, but represent ridiculously meaningful events in my life, and I have seconds that look gorgeous, but many have been relatively insignificant days of my life. Each second is a secret code to myself that only I know the hidden meaning of.”

The app costs $4.99. I downloaded it Monday and am going to start using it today. And no, I’m not working for NPR or Mr. Kuriyama. I’m just a person who realizes that time is life and that once it’s gone, it’s gone. I also know that a photograph or video can serve as a fabulous retrieval cue. So can some scribblings in a journal, but that’s not what I’m pushing today.

Was that morning in church in winter or summer? Was it raining? Were the children behaving? What was I wearing? All I know is that it was Sunday. I also know that today I’ll be recording my first one second video.

Can a Leopard Change Its Spots?

I knew the gentleman in our writing group meant to write immaculate instead of emasculate in one of the pieces we were critiquing Monday night, and when I asked, “Freudian slip?”, he grinned. So did a few others.

Freud has fallen into disfavor among many people, and yet I can’t help but notice his presence in every intro psych text. Looks like we can’t cut him loose. After Monday night’s meeting, a few of his teachings came to mind. In addition to the emasculate example above, another writer in our group wrote an entertaining story about her mother taking her out of church and giving her a “whupping” because of her misbehavior.

Although the experience wasn’t funny to my friend at that time in her life, now she can laugh about it. The punishment reined in her id and strengthened both the ego and superego. The first time I heard of the id, ego, and superego, I thought Man, there is really something to this. I’m too lazy to go in search of a textbook, so I’m going from memory here, memory based on reading and decades of going over a programmed spiel in PSY 201.

The id is the part of the personality that a person is born with, and it operates according to the pleasure principle. Having no morals, sense of right and wrong, or understanding that there are other people with needs to consider, the id wants what it wants and wants it NOW. Babies cry, have hissy fits, throw food, and kick and scream.

According to Sigmund Freud, the id is powerful and must be reined in, and that’s where the ego comes in.  The ego operates according to the reality principle and develops as a result of interactions between the child and his  environment. A baby can cry all he wants to, but if Mama is driving, she’s not going to take the baby out of the car seat. That’s reality. Sooner or later the child learns to act in socially acceptable ways.

The superego develops last and is based on the morality principle. When a child is taught the difference between right and wrong through disciple, example, and consequences, the youngster develops a conscience that tells him “tsk, tsk” when he does wrong—or even thinks about getting off the straight and narrow. The “ego ideal” is similar to the conscience except that it encourages a child or person to do the right thing because it’s the right thing, not because he wants to avoid punishment, guilt, or shame.

The above three personality components work together in creating behavior. The id creates the demands, the ego adds the reality, and the superego adds the moral aspect. As humans, we have all three, and in a healthy personality all work together. For example, sometimes I might want to overspend, but usually my ego and superego work together to curb over-the-top purchases.

All three components have their value. Even the id can be good as long as we’re not overly hedonistic, selfish, greedy, slothful, or irresponsible. The ego keeps us straight and in touch with reality. The superego is, of course, desirable, but people with too much of it can be so suppressed, straight-laced, and prudish that no one wants to be around them or invite them to parties.

Sorry for this psychobabble. It’s the only way I could get to my point.

I haven’t thought too much about these elements of the personality since retirement, but since Monday night’s meeting, I’ve been pondering the strength of the id in adults, especially those in powerful positions, and wondering if it can be held in check, pushed to the side, or lassoed in. Although Dr. Freud is not here to weigh in on the topic, my guess is that he’d say no.

What do you think? Can a person’s basic personality be modified once adulthood is reached? Can a leopard change its spots?

Tell Me About Yourself

When I was in my late 30’s, I finally got around to reading Dale Carnegie’s classic How to Win Friends and Influence People. I’m not saying it’s rocket science and that everyone should order a copy from Amazon ASAP. Well, maybe I am saying that…at least the last part of the sentence. Rocket science is rocket science, but Mr. Carnegie’s book is the go-to book for getting along with others, maximizing success, and developing relationships.

Its theme is based on fundamental principles of fairness, kindness, courtesy, civility, and good old-fashioned common sense. I’m glad I read it. Like Voltaire said, “Common sense is not so common,” and I needed a few reminders.

I didn’t intend to write a book review. It’s just that I was thinking of the influence that book had on me at an earlier time of my life. I need to go back and reread parts of it, and I think everyone alive could benefit from doing the same thing. By the way, an up-to-date version, How to Win Friends and Influence People in the Digital Age, is now available, but the reviews aren’t that positive. Most of the ones I skimmed advised the reader to stick to the original edition.

But here’s my story. This weekend, I’ll be attending my 50th high school reunion (gulp), and I’ve been reflecting on other reunions. While they’ve all been fun, I recall the 20th with most affection, and I think it’s because my former classmates all seemed to be practicing the concepts of Mr. Carnegie’s book.

Example:

“Hi Jayne, you look great! What have you been doing with yourself? Where do you live? Do you have any children? Really? What are their names?”

While speaking to me, the person was smiling (one of Carnegie’s instructions), spoke my name (another one), and seemed genuinely interested in me as a person. That last behavior is of utmost important in Carnegie’s literature. He believed people should show an unfeigned, genuine interest in the other person. It’s not always about you. In his words, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”

I first read the book because I was teaching Human Relations, PSY 103, and was always on the prowl for a little something extra to spice up my classes. As years passed, I was happy to see that some (much?) of Carnegie’s work fits in nicely with cognitive psychology and the importance of one’s thoughts. I’m going out on a limb and professing that his tried and proven methods of friendly, sane, and measured behaviors are in line with Goleman’s ideas about emotional intelligence. There are definitely some similarities although Goleman’s work is research-based.

Question: Is there anything new under the sun?

I hope everyone who attends this weekend’s activities feels acceptance, interest, and inclusion from his and her classmates. If you’re a sister or brother graduate, you can be sure I’m going to greet you with a smile, mention your name, ask about your life, and listen attentively while you tell me…not because I’m a manipulator but because it’s the human thing to do.

So tell me. What have you been up to since we last met?

Joel Osteen’s Message

I wish I could have come up with a snappier title, but I can’t.

Unless I’m traveling or sick, I usually make it to church on Sunday mornings, not because I’m a holy roller but because I need help. I understand all about loving one another, turning the other cheek, and practicing forgiveness, but there’s something about being in the midst of like-minded people (and sinners) that reinforces my desire to go from okay to good to better to best in thought and deed.

But yesterday we were traveling, and I found myself feeling a little fidgety and ill-at ease. I needed the communion of my church friends to buoy me up. I wanted to hear some beautiful hymns and ponder the mysteries of life and death and what comes after our tenure here on Earth…and what came before. I could have read about all those things and more, but reading wasn’t sufficient yesterday.

As we cruised along towards home, I recalled an article I’d read about Joel Osteen the day before and decided to listen to one of his podcasts. According to Success magazine, he’s “the most popular minister on the planet” and has a net worth between 40 and 60 million dollars. In addition to being able to pay bills, Osteen’s idea of prosperity includes having good relationships, feeling peace, and being able to bless someone else.

I know a lot of people don’t like him. They say he’s more into optimism and positive psychology than into theology. “A motivational speaker with a religious bent,” Osteen stays away from heavy discussions of Satan and hell. Maybe that’s why I like him.

Oops, the cat’s out of the bag. I do sort of like him, probably because he thinks like I do in some ways. I too feel that a person’s thoughts are central in determining destiny, and Joel says, “Your life follows your thoughts.” It’s not rocket science, but there’s truth in that simple statement.

Osteen’s philosophy is akin to cognitive psychology. As Norman Vincent Peale said, “Change your thoughts and change your world.” He wasn’t a psychologist, but he was, like Osteen, a minister, one who focused on the power of thoughts. Detractors would say that positive thinking is more of an armchair activity while positive psychology is aligned with replicable scientific activity, and they’d be correct. Still….

But back to Joel Osteen. His 10.5 million dollar house bothers some people, and while that doesn’t endear me to him, it doesn’t completely turn me off either. I realize that everything’s relative. I have acquaintances who live in houses worth between three and four hundred thousand dollars and some who live in mobile homes, apartments, and condos. All have homes more spacious, safe, and comfortable than many (most?) of the world’s population.

As I wrote the above sentence, I recalled a sign outside of Food for the Soul that I saw this morning. Positioned out near the street so that passers-by could see it, the sign announced that the homeless shelter would be open tonight. 

I missed being in church yesterday, but I like thinking, “You have gifts and talents in you right now that you haven’t tapped into.” There are so many people who need to hear that message, so many people I could share it with. While I would have heard and been inspired by speakers, prayers, hymns, and hugs had I been in a chapel with others yesterday, I might not have heard Osteen’s message.

And maybe his is the one I most needed to hear…and share.

Good Enough or Perfect?

Aren’t words powerful? Come on, admit it. You know they are. Powerful enough to rouse the sleeping beast within, calm the troubled heart, or stimulate the deepest of thoughts, words are amazing creations.

Fortunately for me, I have friends who feel the same about the fun, power, derivation, and meaning of words. A few weeks ago, a group of logophiles met to share new words over lunch. That morning, I had listened to a podcast by Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, and was reminded of the difference between satisficers and maximizers.

After sharing our new words, I hesitated before adding these two words to the mix. Were they too frivolous? Was I partial to them only because of my interest in positive psychology and happiness? After about three seconds of hemming and hawing, I shared Rubin’s words, and we all decided we were (are?) satisficers in most areas. That word, by the way, is a combination of satisfy and suffice.

Since then, I’ve been pondering just how important one’s attitude towards “good enough” vs. perfection can affect happiness and overall well-being. I think Rubin is on to something. Further investigation by a lunch partner revealed that this idea was  espoused by Barry Swartz in The Paradox of Choice.

Here’s an edited version of what I posted on psychcentral.wordpress. com earlier this morning.

Writer Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, and creator of the book related blog and podcast, has tackled the concept of happiness with zeal. Although she isn’t a psychologist, Rubin incorporates the theories of philosophers and psychologists into her personal observations and experiences. A gifted writer, she makes learning about happiness interesting.

One of Rubin’s ideas is based on that of psychologist Barry Swartz, author of The Paradox of Choice. Swartz contends that choice overload can actually make us less happy as we set our expectations too high. Should I try the  vanilla latte or the sea salt caramel hot chocolate?? And what about paint color? Would Soothing Aloe look better on the dining room walls than Morning Zen? And then there are relationship issues. We’re told to “never settle,” and yet is there really a Mr. or Ms. Right waiting in the wings?

Instead of agonizing on and on about decisions, Swartz and Rubin advise readers to go with “good enough.” People who do so are called satisficers and are generally happier than the maximizers those who make perfection a quest.

Years ago, I was involved in a fender bender and had to go car shopping. Friends inundated me with information about price, makes, models, reviews, mileage estimates, and deals. I listened for a while but then began to get a little dizzy with so many facts and opinions.

After work one afternoon I drove the rental car into Sparks Toyota with some ideas about what I wanted. Small, good on gas, and affordable were the top criteria. I knew I couldn’t buy (wouldn’t buy) a new car, but I didn’t want to buy a clunker either. As soon as I walked on the lot, I saw it: a dark green Corolla that was two years old. The salesman was a little surprised at the quick decision, but he didn’t try to talk me out of it or sway me to a more expensive option.

A friend, incredulous that I had made such a snap decision, told me that most people didn’t buy cars that way. Instead, they did a little research first, even traveling across the state to see and test drive different models.  She admitted that it usually took several months for them to make a decision and that even then, she and her husband ended up second guessing themselves. They’re maximizers, and I’m a satisficer.

What about you? Do you have to have things “just right” to be happy, or is good enough okay? 

Let’s Get Happy!

 

I wish I hadn’t run out of time Sunday while giving a lesson on finding joy. There are so many other things I wanted to share, things that could make a definite difference in the happiness or misery a person feels. And all are practical and easy to incorporate into one’s life.

I’ve often said that the combination of religion and psychology has saved my life many times. Plus, there is often an overlap between what psychologists have learned about being happy and what the scriptures say. The former state that there’s a correlation between mental and physical health, and Proverbs 17:22 says pretty much the same thing: “A merry heart does good like a medicine: but a broken spirit dries the bones.”

Today there’s a movement in positive psychology that studies health, happiness, well-being, self-esteem, and a host of other issues. Its emphasis on growth and optimism rather than gloom, stagnation, and pessimism offers hope to millions, including you—and me too. Positive psychologists don’t profess to have a panacea for suffering, but they do think it’s possible to experience moments of joy and happiness regardless of the situation.

Sunday we talked about the importance of prayer, faith, hope, scripture study, and “pressing on.” We didn’t, however, talk very much about being grateful. Having an attitude of gratitude is so helpful! I recall a song whose lyrics went something like, “Standing knee-deep in a river and dying of thirst.” On my walk this morning, one of the songs I listened to was “Desperado,” and this line spoke to me: “It seems to me a lot of fine things have been placed upon your table, but you only want the ones that you can’t have.”

Speaking of my morning walk, my husband often kids me about my lack of athletic ability. When I remind him of my marathons and half-marathons (all a combination of jogging and walking), he usually says, “Anybody can walk.” My answer is, “No Dear, they can’t.” But I can, and I’m grateful that my legs, lungs, and heart work together to allow it to happen.

One of the topics of the lesson was that happiness must be earned from day to day. Just like we need to eat and rest to keep our physical selves up and running, we need to do and think certain things to keep our mental selves in good order. There are dozens of suggestions I could offer, but I’m narrowing them down to something all women can identify with: Jewelry.

Yep. That might sound strange, but I purposely wear jewelry that boosts my mood by reminding me of something or someone.

  • I wore pearls Sunday, and you can guess why—the whole sand and oyster and friction process. Just like pearls, we can use the “refiner’s fire” to make us more beautiful and whole.
  • I also wore a Lokai bracelet given to me by one of my daughters-in-law. From the website: “Each lokai is infused with elements from the highest and lowest points on Earth. The bracelet’s white bead carries water from Mt. Everest, and its black bead contains mud from the Dead Sea. These extreme elements are a reminder to the wearer to live a balanced life – staying humble during life’s peaks and hopeful during its lows.”
  • I also wear a CTR ring (Choose the Right) to remind me to make good choices. That includes not being easily offended, being kinder than necessary, refraining from gossiping, and so forth. I mention those behaviors because they’re the ones that give me the biggest challenge.

Oops, I’ve already gone over my 500-word limit. It’s not a WordPress limit, just one I’ve attempted to practice since most people don’t want to read more than that.

Must ask: What are some things you do to stay happy?

Involvement or Interference?

Pelicans

Because of a project I’ve been working on, I’ve become reacquainted with some of the women of the Bible. Although I knew about them and their families and histories, rereading their stories has given me additional insight into their courage and faith. The two women I’m referring to are Jochebed and Hannah.

In case your memory of Jochebed is a little sketchy, my version of her story is that she gave birth to Moses at a time when Pharaoh had ordered that all Hebrew baby boys be murdered. The midwives refused to do this, and they lied to Pharaoh, saying that the Hebrew women were vigorous and strong and that they gave birth before a mid-wife had time to arrive.

Jochebed kept Moses close by for three months, but when he began to grow and become more active, she knew that she couldn’t keep him quiet forever. Trusting that God would preserve him, Jochebed put her sweet baby in a basket covered with tar and placed him in the Nile River. She knew that Pharaoh’s daughter came to bathe there and trusted that the princess would rescue Moses.

When the princess spotted the baby, she felt compassion on him, and although she wanted to raise him as her own (my take on it), she knew that such a small baby would need a nursemaid. Out comes Miriam, Moses’ sister, from behind the bulrushes and tells Pharaoh’s daughter that she knows someone who will nurse and nurture the baby until he can be weaned. The princess agrees to this arrangement.

The day of separation for Moses and Jochebed comes at last, and he is raised in Pharaoh’s palace with many advantages, including an education that prepares him for his vital leadership role as an Israelite leader.

What would have happened if Jochebed had said NO to letting him go?

Hannah is the other mother on my mind. She had wanted a child for years, and yet she remained childless. Although her husband Elkanah never complained about her childless state, she was grieved by it, especially when she saw the children who had been born to Elkanah and his first wife.

When Hannah and Elkanah traveled to Shiloh, she went to the temple to pray for a child. Eli the Priest, after inquiring about what he perceived to be her drunken state, learned of Hannah’s fervent desire for a child and of her promise to give him to the Lord “all the days of his life.”

Eli told Hannah to go in peace and promised that God would grant her petition. She trusted in that assurance completely, and after Samuel was weaned, Hannah kept her word. It must have been difficult to turn her precious little son over to Eli, but Hannah felt that Samuel was indeed a gift from God and wanted to turn he over to Him.

The day of separation for Hannah and Samuel came at last, and she went back to the tabernacle and presented the child to Eli to be raised there. I don’t know how often she saw her son after that day. Some speculate that she visited him regularly. I don’t know. I do know that (to me) it gives deeper meaning to the oft-cited phrase, “Let go and let God.”

What would have happened if Hannah had said NO to turning Samuel over to Eli?

Moses grew up to be one of the most influential men in all history, a man whom the Lord knew “face to face.” He led the Israelites out of Egypt and later gave us, through God, the Ten Commandments. Samuel was a remarkable man whom God used as a great prophet and judge of Israel.

I can’t help but wonder what their lives would have been like if their mothers had continued to keep them close or to meddle in their lives. Sociologists and psychologists study a social phenomenon called helicopter parents who hover over their children, even adult ones, ready to swoop down and take over regardless of age or of the child’s abilities, desires, or predilections.

Sometimes it’s hard to know when to step back and when to become involved. And sometimes it’s hard to distinguish between involvement and interference. I have no answers to this dilemma. I just know that we might never have heard of Moses or Samuel if their mothers hadn’t turned them over.

What do you think? How can mothers know when to when to let go? How do they stay on the involvement side without crossing over into interference?