Gratitude – More Than a Feeling

I’m grateful for my gratitude, and not because it just has me feeling good.  Research shows that people who are grateful are happier, more satisfied, hopeful and optimistic, less depressed and anxious.  Grateful people also sleep better and are more socially connected.  Generally, people who exhibit positivity are more creative, energetic and more intelligent resulting in 37% better performance (Shawn Achor,  For you science geeks, these positive effects are believed to be mediated by increased dopamine levels.

Not only am I grateful but I’m fortunate to have a natural inclination for gratitude.  If gratitude does not come naturally to you, you can intentionally increase your gratitude in the following ways:

  1.  Journal – 3 minutes per day about new things you’re grateful for.  Do this for 21 days and you can make your brain more grateful.
  2. Write a letter – write and deliver a letter of gratitude to someone you want to thank.  The more you do this, the better!
  3. Thank people – look for opportunities to thank people, for big and small things. Say it sincerely, look them in the eye.  Sales/customer service people, custodial staff, administrative staff are most often overlooked.
  4. Have a savor ritual – I use the mundane, mindless arts of my day to savor the things I’m grateful for.    For example, whenever I am in the restroom, I reflect on how grateful I am to have running water, plumbing, electricity and shelter!  Much of the world does not enjoy these amenities.

Also, though I have been doing the same drive and 2 block walk to work for 20 years, each day the experience is completely different.  It’s not a beautiful commute by most standards but I find it gorgeous. Here are some photos from my commute – the types of things I notice and savor.  This was not a particularly special day meteorologically or otherwise, unless you make it so.

Try it!  You’ll be grateful you did.

Our Differences, Our Assets

Flex your strength

Flex your strength

It took me years, but I finally figured out why certain people drive me crazy and how those traits are actually assets that I should try to emulate. This is not rocket science folks, but some people are a little slow on the pick-up.

You probably have heard of the most famous personality type assessment, the Myers Briggs Personality Type Indicator (MBTI), but there are several good tests available.  They identify the common personality types and talents that exist within each of us.  According to these tests, each of us can be described by an amalgam of different strengths and personality types.  Our unique combination of strengths helps make each of us unique.  But understanding those personality types, their strengths and drawbacks can also help us to better understand and appreciate ourselves and one another.

Types of Intelligence – For instance, you may know there are different types of intelligences.  For example, in addition to the traditional intelligence quotient (IQ), there is also kinesthetic intelligence (“body smart”), verbal intelligence (“word smart”), introspective intelligence (“self smart”) and so on.  If you’re not IQ smart, then you may think you’re dumb when you actually may be the equivalent of Einstein when it comes to music (musical intelligence), dealing with people (interpersonal intelligence), or one of the other types of intelligence.   Our school system tends to focus somewhat exclusively on IQ, math and verbal intelligence and in so doing, fails to value and develop much of the human potential in our young people.

MBTI – MBTI is a personality assessment that identifies people based on whether, for example, they gain energy from people (extrovert, E) or from being alone (introvert, I) (a common misconception is that this has to do primarily with whether or not someone is outgoing) or whether they make decisions based on feelings and emotions (F) or by thinking (T).  As a T, I could never understand why we would discuss people’s feelings when making decisions.  What is the possible relevance?  How is that fair?  I have since come to appreciate the value of the F approach in certain situations –  it is sometimes a more fair and compassionate approach than the old by-the-rules strategy.  My F friends think I found a heart.

The Judging (J)/Perceiving (P) axis defines whether we tend to be more comfortable with closure and decisions (J) versus keeping options open (P).  The latter used to be frustrating to me, “can’t we just DECIDE and MOVE ON people!?” or “let’s not wait until the last minute to start this project, OK?”     I, in turn, would annoy my P colleagues because they might feel I was being too hasty.   Since then, more than once I have looked back and wished that I had waited before coming to a decision or closure, as sometimes new opportunities or information have become available in the interim. Now, I make a conscious effort to not rush into a decision, and I no longer view waiting as a liability but an asset.

Same is true with the Intuitive (N)/Sensing (S) axis.  As someone who is fairly big picture (N), the details are often frustrating to me.  Sensing folk like details and want to talk details.  Rather than get annoyed by that, I look to them as my savior:  I ask them to identify and manage the important details, as opposed to letting them fall between the cracks.  Note that my inability to manage details likewise would tend to drive them crazy.

Strengths – StrengthsFinders 2.0 and the Authentic Happiness are strength-based tests that identify 34 and 24 categories of talents, respectively.  Understanding the different strengths available in each of us is helpful to realize that every person has the potential to excel and contribute.  In doing so, we have then an obligation to find and appreciate our own strengths and the strengths of others, and to develop them.   Research in this field shows that when people develop and apply their strengths, they become more engaged, productive, creative and happier.  In addition, effective teams can also be designed based on matching the skills needed for the task to the people with the right talents.  So knowing yourself and others isn’t just a feel-good strategy.  It has actual and measurable benefits.

However, like the other personality traits we discussed, strengths may also be perceived as a weakness or annoyance if applied in the wrong context.  You might find, for example, another person’s competitiveness or need to achieve annoying when you’re trying to relax.  But like the MBTI traits, in other situations you may instead find those characteristics a desirable and useful asset.   You might judge your own ability to empathize as a heavy burden you do not want to carry, but that may be an undeveloped talent that you can use to follow your bliss.

We humans tend to judge others who are different from us.  We have a tendency to reject what we don’t understand.   When we do so, by only accepting only what is within our current but limited understanding, we also limit our ability to envision how we can grow and improve.  For example, if I can only value science and technology and traditional IQ intelligence, I may not even consider that I have other skills and talents worth developing.  My Ginger Rogers self will never be discovered.

By rejecting or judging what we don’t understand, we also fail to see the diversity of contribution of other perspectives and how those differences can also have value to our community or to our decision-making.   I already gave an example of how appreciating MBTI-type differences has improved my effectiveness.  Valuing the creative, artistic, intuitive and spiritual endeavors in addition to the scientific and technical makes our communities (and ourselves) more balanced, beautiful, and interesting, and in the end, happier, and more productive as well.

In addition, by failing to value other perspectives, we create artificial and unnecessary divisions between us rather than viewing those differences as a way to enrich our decision-making or our lives.

Every one of us has strengths and talents buried within that can be used to enhance ourselves and our communities.  We can tap into those strengths, follow our bliss and enjoy creativity and productivity, and self-actualization, or we can use those differences to reinforce our alienation from each other or from the richness within we have yet to discover.

In I’m Rubber and You’re Glue, I discuss how forgiveness and acceptance of the hidden parts of ourselves that we hate can help us to be whole.   Our strengths and personality types may also be hidden from us.  Ironically, acceptance and forgiveness likewise may be needed to allow our hidden strengths to emerge.  I was heavily and myopically invested in my left-brained, scientific side for so long, I had trouble identifying my other strengths and passions.  Now, I feel like I’m living the purpose for which I was placed on this Earth.

It’s an inner journey most worthwhile.

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamed of in your philosophy” – William Shakespeare

I’m Rubber and You’re Glue…

What do you hate about yourself?

Me:  I hate that I will always have the little pot belly we all inherited from my Mom, that I can’t tell a joke to save my life, that I’m not detail-oriented, and I eat too much chocolate.

No, what do you REALLY hate about yourself?


How would you answer this question?  I know the way I would answer it now is extremely different from how I would’ve answered it 15 years ago.  Then, I would say that I hate having to take care of everyone with no one caring for me.  I hate feeling like life is out of control.  I hate feeling not good enough when someone says anything at all critical.  I hate feeling like I can never do a good enough job or do enough in general.  And I hate how everyone else is making me feel that way.

That would’ve been my honest answer if and when I allowed myself to feel and acknowledge those inner truths.  All you would’ve gotten from  me on most days was the first answer since it didn’t require me to face my inner demons or make me admit them aloud.   Both very scary endeavors for even the bravest of souls.

We all have this duality – who we present to the world (including ourselves) and who we are inside.   If there is a significant disparity between those two worlds, it means we are living without authenticity.  We might try to hide that inner world, but we’re not fooling anyone else. Those inner truths, whether they’re acknowledged or not, become self-fulfilling (or rather, self-(un)fulfilling) prophecies.  The more we are in denial about them, the greater the impact they are likely having on our lives.

The other irony about denial is how we then tend to blame others for our feelings or choices (“She is making me feel this way.  He is making me do this.”) The excellent ipledgeallegiance blog yesterday posted a story about how a judge escalated punishment each time a teenaged defendant showed disrespect.    The  judge, who also showed disrespect and even contempt for the sanctity of the judicial system, overreacted to the teenager’s disrespect.   This is a perfect example of projecting our self-hate onto someone else and then blaming them.  So, if I hate that I can’t show my vulnerability, then that trait in someone else might just set me off.  If I hate the need to feel in control, then I will criticize someone else for being controlling.  If I am feeling judged, it is my judgment of myself that hurts me, not someone else’s opinion of me.  By failing to acknowledge and forgive my own shortcomings and my feelings about my imperfection, I am giving power to my dark, hidden side.

So, the next time you get upset at someone or are tempted to judge them, look in the mirror.    You may be reacting to it because you’re guilty of the same thing and you have yet to accept or forgive yourself for your perceived weakness.

Then ask yourself:  Why not?  We are, after all, only human and the only one that can have a claim on perfection is God.  The rest of us are just messed up inside, no matter how much we may try to project otherwise.  Believe me, you’re in good company.  Present company included.

The other irony is that once you accept and forgive your human shortcomings, they lose their power over your life.  Instead, you give power to your authenticity, your light.

Finally, if you offer forgiveness and empathy to yourself for your struggle to accept your imperfection/humanity, you can forgive someone else for theirs.

It was a long, scary and difficult road before I was able to accept my imperfection/humanity.  There is much I want to work on, yes, but I don’t hate those parts of me.  How can I hate them?  My good cannot exist without my bad, my light cannot exist without my dark, my sweet cannot exist without my sour.  Who am I to judge any of that?  My journey is to find the wisdom to make the best of the hand I’ve been dealt and to try to “be the light that already resides in (me)”  (From Thank You Self ,The Other Side of Ugly blog).

“There is only one perpetrator of evil on the planet: human unconsciousness. That realization is true forgiveness. With forgiveness, your victim identity dissolves, and your true power emerges–the power of Presence. Instead of blaming the darkness, you bring in the light.”
― Eckhart Tolle,  A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose

Struggle for authenticity

Struggle for authenticity

The Evolution of Parenting

I’m embarrassed to admit that I’m jealous of my boys.  No, it’s not because they got to enjoy a lifestyle and opportunities that I didn’t enjoy during my deprived childhood (you know, I walked to school barefoot in the snow, yada yada).  I had a fairly privileged childhood as well, never having to worry about my next meal, a warm, dry house, or even college loans.

Rather, I just look at them and marvel at how together they are.

Me at their age:  gawky, awkward, fearful, mousy, demanding, self-critical, insecure, academically and psychologically myopic, unsure, squabbling with my sister.  I was too timid to talk to most people and mostly moved through life trying to avoid notice.  I intentionally chose the largest university in the state (50,000 students) so I could hide in the auditorium.  Fortunately, I managed to have a pretty good time and got a good education, despite being my own worst enemy.  Not a total loss by any means but it wasn’t pretty either.

Them (cumulatively):  confident, handsome, self-assured, talented, engaging, interesting, funny, self-aware, poised, kind, courteous, popular, leaders.  They even get along with each other.  Like each other. Help each other.  So much more evolved than I was at that age.

By the time I had the self-knowledge and confidence they are showing now, I was late into my 30’s, even 40’s.  Sometimes I wonder if I was that put together in my teens, where would I be now…?

But all that is irrelevant.  That ship has long ago sailed, and it is not at all constructive to speculate in that manner.  Indeed, I had to struggle for years to find my place in the world and figure out who I wasI don’t actually regret it because those experiences and those struggles put me on the path to who I am today.  Feeling so uncomfortable was the best incentive for me to figure it out and grow up.

“You cannot dream yourself into a character; you must hammer and forge yourself one” James A. Froude

A little adversity* can be a good thing for young people.  I’ve known some people whose childhood was as smooth as silk.   They were beloved, nurtured, spoiled a little (or a lot), helped when needed, had breakfast and a bag lunch prepared for them each day, had a parent at every school event, had everything they ever wanted without having to save a dime.  I believe modern parents frequently strive to provide for their children a perfect childhood, but I’m not sure that’s a good idea.   The adults I know with easy childhoods did not learn resilience at a young age and had few opportunities for self-discovery and growth.   They entered life being unable to care for themselves, solve problems for themselves, or believing their role was to be taken care of, not to take care of others.  They were not given the incentive to forge themselves deliberately into a character until much later after their habits were firmly in place.

So even though I’m somewhat jealous, I am even prouder of the young men they have become despite a privileged upbringing.  Our parents worked hard for the American dream and to provide us with all the advantages, especially a great education and resulting careers.  Their dream was that we would be more successful than they were, and we are.  While balancing two careers and two babies, however, we quickly realized that the financial and professional success was fantastic – but what really mattered was raising a happy and healthy family.  So, while we have saved all their lives for their educations too, our mission has more importantly been to give them a healthier emotional and psychological start to their lives.  All the money in the world will not make them happy, but the ability to love and forgive both yourself and others, and commit to a journey of personal growth is an excellent down payment on that happiness.

I always say that childrearing is one big experiment:  You don’t get the report card until they go into therapy when they’re 30 and you find out how much you screwed them up.  So the jury is still out as to whether we were successful in our quest.  But at least I know we did our best for them, and hopeful that they will understand and forgive our sincere, though thoroughly imperfect parenting.  If we’ve successfully taught them to forgive themselves and others, they will.

Someday they’ll have their own parenting journey.  What will be their parenting legacy?  What will they prioritize for their children?  In what way do they want their children to do better than they did?  Grandma will be standing by to help.  Hopefully by then I’ll have developed the wisdom and self-control to keep my opinions to myself.

*Previous blogs on adversity – Conflict, Damned if You Do, Damned if You Don’t, The Joy of Loss, Blessings of a Dysfunctional Marriage, A Defining Moment:  Discovering the Hidden Gifts in Chronic Pain and Illness

and Now

and Now

I begin to lose my confidence

I begin to lose my confidence, Then…

Dealing With Mesothelioma While Raising Lily

Heather and her family

Heather and her family

By Heather, guest blogger

We have all experienced times when life seems to change dramatically. I experienced it when was 36. Experiencing all possible emotions, I felt extreme joy in extreme sadness within a short period of time. On August 4, 2005, Lily was born. Those who have had kids know the joy that comes with the birth of a child, and I cannot express the joy my husband and I felt. Unfortunately, that joy was soon to be dashed.

A month after the birth of Lily, I went back to work. However, something felt wrong; my energy was zapped and I was constantly tired. In addition, I was losing between five to seven pounds every week. This is obviously something thats normal for new moms, but my suspicion remained. Unfortunately, I was right-and something much worse was actually happening.

After enduring a battery of tests, I was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma just 3 1/2 months after Lily arrived. Caused by unknown asbestos exposure when I was a child, this cancer affected the lining of my lungs. If I refused treatment, my doctor predicted that I would survive for 15 months.

All I could think about was my Lily. My husband and I decided, however, that we would do all we could to fight, even if it meant drastic treatment. We traveled to Boston, and on February 2nd 2006, I underwent an extrapleural pneumonectomy under one of the best mesothelioma doctors, Dr. David Sugarbaker. The procedure was intense, and they removed my entire left lung and all of the surrounding tissue. I endured an 18-day stay in the hospital after. Following my stay in the hospital, I recovered for another 2 months before starting radiation and chemotherapy treatments.

Lily stayed with my parents in South Dakota while I was in Boston. My parents have a wide network of family and friends who were willing to help them during that time, and I will never be able to express my gratitude sufficiently. I missed out on many important moments in Lily’s life as she learned to eat solid foods and began moving around. Being away from Lily was difficult, but my faith in my parents gave me confidence while I fought to be there for her. I know that any mother would do the same thing for her child.

The cancer was the most difficult thing I have gone through, but some good did come of it. Without Lily, I may have given up along the way; I knew she needed me. We all appreciate life more now after seeing how fragile it can be. In even the worst situations, I strongly encourage those who are struggling to try to find the silver lining.

Read more from Heather at

Student Pitfalls and Opportunities in Higher Education

It’s heartbreaking to watch students and parents make bad decisions that have expensive and lasting impact on their student’s academic career.  I have spent the last 20 years as an educator in a professional (post graduate) school so I’m a little removed from the undergraduate student experience, but I imagine the problems and opportunities are about the same, perhaps just occurring with different frequency.

1.   Keep your “nose clean” – One of the most difficult issues I see is students not considering or heeding the consequences of cheating, stealing, or breaking laws or university rules.  When you’re 18, it may be difficult to imagine the consequences or even the possibility of getting caught, but your behavior will eventually be noticed.  Do not put your academic career at risk by taking foolish chances and jeopardizing your standing in the university.  The faculty are like your parents – we have a 6th sense for nonsense and it does not escape our attention.  Ask yourself: Am I prepared to suffer the consequences of getting caught? Answer that question with the assumption you cannot finesse your way out of the hole you dug yourself into.  If the answer is No, don’t do it.

2.  Your grades matter – Unfortunately, the job market and college admissions are very competitive.  Students who do not take their studies (either in high school or college) seriously and end up with poor grades may someday wish their grades were more competitive.  By then it’s too late.  You may have had an epiphany halfway through your program, but you’re competing against students who have worked hard the entire time.   So keep your academic doors open, even if you’re sure you’re never going back.

Also, unless you’re related to Mitt Romney and can afford to just cash in some stocks, it’s foolish to spend vast sums of money to obtain a GPA that will not open any doors for you.  Be honest with yourself.  If you’re not ready to take your classes seriously, maybe it would be better to take a year off before going back to school.  Students who are paying for at least part of their own education are much more likely to take it seriously.

3.  Your behavior matters – Students don’t realize that they have entered into a small, tight-knit community.  In addition to keeping your nose clean, your attitude in school is noticed by the faculty, who will be writing your letters of recommendation and working or socializing with your future employers.  If you have a bad attitude, you show you’re irresponsible or lack initiative, you ask for favors and exceptions constantly, you demonstrate you’re not interested in the class, it creates an impression that could impact which doors open for you, or which ones close.  It is not always possible to predict when or where that will happen.

Your behavior interacting with school officials before you’re admitted also leaves an impression.  If you cannot, for example, be bothered to read instructions, follow instructions, or look something up on the internet, you may be perceived as not ready for admission into the program (see also Item 6 below).

The opposite is also true.  You can stand out for having a positive attitude, show you’re a hard worker, responsible, team-oriented, willing to take initiative, and eager to learn. You also cannot tell when or how a positive impression will help you down the road.

4.  Make the most of it – “I’ll just figure that out when I graduate.” Again, unless you have unlimited time and resources to get degree after degree, before you graduate you should really invest in trying to figure out your path after you graduate.  This is not easy since students, by definition, are studying, not working.  However, you can improve your chances of knowing what to do academically if you open yourself to experimenting with potential interests early on, starting at least in high school.  Yes, extracurriculars and jobs are resume padders, but more importantly, they can help you ascertain where your passions, interests, and talents lie.  Note that not all of these passions, interests and talents are academic.  You might find that you love/hate working in teams, problem solving, public speaking, drawing, marketing or selling things or ideas.  That self-knowledge can help you inform your career path.  So, get involved, volunteer, get a job, take an interesting elective, get an internship, study abroad, talk to people who are in fields you might be interested in, join a club, lead a project, serve on a committee.It’s through these varied experiences you can expand the breadth of your self-knowledge.   It’s not just to pad your application.  It’s to learn who you are.


5.  Have a Plan B – Hopefully you’ve gotten to know yourself, your interests and talents, and you know how to pursue your dream job.  Keep in mind that it could take some time for you to achieve that goal.  Know what your interim and back-up plans are, as events do not always turn out as planned.  Also, don’t be afraid to ask for someone to mentor you if you’re not sure what to do.  Most people are happy to help a bright, industrious student with a good attitude and you will learn more from them than you anticipate.  Yes, have faith you can make it happen, but know that the path to your dream job may be bumpy, windy, and at times, circular and that you need to pay your bills during this time.  Pursue your dream but don’t close yourself to opportunities that may present themselves or to the reality of the economy.  You may have other talents or interests that you are not cultivating by being so myopic.

6.  Helicopter parents need to tone it down – Helicopter parenting is problematic for your child from at least two perspectives.  First, your student needs to become independent eventually, preferably by the time they leave home.  All the hovering and enabling is simply an obstacle to their development into an independent adult (see when Helping Becomes Hurtful).  In addition, once your child is 18 they are expected to manage their own affairs.  Your visible intervention with grades, admissions, hiring, job or admissions interviews, or other academic proceedings convey that your child is not independent.  Faculty or employers do not want to constantly deal with a third party for every bump in the road.   How would you like to hire a seemingly competent young person only to find you have to answer to the parent every time feedback is needed?

Do not take this as permission to teach your child independence by cutting off your participation in their lives. Your job is to be supportive, to listen, to make suggestions if asked, to provide training  and coaching as needed, but let your child take increasing responsibility for their own affairs.

7.  Don’t equate income with happiness or having a life – Despite the pressure and expense, college should be some of the best years of your life.  You will be growing intellectually, psychologically, socially, and emotionally, and you should enjoy and embrace that as much as possible.  Yes, having a good income is a nice and one of your goals.  But when you have a job, there is often just as much or more stress and much less flexibility and freedom.  So, don’t wait to enjoy yourself, relax or try something new (as long as you keep your studies your first priority), as life does not begin after your start a job/buy your house/start your family/retire.  Life occurs in this present moment, no matter the stage of life you are in.

My Self-(Un)fulfilling Reality

Create your reality

Create your reality

We make many choices in our life, not all of which we are aware of making.  Those choices have real consequences, and the less we are aware of making these choices the greater the potential impact on our lives.  The impactful choices are not even the big choices, often they are the small, daily choices that we take for granted.  These choices include what we say to ourselves (about anything) and what we believe (about anything).

For example, if I believe I deserve chocolate in my life, I will subconsciously act in a way that will invite chocolate to me.  I may go buy fine quality chocolate because I deserve it, I’ll notice chocolate stores when I’m driving around, I’ll stand in line for a free chocolate sample at See’s, and my loved ones will give me chocolate because they know it’ll make me happy.   Since I’m such a big fan, See’s may even make me their spokesperson and I would then have scotchmallows galore.  If, however, I feel I only deserve liver and onions, then I’ll buy liver and onions, I’ll notice when liver and onions are on sale at the grocery store and buy them in quantity so I don’t run out, I’ll be reluctant to order or eat fabulous foods because I don’t deserve them, and my loved ones will serve me liver and onions because they believe that’s what I like to eat.

See what I mean?  Our subconscious choices create our reality.

Now, substitute chocolate for happiness, success, love, safety, joy, peace, satisfaction, luck and the opposite of each of those nouns for liver and onions.

In The Luck Factor, Richard Wiseman studies what makes people lucky (he has his own wordpress blog, how cool is that?).  Wiseman finds that luck can be learned.  In comparison to unlucky people, lucky people are more likely to create opportunity, think/feel lucky and so make lucky decisions, and have a resilience that turns bad luck into good.   In one study, Wiseman set up an experiment where he asked participants to count the number of pictures in a newspaper.  Half way through he posted a message that said “Stop counting, tell the experimenter you have seen this and win $250.”  Guess who noticed the message?

I’ve mentioned in previous blogs* that I have an emotional perspective that tells me, among other things, I will not get what I need.  That belief, subconscious until well into my adulthood, colored my whole personality.  If I don’t believe I’ll get what I need, I won’t ask anyone for help and so I’ll take care of myself (and everyone around me).  In doing so, I am also showing others that I don’t need help, making them unlikely to offer help.  If someone can’t figure out what I need, then I’ll have a fit, making it less likely they’ll try again in the future.    Thus, my thoughts and beliefs become my self-fulfilling reality.  I think it should be called my self-unfulfilling reality.

So be aware of what you’re saying to yourself or believing on any level.  You can choose not to believe it and change what is your life experience.  So think Big.  Dream Big.  Be Big.

 “Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habit. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.” ― Lao Tzu

*Please refer to Personal Power: Use It or Lose It, When Helping Becomes Hurtful, Finding Forgiveness Moment By MomentWhat Every Couple Should Know Before Getting MarriedYour Shadow Self, Conflict:  Damned if You Do, Damned if You Don’t…. clearly a favorite subject.