Open for Business

The most amazing things happen when you’re open to the world. There is wonder, joy, awe, forgiveness, connection and gratitude.   Or is it more important to you to be certain?

Certainty has its benefits. It feels safer to be certain.  It’s easier to be certain because you don’t have to re-think decisions or opinions.  You don’t have to take a chance of having a bad meal or being embarrassed because you tried something you couldn’t do.  You don’t have to decide who to vote for, or what to think of yourself or someone else.

The problem with certainty, in my opinion, is that it limits growth and perspective.  Certainty is also boring.  Do you know anyone who is always certain, always right?  It’s somewhat obnoxious, isn’t it?  It’s a barrier to intimacy because if I’m not open to someone else’s authenticity (because I’ve already decided who or what they are), then I can’t ever really see them.  If I’m not open to different interpretations of my self then I can’t really know who I am either.  I also feel like I’m in a rut when I will only entertain the same routine every day. My opportunities for psychological, spiritual, emotional, intellectual or physical improvement are limited when I’m closed.

Don’t get me wrong – there’s nothing wrong with comfort or relaxing.  But perhaps you’d like to reconsider your open/closed ratio.   Are you open to that question?  If so, answer these questions:

  • Do you stop and really listen to opinions you disagree with?  Or do you start shaking your head “No” right away?
  • Do you look strangers in the eye, or keep your gaze fixed straight ahead or down?
  • Do you strike up conversations with people you don’t know, or keep it all business?
  • When walking or driving by yourself, do you attend to your thoughts or notice your environment?
  • When some invites you to try a new activity or dish, how frequently will you choose to try it?  I mean, really try it to see if you like it?  (Trying it but immediately saying you don’t like it doesn’t count).
  • When someone compliments you (or criticizes you), are you willing to accept their statement at face value, or do you dismiss it without thinking?
  • When was the last time you challenged your conception about yourself – your talents, strengths, weaknesses, personality, beliefs – or someone else?
  • What recent experience created surprise, awe, inspiration or joy for you?
  • When someone wrongs you, how frequently do you reconsider your initial judgment or opinion and end up with a more forgiving interpretation?

What do you think?  Do you want to shift your open/closed ratio? If so, how?  How did it go?Image

Photo credit:  Tonyconigliophoto.com

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An Unusual Thanksgiving Gratitude

This year I’m grateful that Chris’ girls both joined us and the boys for the first time this Thanksgiving. This blog reminds me of how much has changed in a year, though they also stay the same. Hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving overflowing with family, loved ones, and plenty of joy!

Silver Lining

There’s a good reason that depression skyrockets around the holiday, and I have to surmise that for a large number of people it’s because of difficult family relationships and dynamics.

I would say our family dynamic is more… unconventional.  Thanksgiving this year will mean a potluck dinner at my house with my kids, my sweetheart Chris, his daughter and her boyfriend, my ex-husband Dave and his parents and sweetheart.

If we can only add in the parents of our sweethearts, this blended family stew (powderkeg?) would be like some sadistic Brady family gathering.

The family reunion has been happening for special events and holidays for over two years, since Dave and my separation.  This arrangement was suggested by our co-parenting mediator, that we do the holidays as a family, for at least a year.  Dave and I happily did so, because we were acting on the belief that the kids’…

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To Thine Own Self Be True – William Shakespeare

IQ.  EQ.  Like strengths, there are many types of intelligences, only a couple of which are really in the popular lexicon.  Focusing on only a couple of types of intelligences is a lost opportunity, just like it is a mistake to only measure the value of a person’s worth only by his bank account.   It is too easy to miss the chance to develop and appreciate these other talents when we only talk about IQ and EQ (emotional intelligence).

I think intrapersonal intelligence is a fairly important one.  This talent involves introspection and the ability to step outside ourselves, think about our lives and find meaning and spirituality.  Being introspective allows one to be self-aware.

Since intrapersonal intelligence is a type of innate talent, some are likely to be low on this ability, since most/all of us are not good at everything.  However, to the degree that this type of intelligence can be cultivated, I believe it is well worth while.  Purposefully cultivating my intrapersonal intelligence helped me really to have a deeper understanding of myself.

Here’s why intrapersonal intelligence matters:

–          Projection – Being aware of your feelings helps to separate your feelings from others.  Has anyone ever accused you of being angry, depressed, or hostile, when in fact you’re not feeling those things at all?  That occurs when one cannot identify their own feelings.   Being unable to distinguish your own feelings from someone else makes it very difficult to understand that other person.

–          Schema – Understanding your own emotional tendencies helps one understand how we might have bad emotional habits.  Sometimes these habits are so fast and automatic, we never stop to question them.  But sometimes they’re just wrong.  We come to the wrong conclusion about an event, and we often fail to comprehend that our emotional reaction is a habit, not necessarily a reflection of reality.  Being able to recognize and challenge a bad emotional habit helps us to, well, grow up and change that habit.

–          Conscience  -Self-awareness is also necessary for heeding our conscience.  Our conscience is often our guide for our own behavior or evaluating others’.  Have you ever done or said something, then had this queasy, uncomfortable feeling?  Has anyone ever done or said something to you that produced this reaction?  This is our innate sense of morality that we should respect and heed when guiding our actions and reactions.

–          Authenticity – I’ve become more convinced over the years of the importance of authenticity to our well-being.  When we fail to be true to ourselves, whether our conscience or our unique combination of strengths, intelligences and values, we feel a sense of disconnection and malcontent.  Often we feel we’re swimming upstream and fighting the world when we’re not living a life compatible with our authenticity.  Self-awareness allows us to detect and follow our inner compass toward our true self.

So if you’re not high on the IQ or EQ scale, never fear.  You are good at something, and it is your job to find what that is and cultivate it.  Everyone is, and you’re no exception.  Also, developing your intrapersonal intelligence can also help you to become wiser, more authentic, and find your unique path.  Happy trails!

 

 

Joyeaux Noel vs. Merry Christmas

Well it’s not exactly Christmas yet, but the winter holidays  are all about reunions and good cheer (for some people, anyway).  My own Thanksgiving reunion makes me reflect about the joy that a returning loved one brings.  I have not seen my own college student son for almost six months; it’s the longest we’ve ever been apart and I’m over the moon at having him home again.  He’s the type of son that carries my groceries for me and goes shopping with me at 4 AM on Black Friday.  Yes, that kind of son.

To me, this is the real meaning of the holidays:  finding joy in being with your loved ones.  Without meaningful connections with others, our lives have little meaning.  We have evolved to have and nurture these connections not only with each other but with our world in general.  That connection to others and the world results in shared goals and successful communities that has in turn  given man an evolutionary survival advantage.  In other words, we have evolved to form those connections with others and the world/God. People who have those connections are happier than those without them.

One type of glue that binds us together is the emotion that we feel when we’re with loved ones.  For example, joy is the emotion that we feel when a loved one returns.  Thus, reunions are reinforced and encouraged by this tremendous positive emotion, and keeps us coming back to one another.

Joy is so much more than the emotion of reunion.  Joy is also the emotion that reinforces play and learning.   Joy is a primal emotion that acknowledges and encompasses pain, whereas happiness is a tame cognition that makes us run from pain or displaces pain.   Joy connects us to the universe, whereas happiness is having fun.

So, this holiday season, I wish you a Joyous Holiday Season instead of a Happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas.  May your holidays be filled with the joy of play, reunion and connection to your loved ones and the wondrous spirit outside yourself.

Source:   Vaillant, G. E. (2008). Spiritual evolution: How we are wired for faith, hope, and love. NewYork: Broadway Books

Happy Birthday Silver Lining Blog

We can never be sure exactly how old my Dad is because he was born on Chinese New Year’s eve (which moves compared to Western calendar).  We also can never seem to remember if we added the year we aren’t supposed to add.  You see, the Chinese don’t start counting birthdays until a baby reaches one year of age.  I guess in the old days they’d hedge their bets in case, well, the baby didn’t make it the full year.

So, being of the Chinese persuasion, genetically at least, it gives me great pride to celebrate the one year anniversary of this blog.  I guess we made it through the critical stage.

I don’t really know what I expected when I started blogging.  Mainly I just wanted to get the ‘word’ out about positive psychology and helping others to find more peace, contentment, and satisfaction with life.  Pretty soon it became obvious that I was getting more wisdom ‘in’ by writing and reading others’ blogs than I was getting ‘out’.  The writing process itself has simply helped me formulate, re-arrange, and refine.

Committing to the every other day schedule has also required some discipline on my part.  I’m glad I didn’t just write whenever the mood struck because then it would’ve been too easy to just let it slide another day.  Writing every other day requires me to dig deep down or synthesize something when I might not have done so otherwise.

In addition to the surprise of how much I learn just from the writing process, I’ve also been surprised by what seems to strike a cord with others.  The blogs I put the most care and thought into are probably the ones that turn out to be least interesting to others.  Some of my most popular blogs (popular is very relative by the way) have been blogs that I have written and posted when I have been in a hurry.  Maybe I’m more authentic when I write that way?  If so, that’s good because my time is so limited now that I’m in school now too.  I could try to do my homework that way too and see if it improves my grades. 🙂

One of the best surprises has been the amazing blogging community.  Thank you to all of you out there, even if I haven’t had as much time as I would’ve liked to get onto your webpages.  You inspire me with your passion, creativity and wisdom.

Finally, thanks to all the readers who have offered words of encouragement.  I can’t tell you how many times I considered just giving up the blog.  Inevitably, during the year, someone tells me something encouraging and off I go, spewing again at the…. fingertips.    I am so grateful to share our beautiful journeys together.   birthday

Pardon Me While I Cry

Lately I have felt the urge to cry.  All the time.  On the airplane.  In class.  Watching TV.  Talking to friends.  In a meeting.

I’m not depressed.

Quite the opposite.  I’m filled with joy.

It’s the weirdest feeling.  I mean, after spending my whole life not wanting to show my feelings (too scary), and priding myself on not being that type of woman that cries during movies or birthday parties, I find myself constantly on the verge of tears.

I was on the airplane the other day, and literally I got weepy just thinking about how great my life is, and how much gratitude I have for the richness and joy I get to feel every day.

I wanted to cry looking at the river as I was driving to work, as the colors and reflection of the sky on the water was just too beautiful for words.

I cried in class watching one of those manipulative journalism pieces about the seemingly boundless nature of a man’s love for his child.

I got teary thinking about how a classmate is struggling with health or professional issues.

I get misty when someone tells me about making progress with an issue they have been battling with.   They’ve found a little courage, took a risk, and found out they were OK and even learned something

But it’s not all about tears.  I also feel a profound sense of awe when I think of the mysteries of our world, and the idea that I’m a tiny, miniscule part of that world.  I feel inspired when I get a glimpse of understanding that world – or realize that maybe it’s just another figment of my cognition.  I feel uplifted when I see kindness or wisdom in another.  I dance (just a little) in the hallway when I think about how a project ended better than I thought.  I delight in the conversation with a colleague who is passionate and creative and inspired me.  I feel complete and utter bliss when cuddling with my sweetie and my puppy on the couch.

The old Susanna that didn’t feel sadness also didn’t feel most of these good emotions either.   That old Susanna didn’t often give a hug, nor did she get them very often either.  Yes, I’ll cry with you now when you’re feeling pain, but I will cry with joy with you too.   You may get a hug that you didn’t expect and maybe that you’re not terribly comfortable with.   Some may complain that I’m wearing my heart on my sleeve now but that’s OK too.  You’ll know that heart is right there, with you, every time.

Not Feeling the Love

Do you know someone that does not know how to show their love?  You may know they love you but you may not  feel loved by them.  Is it because they can’t show love or are they too selfish or narcissistic to be able to love someone else?

This blog is also not about how to change someone else.  We have no control over someone else’s actions.  As they say, we can only control our own actions and reactions.   Therefore, if you answered yes to the first question above, then consider the possibility that you’re not seeing the love that is being offered.

It’s difficult to control our reactions when we’re upset.  We also can’t, and should not try, to control our feelings.   We should respect our feelings.  But we don’t have to cave into them.  Instead, perhaps we can get some emotional distance on the subject so that we may evaluate our feelings and reactions.  We may feel very strongly that we’re being ignored or mistreated, but it is also possible that we are creating a problem that isn’t there.  Every disagreement has two sides.  It is easy to see our own side of an argument; much more difficult is seeing someone else’s.

If we can find some emotional distance, we can decide that we don’t have to believe our interpretation of events.  Our emotional reaction is based on what kind of value judgments we apply to what was said or done.  But most events have multiple interpretations.  We don’t have to choose the interpretation that is hurtful to us or concludes the other is a cad or a bad person.  After all, don’t we hope our partner would give us the same benefit of the doubt when we do something that’s completely innocent (see our Self-(un)fulfilling Reality)?

It is also helpful to remember that each of us communicate in a love language that may differ from our loved ones’.  For example, I like to be loved with time together and touch, but I prefer to show love with time and service (doing things for the other).  To complicate matters, if my partner shows love with gifts but likes to receive love as verbal affirmations, then we are potentially communicating our love in completely different languages.   We may both feel unloved even though we are both putting a lot of effort into trying to make the other feel loved.   It’s no wonder that loving each other can be so darn complicated and that it is easy to conclude that someone else doesn’t know how to show love (see Love the One You’re With).

So, before you dismiss someone else as unable to love or show their love, reconsider what your role is in this dynamic.  Maybe you’re misinterpreting or not seeing the love that is being offered to you.  Also consider that approximately 50% of the fault is yours, no matter how sure you are that you’re completely innocent.   Ask yourself, and answer honestly how you might be mistreating your partner by choosing the hurtful interpretation (see Making the Change).  What would you need to do to “fix” your half?  How would that change the dynamic?  How will the other person respond if you change your behavior?  How can you convert a negative emotion or response into something positive?  Aside from a little pride, what do you have to lose?