Child Brides and Monkey Pox

Last week a couple of good friends and I went to a Women of Vision exhibit at the Mint Museum in Charlotte, NC, and we had a great time.

Wait. It was great, but it was also consciousness-raising and thought-provoking. Although I have a copy of the book by the same name, seeing the enlarged photographs up close and personal was a sobering experience. Reading more about the stories behind the images and hearing the photographers discuss them have haunted me all week.

We saw a child with Monkey pox, a virus caused by eating contaminated meat. In this case, the child had eaten Gambian rat, the only choice in town so to speak. Starve or eat rat? That’s what psychologists call an avoidance/avoidance situation, one in which neither alternative is good.

 My friends and I had just dined at Chicago Dog across the street, a diner with lots of atmosphere and several delicious food choices. Our conflicts were of the approach/approach variety since all options were attractive.

We saw a frail-looking 5-year-old bride posing with her 25-year-old husband and another child bride howling with fear and as she rode with her family to her wedding. We also looked into the eyes of an 11-year-old who had attempted to commit suicide by catching herself on fire rather than succumb to a life of sexual and physical abuse.

 On the way to Charlotte we had talked about gender issues, including the incidence of cohabitation, the elaborate venues of today’s weddings in America, and the quest for romantic love.

We also saw girls in Mumbai standing in front of their cages. They were prostitutes with no education and few choices.

Here in the United States, education is a right and responsibly for all of its citizens…including the females.

After viewing the exhibit, I was a feeling a bit melancholy, not for myself but all of the injustice and unfairness in the world. How and why did I get so lucky?

Something else that niggled me was the oft-quoted reminder that no one gets to heaven without a belief in Christ. And yet I was 99.9 percent sure that none of the above people had heard of Him. Did the child in the Congo with Monkeypox go to hell? And what about his mother who sat weeping beside his bed day after day, week after week?

 I could not/will not believe that something so unfair can happen.

A couple of days later, I read a Face Book comment by one of my nephews that sent me to Mere Christianity, one of C.S. Lewis’s most profound and popular books. Although I had read it many times (especially some chapters), on this day I opened the book right to the following sentence:

But the truth is God has not told us what His arrangement about the other people are.

It’s not that Lewis knows the answer to all mysteries, but he’s certainly further along the path of understanding than I. For the moment, I feel better about the child brides, the Monkey pox victims, the starving children, and the prostitutes. God has not told us about His arrangements.

Have you ever had similar thoughts and feelings? How did you deal with them? 

Eggs in One Basket

Lately I’ve been thinking about the truth behind the cliché, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” Yesterday I thought of how it lines up with Stephen Covey’s concept about finding one’s center. Anyone who knows me well knows that I’m a huge Covey fan, and I’m amazed and pleased at how often his writing comes to mind.

According to Dr. Covey, in order to get where you’re going, you need to find your center, what it is that you’re all about. After writing about the various centers that a person can have, he discusses the importance of having universal principles of fairness, love, equality, integrity, kindness, and honesty at one’s core. These values are timeless, unchanging, and present in every culture. They won’t let us down.

Often we have other centers that give our lives focus and direction. Examples from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People include self, family, spouse, friends, work, and religion (or church). All of those things are good and are valuable. BUT sometimes when they’re at the very core of a person and he (or she) loses one, then the person’s whole world falls apart.

  • If your family is more important to you than anything else, and then someone in your family dies, gets put in prison, goes astray, or lets you down, your world could come crumbling down if that’s all you ‘ve got. Think empty nest syndrome.
  • If your job is primary in your life and you lose it for whatever reason and have nothing else of importance, you’re anchorless.
  • If you’re enemy-centered, and thoughts of getting even are foremost on your mind, then that person is in control of your life and thoughts, not you. Covey gave a great example of a man who was thinking of leaving the university and taking his family with him to another locale because there was a person in his department who was the bane of his existence.
  • If you’re friend centered, your friends might get busy with other aspects of their lives and neglect you. What then? Are there other eggs in your basket?
  • If you’re spouse centered, that person could disappoint you, perhaps even find another.
  • If you’re church-centered, what happens when its teachings don’t line up with what you consider to be “right?”

Again, caring about the above events and people are important. Covey just reminds his readers to have some balance in their lives and to have fundamental values and principles as guiding forces in our lives, thus keeping us from cracking when our baskets drop.

Have you ever put all of your eggs in one basket? If so, how has that worked out for you?

 

 

Stop, Look, Go


Until I heard people discussing it, I didn’t know that March 20th had been proclaimed as the International Day of Happiness, a day that recognizes the pursuit of happiness as a fundamental human goal. All I knew was that there were several videos of people dancing to Pharrell Williams’ “Happy.”

When I learned about this double duty day, first day of spring and day of happiness, I actually felt, well, you know, happy. I had recently read Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project and was already familiar with the work of psychologists Martin Seligman and Dan Gilbert. I know that money, fame, and education don’t create happiness, and that gratitude and forgiveness can contribute to it. Even so, I’m always eager to learn more about this essential emotion.

My lesson came from the radio. I listened to an NPR interview with David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk, whose most recent book is entitled 99 Blessings. Steindl-Rast contends that happiness is born of gratitude and not vice versa, and he offers a method that we all can use to help us live more gratefully.

We all know people who seemingly have everything that money can buy and yet they are unhappy. We also know people who have misfortune, illness, and tragedy in their lives, but somehow they are happy. According to Steindl-Rast, that’s because they are grateful and are aware that every moment is a gift.

Grateful people are aware that every moment is a gift, and Steindl-Rast states that everyone has the ability to develop this same awareness. We often say that opportunity only knocks once, but according to him, that’s not true since each moment is a new opportunity. If you miss the opportunity of one moment, there’s no reason to fret. Another moment is promised to us…and another and another.

Steindl-Rast says there is a very simple method that will help us live gratefully. We must Stop, Look, and Go. He admits that stopping is hard for many people. Busy, we rush through life and therefore miss many opportunities because we don’t stop. We have to build more stop signs in our lives. STOP! Whatever life offers you in that moment, go with it and realize that it’s a gift.

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We need to STOP, take a look around, and be grateful for the moment. Plus, it’s comforting to think that no matter how many opportunities we have missed, there will always be another one. Maybe you were meant to miss that first one. That job, that relationship, that phone call, and that interview were not the only moments and gifts you will have. Something better is on the horizon.

While listening to this interview, I had the thought I’ve had many times, that there’s really nothing new under the sun. Anyone who’s familiar with positive psychology (or even pop psychology) knows that an attitude of gratitude is essential to happiness. And yet, there was something that touched me about this monk’s words.

As an experiment, STOP right now, LOOK around you, and think of how grateful you are for this moment. If you’re not happy with this moment, realize that it’s just one moment, one point in time, and that there will be millions of others. GO forth with the knowledge that you will have many future moments filled with opportunity.

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.