Be You

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Great photo, huh? I snapped it along the route of the OBX half-marathon in 2012 because of the unique appearance of the person cheering us on. I loved her (his) joie de vivre and think it fits perfectly with this post.

As I mentioned in an earlier post about The Happiness Project, I already knew most of the concepts Ms. Rubin writes about. However, she gives them an interesting and unique twist that makes me say, “Ah, yes. She nailed that one.” Today I’m concentrating on the first of her 12 Commandments, “Be Gretchen.”

Although I didn’t think much about being an individual true to her own values, strengths, and interests in my earlier years, it has become increasingly important, not only in how I live my own life but also in how I encourage others to live theirs.  We’re all children of the universe, in a manner of speaking, and just like snowflakes, we’re all unique. Wouldn’t it be a dull, boring world if we looked, thought, and acted alike?

Accepting and BEING who and what and how we are has applications for many areas of life. Take occupation, for example. There are people who love being accountants, and they’re darned good at it. I, on the other hand, can’t even keep my checking account in order! The fact that it’s online now and can be checked 24/7 has made it easier.

My husband faithfully records his debits and credits in an Excel document and has even set one up for me.  When I recently almost ran into a problem with my account, he reminded me of the value of recording the data in Excel.

“If you’d just do it my way, you’d know exactly what was due and when,” he chided.

“That’s you, Hon. It’s not me,” I replied.

“I’m just trying to help you, that’s all.”

“I know, I know. And hey, I’m going walking in a few minutes. Want to go?” I asked.

He answered me with an exasperated scowl, and I couldn’t resist saying, “I’m just trying to help you, that’s all.”

“But walking isn’t something I enjoy,” he said.

“Exactly. Just like I don’t enjoy poring over numbers in boxes.”

He went back to the computer, and I went for a walk, content with my newfound confidence to “Be Jayne.”

Another area is dress and appearance. One of my daughters and I were chatting on the phone yesterday, and I mentioned that when I was in high school and the first couple of years of college, all females had to wear skirts or dresses. At some point, we were allowed to wear pants to class, and shortly thereafter jeans were permitted. I soon got into a denim craze and have never grown out of it. While some people might think it’s weird for a senior citizen to wear jeans, that doesn’t bother me. I’m living the commandment to “Be Jayne.”

Speaking of attire, last week I had the opportunity to meet with an old friend for lunch and a walk along a river’s edge. It was awesome. But here’s what I wanted to share. She was wearing a beautiful vintage necklace, and when I complimented her on it, she said she had given it to her daughter for Christmas but that her daughter had returned it with the comment, “It’s you, not me.” I knew exactly what my friend was talking about. Even in jewelry, we have our preferences, our looks.

What about you? Do you ever struggle with being you? Do you sometimes feel that you need to be or do or act the way others think you should be? Please share.

Emotional Contagion

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As I mentioned in an earlier post, happiness is my word for 2014. I’m generally an upbeat, optimistic person, so much so that I occasionally get on people’s nerves. Case in point. Recently my husband was moaning and groaning about taxes, and I remarked, “I remember once feeling the sting of property taxes right after Christmas, and when I told Mama about it, she wasn’t at all sympathetic.”

He had known and admired my mother so I had his attention.

I continued with my mother’s words, “Just be thankful you have the money to pay them, Darlin’.”

His grouchy, grumpy expression didn’t change one iota.

“Am I getting on your nerves with this type of thinking and talking?”

“Sort of,” he admitted. “It doesn’t make me feel any better if that’s what you mean.”

Still, I am what I am. According to Gretchen Rubin and the psychologists that she studied while writing The Happiness Project, a person’s innate temperament accounts for about 50 percent of her emotional set point. While I already knew that temperament, the raw material from which the personality is fashioned, is important, I liked being reminded of that little factoid.

#1. I like thinking of getting this characteristic from my mother. #2. It helps me to understand when some people are perpetually down in the dumps, gloom and doom prognosticators or dismal days ahead. They are what they are.

All that to say that like Rubin, although I am generally a happy person, I could be happier. I could work on that other 50 percent of my temperament that can change according to personal choices, effort, and environment.  We all can. Some people just choose not to. Like Rubin, I realized that nothing was going to change unless I made it happen. It’s yet another way of saying, “If it is to be, it’s up to me.”

There are dozens and dozens of suggestions in The Happiness Project, but today I’m zeroing in on a neat concept, emotional contagion. If you’re around people who are negative, pessimistic, or complaining, guess what happens? Right. You become more like them. Years ago, I came across a phrase that I’ve practiced ever since I saw it: sidestep negative energy. I don’t want to be infected by negativity, and have consequently tried to surround myself with positive people (note above photo). I want to be uplifted, not brought down.

Here’s the flip side to this emotional contagion concept. We all  have the power to affect other people’s moods. I think this is especially true for women, for it seems that they set the emotional tone of the home. “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” It’s true that the dad, brother, husband can send out negative vibes too, of course, but when he does, often people just stay out of his way.

I’ve made the choice to act upbeat and happy in the belief that my mood will affect the people around me. Rubin says she began singing in the morning and that her children liked that. She also began acting silly with them and found that her children and husband “caught” her mood. I haven’t started singing yet, but I have started listening to more music and humming along. And I’m working on the silly part.

Regardless of inner feelings, I’m making a concerted effort to act happier today. I’m going to put the emotional contagion concept to work and smile more. What’s something you can do to affect your environment, the one inside of your head and the one you live in?

Let’s Get Happy!

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It’s been a sad season in our household for the past couple of months, but I’m coming around. Part of the reason for my resurrection is my innate temperament, and another part is a book I’ve been reading, Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project. About temperament, Rubin’s book reminded me that genetics accounts for about 50 percent of one’s emotional set point.

Since I’ve been teaching psychology since, well, let’s just say a long, long time, I already knew most of the things in Ms. Rubin’s book, but I haven’t thought of the host of interesting and doable applications that she suggests in The Project. While many people think that lots of money, parenthood, or age are major factors in happiness, they really aren’t.

I’ve already put some of Rubin’s suggestions to use and can tell a difference, not just in my elevated mood but also in that of others that I’m around. That’s not surprising. After all, one of the concepts of psychology is emotional contagion, a phenomenon in which people “catch” emotions from other people. I’d rather infect my friends and family with good cheer instead of gloominess, hadn’t you?

While we were discussing my quest for more sustained happiness, my brother asked, “Why not joy?” I replied that I’m not sure that joy is as attainable and sustainable as happiness. Rubin quotes one of her blog readers who said, “But happiness is more accessible. We can be miserable and then find ourselves laughing, even if it’s just for a few seconds. It reaffirms the will to live and from there we can branch out.”

During a Celebration of Life following the funeral of a loved one last week, I saw and heard several people laughing—people who deeply loved the dearly departed. Although their hearts were broken, they could still find something funny or uplifting enough to laugh about. A quick example is of a cousin who whispered the name of her unborn child to her grandmother who was in a comatose state. No one else knows the name of this soon-to-be-born baby boy except for Nana, and as my cousin was relating the story, she smiled and laughingly told of how she had to make sure that her own mother wasn’t eavesdropping.

“Oh, your mom would never do that. If she told you that she wouldn’t listen, then she wouldn’t,” I said.

“I don’t know,” she said with a lilt in her voice. “Mom’s the one who always shakes the Christmas presents in our house.”

The conversation was mood elevating to me. The room was filled with people who lived and breathed because of Nana, and although she had “passed through the veil,” she took the secret of her new great grandson’s name with her. I love it. And so did the people who were listening, people who loved Nana’s daughter and granddaughter.

Happiness is my word for 2014. Like Rubin, I’m a happy person. BUT as she said, “I wasn’t as happy as I could be, and my life wasn’t going to change unless I made it change. In that single moment, with that realization, I decided to dedicate a year to trying to be happier.”

Me too. I’m going to continue reading and rereading The Happiness Project and apply many (most?) of the recommendations to my life. I’ll be writing about my successes and failures here and hoping that you’ll be inspired to jump on the happiness bandwagon. What have you got to lose except a sour attitude?

Chocolate Candy and Education

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What does chocolate candy have to do with education? Read on, and you’ll see.

Wednesday’s  visit to the hospital was uplifting in a couple of ways. First, I saw that my aunt was recuperating nicely from her recent surgery. Second, I saw that two of my former psychology students are flourishing in their careers as nurses. Both incidents were positive , but the latter made my heart sing. Truly, I love it when I see students succeed, especially when I know that in many cases there were obstacles to overcome.

My sweet aunt is getting a lot of attention from her children and grandchildren today so I’m going to concentrate on the nurses, both graduates of Central Carolina Technical College.

I had never visited this floor of the hospital, and I was feeling a little disconcerted as I pushed through the double doors. The hall was wider than other hospital corridors, and I soon realized it was likely because of so many wheelchairs. I walked slowly down the long hall checking the room numbers, feeling that apprehension that a person feels when she doesn’t know exactly where she’s going or what to expect when she gets there.

And then I saw her, a beautiful nurse bent over her work at a computer. She looked up as I passed, and when our eyes met, she grinned and said, “I made it!” We hugged, and I told her that I’d never doubted her graduation and subsequent hiring. She’s a fighter, determined and persistent. Did I mention that she has four children and lives nearly an hour away from main campus?

I continued toward my aunt’s room, and when I was just about to tap on the door, I spied another former student. This guy really brought a smile to my face, not because he is any more special than the nurse I had just spoken with but because of his personality. I’m not mentioning any names. I’ll just say that my aunt and cousins said that his visits were high points in their days. He’s that pleasant/funny/kind.

Mr. X  doesn’t have four children, but he is also a fighter and a hard worker. When his employer of nearly two decades experienced a merger, this man soon became a displaced worker. Fortunately, he was eligible for retraining, and after 20 years, he found himself back in a classroom. He took to it like a fish to water. Excuse the cliché, but it’s perfect for W’s proclivity for learning and discipline. By the way, he’s married with two children, and anyone who knows anything about going to college while raising a family knows that it’s no walk in the park.

I’m a strong proponent of technical education, and if there’s anyone out there in Blogland who doubts its significance, try visiting a hospital where professional nurses work. All CCTC nursing graduates have endured and survived a demanding, high-caliber program, thus ensuring their ability to care for your loved ones and mine. That’s a reassuring thought, Folks.

Come Follow Me

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I’ve been thinking about my parents a lot lately. It could be the time of year. They both died in October, he in 1998 and she in 2000. Then too, they were married in November of 1947. Fall is a happening time.

For the past week or so, my thoughts have turned more to my father than my mother. Not because I loved him more but because of a family story that I’ve heard several times this month. I’ve heard this tale before, but only recently has it penetrated my consciousness and pierced my heart. The event took place when he was a small child, and I’m wondering how (or if) his life might have been different if this event had not taken place.

As the story goes, one Sunday my father went to church with his parents, sister, and probably some other family members who lived nearby. While I don’t know where the scene was, I’d like to think it was Ellenboro, NC because I’ve visited there and have a visual image of the town and nearby churches, especially Racepath. Did this happen there? I don’t know.

That Sunday, the pastor preached hellfire and brimstone and scared the dickens out of my father, a tiny little fellow who evidently thought Beelzebub was going to snatch him from below and make him one of his own. After church, the preacher came to my grandparents’ home for Sunday dinner, and my father crawled under a bed and would not budge. Too scared to face the preacher, he did without lunch.

Apparently this experience scarred him for life because he never felt comfortable in a church setting again. Lately I’ve been wondering if a different approach would have had a more positive outcome. For example, in the LDS church we don’t emphasize hell. We know it’s there, but the emphasis is on doing the right thing, being kind, and following the example of the Savior.

I think Brigham Young was onto something when he said that people couldn’t be flogged into heaven. To quote him, “A great many think that they will be able to flog people into heaven but this can never be done….people are not to be driven and you can put into a gnat’s eye all the souls of the children of men that are driven into heaven by preaching hell-fire.”

As a student of psychology I know that positive reinforcement works much better than punishment. Punishment has its place, but when people are just learning about the gospel of Jesus Christ, they need to hear the good stuff, the promises that come with the invitation to come unto Christ. “Come follow me,” is so much more appealing than, “Follow me or burn!”

It sounds as if I’m giving my dad an excuse. I’m really not. From studying psychology and observing human nature, I know that many people use their past to cripple them and/or to give them a ready excuse for not living as fully as they could.  People can change at any moment. For my father, there was no reason or incentive to change. And in my heart of hearts (whatever that expression means), I think he just wanted to be left alone about the heaven and hell issue.

Today I’m wondering why I never spoke with him about the peace and sweetness I found in the LDS church. I console myself by thinking that I didn’t have to say anything because he already knew. After all, he was my biggest supporter.

Melting Butter?

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Are you using your gifts to melt butter? That’s a question that I’ve been considering ever since I attended Time Out for Women last month.

At the conference, Sheri Dew told a story about her grandmother whose relatives bought her a nice microwave. This was a long time ago when microwaves were much more expensive than they are today, and the children and grandchildren wanted to make sure that Grandma was enjoying the newest contraption. They were quite surprised to learn that she was using it to melt butter. Period.

Using her gift for turning all sorts of stories into applications for our lives, Sheri Dew suggested that many people do just that: Use their unique talents to melt butter when they are capable of doing so much more. I know dozens of people who could prepare feasts (metaphorically speaking) but are stuck in the melting butter stage. Are you one of them?

I’m thinking of a friend of mine in Myrtle Beach who has a phenomenal musical talent. When younger and in the busy stage of raising children, she didn’t have time or opportunity to put this tremendous musical gift to use. However, she began playing the organ at church and would practice, practice, practice. Her aptitude grew, and she began playing the drums. Over the years, she has become a musical virtuoso (in my opinion).

My musical friend not only plays in a lot of gigs, but she’s also teaching her young grandson how to play percussion instruments. He’s got the gift too! When I see videos of this little child playing, I can’t help but notice all of the equipment around him. When I first met his grandmother, she didn’t have any of that, but with persistence, dedication, and the strong desire to make things happen, she purchased all the necessary pieces. She never gave up her dream or let her gifts lay fallow.

My friend the musician is doing a lot more than melting butter. What about you? Are there some things you want to do but can’t or won’t? Is it because you can’t see the possibilities, or is there some other reason? It’s a shame to let a marvelous creation, whether a microwave or a person, stop at melting butter.

Rainy Day Thoughts

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Years and years and years ago, my brother Mike and I went for a walk around the block in the rain. Why we decided to do such a thing, I don’t know. Neither of us were particularly into fitness in those days, mainly because we were young and thin and healthy. Our mother was a stickler for the major food groups. We never even tasted pizza until we were in high school, not because our parents didn’t approve of it but rather because there were no places to buy it in Camden until the 1960s.

But I digress. Yesterday morning I put on a hat, opened my bright orange IKEA umbrella, and headed out the front door for a walk in the rain. “Enough is enough,” I thought. “I’m not going to be held captive indoors by this rainy weather another moment.” Undaunted by the steady drizzle, out I went for a brisk walk around the neighborhood. It was delightful! With temps in the 60’s, the plunk-plunk of water splashing into puddles, and the cool rain hitting my calves, I was glad that I had decided to brave the elements.

Here’s what I noticed right away, the circles in the puddles. Puddles were everywhere, and the steady dripping of rain made some interesting circular designs. Some circles were big and some were small, and just about every single one of them overlapped or intersected with another, sometimes several others. Plus, ALL of them rippled out into ever widening concentric circles.

The puddle patterns made me think of my brother and our walk that day decades ago and of our parents and their love and care for us (not just the two of us, but all four children). All six of our lives intersected and overlapped, then and now. Today even the grandchildren and great grandchildren are affected by that original family of six and the experiences, choices, and interaction that we all had. Plus, none of the family members live a cloistered life. All are involved, even the young ones, in some type of work, church, play, or community activity, thus giving them the opportunity to intersect with even more lives.

Here is my point (at last). The choices we make and the things we do have a ripple effect, and some of them affect others with whom our lives are entwined and connected. Right now I’m getting ready to go on another walk around the neighborhood. Like Mike said, “I keep moving so I can keep moving.” I know exactly what he’s talking about. After my walk, I’ll get gussied up (sort of) for church. I know for a fact about the ripple effects of that experience. If I didn’t go, well, we don’t even want to think about how beastly I might feel and act.

I could go a lot deeper into the above, but if I do, then I’ll lose the time for walking and worshipping. Can’t do that. The ripple effects of exercise are far reaching. Plus, the interlacing of lives, just like puddles, will be made more pleasant for my family and friends after I spend a couple of hours in church.

What about you? What are some ripple effects of your actions? How are some ways that your life and the decisions you make affect others?

Clouds with Silver Linings

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I’m feeling a bit philosophical after yesterday’s birthday and am determined to find a way to use this great photograph in a post. I was standing in a classroom in Blanding Elementary School in Rincon, GA during an Open House last week, and my granddaughter Brooke looked out of the window and said, “Oh look, there a cloud with a silver lining.” It was gorgeous!

Don’t think I have a lot of cloudy weather in my life today. I don’t, not unless you consider my brother and I having issues with our meal last night or being disappointed with the movie afterwards. Those are minor things, and fortunately, we both have the ability to say, “That chicken is completely tasteless and definitely not grilled,” and move on. We can watch a disappointing movie and say that we learned something from it. What was Matt Damon thinking???

That’s not to say that I haven’t had my share of storm clouds. Like everyone else who walks the planet, I too have experienced loss, disappointment, and the doldrums. No need to go into detail here. What I will say is that storms always pass. It’s nature’s way for the sun to come out again. It’s also true that often there is something good about clouds and storms and fog so dense that you can’t see through it.

Last week when Brooke pointed out the cloud with the silver lining, I asked, “What exactly does that mean to you?”

“It just means the sun is behind the cloud but about to come out.”

“Oh,” I replied, impressed with her knowledge. “How’d you know that?”

“Daddy told me,” she said, leaving my side to go find her father and show him the beautiful sight.

Later, I told her that there would be times in her life when she felt sad or gloomy, and that she just needed to remember the cloud with the sun behind it. “Sometimes tough times in our lives teach us lessons,” I said in my best grandmotherly voice.

She tilted her pretty face up to look at me as she pondered that remark, and although I don’t know how her 8-year-old mind processed that information, I hope she’ll remember our conversation. One day, it will make more sense to her.

There are so many applications of clouds with silver linings. A person could lose a job and find that it offers the opportunity to go back to school and prepare for a totally new and more rewarding career. Someone could get her heart broken so badly that she feels she can never trust or love again. Later she realizes, with relief, that she “dodged that bullet.” A family could be hit with sickness, loss, or disability, and while it’d be hard to find the sun behind those clouds, perhaps the situation will give them increased strength, faith, or courage.

What about you? Have you experienced rainbows after rain and sunshine after clouds? Have there been times when there really were silver linings (lessons, blessings, insights) in the cloudy times in your life?

Stealing Second

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This morning as I read some end-of-semester journals, I noticed that many students had opted to post entries on the psychology blog and then copy and paste their posts into their journals. That’s fine by me, especially since their responses piqued my curiosity enough to go back and revisit the blog. One that particularly caught my attention is about taking chances and going for it, a theme we often discuss in positive psychology.  With only one additional sentence, here’s the copied and pasted post.  Can you see any applications in your own life? I can.

Truth surfaces in the most unlikely places. One minute you’re scurrying into Wal-Mart to pick up some bread and shampoo, and the next minute you’re pondering the words on a person’s tee-shirt.  The message is one that’s been explored on this site fairly often, and yet it’s worth mentioning again. Why??? Because it’s a fact  that some people need reminding of it again and again.

Here goes: “You can’t steal second base with a foot on first.” Clever, very clever. And so true! On the baseball field and in life, you can’t move towards making your dreams become reality if you can’t let go of the safety of your current life situation(s).

Do any of these scenarios ring true?

*You want to travel but are too afraid to board a plane.
*You want to be a professional dancer, but you just can’t leave Podunk, USA to receive the training you need.
*You want to meet someone “special,” someone who makes your heart sing, someone you could spend your life with. You can’t find this special person if you’re sitting in front of your television night after night
*You want to pursue a degree in Golf Course Management, but the only school in the state that offers that degree is two hours away. How can you leave your family and friends?
*You want to attend school full-time, but you’re afraid to take the financial plunge that could make it happen. How can you live on less? It’s better to stay on first base. Or is it?

What’s holding you on first base?  Just do it!  Some of Abraham Maslow’s advice to anyone on the ascent to self-actualization is to say YES to life, to possibilities, to opportunities, to challenges.  As John Greenleaf Whittier said, “For all sad words of tongue and pen, The saddest are these, ‘It might have been.’”

What’s keeping you from stealing second base? Why is your foot still on first when you could be literally running towards a better life?

When I Find Prince Charming

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“If I knew then what I know now, I would have certainly done things a lot differently!” How often have you heard that? Or let’s be honest, how often have you said it?

I’ve been rereading parts of Stumbling on Happiness  by psychologist Daniel Gilbert. He’s reminded me that we often make choices about the future based on what we feel today. Can the present really predict future happiness? Not really, says Gilbert. The future is fuzzy and contains a lot of unknown variables. How can we possibly predict our future happiness based on today’s feelings and experiences?

Upon reading and thinking about Dr. Gilbert’s premise, I thought of numerous examples right way. Below are a few that I’ve heard from students:

  • “When I find Prince Charming, I’ll be so happy! And I’ll be even happier when we can get married and have a sweet little home with a white picket fence.” It happens, but soon you learn that the prince has become a couch potato and that the fence needs repainting regularly.
  • “When I become a parent, I will be so happy!” Then you do. And while you’re not unhappy, your entire life changes as you often go through your days on sleep deprivation  fretting about diaper rash, potty training, possible autism, braces for Johnny, or money for school supplies.
  • “If only I could go back to school and get a degree, I’d be happy.” There you are sitting in class reveling in your good fortune to be in college. But then you hear about the umpteen requirements and school policies and begin to wonder what you’ve gotten yourself into. By mid-semester, you’re ready to bail out.
  • “If only I were through with college and in the working world, I’d be so happy!” You graduate, land an awesome job, and learn that your boss doesn’t appreciate your abilities. Plus, he actually expects you to be at work on time regardless of a sick child, traffic jam, or oversleeping.
  • “I’d be so happy if only I could travel and see more of the world.” Then one day you find yourself in Spain after a six-hour flight across the Atlantic, and despite a tiny bit of jet lag, you’re ready to hit the streets of Madrid. But then you realize your luggage is missing, and no one seems to understand your description of pink flowered bags. Things workout in that department, but then after a few days you begin to tire of old cathedrals and castles and start missing your hometown.

The above represent only a few of the experiences that many people long for in the belief that they will make them happy. When people are wishing and hoping, they don’t always think about how they’ll have to share their money with a spouse or sacrifice free time to take care of children. Their friends get to go shopping and spend their money on lipstick and lunch while they spend theirs on Pampers and pacifiers.

So what should you do to make sure your future plans will make you happy? Gilbert suggests that you talk to the people who’ve been there, done that. That way you can get some good advice. Just a little caveat here. Make sure you talk to the right people, not just to the people who will verify what you want to hear. Plus, there are some people who are dream slayers of the first order. Don’t listen to them either. Grumpy, bitter, and/or complaining, they never offer an encouraging word. Woe is them.

What about you? Do you currently have some plans or dreams that you hope will make you happy? Have you talked with anyone who has achieved or acquired what you want? Or have you already had an experience with thinking that something would make you happy only to find that it indeed did not? In general, just please share some thoughts, observations, or personal experiences.