No Man is an Island

We owe a debt to so many. Consider the many ways you have benefited from others.


No man is an island,

Entire of itself,

Every man is a piece of the continent, 

A part of the main.    John Donne

 

When we think of gratitude, we consider the many ways we have been blessed by God, and this is appropriate and good. But we also have reasons to be grateful to other people. Several years ago, I attended a workshop on Positive Psychology, which is the study of factors that make some people exceptionally positive. The workshop leader has us do a little exercise and I want to share it.

Sit down with a piece of paper and pen or pencil. You can try to do it in your head, but it won’t be as effective. Take the time to put thought into your response to each question. Try to stretch your brain a bit.

First, write down the names of people who have helped or added to your life in some way. You don’t need to write their full name, just what you would call them. This could include your parents, grandparents or other relatives, your friends or teachers. Try to include everyone you can think of who has helped you or benefited you, big or small. This list will be fairly long. Consider that you would not be who you are or where you are if these people had not been in your life.

When you’ve exhausted this list, write a list of people you’ve never met who have added to the quality of your life. This list could include inventors of things you use every day, like electric lights, cars, heating and cooling systems, television and radio, etc. It could also include the founders of our country and our democratic system of government, as well as the soldiers who have defended it. This list could go on forever, so just include the people or categories of people that come to mind in a few minutes.

Finally, make a list of those people who may have hurt you, but who did also contribute to your life in some positive way. This might include that abandoning parent, who did at least give you life. Or it could include an unkind teacher, who did teach you something of value. This may be the most difficult list, but it is important. Like it or not, we sometimes owe a debt of gratitude to even those we don’t like.

When I finished this exercise, I felt a renewed sense of connection to mankind. I am who I am because of so many. I owe so many a debt of gratitude. I think you will as well. You may relate to the words of Walt Whitman, who said, “I am large – I contain multitudes.”

 

Being There for Someone

We give best when we give of ourselves.

During the holiday season, we tend to think more about giving to those in need. At this time of year, charitable helping_handsorganizations generally receive the bulk of their donations. From the Salvation Army Santa’s ringing bells on the street corner to Samaritan’s Purse shoe boxes to television commercials for children’s hospitals, we see opportunities to give.

Some might say that this increase in charitable giving is simply an effort to take advantage of a tax deduction before year end, but I believe there’s more to it. The Thanksgiving holiday reminds us of how much we’ve been blessed. Beyond the turkey and stuffing, we feel a sense of gratitude for the good in our lives.

When we are able to rise above the commercialism, Christmas reminds us that it is more blessed to give than to receive. We remember the gift of the Magi, and the gift of the Christ Child. We feel more of a kinship with all people. Hopefully, we become a bit more like Tiny Tim, and a bit less like Scrooge.

Giving comes in many forms. Donating money is wonderful and necessary, but sometimes we give more when we give of ourselves. By volunteering our time, we serve others, while blessing ourselves. We feel more of a connection to the cause.

Wayne Dyer, Ph.D. once shared a great story about Mother Teresa. He said that she had gone to a city in Florida for the opening of a new homeless shelter. While there, she was asked to do a radio interview to share specifics about the facility. When she arrived at the studio, the station staff were struck by the presence and humble demeanor of this very small, elderly lady. After the interview ended, and they were off the air, the D.J. continued his conversation with Mother Teresa. He said that he was moved by her mission and wanted to personally do more to help. He offered to stage a major fund raising drive, but she softly told him that they had all the money they needed. He asked if he could do more to publicize the new shelter, but she said her team would get the word out. With some frustration, he asked if there wasn’t something that he could do. He really wanted to do something, but she wasn’t accepting his offers. She then looked directly in his eyes and softly said that there was something he could do. She said, “Get up really early tomorrow morning. Go out on the street and find someone who thinks he is alone, and convince him that he’s not.

This Christmas, it would do us all good to find someone who thinks he or she is alone, and convince them that they are not. And who knows, we might like the practice enough to continue it the rest of the year!

Remembering Veterans At Christmas

Hope you enjoy this touching video, and remember to thank a veteran this Christmas.

This you tube video has been around for a while, but the message is meaningful. I hope you enjoy it and remember to say a prayer for those who are in harms way, so we can celebrate a peaceful Christmas.Soldiers_Silent_Night

The Power of an Attitude of Gratitude

A thankful heart gives us hope, connection and resilience. It's good for the soul!

 

Happy Thanksgiving! This day, we remember our many blessings. My hope is that you will live in an attitude of gratitude is good for mental health and self-esteemgratitude every day of the year. Even in our difficult days, we have much to be thankful for. Today, I have posted a previous article about the power of an attitude of gratitude. Hope you enjoy it.

Once more, scientific research has confirmed something that our parents and grandparents already knew; that counting our blessings, or an attitude of gratitude, will make us happier. In fact, practicing this one habit seems to improve our sense of emotional wellbeing more than any other behavior.

In the mid-1990’s, a branch of psychology began to emerge, called “Positive Psychology”. Rather than focusing on emotional illness or difficulties, this group turned their research toward increasing understanding of the factors that made some people exceptionally positive or mentally healthy.

We’ve all known some individuals who seem to handle life’s difficulties with exceptional grace, and just appear more happy, joyful or satisfied. They clearly experience their share of life’s up’s and down’s, but do with more peace and hope than most. The researchers in Positive Psychology studied such individuals to identify those traits, attitudes or habits they shared that allowed them to do this.

First, let’s look at the factors that did not predict happiness. The researchers found that material wealth or standard of living had very little to do with happiness. While the United States has the highest financial standard of living, we are clearly not the happiest people. Many people who have much less than us report that they are much happier.

The research also found that negative life events did not necessarily lower a person’s level of happiness on a long-term basis. Of course, one’s happiness does go down immediately after experiencing a negative life event, but the research found that the person’s level of happiness usually returns to their pre-event level within two years. This was even true when the negative event was extreme, such as spinal cord injury resulting in permanent paralysis. Interestingly, the same was true for positive life events. Immediately after the event, the person’s level of happiness did go up, but usually returned to their pre-event level within about two years.

The studies did find, however, that exceptionally positive people all share an attitude of gratitude. They report that they pay attention to the blessings in their lives. Most of them consciously and deliberately cultivate this feeling of thanksgiving in each day. Most report that, with practice, the attitude becomes more natural and automatic.

We can all learn to be more grateful. Make the decision to cultivate an attitude of gratitude starting today. Count your blessings. Write them down. Before your feet hit the floor each morning, make yourself think of five things you have to be thankful for. Thank those you love. Thank them for the things they do for you, but more, thank them for loving you and sharing your life. Look for opportunities to be thankful today. You just might find yourself feeling happier!

Making Yourself Happy

You have more control over your mood than you think.

Most people are as happy as they make up their minds to be.

                                                                       Abraham Lincoln

 

How happy are you today? How happy are you most days? Do you tend to go through your days with a sense of well-being or joy, or do you tend to move from one problem to another in your mind?Abraham_Lincoln

 

Research, and common sense, suggest that we have more influence over our happiness than we think. We can increase our feelings of happiness if we are deliberate about it. Most of the time, we can improve our mood if we make the effort.

 

Now, I want to be clear that I’m not referring to clinical depression here. The disease of depression is a physical and mental disorder, which requires treatment. You can’t just snap out of depression. Even in depression, however, you can sometimes improve your mood, with effort. You can’t just decide to make it go away.

 

I’m referring to our day-to-day moods when depression is not a factor. In these situations, we can shift our mood if we try.  We don’t have perfect control over our mood, but we do have more control than we think.

 

Have you ever noticed that your mood one day might be pretty positive, and another day be down and out. Did you notice that your life situation might have been exactly the same on both days? It wasn’t your circumstances that determined your mood, it was your thinking, your perspective or your outlook. One day you thought negatively about yourself or your life, and the other day your thoughts were more positive.

 

So let’s imagine that you listened to the quote from Abraham Lincoln above, and made up your mind to be happy today. You determined this morning to make it a good day. How would you do it? What thoughts would you generate? What thoughts would you avoid? What would you want to notice or focus on?

 

Most likely, you already know the answers to these questions. You would want to deliberately notice or focus on the positive aspects of your life. You would try to avoid obsessing about your problems. You would remind yourself of the things you have to be thankful for. You would make efforts to cheer others up, or make them feel better. You would look for humor. You would get engaged in life activities. You would take the time to notice the beauty of nature. You would remind yourself of the positive traits of those around you, rather than their deficits. You would take the time to do something nice for yourself, or give yourself a little treat, without guilt. You would try to smile more.

 

The problem is not that we don’t know what to do. We just forget to do it. We focus our attention on the negative circumstances in our lives and believe strongly that we can’t feel better as long as those circumstances exist. We believe that we have no choice. We exclaim, “How could I possibly be happier in this situation?”

 

You may be right. Some circumstances are so negative that they do dictate your mood. But most are not.  Everyone has negative and positive circumstances in their lives. If you’re waiting for all your negative circumstances to disappear before you can experience happiness, you will be waiting a long time.

 

What would it take for you to improve your happiness level just one or two notches? Why not give it a try. Be deliberate today about improving your mood. Make up your mind to feel better today. See if Lincoln was on to something.

Comments: What techniques have you found to be helpful in improving your mood?

 

 

A Simple Thank You

Express Your Appreciation and Enrich Your Life

Thank you. Two simple words, often spoken in passing. As toddlers, we were taught to say please and thank you, as athank_you_on_beach common form of courtesy. But, these two words may contain more power than we realize.

These words are spoken in many different situations, when the waitress brings us a drink refill, when a stranger holds a door for us, when we receive a gift, and when a loved one stays with us during life’s hardest moments. Sometimes the words are spoken without much thought. Sometimes they seem woefully inadequate to fully express the depth of our appreciation.

When spoken from the heart, these words create a sense of vulnerability. We let go of our position or status. We are one human connecting to another. We acknowledge our need and the fact that the other person met that need. Sincerely expressing thanks entails humility.

Try this little exercise. Write down names of people you are thankful for; those who have added something to your life or who have done something for you. This list can include family members, friends, teachers, co-workers and others for whom you are grateful. When you have exhausted this list, add the names of people you may not particularly like, but who have also done something positive for you at some time. You might not normally include these people in a gratitude list, but they did do something for you. Finally, add the names of people whom you have never met, but who have contributed to your life in some way. These people could include soldiers who have protected our freedoms, architects of democracy or inventors of things that make your life easier. When you’re done, the list should be quite long.

This exercise has an interesting impact. You will realize that your life has benefited by many, many people. You recognize that you are a product of many, and that you are a part of a much greater whole. You will experience a profound sense of connection. You are who you are, in part, because of many others.

The exercise is impactful, but it still doesn’t address spiritual gratitude. In addition to the people to whom I am grateful, my personal beliefs bring me to a much deeper appreciation for the many blessings I have enjoyed from my Heavenly Father. Those are far too many to count.

So today, look for opportunities to express thanks. Say it easily. Remind yourself that you are not alone. You are part of a much larger whole. You are who you are because of many. Simply say thank you. It’ll do you good.

The Power of an Attitude of Gratitude

thanksgiving_photoOnce more, scientific research has confirmed something that our parents and grandparents already knew; that counting our blessings will make us happier. In fact, practicing this one habit seems to improve our sense of emotional wellbeing more than any other behavior.

In the mid-1990’s, a branch of psychology began to emerge, called “Positive Psychology”. Rather than focusing on emotional illness or difficulties, this group turned their research toward increasing understanding of the factors that made some people exceptionally positive or mentally healthy.

We’ve all known some individuals who seem to handle life’s difficulties with exceptional grace, and just appear more happy, joyful or satisfied. They clearly experience their share of life’s up’s and down’s, but do with more peace and hope than most. The researchers in Positive Psychology studied such individuals to identify those traits, attitudes or habits they shared that allowed them to do this.

First, let’s look at the factors that did not predict happiness. The researchers found that material wealth or standard of living had very little to do with happiness. While the United States has the highest financial standard of living, we are clearly not the happiest people. Many people who have much less than us report that they are much happier.

The research also found that negative life events did not necessarily lower a person’s level of happiness on a long-term basis. Of course, one’s happiness does go down immediately after experiencing a negative life event, but the research found that the person’s level of happiness usually returns to their pre-event level within two years. This was even true when the negative event was extreme, such as spinal cord injury resulting in permanent paralysis. Interestingly, the same was true for positive life events. Immediately after the event, the person’s level of happiness did go up, but usually returned to their pre-event level within about two years.

The studies did find, however, that exceptionally positive people all share an attitude of gratitude. They report that they pay attention to the blessings in their lives. Most of them consciously and deliberately cultivate this feeling of thanksgiving in each day. Most report that, with practice, the attitude becomes more natural and automatic.

We can all learn to be more grateful. Make the decision to cultivate an attitude of gratitude starting today. Count your blessings. Write them down. Before your feet hit the floor each morning, make yourself think of five things you have to be thankful for. Thank those you love. Thank them for the things they do for you, but more, thank them for loving you and sharing your life. Look for opportunities to be thankful today. You just might find yourself feeling happier!

Self-Esteem and Humility

humble_manIn my last blog, I introduced a series on our God-Given Self-Esteem, examining the teachings of the Bible on the proper way we should see ourselves. We examined David’s words that God made man “a little lower than the heavenly beings, and crowned him with many crowns.” (Psalms 8:5) Unfortunately, we rarely believe or accept this definition of our identity.

In today’s post, we will examine the Biblical teaching that we should be humble. How does this teaching impact any work to raise self-esteem? How can we be humble and still consider ourselves “a little lower than the heavenly beings?” Can we be humble and still be “crowned with many crowns?”

Here are some scriptures that teach us to be humble:

 

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has given you. (Romans 12:3)

But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”  (James 4:6)

 …for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)

 

I believe that these scriptures point to a simple truth. They do express reality. We are totally dependent on God. We can do nothing without Him. We are all sinners, saved only by grace.

There is a God and I’m not Him. I can’t comprehend the vastness of the universe. Why, I can barely figure out my cell phone. When considering an all-knowing, all-powerful and all-loving God, any attitude other than humility would be foolish.

My efforts to help people recognize and heal self-esteem wounds is not intended to negate the above scriptures. I believe that any good counseling is a movement toward the truth, and I believe these scriptures are true. We have to be responsible for our mistakes and hurtful behaviors. We all have to recognize our limitations.

But these limitations are universally human. We are all in the same boat. We are all merely human. That’s not a personal defect, it’s just the truth of our identity. In this sense, we should always be humble.

In the next post, we’ll examine how a proper self-esteem can be humble, yet positive. We’ll look at how the world conveys lies that wound self-esteem and destroy our joy. We’ll identify the internal comparison that damages self-esteem.

Question: Have you known anyone that seemed to possess both humility and positive self-esteem? How did they demonstrate this?

Stopping with “Thank You.”

When someone compliments you, how do you respond? Do you respond with some depreciating remark about yourself? “I tried, but I didn’t do a very good job. Someone else could have done better.” Do you quickly return a compliment, as a way of gettingThank_you attention off yourself? “Well, I was just thinking about how pretty that dress looks on you.” Does your response reveal your distrust of the compliment? “Right, now you’re just trying to make an old woman feel good.” Or do you just say “Thank you?”

We often have trouble accepting a compliment because we mistakenly believe that to do so would suggest that we are proud or arrogant. We fear that a simple “Thank you” would indicate that we agree with the compliment and feel we are superior in some way. Think about it. If you genuinely compliment someone and they just say “Thank you,” do you think they are being arrogant, or do you feel good that the compliment was accepted?

We sometimes have trouble accepting a compliment because we are self-critical and can’t imagine that the statement was genuine. The words are so opposed to our self-beliefs, and we assume that our “truth” is evident to everyone.

Regardless of the reason, responding to a compliment with any response other than “Thank you” is unnecessary and sometimes even impolite. Pay attention to your responses to compliments. Force yourself to respond with a simple “Thank you.” It’s enough.

Gazing is Good for the Soul

Have you taken the time to gaze today? Merriam-Webster defines gaze as: “to fix the eyes in a steady intent look Thoughtful womanoften with eagerness or studious attention.” There is a difference between gazing at something and looking at something. To gaze one must pause and be still. In gazing, we take a momentary break from the rush or frenetic activity of common life. There is a particular feeling when we “fix the eyes” that is difficult to describe.

There are many possible objects of our gaze; a sunset or sunrise, a cloud, a range of mountains or an ocean.  The object may be closer; an insect working, a flower or falling snow. Most of the time, we find ourselves gazing at nature, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Taking the time to gaze at a loved one, who is engaged in some activity, can be quite satisfying as it reminds us of our appreciation for that person.

You see, I’ve been enjoying a bit of gazing this morning. As I write this, I’m alternating my focus between the laptop and the beach, but most of the morning I have been gazing exclusively. One can’t truly gaze, while trying to multitask. True gazing demands exclusive attention.

While most gazing occurs spontaneously, it can be deliberately cultivated. Try to find opportunities to pause, disengage from your busy day and gaze. It’s good for the soul.