Monthly Archives: July 2016

Continuous Small Treats 

“One of the secrets of a happy life is continuous small treats.” ~ Iris Murdoch … 

I find that continuous small treats are a great way to lift up my spirits when I am down. One of my little pleasures while growing up in life was to stop in at the local bakery and have a donut and a soda to drink. And while I am eating, I enjoy taking my time and reading the comics in the newspaper. Of course, since my continuous small treats often consist of things like donuts and coffee cake, I have to run a lot of miles to burn off the sugars and keep my weight under control–but that is an okay trade-off by me. I simply like to have those small treats to lift me up during the day, to give myself something to look forward to and to enjoy. <!–more–> 

One of the most important elements of what Iris is saying here is the word “continuous.” If I am constantly looking for little ways to treat myself, I never feel as if I am neglecting myself, and I never feel that I need to compensate for that neglect by buying something extravagant. By looking often for the small treats, I find that I do not have much of an appetite for the huge ones.

However, just continually treating myself is not enough. I must also take the time to appreciate the opportunity to treat myself–I need to sit still and relish the taste of something that is very good, and I ought to enjoy the atmosphere and the break away from the busyness and noise of life. For the treat is not just in the food; and simply scarfing down that candy bar without actually taking the time to rest and savor it–to focus on it and enjoy it–really is not much of a treat at all.

In addition, treats can be any number of things, depending on our needs and our likes. Perhaps taking time to visit a friend or someone who is lonely, or volunteering to help others in need. Or maybe just a short power nap when we feel worn out, or a quick 15 minute workout or walk to gain some energy and vigor.

Our lives are meant to be happy, for happiness abounds. And regardless of where our sources of happiness flow from–feelings of accomplishment, feelings of belonging, feelings of being loved and of loving others, or feelings of compassion for others–the fact remains that we must choose it… we must recognize it and accept it into our lives. It does not come from having the most things or the most expensive things, for many of the happiest people on Earth are those who have little, yet treat themselves to small delights on a regular basis.

Indulge in one of your favorite treats.

Questions to consider:

What are some of your favorite small treats? How often do you treat yourself to them?

From where do we often get the idea that treating ourselves is a negative form of self-indulgence?

What would it take for you to be able to treat yourself today to something special, and to give yourself the time to truly enjoy it?

For further thought:

“If someone bases his or her happiness or unhappiness on major events like a great new job, huge amounts of money, a flawlessly happy marriage or a trip to Paris, that person isn’t going to be happy much of the time. If, on the other hand, happiness depends on a good breakfast, flowers in the yard, a drink or a nap, then we are more likely to live with quite a bit of happiness.” ~ Andy Rooney

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Rediscover The Intrinsic Nature Of Your Happiness

“Anyone can be happy when times are good; the richer experience is to be happy when times are not.” ~ Susan Harris … 

Most of us have experienced periods in our lives in which times were not so good. With the economic situations that arose from the banks collapse and stocks collapse and housing market collapse in 2008, as well as the following rise in unemployment, times certainly became rough for many individuals and families around the world. And when times get difficult–financially, emotionally, spiritually, and physically, as well as in our relationships–happiness is hard to find. <!–more–> 

It is important for us to stay focused on the joy and happiness in life, especially when times get tough. That is because our happiness is perhaps the greatest catalyst for bringing about healthy change; it is the oxygen we need to breathe. Without it, we are suffocated by fear, misery, and despair. Yet by keeping our outlook in life positive, we allow ourselves to form plans to manage and overcome our situations, which also help us to develop positive expectations.

I have friends and loved ones who have lost jobs to the sagging economy, homes to foreclosure, and possessions to other losses. Yet if there is one important realization I have learned over the years, it is that life is cyclical, that there will always be a light at the end of the tunnel, whether we see it or not. That is why we must not let the uncertainties and difficulties of life affect our overall happiness–they are just obstacles and challenges along the way. In time, things will get better… and when they do, we will carry forward with us so much more appreciation for life and everything in it.

When times are not good, remind yourself that it is still possible to find the silver linings–to see the good and the beautiful all around you. Even if life has become more challenging… it is still a miracle. And no matter what the situation is, there are blessings to discover; no matter what you have lost, there are things that you still have to be thankful for–health, family, loved ones, a positive outlook in life, happiness, God, and of course the ability to live life fully in the moment each day.

Rediscover the intrinsic nature of your happiness.

Questions to consider:

When times are not good, what are the most damaging thoughts–fear of an unknown future, or resentment of the difficulties we face?

Is it true that the difficult times in our lives build character and compassion, while the good times are nice, but do little building of our selves?

What are some strategies for keeping our peace of mind in hard times? On what things should we continue to focus if we want to maintain that peace of mind?

For further thought:

“If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant: if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.” ~ Anne Bradstreet

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Recognize The Extraordinary In “Ordinary” 

“If we could see the miracle of a single flower clearly, our whole life would change.” ~ the Buddha … 

This is a bold statement on the power of perception and perspective in our lives: The more we are able to see the miraculous all around us, the more miraculous of an experience our life becomes. Yet how often do I look at miraculous things, such as flowers, without even seeing them clearly, much less seeing the miracle of them? It is so easy to get caught up in life, to be swept up into our own little worlds, that we somehow miss all the things that surround us and fail to allow them to astonish us. <!–more–> 

Flowers truly are miracles. Like a snowflake, or the human body, they are intricate, rare, and perfect in nature. And they are especially miraculous when we consider their source: all flowers that we see originate from tiny seeds… delicate things that we would wipe off our pant legs if we saw them there; things that in no way, shape, or form, seem capable of holding the origin of bushes, plants, and flowers. The important thing, though, is not the miracle of that flower, but our ability to see and appreciate it.

Recognizing the miraculous may require some slowing down in our lives–some calming of our minds and the removal of the outside noises–however, it is not that difficult a task. More importantly, doing so offers us greater clarity of what is truly important in life, and helps us to cultivate an awareness of the miraculous that surrounds us.

As the Buddha told us so long ago, if we are able to fix our attention on something that we normally do not look at with more than a passing glance, we will come to a realization of just how amazing it truly is, and our whole lives will change. We will cease simply to notice it, and see just what it is, just what it consists of. Ours will be an amazing world full of miracles; ours will be a newfound appreciation and a sense of wonder. And instead of living our lives to amass wealth, power, or fame… we will discover the miracles of life.

Take a few minutes to recognize the extraordinary in something you normal consider “ordinary.”

Questions to consider:

Look around yourself right now–how many things can be considered truly miraculous, if you take the time to think about them?

Why do we tend not to see things as miraculous as we grow older?

Why are kids more likely to see things as miracles? When do we lose this ability that at one point in our lives we found so important?

For further thought:

“The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.” ~ Henry Miller

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Do Not Complicate Your Life

“All the wonderful things in life are so simple that one is not aware of their wonder until they are beyond touch.” – Frances Gunther … 

The first thing that comes to mind after reading Frances’s words are lyrics from the song Big Yellow Taxi, “Don’t it always seem to go. That you don’t know what you’ve got ’til its gone.” So often in life we overlook the simple things in life–the apple pie, the smile of a friend, the time at the lake on a hot summer day, the simple dinner. Instead we focus on the more complicated, be it a meal, vacation, or plan… and in doing so, many other things in our lives get complicated as well, and the end result is seldom good–our stress goes up, our happiness in life falters, and our soul seems to become tired and burdened. <!–more–> 

The people and groups who are trying to complicate our lives are the ones who need us to further their agendas. Lawyers make a lot of money from divorce and child custody cases due to our propensity not to try to work through the complicated problems in our relationships. On the other hand, psychologists and psychiatrists make a lot because of our tendency to try to work through complicated problems and relationships rather than letting them go and finding more simple ones to deal with. However, as most reasonable individuals would agree, the best solution is usually going to be the simplest one.

Why, then, do we view simple as something that is somehow less worthy and often ignore it? Why do we allow so many simple things slip out of our fingers and instead bring so much complexity into our lives? Why do we convince ourselves that it is necessary to spend more money on a car that is the higher end model when a much cheaper one would suffice, not to mention how much less stressful our lives would be with a smaller monthly loan payment?

Simplicity not only makes things easier, but it also creates the potential to add a beautiful and healthy perspective to our lives. When we are able to remain focused on the simple, our awareness of just how truly wonderful those things are, is heightened like a “sixth sense.” Rainy, snowy, or sunny days, vanilla ice cream in a cone, friends who do not make complicated demands, the smell of coffee brewing on a quiet Saturday morning, a cold glass of milk, a dress-down day at work or school, good books–there are so many simple things that we lost sight of as being wonderful in our quest to complicate our lives that it is quite a shame. The Spanish have a wonderful saying: “No me compliques la vida,” which means, “Do not complicate my life.” They know that the simple always will be good, if we just see it and appreciate it for what it is.

Discover something wonderful about a simple element of your life.

Questions to consider:

Who teaches us that complicated is better? If no one actually teaches us that, how do we learn it?

What are some simple things in your life right now that also are beautiful?

What kinds of complicated things or situations can you do without in your life right now? How can you shed those things successfully?

For further thought:

“Do you know the more I look into life, the more things it seems to me I can successfully lack–and continue to grow happier. How many kinds of food I do not need, or cooks to cook them, how much curious clothing or tailors to make it, how many books I have never read, and pictures that are not worthwhile! The farther I run, the more I feel like casting aside all such impediments–lest I fail to arrive at the far goal of my endeavor.” – David Grayson

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Motivate Yourself

“The great joy in life is doing what people say you cannot do.” ~ Walter Bagehot …  

It is rather strange why we would ever allow others to get in our heads and convince us of limitations and impossibilities? After all, we are in control of our lives, and only we can possibly know–or even imagine–what our limits are, what potential we have, and what our capabilities may allow us to do. In truth, no one knows what we are capable of–net even ourselves–until we actually make an attempt to do so. <!–more–> 

When others tell me that I cannot do something, or that it is beyond my abilities to accomplish some task, I generally tend to develop a strong desire to disprove them–as if the limits their words create become the fuel that drives me forward. Perhaps it is the result of my confidence in my abilities, or maybe that I simply know what I am capable of, yet I tend to see others doubt and lack of faith in me as a challenge to overcome more than anything else. After all, those individuals who tell me that I cannot do something, are not stating a fact–they generally are positioning themselves to say “I told you so” at a later time, or to perhaps convince me not to push myself to go beyond my limits and expand my world, for whatever selfish reasons they might have.

Accomplishment is a wonderful feeling that builds up our confidence, drives us forward, and allows us to realize our dreams. Personally, it has shown me that I am me, and that no one else can dictate what I can and cannot do–only I can do that. This realization has allowed me to stay focused on my goals and ambitions, and not be limited by the thoughts, ideas, or words of others.

Life is full of impossibilities that are waiting for those of us who might persevere against the odds and overcome them. Many will tell you that they cannot be done, that attempting them will result in failure… but how could they possible know better than you could? Tune into your abilities and potential and strike forth with confidence and joy at whatever it is you wish to accomplish.

Motivate yourself to do one thing someone else has suggested you would fail at.

Questions to consider:

Why might we actually believe someone who says we cannot do something that we are determined to do?

What happens to our self-esteem and self-image when we give up on doing something just because someone else says we cannot do it?

Why might someone consider it a “great joy” to do something that others said they could not do?

For further thought:

“If you persuade yourself that you can do a certain thing, provided this thing be possible, you will do it, however difficult it may be. If, on the contrary, you imagine that you cannot do the simplest thing in the world, it is impossible for you to do it, and molehills become for you unscalable mountains.” ~ Emile Coue

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Be Receptive To Reasonable Ideas And Opinions

“Having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged by better information, or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise. It is therefore that the older I grow, the more apt I am to doubt my own judgement of others.” ~ Benjamin Franklin, Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Benjamin Franklin … 

My stubbornness has been perhaps one of the most annoying–and difficult–of my bad habits to break. There are so many instances that I can think back on, when I held on to my opinions and beliefs even after they had been proven wrong. The problem, I have found out, is twofold: one being that I often place part of my value and worth in my beliefs, thinking that if others disprove me, or if I am wrong, that I am somehow a lesser man. The second issue is that I then abandon reason and logic, which perhaps would have brought about necessary growth and change in my life. <!–more–> 

Unfortunately, this type of foolish stubbornness happens a lot in key areas of our world today–politics and government, education and research, athletic competition, and even relationships. In fact, many of the relationship issues that arise in marriages today are never resolved due to the couples’ inability to remain open to “fuller consideration,” or “being obliged by better information.” Instead, many individuals stubbornly choose to hold on to their own narrow beliefs, opinions, and judgments of others, which is entirely unfair and disrespectful. It is also quite frustrating, to say the least, to have to spend time around anyone who acts in such a way.

There is a story about an old man who found that a tool of his went missing. He suspected a neighbor boy, and the next time he saw him, the boy walked like a thief, talked like a thief, and acted like a thief. The following day, however, after the old man found the tool somewhere that he had left it himself, the boy happened by once again, but this time walked, talked, and acted just like a boy.

If we wish to be treated fairly and respectfully, then we must extend that same courtesy to those around us. It all begins by changing ourselves. Of course, it helps tremendously to always keep an open-mind to the ideas and beliefs of others, as our own understanding is only an opinion and is not always accurate or complete. Embracing such a healthy habit helps us to foster respect for one another and keeps the channels of positive growth and change open in our life.

Listen to the ideas and opinions of those around you with receptiveness.

Questions to consider:

How often do you change your mind? How easy is it for you to do so?

How often do you take the time to reconsider some of your most important and deeply held beliefs? How open are you to allowing those deeply-rooted beliefs the chance to grow and change in lieu of understanding, intellectual knowledge, and wisdom of the heart?

How does holding on to outdated or inaccurate beliefs and opinions prevent us from living our lives purposefully? How can it hold us back from affecting others with meaningful change?

For further thought:

“If in the last few years you haven’t discarded a major opinion or acquired a new one, check your pulse. You may be dead.” ~ Frank Gelett Burgess

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Hobgoblin Of Little Minds

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict everything you said to-day.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance … 

Consistency is a wonderful attribute when it comes to one’s character in life. It allows others to depend on us, to place their trust in our words and actions. After all, it is wonderful to be able to rely on others–to have a clear idea of where they might be, how they might act, or what they might say. However, a foolish consistency–one in which we tend to hold on to our beliefs, thoughts, or ideas simply because we already have them–is a harmful affliction that consumes our character, potential, and growth. Such a tendency keeps us from searching for answers, understanding, and knowledge, since we believe that we already have everything we need. <!–more–> 

There is so much to learn in our lives and so much to be shared with others. Yet when we do not allow ourselves to challenge our beliefs, understandings, and ideas, we lie stagnant in our own murky pool of knowledge, and we have much more potential than that. We were not created to live in such conditions or situations; we were created to learn, to change, and to grow, and as we do so, our beliefs, understandings, and ideas should change with us. What served me when I was 16 is not necessarily all that relevant to me now, and the things I believed from yesterday should no longer be embraced as truths of today.

Perhaps we remain adamant in our belief in someone even after they have clearly violated our trust time and time again. Or maybe we simply continue to fuel an addiction, telling ourselves that it is not harming us, despite the advice from those concerned for our health and the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The fact of the matter is if we never allow ourselves the chance to experience necessary growth and change in our lives, we truly are being foolish.

We are all created to grow into ourselves–that includes spiritually, physically, emotionally, and intellectually; it thereby serves us no good to espouse a “little mind.” Those things, ideas, and beliefs that we hold on to for safety, or because we prefer their company, or even because we simply dislike the idea of change, will in fact become the chains that hold us back from our becoming.

Be open to change in all aspects of your life.

Questions to consider:

What kinds of things or beliefs have you held onto even after finding out they were not what you had thought they were?

Why do we often hold onto stale thoughts, ideas, and beliefs and present them to the world as “truths?”

Why do we generally see contradicting a previous belief or stance as a bad thing? Why do so few people do it?

For further thought:

“If you realize that all things change, there is nothing you will try to hold onto.” ~ Tao Te Ching

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