Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Playing Up The Positive - The Basics of Contentment

The old song says, "you've got to accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative". That's good advice. It may not be the ultimate key to happiness, but doing just that can increase your contentment in life.

Most of us would probably agree that there are things in our lives that need improvement, things we would like to change. There is always room for improvement, but we need to be content with the way our lives are, too.

Positive thinking is a must. Letting the negative thoughts in or dwelling on negative issues just brings us down. Positive thinking makes us feel better and gives us more energy as well as encouragement and a clear path to contentment.

Part of banishing those negative thoughts is doing some examination of our lives. If our 'lot in life' seems like a raw deal, looking at things a little more closely may prove that we have it better than we thought.

Basically we can break this down into three categories: being content with who we are, being content with what we do and being content with what we have.

Being content with who we are. Look at yourself. Not just your physical appearance, but your personality, your habits, your skills, your feelings and your overall identity. What do you like about yourself? If there are things you wish you could change about yourself, how important are those things to your overall contentment in life?

Our friends and family play a major role in our contentment with our lives. They are a part of who we are. Think about how the people in your life see you. What do they like about you? What do you like about them? There are probably hundreds of positive things we can identify about ourselves and our relationships with our friends and family.

Don't worry about it if someone doesn't like you. It's more important to like yourself.

Don't think about how you wish you were more attractive or athletic or talented. Don't compare yourself to others. Identify your strengths and your good qualities and focus on those.

Being content with what we do. Most of us definitely have things we dislike about our jobs. We may not like our boss, or the hours are horrible. Maybe our work is too challenging, or too boring. Try to zoom in on the positives, though. The biggest positive is your paycheck. Maybe you'd like it to be bigger, but at the end of the day, it's still a positive.

Do you get along with your co-workers? Usually there are some people we don't like at work. Compare the number of people you don't like to the number of people you get along with at work. Think about the co-workers whom you consider friends. These are the folks who really make the work day more bearable, and that's an important factor in being content with your job.

Having goals and ambitions is essential. Many of us aspire to do what we love for a living. But being content shouldn't be postponed until our dreams are realized. We also need to find a way to enjoy the work we do now.

What do you like about your work? Do you feel a sense of accomplishment? Do you like what you do at work every day? Are there opportunities to try different tasks you think you might enjoy?Finding things you like about the work you do is the most important part of being content on the job.

If you're really miserable at your job, and other than a paycheck nothing comes up positive, you can always change jobs. There's no sense trying to force yourself to be content with a job when it's just not possible.

Celebrating your accomplishments is a great way to boost your self-esteem, a must for being content with your life. If you are doing well at your job, be proud of yourself. Do something special to reward yourself.

If you feel like you've botched something up, don't be too hard on yourself or put yourself down. No one is perfect, and everyone makes mistakes. Think back to what you have identified as the positives about yourself. Vow to do better.

Don't think about how much you hate your job. Think of the benefits of having that job and focus on your goals and ambitions.

Being content with what we have. There always seems to be something we want. Some new toy or gadget hits the market and we just have to have it. If we can't get it, does that mean our lives are going to be empty and meaningless? Of course not.

Material possessions don't fill any kind of void in life. There are some that are basic essentials, and some folks don't even have those. We don't need the latest model appliance or the more expensive car. As for the shiny gizmos, they may give us some happiness, but it's usually not for long, and then they get tossed aside.

Take stock of the things you have. Do you have everything you need? How much stuff do you have that you don't really need?

Don't feel like you have to keep up with the Joneses. They're not better than you because they have more stuff.

It's important to devote more attention to the positives in life than we do the negatives. That may not always be easy, but it's essential to our contentment.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Why I Like to Rake Leaves

Now the leaves are starting to change color and fall from the trees as the seasons shift once again. I like this time of year. The warm yet cool days with just the right nip in the air. The crunch of the fallen leaves under my feet.

Of course it means the cold of winter is closing in. I dread the snowy days ahead. At least for now though I get to enjoy the pleasures of fall. The beautiful foliage, the pumpkins and apple cider, and of course, raking leaves.

Raking leaves? That may not sound like a fun time, but I actually enjoy this particular chore. I always have.

At this time of year, when the temperatures become a lot cooler, the thing I most look forward to is grabbing my rake and some trash bags and heading outside. Partly because it brings to mind the happy childhood memory of jumping into a big pile of raked leaves and lying there surrounded by the aroma of autumn. Then tossing handfuls of leaves into the air and watching them fall around.

Having MS has given me a whole new reason to like raking leaves -because to me it represents physical capability. Everyone I know is always amazed that I actually do things like this. Well, why not? I can do them, so there is no reason not to. I enjoy it and it's good exercise, which I need.

So what if they think I should get someone else to do it because I am 'disabled'?

I hate the word 'disabled' sometimes. I am able. I have abilities. Why do I have to be considered disabled? Raking leaves is an ability. For me it is also a joy.

So what if after a short time I get tired and have to sit down? Or by the time I'm done for the day (which is probably after about half an hour) I'm using the rake as a support as I slowly make my way back into the house?

I don't have the endurance I used to. I accept that. You work with what you've got in life.

It's not about productivity for me. The task of raking leaves represents capabilities and hope. All those dead leaves could represent challenges and problems that life throws at us. Being capable of raking the leaves also makes me hopeful that I am capable of overcoming those problems and making positive changes in my life.

For me the change of the seasons as the year comes to a close is always a time of positive energy. Autumn and winter cover up all the things that have gone wrong during the year and all the bad feelings. They bring about a time to look forward as they pave the way for the renewal of spring and the hope that the coming year will be better.

Meanwhile, I'll enjoy raking the leaves. But when it comes time to shovel snow, I'll definitely have to call in some reinforcements.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Taking on The Boogeyman

Now that Halloween is almost here, it's time to put up the spooky decorations and get out the scary masks. We sure do like a good fright this time of year. Only on All Hallows' Eve do we get to have fun with fear, an emotion that plagues us throughout our lives.

As children we were afraid of imaginary things. We feared the boogeyman and the monsters that we thought lurked under our beds. As adults we find the fears become more real. We fear losing our jobs, getting sick, not having enough money to pay our bills.

Nothing to fear but fear itself? I don't know about that.

Our fears are intensified by what is happening in our world. The economy, war, natural disasters. All these very real fears can make those monsters from our childhood look like sweet little cartoon bunnies.

It's hard to not be afraid of a looming hurricane or job loss. Or being diagnosed with a scary illness like MS. I can't and would never tell anyone not to be afraid when something bad happens. I've been there. I've been scared. I still get scared. Fears are hard to get rid of, and they're made worse by uncertainty.

We worry about what will happen if we get sick or lose our jobs. Thinking about the effects that there could be on ourselves and our families is unsettling to say the least. We worry about growing older and whether we'll be able to take care of ourselves or be taken care of.

Perhaps the future is the new boogeyman.

As adults, we have to face our fears and deal with them. Sometimes we may yearn for the simpler times when all we had to do was call out for Mommy from our darkened bedroom when we thought the monsters would get us.

My strategy for dealing with fear of the future is to focus on what is happening in my life right now and how to deal with it. It's not that I don't think about the future. I just want to spend more energy on enjoying my life now. I've already been diagnosed with MS and had to stop working, and I'm still standing. I've gone through periods where I felt like I was being chased in a scary movie. The boogeyman didn't get me though.

I don't spend time thinking negative thoughts about what could happen. I know when I get another job, I could lose it and have to start all over again. I know my condition could get worse. I could scare myself silly thinking about all the bad things that could happen, and I don't want to live in fear.

Being afraid is unavoidable. We can't prevent the things that frighten us from ever happening, but letting fear take over our lives is useless and senseless.

We can only deal with things as they come. We can draw on our inner strength to deal with the scary stuff if and when it happens.

Our lives are complicated, and just getting through the often very stressful days is challenging enough without having the boogeyman chasing us. We need to lose him and try not to think the worst when things go bump in the night.

Happy Halloween!!!!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Going It Alone

I am kind of an expert on being alone. I am not married, I live alone, and what few family members I have live far away, so I don't see them often.

Spending time alone is a necessity. We need time to ourselves to think and reflect and to just enjoy the peace and quiet. But while there are times when the solitude can be welcome, being alone isn't always a good thing.

As part of my effort to maintain a positive attitude in life, I think I've managed to embrace all that's good about being alone and to deal with the bad and the ugly of being alone.

The Good

Living alone is mostly a good thing. You have the whole place to yourself, which is awesome. No one else is there to get in your way; there's no one to pick up after (unless you have messy kitties like mine). There are no fights over the phone or the bathroom. The space is all yours. Every room is your domain, your retreat.

Some people don't like going places alone, but it actually can be very fulfilling and relaxing.

Traveling alone can be wonderful. You get so much more out of the experience when you don't have to worry about schedules or arguing about where to go and what to see. The whole itinerary is at your discretion. You can gain so much more from the experience and notice so many little things you might otherwise miss.

I traveled to Europe with a group once, and I didn't feel like I was able to enjoy it. Everything was planned to the letter. There was too much running about and no opportunity to just relax and immerse myself in the culture.

I remember when I spent a summer in New York, I spent a lot of time by myself, walking through various parts of the city, taking it all in. It was great just absorbing the sights and sounds of the city. I felt like I was a part of it. Having another person to share it with might have been nice, but I liked being on my own in a different place.

Just going anywhere alone can be great if we make an effort to enjoy it. There is so much to appreciate in life, and we need to take advantage of it. We don't need someone to accompany us every step of the way.

Another good thing about being alone is that you get to be kind of selfish. It's probably the only situation in life where it's okay to feel selfish.

You get to have everything in the house to yourself ("It's all mine!") and you get to do whatever you want and go wherever you want. Outside of your job, there's no one to answer to, no one else whose needs you have to worry about.

The Bad

The downside of being alone of course is you don't have the readily available love and support of a close family in your own home. Sometimes I do wish I had that.

It helps to remember that I am not the only person in the world who is alone. There are lots of people who don't have families, who live alone.

Another disadvantage of living alone is that you have to do everything around the house yourself. When you have MS, this can be overwhelming physically, and sometimes you really wish there was someone else around to pitch in and help. Assuming they would, anyway.

I once wrote an article for an online magazine about being a single woman with MS. In the article I mentioned how I sometimes wish someone else was around to help take out the garbage. I remember the married editor told me her husband was not home much, and when he was home he seldom took the trash out, so you don't really have any guarantee about the help.

Swinging back to the good side of being alone for a moment, living alone can give you a greater sense of self-sufficiency. Having the ability to get things done and not having to rely on others
can actually make you feel pretty good.

The Ugly

The biggest drawback to living alone is that you occasionally get lonely. Of course you can always pick up a phone and talk to a friend or family member if you need company. Sometimes, in these hectic times it's not that easy to get a hold of people though. You reach out for someone only to get the dreaded voice mail.

I always find it helpful to use that lonely time, to just fill that time up with as much activity as I can, whether it be cleaning the house or writing or playing with the cats. Or, Heaven forbid, turning on the TV. I'd rather reflect on my life, look at pictures or work on some of my lists, though. I am always finding little projects to work on around the house. I also think about what I like about being alone, and that helps.

Sometimes if we are feeling lonely, it helps to just get out of the house and go where there are lots of people and lots of activity. The park, the mall. We may not know anyone there, but we are among other people, and thus not alone.

Being alone can bring about insecurities and fears. Why am I alone? What's wrong with me? Will I always be alone? All I know is we can only take life one day at a time. If our destiny is to be alone, then that is what we will be. Finding one special person to share our life with, a soul mate, may or may not happen. Meanwhile, we need to cherish the people in our lives who matter the most to us.

The important thing to remember is to get out there and live. To not mope around about being alone and to treat ourselves and others well. Being the best people we can be makes all the difference. Letting others see our good nature and positive energy will draw them toward us.

It's Mostly Good, Though

Overall I think being alone is something to be savored. It's crucial that we make some time to be alone as often as possible. To experience the freedom of doing the things we want to do and taking the time to really think about and appreciate things. Just enjoying the quiet stillness of an empty house or maybe playing some music and dancing around. Being alone with ourselves.