Tag Archive | positive attitude

The Heart of a Friendship

To have a friend and be a friend is what makes life worthwhile. ~Unknown

February is the month of the heart, the time when we celebrate love. We buy chocolate, flowers, jewelry, and greeting cards to profess our undying love to that special someone. But, in all the hoopla of the season, perhaps we forget to honor the affection provided by the people that sustain us and enable us to thrive – our friends.

We hear so much about marriages, committed relationships, and romantic breakups, but I believe we neglect to truly understand the dynamics of what may be the most important relationships in our life – friendships.

Boyfriends come and go, spouses are replaced, children grow up and leave the nest, but our friends will be by our side through it all. If we are blessed, some of them will be with us from childhood until death; and these people know us better than anyone else.

We all have friends. Fate brings friend to friend, then leaves the rest to human nature. We have best friends that stick with us forever, and we have friends that come into our life for a brief period and then go on their way. Whichever role they play, you can be sure they serve a purpose.

According to experts, friendships have a major impact on our health and well-being. Friends help us celebrate good times and provide support during the bad times. As philosopher Aristotle said, “In poverty and other misfortunes of life, true friends are a sure refuge.”

Friends prevent loneliness and increase our sense of belonging and purpose. They boost our happiness and improve our self-confidence. They help us deal with our mistakes.

So … if friendships are so great, why do they cause so much pain?

The word friend is defined as “a relationship of mutual affection between two or more people; a person whom one knows, likes, and trusts.”

We all have a preconceived notion of what a friend should be; we place expectations on relationships based on our needs. But sometimes we use the word “friend” to describe anyone with whom we have contact. We project the intimate bond we desire onto a person where no deep bond exists.

To avoid the pain of an unrequited friendship, it is important to recognize that there are different kinds of relationships and varying degrees of affection attached. When it comes to friendships it’s not one size fits all. Some people are great for Friday night outings. Others are partners for work events. Some people are not willing and/or able to commit to a relationship on a deeper level. And then there are the people who offer unconditional love and trust – they are always there, no matter what. They are the ones by which we set the standards for everyone else. But, they are a rare gift, not the norm.

Each of these relationships has a unique purpose for our life and as such should be valued. Just as a financial expert advises to diversify investments, the same is true in friendships. Invite people into your life that bring different personalities and skills to the table – they will broaden your horizon and enrich your existence. But, to avoid heart break, see each relationship for what it is. Just as you wouldn’t rush into a romantic encounter without some courting, don’t place too many expectations on a friendship without getting to know the person. When you take it slow, you will be able to objectively evaluate the relationship and the role a person will play in your life so you won’t be disappointed.

Even if a friendship doesn’t develop the way you want, acknowledge that you simply have different needs. Treasure the relationship for what it is and release your expectations; value the gifts it offers.

Through the pain and through the triumphs, friendships are the treasure of a life well lived. As Emily Dickinson said, “My friends are my estate,” and I couldn’t agree more.

 

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For Big Change, Think Small

It’s the end of another year (how is that possible?). The time when we reflect on the past 365 days, take stock of where we are, and decide the path of our life moving forward. We make a list of things we want to change and create resolutions to get the job done. We start the year off with a bang moving full force in the new direction, and then boom… a different bang, we hit a wall. Everything we strive to accomplish with such passion slides to the side and we fall back into the routine of the behavior we know so well.

There’s a familiarity about the promises we make to ourselves each year. You can easily ask yourself: Didn’t I make those self-same promises last year? And maybe even the year before?

So why, if we are so determined to make change, do we fall short of our goals?

According to experts, one of the main reasons New Year’s resolutions are so hard to maintain is because the thing we want to change is a habit – behavior that comes from the subconscious part of our brain that is done automatically, without conscious thought.

Typical resolutions like eating healthy, quitting smoking or drinking, increasing physical activity, or spending more time with loved ones, are designed to change routines that have been around for many years. While it’s easy to assume that we should be able to willfully make long-term changes to established patterns, desire alone is usually not enough.

According to Charles Duhigg, in his book, The Power of Habit, there is a three step loop that occurs: A cue or trigger, which tells your brain to go into automatic mode. The routine, which can be physical, mental or emotional. And the reward, which helps your brain determine if this loop is worth remembering for the future. Over time, this loop becomes more and more automatic.

While wanting to change is the first step, experts say that the key to enacting lasting change is understanding the process and identifying your triggers. For example, if you want to quit smoking, you can quit cold turkey, but understanding what triggered your smoking will give you a greater chance of success. When you recognize what situations trigger your current habit – having a morning cup of coffee, stress, drinking alcohol, going out with friends, driving, etc. – you can create a positive habit that you are going to do instead.

So, when you wake in the morning and have coffee, instead of smoking, what will you do? If you’re stressed or out with friends, what will you do? Replace the old habit with a positive one. Be mindful and consistent. Create the new routine that results from the trigger and your brain learns the new reward.

Don’t try to change your life all at once. Some people decide that they are going to lose weight, exercise every day, quit smoking, get a new job, and spend more time with family. A complete overhaul will lead to overload and you will give up. Work on one habit at a time and take baby steps. Lean in gently. If you usually leave work at 7 pm and want to spend more time with family, go home at 6:30 pm for a few weeks or even months. Then gradually make it earlier. Once that becomes a new habit, work on something else.

Lasting change won’t happen overnight. But with mindfulness, determination, consistency, and patience, you can achieve any goal you desire. Remember for big change, think small. As Mark Twain said, “Habit is habit, and not to be flung out of the window by any man, but coaxed downstairs a step at a time.”

Nothing is Impossible

During Thanksgiving dinner I was relaying a story about how I was planning to become a member of a local government board. Without skipping a beat, my 21-year-old niece looked at me and said, “Yes, Aunt Joanie, you can be on the board.” I replied, “I know, I am going to be.” She then said, “Of course you can if you believe it.” To which I stated, “No, really, I am going to be on the board.” She came back with a resounding, “Yes, I believe you can!”

At this point I was laughing hysterically because I realized that she was reinforcing what she believed to be wishful thinking on my part. She was cheering me on guided by the advice that I (and her mother) always offer her: that anything is possible with a positive attitude and belief in oneself.

Even though I was actually appointed to the position and wasn’t referring to making a wish come true, I was so proud of her (and shocked that she actually listened) for getting the message.

And what a powerful message it is: anything is possible when you believe in yourself!

Think about that for a moment … anything is possible!

When was the last time that you truly believed anything was possible, that you could achieve a goal or make a dream come true?

It isn’t always easy have the confidence to believe that you can make anything happen. The routine of daily life beats you down and often you’re left jaded and depressed. Fear has a way of sneaking in and governing the way you live. Naysayers remind you of your shortcomings until their beliefs become yours too.

Climbing out of the rut we call life can be a challenge. But, guess what? You have the power to change every aspect of your existence. But, in order to do so, you have to do two things: you must decide what you want and you must believe you can do it. Everything else will follow; you will find a way.

As another year comes to an end and a new one begins, with endless possibilities, it’s the perfect time to examine where you are in your life and where you want to go. Once you know the direction, create an action plan, educate yourself, and get moving!

Remember … nothing is impossible when you believe Im Possible!

Do You Know When You’re Happy?

“If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands, if you’re happy and you know it clap your hands, if you’re happy and you know it and you really want to show it if you’re happy and you know it clap your hands”

Thinking about this song brings back joyous memories of dancing around my family room singing it with my children and perhaps, even having it sung to me as a child. The lyrics are simple and yet so profound – if you’re happy and you know it, show it (feel it, live it, experience it).

This past weekend I tried something that I had never done before. One of my friends invited me to a Tarot card party where an expert would offer private readings. Intrigued, I agreed to attend. During my reading, the woman said something that really struck a nerve with me; she told me that I don’t know when I’m happy.

Interestingly, this thought has been on my mind in recent weeks, ever since I interviewed Dr. Rick Hanson, the author of Hardwiring Happiness. As a result of our discussion, I have been contemplating whether or not I truly feel happiness. Dr. Hanson spoke with me about how we let life pass us by, never realizing the joy of our experiences, thus allowing peace and happiness to elude us. He explained that when we feel pleasure, really let it sink in and focus on it, we are not only happier people in the moment, but we change our brain chemistry resetting it back to its natural resting state – its responsive mode – which refuels and repairs the body, makes us feel peaceful, happy, and loved, and helps us to act with confidence and compassion.

I don’t know when I’m happy. Boy was she right. Even though I know better, I still expend energy reminiscing about family members that have passed on, a marriage that fell apart, betrayals, missed opportunities, time I believe to have been wasted. I rush through my days barely picking my head up to notice all the blessings that have been bestowed upon me, not allowing myself to be content. Then I wonder why I have moments when I feel sad, unfulfilled, lonely, anxious, and depressed. It’s an inside job!

How about you? Do you let yourself feel joy and gratitude or do the good times pass you by? Do you see the blessings in your life or do you ruminate constantly about what’s missing, what you wish you had?

Dr. Rick Hanson’s advice? Spend a few extra seconds concentrating on something happy and joyful. Let the experience linger. Really notice it. Appreciate it. Be grateful for it. If you see a beautiful flower, look at it a few extra seconds. Don’t just glimpse at it and move on to the next thing. Savor pleasant experiences and make this become a daily practice. According to Dr. Hanson, this is all it takes to make a dramatic change in your brain and in your life.

So, next time, when you’re happy, KNOW it, FEEL it, SHOW it and remember to clap your hands, stomp your feet, shout hooray!

Are You Still Looking At A Closed Door?

The past two months have been excruciatingly painful for me on a personal level. An event occurred that led me to believe that I could salvage an important relationship and I spent most of my summer trying to do just that. I did everything humanly possible to put the broken pieces back together and to try to create something new out of it. A relationship that I believed could be wonderful.

In my mind everything was perfectly clear. There was no reason why it couldn’t work out. I had a logical argument and strong feelings so everything made perfect sense. At least to me.

But, sometimes, even with the clearest vision, things don’t go as you plan or as you would like. By hanging on, I set myself up to be hurt on a daily basis, to the point where I could no longer tolerate the pain.

I finally came to the realization that in order for me to survive, thrive, and find peace, I must accept the situation, let it go, surrender, and move on. And while this may be a decision I didn’t want to make, and is perhaps the most difficult thing I will ever do, it will be the most self-loving.

The let it go and move on cycle applies to many areas of life. You may have to let go of a relationship or significant person. Or you may have to release a painful experience like losing a job, a financial loss, or the death of a loved one. Beginning the cycle is difficult because we tend to hang on to what we know – what is comfortable – even if it is pain.

According to spiritual leader, Thich Nhat Hanh, “People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.”

But holding on to the familiar, painful past keeps you stuck and creates an environment in which you can become physically and emotionally sick. You feel the pain day in and day out and that’s no way to live.

Usually we do not decide to release people or events until the pain of holding on is so unbearable that we feel we have no other choice. We are forced to accept the situation and mourn an important part of our life. And this acceptance and mourning is vital in order to thrive; we must let go of the past.

Letting go is an act of will, a decision to let go of the person, event and circumstance. It is the choice to move on. To let go you must surrender your control and admit that you are powerless over other people and situations. Once you relinquish control and accept what is, you can begin to embrace the change and get on with your life. You can learn from the experience and allow it to make you stronger and wiser.

Is it always what we want? Hell no!

Is it easy? No!

Is it worth it? More than you will ever know.

Don’t be afraid to seek help. Find a support group, spiritual director, therapist, coach, or trusted friend. And remember to have faith. I chose to relinquish my control and turn it over to God. Once I stopped begging for what I wanted and decided to ask for the strength to follow what He has planned for my life, my entire perspective changed and I found peace. I am now looking forward to the next opportunity.

As Helen Keller so eloquently stated: “When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one, which has been opened for us.” Don’t spend so much time looking at your closed door that you miss the wonderful doors that are opening up for you.

If You Have Nothing Nice To Say…

If you have nothing nice to say don’t say anything at all. Ah… a mother’s wisdom. I’m sure most of us have been told this many, many times. But, how many of us actually follow this sage advice?

Words are a powerful force and the powerful effects of negative words cannot be underestimated. Words are remembered long after they are spoken. They have the power to destroy one’s self-esteem and self-confidence, making someone feel less than adequate and fearful. Words leave invisible bruises that can last a lifetime.

Most of us understand that negative words hurt, and yet, how many of us actually stop and think BEFORE making a negative or disparaging comment? Do we ever think about the impact our message has on the recipient or is it so important for our opinion to be heard that the consequences are insignificant to  us?

And it is not only personal comments from others that can be damaging.  Being in the company of people who frequently complain or see the bad in everything can be just as emotionally detrimental.  Such people project a negative energy that soon infiltrates everything and everyone around them.

Case in point. My 18-year-old son recently completed a certification course at our local fire academy and is currently working toward becoming a fireman. This is his dream and he is taking the appropriate steps to that end. He is attending college to earn a degree. He has been a volunteer for two years. He strives to learn everything about his chosen profession. After he completed the certification test, I posted on my personal Facebook page about his status. Someone immediately commented that her son took the test a few years back and is number 5,000 waiting for a job. She went on to say that it is impossible to get a job and anyone who goes into the profession is crazy.

I’m not sure why she made that post. Perhaps she was trying to relay information. Maybe she is upset about the fact that her son has not been hired. Maybe she was having a bad day. I don’t know her motive, but I do know that a comment like that has the power to cast doubt in a young man’s mind, cause him to question his direction, and possibly even shatter his dream.  Once a statement like that gets planted in someone’s thoughts, it’s more difficult to stay on course. How often does this happen to you? How often are you the one making this type of comment or how often are you the recipient?

A new year is approaching and this is a time when many self reflect and try to enact positive change. I encourage you to become more cognizant of what you say. Stop and think BEFORE the words come out. You have the power to impact another positively or negatively. You have the power to be a mentor or cheerleader of a dream, or the destroyer. Remember that mother always knows best and if you have nothing nice to say, pray one of my favorite prayers: “Lord, put your arm on my shoulder and your hand over my mouth.”