Pay attention. I am not kidding. Really.

Month: February, 2014

Feeling Good: Encouraging Yourself

Seriously? We have to be told to encourage ourselves?

Well, yes. Because some of us, this writer included, do our very best to discourage ourselves. And if you’re like me, the sharpest tool you use for this self-sabotage is the comparison tool.

Yes, I know this post has a negative slant to it. Discouraging ourselves is a downer. That’s why we need to keep reminding ourselves to

STOP comparing.

photo of two young women comparing food choices

Aw. Now that banana just won’t taste as good.

Talk about a tall order. I know this because I’ve struggled with it my entire life. I know if I can stop paying such close attention to others’ possessions, status, money, reputation, etc., I’m more contented. But my competitive nature and our mass media make it pretty hard not to compare. Pay attention: anything which encourages comparison bears watching.

Think I’m overreacting?

Try this experiment.

The next time you’ve gussied up your house or apartment for guests, take time to wander through its rooms before they arrive. Look at each area as if you’ve never seen it before. Frame and shoot some nice shots with your phone. (You can always send them to Mom who – trust me – will be quite impressed with your thoughtfulness. (Check out this killing-two-birds-with-one-stone concept in the Making the Most of Your Time post.)

Seeing your digs through the camera lens may prompt you to think, Hmm. Cool. Very cool. Feels comfortable, but hip and very, very me. Savor the feel-good moment. Once your guests arrive, soak in their compliments about your cool digs.

Quick! As soon as possible (after the guests leave, of course!) go window shopping at the mall. Window shopping – no fair buying. Just wander around. Look through the home furnishings departments and stores. Stop in the prints and frames shop. Check out Home Depot on the way home – lighting fixtures, appliances, bathroom fixtures, flooring – the whole works.

Now, back at your place, take a good look around. Does it still make you feel good? What happened to cool, very cool, comfortable, hip? Does the couch look sadly out of date? Do your colors seem blah, compared to the new shades in the mall? Does your carpet seem shabby? Does it all feel sooo uncool? Maybe downright yucky?

Window shopping is, by nature, comparison. You’ve just compared what you have (which made you feel good just hours before) with the newest, brightest, glitziest that’s currently available. Of course your stuff comes up lacking! Try this experiment on anything you like – clothes, cars, electronics, whatever. It all comes out the same because the principle is the same. Regardless of the arena, comparison is the thief of contentment.

It gets worse…

because we compare more than material things. We compare careers, jobs, spouses, families, friends, hair, noses, ad infinitum.

We even compare our own behavior to our own behavior – and beat ourselves up in the process. Comparing what we know now to what we did then just creates a good deal of angst which serves no purpose. Hindsight is valuable for learning life’s lessons, but not for second-guessing how we should have acted in the past.

Convinced? I’ll bet so.

You’ve experienced this firsthand, haven’t you? And the question you’re asking is spot on. “How do I not compare?” I have two little tips to share. I could list a dozen, but would you remember them all? (I can’t even remember them all – at least – not when I need them.) Remembering two, however is very doable, so here you go.

DECIDE not to compare.

When you catch yourself comparing, DECIDE to stop it. DECIDE to use your strong will for something positive. DECIDE to encourage yourself by thinking on other things. DECIDE that every time you catch yourself using this razor-sharp, destructive tool of comparison that you will immediately start listing what’s right about your apartment, your job, your spouse, your car, your life, you.

Avoid situations
that encourage comparison.

Malls and huge department stores come to mind. Place yourself in shopping arenas (the blingy ones AND the not-so-blingy ones) only when it’s time to do research or make a purchase based on previous research.

Be clear about the difference between shopping and recreation. Shopping is for making buying decisions and purchases. Recreation is for renewing your mind, body, and spirit. I’ve never felt renewed after a four-hour shopping jaunt in my local mall. Worn out, maybe. Frazzled, oh yes. Guilted over foolish purchases, for sure. But rejuvenated?? Never. How about you?

Well, that wraps up my feel-good contentment posts – for now. Plenty of people have written about this subject. Find their books and articles; read them. In the meantime, why not get a running start by implementing these two little tips?

Now, how about sharing some of your tried-and-true tricks for contented, feel-good, encouraging-yourself, encouraging-others living?

© 2014 Teresa Layne Bennett

red box with white text: "Comparison is the thief of joy" by Theodore Roosevelt

Old Teddy was right on! (joy = contentment)

Feeling Good: Encouraging Others

photo of hand with thumb up in an encouraging thumbs-up position

Give out attaboys like there’s no tomorrow!

Though you may have been conditioned to respond only to positive suggestions, you might want to pay attention to negative suggestions from time to time (like right about now). They’re especially profitable when we fail to see ourselves accurately – and who doesn’t do that from time to time?

That’s my disclaimer for what’s to follow.

The subjects of this post and the next one deal with negative behaviors that are quite familiar to me. So, dear reader, I’m speaking to moi as much as I’m speaking to you. Both are about behaviors that – when I slip into them – I just want to kick myself. Here we go.

Keep your poison to yourself. 

Ick. Negative. Yes, it is. And we all need to be reminded to do it.

Why?? Why do we have so much trouble keeping the poison to ourselves? Don’t know. Can’t speak for you, but when I’m a teensy bit jealous, unwell, or just plain disappointed with life, I have been known to drip acid into a conversation, tainting the speaker’ feel-good news. I don’t want to pour poison, but I do it anyway. What is up with that??

I can also tell you from experience that contrary to what you may’ve heard, “getting the poison out” seldom makes us feel good, and it certainly doesn’t encourage others. Venting – regardless of how justifiable it may seem at the time – is raining on other people’s parades. When I do this, I feel even worse because the drenched results of my poison-pouring are staring me in the face.

A real life example is the best way to illustrate any idea, so here we go – an example of how someone you know may be pouring out their poison on you to ensure you do not feel good. It’s always easier to see faults when they’re in someone else’s front yard, right? Carl Jung, though I’m certainly not an avid fan of his, states this concept in a more positive way: “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding about ourselves.”

Let’s say life is good for you right now. A year ago, you stewed for weeks before putting a down on your condo, afraid you really couldn’t afford it. Well, well: big happy surprise. You’re making the payments with no sweat, and you’ve had extra bucks to jazz it up. Your manager thinks you’re the coolest dude since Steve Jobs and has been hinting at Something Big coming up in your near future with The Firm. You made a New Year’s resolution to loose 30 pounds by the end of the year; it’s June and you’ve lost 20. You’re ahead of schedule, and there’s no stopping you now. Yessss! Life is good.

Except for your best “friend.”

For what seems like forever, he’s blathered about how his workplace teammates are losers, his supervisor is an idiot, and how he’s sick and tired of his landlord doing nothing to fix the hot water heater. You’ve heard this wimpy whining every time you’ve had a conversation with him for the last six months.

You used to talk about how you single-handedly installed a very cool, upscale, bathroom faucet and about the big-screen TV you got for an absolute steal. You used to pass on – humbly, of course – kudos from your boss. When he commented on your new Dockers, you let slip that they were an old pair you could fit into once again.

Wasted breath.

Could he give you just a little attaboy every once in a while? He could not. Could he at least talk about the drop-dead-gorgeous summer weather instead of raining on your parade? Noooo. For the better part of a year, he’s dumped his poison on you and you’ve begun avoiding him. When his number shows up on caller ID, you do not answer. Shame on you, you pathetic excuse for a friend, you think. He’s going through a hard time. Can’t you sympathize a little longer, try to encourage him a little longer?

While those are legitimate questions, here’s another. Is he being kind to you?

Disclaimer time – again. I know full well that part of a friend’s job is to listen, commiserate, encourage. It’s in the job description. In almost every relationship I have, at some point I am the uplift-er and my friend is the uplift-ed. A while later – if it’s a healthy relationship – we change roles. I’m the uplift-ed, and she’s the uplift-er.

It’s give-and-take in a healthy relationship – not one person continually dumping poison while the other continually accepts the poison-dumping. When there’s reciprocity in relationships, very ordinary people motivate other very ordinary people to:

  • be all they can be,
  • go for the promotion,
  • enter their dabblings in the local art show,
  • try out for the bit part in a local theater group,
  • go back to college after the kids leave,
  • and on and on.

We motivate and encourage others to become the Einsteins and Michelangelos of our time. (Read Learning from Everyone, if you haven’t already.)

Now, let’s talk about you – you, the guy who likes encouraging others, unlike your whiny friend. Let’s say you’ve been fulfilling the job requirements of a friend – encouraging and handing out attaboys nonstop. Let’s say one of your friends (not the grouser) gets a promotion that comes with a corner office, healthy raise, unbelievable expense account, and company car – a Lexus, no less.

If you’ve chosen your friend carefully and he’s the kind who encourages others, he’ll acknowledge and be thankful for your motivation when he calls with the good news. If you’re the kind of person who encourages others, you’ll be fist-pumping happy for him – truly – and congratulating yourself because you, unlike his dippy – about-to-be-former – manager, could see his shining potential. Aren’t you clever? Isn’t your friend the gutsiest person around for miles?

If you’re the kind who encourages others, you will not destroy your friend’s feel-good moment with your poison.

  • You will not mention that you just ran into your ex-girlfriend, wearing a rock the size of a golf ball on her left hand.
  • You will not remind him of the time you were promoted only to be demoted six months later because of office politics.
  • You will not bring up the fact that your hot water heater went out this morning – just before the most important corporate presentation of your career. 

Not now.You will not rain on his parade. He may even have helped you cope with that promoted-demoted epsisode and knows all about the devastation it caused. Even if he post-dates that event, KEEP YOUR POISON TO YOURSELF.

Here’s where
the feel-good part comes in.

When we choose to keep our poison to ourselves, something astonishing happens. When we decide not to thoughtlessly rain on another’s parade, we feel good. They still feel good, and so do we! It’s the reward we receive for being the kind of person who encourages others.

We can’t go get happy and we can’t buy contentment, but we can certainly bask in their glow when we behave in a way that makes others feel good. And one way we can do that is by simply keeping our poison to ourselves.

But there’s another way that I think is just as productive in helping us feel good. It’s coming in my next post so, as always, pay attention.

© 2014 Teresa Layne Bennett

red box with white text: "The best feeling of happiness is when you;re happy because you've made somebody else happy."

I disagree;  I think you’re CONTENTED.

red box with white text: "Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative and do it for them!" from Luke 6:31, The Message

An old, feel-good tip from someone who knows.

Feeling Good: Are You Happy. . . or Contented?

photo of two small girls sharing a book in a library

Sharing library feel-good

Do you often say, “I’m so contented today!”?

Right. Me neither.

Contentment isn’t a trendy concept in our society, though there is much ado about happy. In fact, since our Declaration of Independence says God gave us the “unalienable right” to pursue happiness, we fervently pursue happiness. After all, it’s our birthright.

But in my humble opinion, happiness can take you only so far. Contentment? Now that’s another matter. Contentment takes you way deeper. Why?

Because happiness comes
from outside,

contentment from within.

At least, that’s what I think I’ve sussed out after 65 years on this planet. Things that come from outside, things that happen to us (that European vacation or a nice fat raise) can make us happy – for a while. What comes from within, how we decide to be (thoughtful or thankful) can give us deep contentment that lasts our lifetimes.

Often, you’ll hear people speaking of happiness when they’re really talking about contentment, about a way of being, an attitude from within. Regardless of whether you make this fine a distinction between happiness and contentment, would you agree they’re both about feeling good?

And would you agree that
our rigorous pursuit of happiness

is almost always based
on our desire to feel good?

Determined to feel good, the less reckless among us:

  • go on shopping splurges to feel good,
  • pay to attend overpriced concerts to feel good,
  • sign away our paychecks for that new-car smell to feel good,
  • nest ourselves into McMansions to feel good,
  • and on and on.

Determined to feel good, the more reckless among us:

  • jump in and out of other people’s beds to feel good,
  • drink ourselves under the table to feel good,
  • snort a little to feel good,
  • shoot up to feel good,
  • Botox® our way to feeling good.

I confess – and I’m not proud of this – to thinking that feeling good was my purpose for living, so I lived in hot pursuit of happy for a while. It didn’t work out. But I did learn some valuable lessons because – eventually – I started paying attention.

True to my promise (when I first began this PayAttention! blog) to share embarrassing epiphanies, I intend to pass on two 2 x 4-between-the-eyes lessons I’ve learned that directly relate to contentment. Just so you know, trillions had already learned these lessons before I sorted them out! What can I say? Some of us, namely me, are just slow.

If you, too, have been doing a bang-up job of going after happy, and it isn’t working out, stick with me. Neither of my painfully learned lessons require the demanding work that hotly pursuing happiness demands. Both can increase your contentment, though and, happily enough, they’re not particularly difficult.

So watch for the next feeling good post and and as always, dear ones, pay attention.

© 2014 Teresa Layne Bennett

red box with white text: "The world is full of people looking for spectacular happiness while they snub contentment." – Doug Larson

A Wisconsin newspaper columnist’s wisdom

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