Previous month:
April 2009
Next month:
June 2009

who's afraid of the big, bad past?

 

Reflecting 
  
I took my love, I took it down
Climbed the mountain and I turned around
I saw my reflection in the snow-covered hills
Till the landslide brought me down

Oh, mirror in the sky, what is love?
Can the child in my heart rise above?
Can I sail through the changing ocean tides?
Can I handle the seasons of my life?

Well, I've been afraid of changing
'Cause I built my life around you
But time makes you bolder
Even children get older
And I'm getting older too

Take my love, take it down
Climb a mountain and turn around
And if you see my reflection
in the snow-covered hills
Well, the landslide'll bring it down
The landslide'll bring it down

Fleetwood Mac

 

 


Last night the past smacked me right in the face. I was just standing, stone cold sober in a loud and messy bar, when it walked up to me and gave me a firm, hard slap in the face. It was one of those moments when everyone around me was exclaiming, "Oh, wow! What a small world!" and "So funny! I can't believe you two know each other!" while I stood there in shock. It was the first time I'd been to that bar since I'd stopped drinking. It was the first time  in a long time that I'd even thought about that part of my past. And, I'll be honest with you, it hurt. I felt my chest tightening. I felt my lungs sucking in air as if I might stop breathing. I felt my heartbeat pick up speed and the skin on my face shading to that lovely shade of crimson (it's favorite shade when all eyes are on me). My palms were sweaty and my mind was chanting, "Run. Run. Run. Run." I forced a smile. I released a few awkward laughs. I said more than I should have, my words tumbling out before I had the chance to remind myself that they might have been the best things to tell a stranger. I clutched my keys in my sweaty palm, overly conscious that I was holding car keys while everyone around me held a glass or a bottle. I was in panic mode. Every bone in my body, every muscle in my mind, was telling me to run, to get the hell out of the bar and never come back.

 

Sounds dramatic, yes?

 

For me, it was. It was one of those OMG moments that makes you literally want to crawl into a hole and never come out. And this particular situation was just dripping with so many OMG moments that I was drenched by the time I left the bar. The part of my past that I'd run into was the part I'd wanted to escape. In fact, it was two-fold. Part of it related to the me in California and part of it related to the me in high school. I want to be neither of these people and I've come so, so far from who I was then. So why was it coming back to haunt me? Why was it this time -- this first time that I was back in an old hangout -- that I was faced with this situation? I am happy now, so why did this (or, rather, these) encounters make me so unhappy?

As I crawled into bed last night I pondered these questions. I wondered why I was so deeply disturbed my the situation. If I was so happy now, why was I letting the past get to me? I tossed and turned for a bit, unusually unsettled in my own bed. I wanted answers. I wanted to know why something that happened years and years and years ago could affect me so much right now. I wanted it to stop. I wanted to push my emotions away, but I didn't. I sat with them. I let them be what they were. I tried to be objective about them and remind myself that I feel this way right now and that's okay. It will pass, but ignoring it is not the way to make it go away (oddly enough). I was proud of myself. I could have asked for a drink at the bar to cut the tension in my nerves, but I didn't. I could have come home and indulged in a full-out crying session, raising my eyes to the ceiling and moaning, "Why me?!" but I didn't. I could have done at least a dozen self-destructive things (and, believe me, they all crossed my mind), but I didn't. I sat with the feelings. I accepted them. And then I made positive choices.

 

I walked the dog for longer than I usually would (which she loved).
I read a bit of a great book (The Geography of Bliss...so good.).
I made two phone calls to people who listened and who made it feel better.

 

I made better choices than I think I have in a long time. I chose not to embrace self-pity and indulgence in my negative emotions. I chose to do positive things, while still remembering to acknowledge my feelings. I was -- and still am -- very proud of myself. If I had the courage to write about the way I once was on this site, you would see that I have great reason to be so proud of these seemingly mundane decisions.

When I woke this morning, it took a full 30 minutes before I remembered what had happened last night. I was so caught up thinking about the new blog I'm working on, about celebrating a good friend's birthday, about positive things, that it took me awhile to recall the negative. This, I thought to myself, had to be a good sign. I had come a long, long way over the past few months. Only...after giving it some thought, I realized this shockingly upsetting fact: Last night I was very uncomfortable with who I was.

The whole time I was faced with meeting new people and running into the past (including some people from a decade before, when I was a totally different girl), I was thinking to myself: Do I look okay? Why did I choose to wear this outfit? God, I wish I'd showered before coming out. I wonder if I look different to them. What does this new guy think of me? I wonder what they remember about me. (At this point my mind flashed back to some of my stellar performances when I was staring in the role of The Drunkest Girl in the Room...let me just say, I should've been an award-winner...) This morning it dawned on me how many times I thought about the way I looked, about the words that were coming out of my mouth (oh god, I'd said too much!), about the impressions I was making vs. the impressions I had made in the past. I realized that, after all that I wrote yesterday about judging, I was doing A LOT of judging of myself.

Not cool. Not cool at all. Why was I being so hard on myself? It didn't seem like anyone was judging me. Those I hadn't seen in awhile said, "You look great!" Everyone was happy to engage in playful banter with me. So why I was being so hard on me? Diane Von Furstenberg once said, "The secret is to enjoy being you." Clearly I was not enjoying being me. And clearly this was making me unhappy. And then, this morning, I realized -- in one of those perfect aha! moments -- that I wasn't necessarily unhappy with who I was last night; I was unhappy with who I used to be. I was unhappy with the person I used to be, the only person that people from my past knew me as. I wanted to be the me I am now back then and obviously that wasn't possible. I recalled a quote (sorry, don't know who said it) that I'd copied into a notebook the other day:

 

Strive to live unrestricted by your past.

  

Apparently I wasn't doing this so well. I was letting my past -- which I'd neatly folded and shoved under my bed, hoping it would never be seen again -- infiltrate my present. I was letting who I was impact, to a great extent, who I am now. Of course, the past will always be with us. We cannot undo what has been done. We cannot go back in time and make better choices (but how I wish we could!). All we have is now. And, the way I see it, we cannot let the past (especially the bad parts of it) take over. I've worked so hard over the past six months at trying to be a happier, more positive person. I am not about to let one awkward night of revisiting the past take that away from me. I am putting my foot down.

Okay...so...the foot is down. Now what? It's one thing to say I'm not going to let it get to me. It's quite another to actually do something about it. So I've rounded up some pretty awesome quotes about the past and I'm going to use each of them to make this situation better for myself. I bet you've been in a similar situation (or someday might be) and these might help you out too. It's not easy to live in the present. I try. I really, really try, but I'm not always there. Sometimes I get sucked back into the past, caught up in thinking about what might have been or what I think should have been. But, as I'm sure you know, it's pointless. You can't go back. You can only be here now. Focusing on the now is what I'm striving to do, and I really believe I can overcome this little hurdle and come out even stronger because of it.

 

5 Ways to Battle the Big, Bad Past


#1: Don't Forget to Let Go

Strength is measured not
by holding on, but by letting go.

Len Santos

 

This was the very first quote I came across and, by far, my favorite. Of course, literal strength can be measured by holding on, but figuratively it takes a lot of strength to let go. For whatever reason, most of us really want to cling to the past. We want to hold on and keep it with us and relive it over and over again in our minds. But that's not healthy. You know that. I know that. We deserve better from ourselves. We deserve to be free, to be unrestricted by what is over and done with. I know how difficult it is to let go. I have spent many a night lying awake revisiting memories and wondering what I could have done or how I can undo what has been done. But there's no going back. I don't think it's healthy to ignore your past or completely forget it, but I do think it's necessary to let it go. Is there a difference between forgetting and letting go? Yes, I think so. You must know what was and do your best to understand it and then you must set it free to be what it is: something you will never get back. That might sound like a downer thing to say, but it is the truth. The past is over. Accept it. Let go. Move on.

#2: Tolerate Its Differences

The past is a foreign country.
They do things differently there.

Leslie Poles Hartley

 

I remember the past in bits and pieces, as most of us probably do. It's never a clear cut, exact memory. I remember what I want to and I know this. But I have a hard time, especially these days, understanding that life I used to live. How could I keep doing the same things over and over when they kept hurting me? How could I spend so much of my time with people who treated me badly? Why didn't I see how important it was to make a change? How could I have wasted all of those years? I look back and I frown in disappointment. Why was I the way I was? I don't understand (though I'm certainly working on it in therapy!). I don't get it sometimes, as much as I want to. And that's why I love this quote. It's important to understand that we might not always understand. And that's okay. It's okay to not know exactly why things happened the way they did. It's okay to look back at your past and see a foreign land, with signs all written in a language you can't understand. It's not necessarily easy to accept this, but it's important. We don't have to understand everything. We can try (and probably should), but it's okay to recognize that our memories and our interpretations are imperfect.

 

#3: Embrace the Now

You can clutch the past so tightly
to your chest that it leaves your arms
too full to embrace the present.

Jan Glidewell

 

Such a beautifully expressive quote, isn't it? We have the ability to restrict our present by clinging too tightly to the past. In my case, I wanted to completely forget the past and pretend like it never happened. I viewed it as this horrible, how-could-you? thing that I wanted to run away from. But, in my vicious attempts to avoid it, I was somehow also clinging to it. I wasn't letting go (see the first quote) and I wasn't really, truly moving on from it. By not dealing with it, I was allowing it to stay with me. By not accepting that it was gone and I couldn't change it, I was, in my own way, clinging desperately to it. And, in doing that, I wasn't leaving enough room for the now. How in the world can I really embrace living in the now if the slightest remembrance of the past sends me into a tailspin of chaotic emotions? I haven't dealt with the past properly and I'm still holding on. I need to let go and make room for the present, for the new and positive me.

 

#4: Use What You Can

Everything you live through helps
to make you the person you are now.

Sophia Loren

 

It's not easy to look back at the bad and find the good. It's so much easier to just write off your bad experiences and hope they don't happen again. But your past -- regardless of how much you want to forget it -- is part of you. You cannot deny that. So, my advice? Use it to your advantage. Take what you can from what you've been through and learn from it. Sure, this isn't easy. Sure, it requires a lot more work than just being thankful you don't have to go back to your past. But it's worth it. You can learn from everything. There is always something new to discover about yourself and understanding why something happened in the past is a great way to do this. You are who you are now because of the past, so make the best of what you went through. I certainly know that I've learned a lot from my mistakes (even if I did have to make them over and over again to finally get it). I wouldn't be who I am if it weren't for the bad times. We can always learn, but that learning process is a choice. You can keep going on, not thinking about what is behind you, or you can take another look and expand your mind by learning from your experiences.

 

#5: Know Your Limits

You cannot see the past that did not happen
any more than you can foresee the future.

Madeleine L'Engle

 

I don't know about you, but I have a special talent for making the past seem a lot better or worse than it was. I romanticize situations. I demonize people. Yes, I know this isn't healthy, but I think to some extent we all alter the past with our current perceptions. And we invent imaginary ideas of what could have happened. It's important not to go back and think about what could have been. When you start to think of "could haves," remember this: It could have happened that way, but it didn't. And, as the quote suggests, you don't know what the outcome of that so-called preferred situation. Everything, I believe, happens for a reason. Sometimes it's not clear what that reason is. Sometimes I don't think ever really becomes clear. But I think there's a reason. And you have to accept that. You have to realize that you should not go back in your mind and create "could have" situations. What happened, happened. There is no undoing it, and it's really not healthy to go back and analyze make believe situations. Know the limits of your past. Know the limits of your mind. Go back and think about the past, learn from it if you can, but don't dwell there, thinking about what could have been.

 

Well, there you have it -- my two cents on how to deal with a past you'd rather forget about. Though I have to say I would really like to go back to yesterday and have made the choice not to go to the bar, I do think that a cathartic post came out of it. I feel better after writing this. I feel like I have a plan, like I can deal with the past that I've been trying to avoid. It's not going to be painless, I'm sure of that, but I know it will make me a better person. If I deal with my emotions (even the bad ones!) I'll be much better off than if I try to pretend I'm not feeling a certain way. I still feel a tightness in my chest when I think about last night and all of the baggage that comes along with it. I still feel myself catch my breath when I think about what the future could bring, the potential it has to twist and tangle itself around my past. But I think I'm ready to take this on. I'm reading to stop avoiding and start living in the now.

How do YOU handle things about your past that you'd rather avoid? How would you react if you were faced with them?


stop judging: 4 reasons, 5 things, 6 ways

positive judgments 

You can easily judge the character of others
by how well they treat those
who do nothing to them or for them.

Malcolm Forbes

 

How much time do you spend judging others? I would love to be able to sit here and write that I am such a wonderful, open, loving person that I don't judge anyone, but that's just not the case. I judge. And I mean judge. And I hate it. It's one thing I do much more often than I should and it's one thing that ultimately causes a great deal of unhappiness within me. I judge others' clothing. I judge others' actions. I judge others' words. I know we all do this to some extent and I also know that it relates completely to how we feel about ourselves. If you are 100% happy with who you are, you are a lot less likely to feel the need to judge others. Though I'm becoming a lot more comfortable with who I am and, therefore, judging others less (yay!), I still have a long way to go until I am self-assured enough not to cast a downward glance at others.

I've been thinking a lot about this, and I've realized that judgment is something I do without thinking -- all the time. Someone cuts me off in traffic? I mumble, "What an asshole!" Someone comes to work wearing something from a few decades back? I think, "God, she needs a makeover!" A friend spends time with a no-good ex? I think, "That's really pathetic." When I think about these things (which are only a few small examples), I realize that all of them could easily be me. I've cut someone off in traffic before. I've worn outfits that weren't fabulous (hello, middle school!). I've certainly spent time with exes I shouldn't have. I judge others when I could very well be in their shoes. And, worst of all, I feel bad about it after. When I judge someone, I don't feel good about myself -- not even for a second. I feel bad. I feel sad. I don't want to be judged and I've always believed in the idea of treating others how I want to be treated. And I certainly wouldn't want someone whispering to a coworker, "Did you see her new hair color? Awful!" (Yes, I've said that.)

 

It's not what you look at that matters.
It's what you see.

Henry David Thoreau

 

So why do I do it? Right now I think it's become a habit. I believe it started off as a way to bond with people, especially other women. When you talk about someone else, most people will gladly join in. There is a bonding that comes with judgment so I understand why I started doing in in middle school and high school. There's nothing like getting a laugh from the popular kids! But I'm not in middle or high school anymore. I'm not even in college either (where I did a fair share of judging as well, though I always found a way to rationalize it so I didn't feel like I was being a grown-up high school girl). I'm an adult now and that means I need to act like one. Which means NO MORE JUDGING.

 

Everything you need
to break unhealthy cycles
is within you.

Unknown

 

I know I can change. After having changed so much in relation to my attitude, I know I have the ability to change and to stop placing so many judgments on others. It's important to remember that I'm talking about negative judgments here. Not all judgments are bad. Not all judgments are hurtful or painful or wrong. But most of them are. And those are the ones I want to stop. I want to be a happy person and judging others does NOT make me happy. Ever. I know, as the quote above says, that it's up to me to make the change. No one is going to put an end to my judging for me. Just like happiness, it's up to me to make the change. I'm pretty darn sure this won't be easy. I've been judging others for a long, long time. It's going to take a lot -- and I mean, a LOT -- of work for me to realize what I'm doing and stop it before it happens. It's going to take a lot for me not to join in when I hear the critical words of others. It's not going to be easy, but, most things that are worth it aren't. After doing a little thinking, I thought of 4 reasons we judge, 5 things judgments do, and 6 ways to stop judging. I think understanding why I do it and what it does is just as important as figuring out how to stop, which is why I've created three lists instead of just one. Feel free to add your own ideas in the comments section.



4 Reasons We Judge Others

  • We are insecure. This is the main reason we judge. When we are insecure and/or unhappy with who we are, we try to put other people down. Though it doesn't usually build us up when we put others down, we do it anyway. We want to feel good by making others feel bad.

  • We are scared. Often, when we're scared or intimated by other people, we'll put them down. Coworkers band together and make fun of their boss (see The Office). Two women see a prettier woman as a threat and they make fun of her outfit. When people are scared, they try to feel better by putting others down. We also may fear those who are different from us and may judge them just because they are unlike us.

  • We are lonely. As I mentioned before, there is a bonding element that goes along with judging others. When you are lonely, you might use judgments to bond with other people, but these bonds are based on negativity. The bonds you have based on judging others are superficial and are not likely to contain true substance.

  • We are seeking change.When we want our own lives to be different, we are quick to judge the lives of others. For example, if someone wants to be in a committed relationship and his friend gets engaged, he might whisper, "Oh, that girl is so not right for him. I don't know why they're getting married." If we are jealous of others' changing lives we are likely to make quick judgments.

 

5 Things Judgments Do

  • Hurt other people. This might not always happen. If the person never finds out what you said, you're in the clear, right? Not necessarily. Things have a way of coming back and hurting people in unexpected ways. Think about what you say. Would you say that to his/her face? If not, it's probably best left unsaid (and un-thought!).

  • Make you feel worse about you. When you judge others (or, at least, when I do), you feel bad afterward. You don't feel good about yourself. You might get a tiny rush from the judgments, but, ultimately, you feel guilty. You think you're a bad person for casting such harsh judgments on others. You bring yourself down when you bring others down.

  • Perpetuate stereotypes. The more judgments out there in the world, the more stereotypes get formed and people are trying to live up to (or avoid) the ideas of what they are "supposed" to be. Whether stereotypes are based on race, gender, spirituality, ethnicity, appearance, or any other attribute, they are bad news. They force people (including you!) to feel as if there are standards they must meet instead of living a free, happy life. Don't be a part of perpetuating stereotypes with your own judgments.

  • Put negativity into the world. No matter what you way you rationalize your judgments, they are not bringing anything good into the world. They bring others down. They bring you down. They make the world a more unhappy place. Can you imagine if we were all accepting and loving of one another? Can you imagine what the world would be like if we tried to understand other people rather than judging them?

  • Encourage you to judge yourself. If you're judging others, you're probably judging yourself pretty harshly as well. As for me, I know this is the case. For example, I judge what other people wear, and, as a consequence, I'm extremely concerned with what I wear. I spend quite a lot of time on my clothing and appearance and I bet I would do this less if I didn't judge others so harshly.

 

6 Ways To Stop Judging

  • Monitor your thoughts.Think about what you thinking about. I often go along thinking things about other people, judging them, and I don't even realize it. I'm going to work on paying more attention to my thoughts and do my best to push them in a positive direction. 
     
  • Look for the positive. Judgments are negative. There is almost always something positive you can find in someone or something. While my mind might immediately focus on the negative, I can push my thoughts in a more positive direction and look for something nice to say. And, of course, if you can't find something nice to say, don't say anything at all.

  • Avoid stereotyping. Stereotypes are never, ever good. I really try to avoid them, but I know I don't always. As I said above, they really create a lot of negativity in the world and I know I don't want to be a part of that. I want to work on recognizing stereotypes and working to avoid them at all costs. There is no need for them in my life.

  • Stop judging yourself. It's not all that easy to do, but the more we judge ourselves, the more we'll judge others. I judge myself a lot and I need to work on that. I need to focus on the positive aspects of me and then it will be a lot easier to focus on the positive aspects of others. There's no reason to be so hard on myself and I'm going to really, really work on this one.

  • Focus on your own life. When all else fails and judgments are hard to push away, focus on yourself. Don't worry about what other people are doing/wearing/etc. Think about your own life. Focus on what you want and go after it. When you're trying to avoid your own problems, it's easy to criticize others. Don't. Think about you and focus on the good things.

  • Remember how it feels. Remember how it feels to be judged. AND remember how it felt the last time you judged someone else. It doesn't feel good to judge or to be judged so put an end to it right now. I'm going to work on remember these feelings the next time I feel like a negative thought about someone else is cropping up.

 


In my quest to understand (and stop) my judgments of others, I found a few really interesting articles/sites. I especially liked this passage from The WELL called "On the Foolishness of Judging Others": 

"The act of judgment is an act of pride. It involves looking to our own store of knowledge, putting together a few facts, figures or fancies, and coming up with some sort of answer or solution to a given problem or situation. All too often it is the wrong solution or answer, and because of pride, we refuse to correct course. Judging others is an act of monumental pride - enormous pride, stupendous pride, galling, astonishing, fantastic pride. This should be understood. When you render judgment on another, you have taken upon yourself an awesome responsibility for making the correct judgment. Because, after all, your judgment is not necessary. All things, big and small, invite your judgment. The condition of the weather, political matters, the taste of your food, a television program - at every moment of the day, something or other is inviting your judgment of it. And so often, and so willingly, you render it, without being aware of the consequences, without taking care of the responsibilities entailed. You judge, and then to make matters worse, you believe in your judgment. You've looked at the evidence, you've made a judgment - it must be right! There couldn't possibly be any other conclusion to arrive at but the one your've chosen, could there? What you don't see, don't understand, is that your judgment leads to suffering - your own suffering. It does not touch the person judged; he or she is free of you and your thoughts and your judgments. You cannot change their behaviour by even a hair's breadth by your judgment."


For more passages like this one, visit these sites:

stay-positive-book

 

Wondering how you can stay positive and present on a daily basis? Check out my book, Stay Positive: Daily Reminders from Positively Present, filled with daily tips, advice, and inspiration for making the most of every day. Stay Positive is available in Paperback and PDF. Learn more about the book (and watch the video!) at StayPositive365.com


living my happily ever after now


LiveHappilyEverAfterNow 

There was a time
I packed my dreams away
Living in a shell
hiding from myself
There was a time
when I was so afraid
I thought I'd reached the end
But, baby, that was then
I am made of more
than my yesterdays

This is my now
I'm breathing in the moment
As I look around
Can't believe the love I see
My fears behind me
Gone are shadows of doubt
That was then
This is my now

I have courage
like never before
I've settled for less
Now I'm ready for more
Ready for more

This is my now
I'm breathing in the moment
As I look around
Can't believe the love I see
My fears behind me
Gone are shadows of doubt
That was then
This is my now

Jordin Sparks

 

A little while back, in the post "the lucky number seven" (see #5), I mentioned that I was working on an art project. After gathering all of those images of happy people and pasting them to a canvas, adding my favorite phrase "live happily ever now," I've finally completed the project. I feel great about it and I really think it's a great thing to wake up to every morning (it's hanging across from my bed so it's the first thing I see when I open my eyes!). Looking at the large canvas hanging on the wall cluttered with images of happy smiling people certainly makes it a lot easier for me to choose happiness every morning (though I will admit that today, with its low hanging clouds and gloomy attitude, it wasn't all that easy!). Every morning I'm striving to say my new mantra when I wake. After opening my eyes, I say to myself, "Today I choose to be happy." Sounds simple enough, but it's not always. Sometimes I want to say, "I choose to be a real bitch" or "I choose to be in a mood so bad that no one around me can be happy." But I don't. Not anymore.

Happiness is a choice. Why am I so certain a bout this? How can I say this with such certainty? Because I'm living proof of this statement. Every day I face unhappiness. I am naturally prone to it. I veer toward the negative side of life and then I take hold of the wheel and say to myself, "No! Today I choose to be happy." I make the choice every day not to venture down that old path, the path of sadness and loneliness and depressive thoughts that kept me from being the person I always wanted to be. Some days it's not an easy choice. Some days it feels like it's the hardest choice I've ever had to make. But at the end of the day I am always, always thankful that I chose the happier path.

When I was a kid, I used to think there was such a thing has "happily ever after." I used to think I would grow up, become a famous writer (or the editor of Vogueas I often dreamed about), live in an amazing Manhattan apartment with my amazing and loving husband, and have so much money I couldn't stand it. I imagined myself blissfully happy, busy and fulfilled, my life filled with friends and parties and all of the beautiful clothes I could ever want (after all, the editor of Vogue does get all of the latest and greatest fashions, right?). To me, that was the fairy tale life -- the man, the career, the happiness (am I a baby of the '80s or what?!). I thought I would have it all and I thought that all I had to do was work hard and look pretty and it would all fall into place.

But these are dreams of childhood, and, as we all know, they don't last forever. When I was in middle school I started to doubt real life dreams. I cannot tell you how many times I've read in my journals over the past week or so, "Dreams don't come true! They don't!" I was angry and bitter at my discovery that the world wasn't all fantastic and perfect and magical. This place I was in wasn't the animated set of a Disney film. This was real life and I wasn't quite sure I was down with it.

I believed in the possibility of happiness (there was still a bit of hope in those old journals), but I wasn't quite sure where happiness came from. Could I buy it? (That didn't seem to work.) Could I blame the lack of it on society? (That didn't work either.) Could I look for it other people? (That didn't work and, in fact, seemed to bring about more despair and doubt.) Could I move away and find it? (That didn't pan out so well either.) Could I alter my mind with drugs and alcohol to find it? (That also brought about more unhappiness.) Could I research it? (That wasn't a bad idea but it still didn't really work.) How in the world, I wondered, could I find this elusive happiness?

Years and years and years of searching have brought me to the happily ever after that I find myself in now. No, I'm not working for Vogue (though I'd still love to -- call me, Vogue!). No, I'm not married to the man of my dreams (and actually have no desire to be married). No, I don't live in Manhattan in a fabulous apartment (but I do have a pretty decent one near the great city of DC). I am not living a "dream" life, but I do believe I've managed to achieve one goal -- and it is the most important goal of all -- being happy.

Right now I am living in my happily ever after. It's not someday. It's not with someone else. It's not when I have my dream job (yes, I know I will someday!). It's RIGHT NOW. This is my happily ever after. This is, as Jordin Sparks sings, my now. I can choose to love it, to be happy in it, to consider this my happily ever after. Or I can be miserable. Which would you choose if you were given the choice? Oh, wait, you are given the choice! You are no different than me. You can wake every day and choose to be happy. Yes, you can! C'mon, you know you want to...Okay, so you want to, but you don't know how? Don't worry! I just came across some strategies for choosing happiness over on Oprah's website. (I love that site!) Here are the strategies:

 

How to Live Happily Ever After NOW

(Thanks, Oprah's website!)

  1. Don't worry, choose happy. The best way to choose happiness is to be aware of what's going on in your mind. We have the ability to thwart "negative emotions such as pessimism, resentment and anger. And we can foster positive emotions, such as empathy, serenity, and especially gratitude." Though many say we all have a set level of happiness, you can decide to be happier by looking at your mind and understanding where the negative and positive emotions lie. You can choose which ones to focus on (not easy, but definitely possible!).

  2. Cultivate gratitude. If you focus on being grateful for what you have, you're a lot more likely to be happy. After all, if you're focusing on what you do have, rather than what you don't have, you're shifting your attention to the positive. One bit of advice that I like (and is very similar to my happy list idea) is to list the things you are grateful for every day. "This shifts people away from bitterness and despair [says author of Authentic Happiness, Martin Segilman] and promotes happiness." Give it a try -- it's a great way to choose happiness!

  3. Foster forgiveness. I love this advice: "In his book, Five Steps to Forgiveness, Everett Worthington Jr. offers a five-step process he calls REACH. First, Recall the hurt. Then Empathize and try to understand the act from the perpetrator's point of view. Be Altruistic by recalling a time in your life when you were forgiven. Commit to putting your forgiveness into words. You can do this either in a letter to the person you're forgiving or in your journal. Finally, try to Hold on to the forgiveness. Don't dwell on your anger, hurt, and desire for vengeance."

  4. Counteract negative thoughts. John Haidt, author of The Happiness Hypothesis, compares the human mind to the concept of riding an elephant. "The elephant represents the powerful thoughts and feelings—mostly unconscious—that drive your behavior. The man, although much weaker, can exert control over the elephant, just as you can exert control over negative thoughts and feelings." Sometimes the elephant is strong and you can't control her as easily, but, ultimately, you are the one in control of learning how to overcome negativity.

  5. Remember $ can't buy happiness. It's no surprise to me that "once income climbs above the poverty level, more money brings very little extra happiness." We often look for new things to buy if the ones we have aren't making us happy, instead of realizing that it's not things that bring happiness at all. We choose to be happy. Nothing (no thing) can do that for us. 
  6. Foster friendship. We all know it, but I'll quote the article here: "There are few better antidotes to unhappiness than close friendships with people who care about you." So choose happiness by choosing to spend time with your friends (and, no, online time doesn't count according to the article). The best way to make and keep lasting friendships, I've found, is to be yourself. Be you and the the friends with find you.

  7. Engage in meaningful activities. Like reading Positively Present! Okay, maybe that's not exactly what the article meant, but apparently we are "seldom happier...than when we're in 'the flow,' [which] is a state in which your mind becomes thoroughly absorbed in a meaningful task that challenges your abilities." So find something meaningful to you and absorb yourself in it. (This definitely works for me in relation to writing/blogging. I am so happy when I'm in the zone, totally focused on what I'm doing.)

 

I'm pretty sure all of these are great ideas for choosing to live happily ever right now. If you want to read the full article (and you should!), you can check it out on Oprah's site here. And if you want to distract yourself even further from your job/kids/etc., take the "How Happy Are You?" test on the site. (I scored a 26, which means I'm not completely satisfied with my life, but I'm not dissatisfied either...hmm...looks like I have some work to do...).

If you take one thing away from this (long, long) post, I would like it to be this: You can choose to live happily ever after right now. You don't need anything or anyone else to do this. There is no perfect time. There is no happily ever after in the future somewhere. There is now. And there is happy. And you can have happiness right now. You deserve it. So, go on, choose to be happy!


it's a bella life

Bella 
In Italian the word "bella" means beautiful. To me, the word "bella" means a whole lot more. You see, Bella is the name of one of my favorite buddies -- my dog.  This weekend I spent a lot of time with her (oh, who am I kidding, I always spend a lot of time with her) and I realized that she has a lot to teach me about the world. She's pretty appropriately named considering (1) she's beautiful and (2) she seems to think the world is beautiful too. For the most part she sees the good, wagging her tail and embracing this odd life she's been given, living in a pack of humans who spoil her like crazy. Though she barks ferociously at the FedEx truck and she tends to be unnecessarily skittish around strangers, she generally seems to have a good outlook on life.

For awhile I've avoided writing about her for two reasons: (1) she's such an important part of my life that I didn't want to focus too much on her, something that is pretty close to my heart and (2) I didn't want to turn non-dog lovers off with a post all about the joys of having a dog. This blog isn't about dogs. In fact, this post isn't even about dogs. This post is about living the most beautiful -- bella -- life that you can. And I happened to learn a lot of these things from observing my dog. You could probably pick up on these things from spending time with kids or cats (or whatever other pet you might have), but I learn a lot, every day, from my little Bella. Silly as it may sound, she's an inspiration to me. And I hope she can be inspiring to you too! Don't get turned off by the fact that she is merely a little eight pound pup -- she has a lot to teach us about the world. I just came across this quote and it's perfect: 

 

"In order to really enjoy a dog,
one doesn't merely
try to
train her to be semi-human.
The point of it is to open oneself to
the possibility of becoming partly a dog." 

Edward Hoagland
 

 

Check out what I've learned from Bella below and then take some time to look around in your own world. Where can you gain inspiration? Do you have children or animals you can watch and learn from? Do you have amazing people in your life (yes, adults can be inspiring too!) that you can gain insight from? If we open our eyes and really look around, inspiration is everywhere... One note before I go on. The image above is Bella. Originally I put up a picture of another pup, but I decided to change it and expose the real inspiring force behind this post.  


 

Lessons on Living a Bella Life


  • Be aware of the world. Look around at everything. You see so much from just being aware. For example, Bella noticed an adorable bunny hiding in the bushes near my apartment (yes, she tried to attack it, but that's beside the point!). I never would have see the bunny with my nose stuck in my book if I hadn't felt the tug of the leash as she lunged in its direction. Keep your eyes and ears open...there is so much to see!


  • Live in the moment. You all know I LOVE this one. But it's so important so I'll say it again (and again and again). Bella has taught be to be present in a way that I don't think people quite understand. She is there, in the moment, all the time. Aside from the occasions when she needs to go outside or is in desperate need of a new bone (and, yes, she does act like this is a desperate situation), she doesn't think about the future. She doesn't worry. She doesn't recall the past and dwell on it. Maybe it's because she physically cannot think that way, but we can program ourselves to be like her, to live in every moment.


  • Find time to play. I don't know about you, but playing isn't on my To Do list today. I just don't think about it much. But Bella is always there to remind me, tearing me away from my computer with a toy in her mouth and a hopeful look in her eye. Even when I'm at my busiest, I can't turn her down when it comes to playing. She reminds me that it's important to take a time out, to just romp and run and enjoy fun.


  • Know what you like. Some might call her picky, but I think it's wonderful that Bella chooses what she likes and refuses to settle for anything else. She likes certain flavors of her food and won't eat other flavors. Picky, yes, but also sure of what she likes. If she doesn't like something, she won't eat it. I don't know if that's true for all people...I think a lot of us do/eat/say things we don't want to. Why? We have the ability to choose. If you don't like it, don't do it -- that's what Bella would say!


  • Use your voice. Bella's a lady of few words, but when she wants something -- really wants something -- she lets you know it. Let's say she really wants me to give her a new bone. She sits beside the couch, first growling and then barking, until she gets what she wants. Of course, this is a horrible quality in a dog, I know. But I cannot help but admire her persistence. She doesn't give up. She wants something and she will not stop until she gets it. She speaks up when she needs something (like to go out) and warns us when she thinks there is danger (like a deadly FedEx delivery). Speak up like Bella and let the world know what you want!


  • Take time to rest. Bella isn't shy when it comes to just laying down and taking a nap -- anywhere. She'll sleep on the couch, my bed, her bed, the floor, the closet, under a chair. She's not picky when it comes to her resting spots. How about us though? How often do we really, truly rest? I only rest when I'm sleeping which is about 7-8 hours every night. I don't take naps. I don't meditate (I know, I need to start!!). I don't relax really. I'm on the go always, always doing something or writing something or reading something. We should all take a lesson from Bella and spend more time just being, just relaxing.


  • Give lots of kisses. While some might say Bella's obsessive licking is a problem, I'll give her the benefit of the doubt and say that it's really sweet. She wakes me up with her tongue going, just dying to give me some morning kisses. One of the things I remember thinking when my last dog died -- the beautiful, amazing, wonderful Pooky -- is that I wish I'd let her lick me more. I was always turning away and saying "Eww! Stop it!" and when she died I couldn't help but long for one last little lick. So, with Bella, I say, bring on the lovin'! We could certainly all benefit from a few more kisses in our lives, right?


  • Go after what you want. She spots a bunny in a bush or a squirrel on the run, and suddenly the leash is taunt, her eyes and ears are focused, and all eight pounds of her are practically dragging me across the sidewalk. When Bella wants something, she goes after it. Being the animal lover that I am, I always reign her in and encourage her not to torture the friendly animals, but she is relentless. Just like when she wants a bone or a treat, she will persist. Bella's persistence is inspiring. How often do you want something and just sit around waiting for it to come to you? Bella would have never cornered that bunny in our tennis court if she hadn't gone for it with gusto! (Don't worry, the bunny was not harmed if you don't count the look of absolute terror on it's little face.)


  • Cuddle every morning. Every morning, after the alarm has gone off and I've finished reviewing the emails on my BlackBerry, Bella crawls under the covers and cuddles with me. Sometimes she wakes me early, just to do this. We all might not have someone to cuddle with every morning, but you can indulge in some sort of early morning ritual that makes you happy. Seeing Bella's happy face, her tail wagging when she knows that I've finished checking my emails, makes getting out of bed so much easier. Find something that brings you joy every morning and the day will seem a lot less daunting.


  • Be very curious. Everything is interesting when you're less than a foot off the ground. Bella notices almost everything -- blades of grass tainted with other dogs' scents, tiny scraps clinging to the carpet, new outfits that I've laid out neatly on my bed, the sound of the cabinet where her bones are kept opening, the tone of a voice when someone is angry, the drops of rain sliding down the window (she tries to lick them), an empty can of Red Bull on the side of the road. Bella is aware and she wants to know more. When I'm gathering the mail from my mailbox on the first floor, she is always craning her neck around the corner to see if anyone's coming. When I let her out on the balcony, she will spend hours and hours watching cars and dogs and neighbors. Be curious like Bella. Be aware, but take it one step further and seek more information.


  • Greet others happily. When you meet Bella for the first time, her tail is wagging and her little body is moving with joy --  unless confronted with a male or a stranger (okay, yes, this is a lot of the population... Bella has a few issues she needs to work out...). Bella is (most of the time) friendly. And with those she knows and loves she acts as if it is the absolute best thing in the world that you've come to see her. After work when I pick her up from day care she acts as if she hasn't seen me in years. She is so happy. Now, I'm not saying we should all act like over excited dogs when we see each other, but think about how you act (especially to those you see all the time). Do you smile? Do you hug? Do you act as if it's truly pleasant to see the person?


  • Listen carefully. While sometimes her careful listening can be a pain (why must she bark when someone down the hall comes home?), it's really interesting to see how aware of sounds Bella is. She can recognize the sound of the garage door opening. She knows what a certain tone of voice means. How aware are we of what we hear? Right now I can guarantee you that I'm blocking out the sounds of my office so that I can write this. Often I ignore the tone in someone else's voice because I don't want to deal with the emotions that have triggered it. More importantly, I often don't listen to my own tone. We could all benefit from listening a little harder. We would be surprised, I'm sure, of what we would hear...


  • Know when to stop. When I'm playing with Bella, there's no doubt in my mind about when she no longer wants to play. That final time I throw the toy and she doesn't come back with it, I know. When she flops down on the floor, panting, it's clear. We don't always take the cues our bodies and minds give us when it comes to stopping. We keep pushing on sometimes when we should really stop. There are many, many times that I needed rest and I didn't take a time out. There are many unfortunate times when I pushed an issue I shouldn't have. Do like Bella does and recognize when it's time to stop. And, remember, there will usually be another chance to pick up your toy and start playing.


  • Have happy dreams. Over the weekend I was working on some art, when I heard a thump, thump, thumping noise coming from the couch. I glanced over and saw Bella, napping, her tail thumping happily against the pillow behind her. This wasn't the first time I'd seen this, but it made me incredibly happy to see that, even in her dreams, she was happy. Of course I instantly wondered what she was dreaming of. A person? A dog? A toy? A treat? I will never know but what I do know is that I want to have dreams like that. I want to dream with my tail wagging. I'm not sure exactly how to do this, but I do think that positive thinking during the day can really help impact your mind at night. We have to believe in positivity always, deep down in our souls, in order to have dreams like Bella's.

     
  • Appreciate new things. It started when I was away for two years in California. Every time I came home for a visit, I brought Bella a toy. Every time she acted like I'd given her the best gift ever. And every time I bring her something from the grocery store or Target or when we celebrate her birthday or Christmas, she acts as if every toy is the very best toy. I've never seen a dog so ready to embrace new things. Our beloved Pooky would like some toys, but usually went back to her old standbys (like Bunny and Hippo). Bella, on the other hand, is so happy to have any new toy. I love her excitement. It makes me want to buy her toys all the time, just seeing how happy they make her. Think about this in your own life. Are you really grateful for gifts? Do you really express your gratitude like you should, with expressions of delight and happiness? I know I don't always do this, but I should always, always be grateful for the kindness of others.


  • Let someone help you. When you're eight pounds, less than a foot tall, and live with a different species, you're going to need some help every once and awhile. Bella needs to be fed. Bella needs to be taken out. Bella needs to go to the vet. Bella needs help getting on the bed. Bella needs to be carried on the elevator (she's scared). Bella needs help getting her toy that's too close to the vent (she's scared again). Bella needs. Being who she is and where she is, Bella needs a lot of help. But she's okay with that. She asks (in her dog way) to get on the bed. She asks me to pick her up when the elevator dings open. She asks to be taken out when she has to go. I, on the other hand, want to do everything myself. I could learn a lot from Bella by letting others help me out more often.


  • Be a good friend. To me, this is the most important element in living a Bella life. Bella is a GREAT friend to me. No one else in the world would lick my tears when I cry (okay, maybe someone would, but that would just be sick). She stays (literally) by my side. She is always happy to see me, no matter what kind of mood I'm in. She listens (yes, I do talk to her sometimes). She  looks positively panicked when she sees that I'm upset. She does her best to comfort me. She greets me every morning with joy and happiness. There is a bond between us that is strange but wonderful and I really do consider her a friend. We should all treat each other the way Bella treats me -- by being comforting, loving, and happy with each other.

 


For those who aren't dog (or animal) people, you might think that I'm a complete wacko right now. You might think there is no way that a dog can be an inspiration to people, but it's true. "Man's [or woman's] best friend" certainly isn't something I made up and you know there are countless books on why dogs are good for people (15 minutes of petting a day can significantly reduce stress, I read somewhere!). Dogs are amazing beings and I'm so grateful, every single day, to have one in my life. My friend Lauren got a puppy this weekend and I'm so excited for her. She is headed for a lot of work, but she is also headed for a lot of love and learning. Over the past five years, I've learned so much from Bella. She really does help me see the beauty in the world. The world is beautiful. It's up to YOU to make your life a Bella one.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on living a Bella life. How do YOU live your most beautiful life?

The day after I wrote this post, I received this wonderful quote in my inbox (courtesy of Oprah's Quote of the Day!):

 

"Because animals seem to dwell in the present moment,
because their own presence is so instinctive,
their attention so unwavering, the offer us
a different kind of compassion than humans do.
Anyone is lucky to have both human and
animal comfort in their lives."

Brenda Peterson

  

Wonderful quote, isn't it? Thanks, Oprah, for emailing it to me! ;) I really do believe that people benefit greatly from having both animals and humans in their lives (though I personally prefer the former). What Peterson has written about animals is so true -- they dwell on the present moment. If you want to live in the present moment, it's important to surround yourself with others who are also striving to live in the present. It's a lot harder to be focused on the present if you're surrounded by people who are dwelling on the past or anxiously awaiting the future. That's the great thing about animals -- they are pretty much always in the present moment. So if you don't have an animal in your life (and you don't dislike them), you should think about getting one -- or, at least, spending time with one. You'd be surprised how much more in the present you'll feel when you spend time with a creature that does nothing but think about the now! For those of you dog lovers out there, Oprah has a list of great dog books on her site. You can check 'em out here.


things to make (other than money)

 

  
Clock2 

After coming across the poem that my thirteen year old self wrote (check out "looking to the past to find the present" for more on this) I decided to re-read my old journals, which I've found is both a daunting and an emotionally draining process. I've found things in them that I hate. I've found things in them that make me sad. But (let's look at the positive!) I've also found things in them that I love, that make me smile with joy to realize how little I've changed. Not only are my journals filled with my own thoughts (which, let's be honest, are sometimes quite boring), but I've also come across new quotes and poems (both mine and others') and it's been so interesting to see that my childhood self is not as different from the person I am striving to be right now. Maybe I really am, deep down, that little girl with journals and books and ideas filled with hope and the potential for happiness. (Though, I must admit that I was still looking for the bad, saying things like "Today was great, but I know that only means something bad is going to happen soon." ) I've obviously grown and changed a lot, but it's so interesting to see the ways I've stayed the same.

One thing that's definitely stayed the same is my love for quotes, poems, and lists of any kind. As I was reading a journal from 1995 (!!!) I came across the list for "10 Things to Make Other Than Money." I'm sure my younger self picked this up somewhere, though it doesn't say where. I loved the list so much that I copied it into my current journal, adding a few ideas of my own. Considering that so many people are struggling financially right now, I thought this would be a great, uplifting list to post on my blog. Under each one of the thirteen I've added a link that I feel is inspiring and relevant to that number. Check them out! 
 

13 Things to Make Besides Money


  1. Believe -- The Positivity Blog
  2. Merry -- A Content Life

  3. Do -- Think Simple Now
  4. Sense -- Writing Forward
  5. Amends -- Zen Habits

  6. Peace -- Look Far
  7. Friends -- The Happiness Project
  8. Waves -- Girls Can't What?

  9. Room -- Abundance Blog

  10. Art -- The Studio Mela Blog
  11. Time -- Seeing Good

  12. Cookies -- The Wisdom Journal

  13. Love -- Graceful Creative



If you couldn't tell from the image above, I find that making time is one of the most important things we can make. In order to find happiness, you have to make time for you. You have to make time for friends and family. You have to make time for work and for play. Making time can apply to all aspects of life and I think it's especially important for us to consider how we spend our time.

I hope you enjoyed reading this list and visiting these great sites as much as I did. Money's important, don't get me wrong, but there are a lot of other things we can make in this world -- happy, positive, joyful things. I just thought of another thing we can make right now -- progress! We can make progress every day in our personal development, in our jobs, in our relationships with others. There are so many possibilities for what we can make in this world. I'd love to hear your ideas too.

What other things can we make other than money? Which of these are you already making in your own life?