Friday, February 27, 2009

Laughing Matters

The other day I was in a bad mood all day. I just felt like I had too much to do and everyone was annoying me. By evening I was just exhausted and irritable. Finally having a chance to relax, I played a comedy special I had downloaded on my computer and found myself giggling away within seconds, all my stress melting away.

It's amazing how powerful humor can be.

Laughter is one of the greatest things about life. It has so many benefits: it gets your heart rate up, burns calories, relieves stress, releases those feel good endorphins and helps promote positive thinking. It's just an all-around wonder drug.

Being able to make others laugh is a great gift. I love watching stand-up comics perform. They do such an awesome job of talking about everyday things and making them funny. One thing I think is so important to have is the ability to laugh at ourselves. Comedians are really good at that, and they help us to laugh at ourselves as well.

Sometimes in life, you just have to laugh. Being able to laugh at those little screw-ups we make or the silly things the kids or pets do gives us a break from the dreary and serious routine of work, the pressures at home, the bills piling up and having to deal with whatever problems may jump out at us.

While MS is no laughing matter, I have found not taking some of its effects on me too seriously makes them easier to deal with. Walking a lot slower than I used to is a pain, but when people are waiting for me I just smile and say, "Here I come" or "I'm on my way, just a little slow these days."

Having MS has also turned me into a klutz. No matter how hard I try, I cannot avoid the occasional clumsy episode. I trip, I fall, I veer to the left. I have fallen in the snow three times this winter just while shoveling or brushing off the car. Picture a tree toppling over in the forest. Timberrrrr! That's me.

I could easily get frustrated by the physical challenges in my life. Falling down and having to struggle to get back up is no picnic to be sure. I have learned to make light of my own lack of coordination, though.

A couple I know came over a while back with their eighteen-month-old boy. We were on the front porch and he started climbing down the steps using his arms and legs and I said, "He goes down the steps like I do."

Sometimes I do feel like a toddler - physically. I mean, I'm not throwing tantrums or grabbing whatever I want and saying it's mine. A grown woman acting like that - now that would be funny.

Recommended reading: Someone I think was really funny was Erma Bombeck. Her humor-filled tale of her life as a suburban mom in The Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank is a page-turning laugh riot.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Inspiration for a Positive Attitude

Keeping a positive attitude isn't easy. So many things can happen in our lives that bring about negative feelings, and even though we fight off those feelings, they can return at any time. We may feel sorry for ourselves, or we find ourselves getting discouraged. Sometimes a positive attitude needs a little nudge.

Sometimes that nudge can come from being inspired by people who are going through the same troubles we are or who have overcome other adversities. Even people we don't even know can inspire us with their positive attitude.

Recently, three people, one of whom I did not even see, have been an inspiration to me.

I saw a story on the news about an elderly man who lost his life savings in the highly publicized Madoff scandal. This man was given a job at his local grocery, where he serves as a customer greeter. In these tough economic times, this man, who retired years ago, is back in the workforce, the victim of greed, theft and dishonesty.

Still, his positive attitude was apparent. He smiled and said he's got a job to do, summing up his new circumstances. He seemed to enjoy what he's doing, and his boss even called him an inspiration to people going through tough times due to the current economy.

It's hard to imagine losing everything you've worked for your whole life. I was really inspired by someone going through that at his age doing what he's got to do to make ends meet. It certainly reinforced my desire to get back to work!

On VH1's show Sober House (I watch a lot of VH1), Rodney King, the reluctantly famous victim of a beating by LA police back in 1991, paid a visit to the scene of the incident. He said he forgives the police officers who beat him, and pointed out that it takes more energy to be angry than to forgive. He said he feels lucky to be alive these days. It was such a positive way to look at having to deal with what he went through.

I remember seeing Rodney King on the news after the LA riots broke out. He was an inspiration even then asking, "Can we just get along?" Hearing him speak about that time in his life now, I found it inspiring that he has moved on and has no ill feelings about what happened.

At my most recent MS treatment, I spoke with a woman whose daughter has progressive MS. Her daughter is my age and lives in a nursing home. Her mother described her as being strong-willed. She said her daughter handles all her own affairs and is very active in her own care and treatment. She told me about how her daughter had joked about her condition during one of their recent visits.

The woman said her daughter had been through a lot in her life before MS, and that the MS hit her very suddenly and progressed pretty fast. But the daughter sounds like a fighter, and I can't help but think if someone in her situation can have that good of an attitude, there's no reason I can't.

Stories like the ones about these three people, in however small a way, really do help me to keep my own positive attitude going. I also personally know people who've dealt with adversity, and their strength always inspires me as well.

Knowing or hearing about people who've beat the odds, or are dealing with a bad situation the best way they know how gives us hope. Their inspiring stories can help us to put things in perspective and maintain a positive attitude when we experience difficulties in our own lives.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Gadget Overload (or Fondly Remembering the Rotary Phone)

In the preview for the new movie He's Just Not That into You, Drew Barrymore's character laments about being rejected via several different technologies. Given today's technology, it's not much of an exaggeration.

Cell phones, PDA's, portable DVD players, Blackberry, Bluetooth, text messaging, iPhone, head is spinning. With all the techno-gadgets out there, I have to wonder, how did we ever survive without all this stuff?

Well, we did. Some of us still do. I have a cell phone, but it's not even a camera phone. It has text messaging, but I've never sent a single text message.

I don't have GPS in my car. I don't do a lot of long distance driving, and I use the old fashioned county road atlas if I'm going to an unfamiliar part of town.

I've always been a little resistant to technology. I guess I'm old-fashioned. I grew up in the age of rotary phones (I always liked the sound the dial made), and when I was a little kid we had a black and white TV. When I was in high school, we got cable TV, an answering machine and a VCR, the hot new technologies of their time. Yet, I remember when CDs came out I refused to buy them for the longest time.

It's amazing how far we've come, how much communication has evolved. But while the function and convenience of all the latest technology is appealing, I think we may be too reliant on some of these gadgets.

Do we really need to pay the cable bill while we're ordering lunch at the drive-thru? People are so into multi-tasking these days they are even conducting business by Bluetooth at the grocery while choosing pasta sauce. I once saw a husband and wife talking on their cell phones at the each other. She had called him from the next aisle, and he was walking toward her. Geez!

While it's great we can receive or send information from anywhere, I worry about what all these gadgets have done to us.

It's like we've become gadget slaves. People who are so addicted to text messaging, we will risk getting into trouble at work or school. Or who laugh in the face of danger by texting while driving. Or who have to have every new gadget that hits the market, we don't care what it does, we just know we have to have it! Or who can't just relax and enjoy our leisure time without allowing ourselves to be repeatedly interrupted by our ringtone. Or who'd rather drive into a tree than have to read a paper map.

Seriously though, sometimes I get nostalgic for the days when we didn't have all this stuff. Things are moving so rapidly these days, and everyone just seems so stressed out, doing more and working faster, that I find myself missing the simpler times.

Still, all the technology we have is pretty neat, and it does make life easier and allow us to get information faster. But it may have the tendency to drive you nuts. Think of poor Drew!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Self-Improvement Journey

One thing that is essential to our contentment in life is feeling good about ourselves.
Sometimes even though we like ourselves, we may decide there is room for improvement. We may want to lose weight, get organized, work on being a better listener. We just realize there is something we'd like to do better or that would help us to feel better.

I'm a little embarrassed to admit this, but I've been watching a show on VH1 called Tool Academy, where guys whose girlfriends are fed up with them for being bad boyfriends are trying to work on their relationships by becoming more honest, mature and trustworthy. They are working on improving themselves so they can be better men for their girlfriends.

It's kind of a lame show, but it got me thinking about what kind of self-improvement I need to do.

The first step in any self-improvement plan, of course: identify what you need to work on. Then come up with a plan of action, set some goals, and identify the rewards.

Ditch the bad habits.

Make a list of any bad habits you'd like to shake. Old habits may be hard to break, but I have some I sure need to try and get rid of.

Probably my biggest bad habit is that I procrastinate. I am constantly putting things off until the last minute, and I have a couple of 'ongoing' projects that I haven't even touched lately. I'm also frequently late to appointments (I swear this one is hereditary) and I have a tendency to interrupt people when they're speaking.

Do yourself some good.

Whether it's quitting smoking, exercising more or eating healthier, we all could use more wellness in our lives.

One thing I've been hearing other people with MS say is that they've been eating better - cutting out fat and that sort of thing. I always kind of gulp and think about how bad my diet is. I love sweets, and I've never been able to stay off french fries. I know if I eat healthier I'll feel better, but I need more willpower.

Become more _____ (fill in the blank)

I've always struggled with being shy and unassertive. I've gotten better at being more outgoing and assertive as I've gotten older, but I still need to work on both of these things more.

I think we all battle insecurities and want to develop qualities that could help us in different areas of our lives - on the job, in our relationships, and so on. Perhaps we want to be more dedicated, have a more positive attitude, be more patient.

So how can we go about trying to improve ourselves?

There are lots of self-help books out there and programs to help you break habits, like smoking for instance. It really just comes down to discipline - sticking with something. Sometimes we need to get motivated or we need a push. Get friends and family in on the act. Make them hold you accountable.

It all starts with setting goals. I set a baby-step goal to spend an hour each week working on one of the projects I've started. Hopefully my goal will lead to a finished project and a feeling of accomplishment. (If I can just get that stool in the kitchen fixed...)

I already have started to eat healthier. Honestly, food prices aren't going to make it any easier, but that's no excuse. Even just substituting veggie soup is better than having fries.

I had a couple of early appointments last week, and I'm happy to say I woke up early enough, left early enough, and got there on time. (That's huge for me.)

I've also been finding myself striking up conversations more lately. When I go for my treatments, when I am at the grocery, or just recently at an employment center orientation. I feel very good about the fact that I can talk to people so easily now (and I haven't interrupted anyone lately). I just need to keep it up and not crawl back into my shell.

Being able to see some good results from some of my self-improvement goals has really helped me to feel positive and stay motivated.

You can do things to improve yourself, but it's also important to be yourself, and not try to be someone else. I used to not like myself very much, and I thought I had to act differently in order for people to like me more. I eventually found that people really do like me for who I am.

You don't have to make changes to make people like you. Having a positive attitude and liking yourself more really goes a long way.

Now as for the guys on Tool Academy, they really do need to make some changes.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Spring: A Time of Renewal

Spring is still weeks away, but we've gotten a nice little preview of it the last couple of days. The snow has almost completely melted (yay!), there has been brilliant sunshine, and there is a freshness in the air.

Even though I know winter isn't over yet, it's so great to have this respite from it. The weather has made me feel so energized. Springtime always renews my spirits and puts me in a positive frame of mind. Just knowing how close we're getting to it has me feeling a sense of excitement.

Springtime is going to be so welcome this year, I think. Being bogged down with two feet of snow in January wore me out.

Spring is the best time for getting positive energy going. No one ever says they have the "springtime blues", right? When winter releases it's frozen grip on the earth and life begins to emerge from it anew, we can't help but feel rejuvenated.

This little preview of spring has inspired me to make a list of things to look forward to about the season to get some positive feelings blooming. (pun intended)

  • The feeling of the sunshine on my face.
  • The leaves on the trees again, finally!
  • How beautifully green everything is!
  • The scent of fresh-cut grass.
  • Seeing the daffodils poking up through the ground.
  • Opening all the windows in the house and letting the fresh air in.
  • Driving with the car window rolled down.
  • The sound of the kids playing outside.
  • Spring cleaning - getting rid of clutter and putting up freshly laundered curtains.
  • Cleaning up the yard & putting away the snow shovel.
  • Hanging my winter coat away in the closet and packing away the boots.
  • Seeing the robins poking at the ground for worms.
  • Walking around in the yard, picking fragrant lilacs and lily of the valley.
  • Getting back to the park and enjoying the sight and sound of the creek flowing.

I just can't wait for spring. I like the changing of the seasons, but spring is definitely my favorite. It's amazing how it can renew your energy and make you feel such a sense of hope and contentment. What a beautiful, simple gift from nature!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Journey Toward Happiness

One of the New Year's resolutions that I made for this year is to be happier. I looked over my list of resolutions again today, and I thought to myself, "Okay - how exactly am I going to accomplish this?"

It's a pretty general statement to say I want to be happier. It sounds like a tall order, too. In thinking about it, I asked myself: What can I do to be happier? What will make me happier?

There are lots of things that can happen in our lives that bring us happiness. But sometimes we have to find happiness on our own.

If my goal this year is to be happier, I figured it probably won't just come my way through a series of fortunate events. I probably won't win the lottery, for instance. That would be wonderful of course, but I thought a plan to create more happiness in my life would be more practical.

I think doing the following would help us all reach a happier place:

Find things to be happy about.

Sometimes we can get pretty bummed out about how things are going in our lives. Maybe we don't like our jobs, or we have problems with a relationship. We may not feel like we have much that makes us happy. But by looking a little more closely, we can see that we do have lots of things to be happy about.

Make a list of the things that make you happy and the things that are going well. I started a list a long time ago that I've added to over the years. I just write down any little thing that I like or that I'm glad about. Like chocolate. Or more recently, the fact that in spite of my love of chocolate, I've dropped a few pounds. (I think it's all the snow shoveling!)

No matter what we may be going through in life, we can always find something to be happy about. Simply counting our blessings or looking around and seeing that there are positive things going on around us can make us happy.

Spend more time doing the things that make you happy.

Whether it's cooking dinner for friends, heading out to the golf course or curling up with a good book, just take time out to enjoy yourself more.

Spend more time with the people in your life who always make you laugh. Try to spread some cheer around to someone else who needs it. Giving to others and making them happy is a great way to make yourself happy, too.

Embark on a new journey of fulfillment.

Everyone has ideas about what would make them happier. A new relationship, a new career. We all have things we want to do, places we want to go. Often though we get stuck in a rut, and we don't go after the things we want, even though we would like to be happier.

We hold ourselves back sometimes in life. Maybe it's because we can't get motivated, or we have a fear of failure. Having a positive outlook and going after what we truly want could get us to that happiness, so why not try?

Trying something new or searching for something meaningful in our lives or just seeking out a more fulfilling career could make us much happier. I spend a lot of time thinking about what I'd like to do, but I feel like now is the time to act on it if I really want to try to be happier.

I think it would make me happy to know that I finished something or that I am on my way to where I want to go in life. The happiness would come from the journey.

Focus on the positive.

Banish the negative thoughts and focus on the good things in your life. Keep reminding yourself what a great person you are and that you deserve to be happy.

Certain things that make us happy may be hard to come by these days. But even if we can't have everything we want in life, or things aren't going our way, we can still find ways to be happy. The more time we spend with those we love and doing the things we love, the happier we can be. We can choose to focus on the positive; we can choose to be happy.

The journey toward happiness begins within ourselves.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Seeing the Beauty Around Us

The world can be a very ugly place. War, crime, corruption, disease, the news often bombarding us with reports of horrible events that anger and disgust us.

Fortunately, there is a lot of beauty in the world as well. We can see so much of it in our daily lives when we just look around. It stands out, taking the focus away from the ugliness.

The people around us can add so much beauty to our lives with their kindness and loving support. The love we share with our family and friends is a beautiful thing.

There are a lot of good people in the world, and having good people around us makes our little corner of the world a more beautiful place.

I feel blessed to have people in my life that provide such good care to me in treating my illness. The nurses at the clinic I go to are more like friends. I have wonderful neighbors who help me. Just the other day we got about a foot of snow, and I looked out the window to see one neighbor plowing my driveway, while another was clearing off the front porch. I am very touched by their generosity.

One of the most wonderful things you can see is that rare story in the news that details someone's selfless act or the good work of a person or group whose goal is to help the people who need it the most. When we do something to help others, we are doing something beautiful.

Children, with their innocence and unspoiled view of life, are among the most beautiful people in the world. They give us hope for the future.

Animals are beautiful people, too. They add so much joy to our lives and ask for so little in return.

Every new life that comes into the world is a beautiful thing.

I have seen a lot of beautiful places, but the place that I call home will always be the most beautiful in my eyes. It is the place where I am most content to be.

Freedom is a beautiful thing. Without it, we would have nothing.

All these beautiful things are in our lives for us to appreciate. They are the positive things in a world where there are too many negatives. Sadly, one negative is that there are people who don't appreciate these beautiful things, and that is truly a shame.

You can go to all the beautiful places on earth, see the most beautiful sunset or spend hours in a museum looking at stunning works of art, but we can see beauty most closely when we look at ourselves. Each one of us is a unique and beautiful creation.