Book Review

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Just got done reading Too Bright To Hear Too Loud To See, the first novel by author Juliann Garey.  I really liked this book, although you really have to read it in its entirety before you can fully appreciate and understand it.  This isn’t a spoiler as it’s made clear that the main character has Bipolar Disorder.  Initially, as you begin reading, you see him as a seemingly successful and well functioning man.  Then maybe you think–okay, he’s a little eccentric.  Then, well, maybe does impulsive things sometimes.  I love how the author does such an excellent job of portraying the tangential nature of his mind and his decompensation as the book progresses.  Even though the book constantly jumps time periods, it’s easy to follow because the sections are always clearly marked by date, and you begin to learn what the character’s life is generally like during that particular decade.

So, for those of you who like books related to mental illness or family dramas, I’d highly recommend this read.

Finding Happiness: Today’s post

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Happiness is not only about our perception of things, but is also significantly influenced by how we cope with challenges and problems in our lives.  The term “coping” does not inherently mean that you are doing something adaptive to manage a situation in your life.  Rather, there are positive, adaptive and appropriate coping mechanisms as well negative, maladaptive or inappropriate methods of coping.  Unfortunately, many people do not recognize that the action they are taking to handle an issue is maladaptive, and ultimately will only make their problem worse.  True, it may provide short-term relief, but in the long-term these coping techniques are never ideal.

A recently published book Triumphs of Experience: The Men of the Harvard Grant Study by George Vaillant, M.D. details the long-term study of a group of men, beginning in 1938 and still active today.  These men have been studied in detail and at length when it comes to their physical and emotional health.  In his book, Vaillant discusses the types of coping mechanisms that he’s observed these men using.  He talks about how many men use “immature” coping techniques such as refusing to acknowledge that they have a problem (i.e. denial, and then there is its close relative repression), blaming others, displacing their anger, escaping into a fantasy world, and passive-aggressive tactics.  He describes these kinds of mechanisms as being “narcissistic” in that they may make the user feel good (again, only in the short-term) but ultimately they only serve to “drive people away.”

In significant contrast, Vaillant has identified many adaptive and successful methods of coping.  In the study, he’s observed men who “displayed an ability to take life’s hardship and ‘turn it into gold.’”  These people tend to use mechanisms such as: humor; not taking oneself too seriously; anticipation, defined as “the ability to forsee future pain and prepare for it; stoicism, or “the ability to endure hardships”; and altruism, “a concern for others.”

This ties into the key elements that have been identified by one of positive psychology’s gurus: Martin E.P. Seligman.  I’ve cited some of his other works on this website before, but specifically his book Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being discusses these elements of positive emotion or well-being.  Seligman has stated that “People who have the most positive emotion, the most engagement, and the most meaning in life are the happiest, and they have the most life satisfaction.”  He has identified these elements as:

Positive Emotion:  feelings that contribute to the feeling of a happy, pleasant life and include pleasure, warmth, comfort, rapture, and ecstasy

Engagement: being so absorbed in an activity, or so engaged in a task that you are one with it, and self-consciousness is suspended

Relationships:  Seligman emphasizes that we are social creatures, and that we need others.  He also believes that are highest and happiest emotional states occur when we are in the presence of others

Meaning:  Seligman believes that people inherently desire to find meaning and purpose in life, stating that we want the feeling of “belonging and serving something that you believe is bigger than you are.”

Accomplishment:  Achieving something, reaching our personal goal(s), greatly contributes to a sense of well-being.

So, today’s happiness homework assignment:  Go through these above areas and journal the thoughts, feelings, activities, etc. that come to mind for each area.  For example, what are some of the things that bring you comfort?  What things are you proud of accomplishing? 

[information taken from this month's issue of WebMD magazine]

 

 

Follow Up to previous post

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As an addedum to my previous post, I also wanted to mention that in Brown’s book Daring Greatly she includes a “Wholehearted Parenting Manifesto.”  She shares a portion of it in the Oprah magazine article.  Here it is:

“Above all else, I want you to know that you are loved and loveable.  you will learn this from my words and actions… You will learn that you are worthy of love, belonging, and joy every time you see me practice self-comparssion and embrace my own imperfections…. We will laugh and sing and dance and create.  We will always have permission to be ourselves with each other.  No matter what, you will always belong here.  As you begin your Wholehearted journey, the greatest gift that I can give to you is to live and love with my whole heart and to dare greatly.”

Love this!  But maybe we should all challenge each other to write our own unique and special one for our children.  We can share it with them, maybe even hang it on our fridge like Oprah suggests.  To remind them of how we feel and how much we love them every day.

Finding Happiness: A new book review, deep thoughts, and more…

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I discovered a new book that I am really excited to read.  It is by a female social worker, professer, researcher with a Ph.D.  The book is entitled Daring Greatly by Brene Brown.  There was an article on this woman and her book in Oprah magazine (June’s issue).  Brown defines vulnerability as “being brave enough to ‘show up and let ourselves be seen,'” and talks about vulnerability as the “catalyst for human connection.”  Her book suggests that we need to be more vulnerable in our personal relationships.  We need to be more open, honest and disclosing in order to increase “connection, trust and engagement” with each other.  In the Oprah article, Brown shares a quote she found by Theodore Roosevelt which she found inspirational.  I loved it so much that I have to share it here:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.  The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs…[And] if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”

I want everyone to think about this quote, and I challenge you not to be deeply moved by it.  Wow… I’m almost at a loss for words. 

Although I consider myself a private person in my personal life, I am very open and disclosing with my friends and those who know me well.  I may be slow to warm up, but when I do, I’m an open book.  For many years, I saw it as a weakness in myself that I was so willing to share with others, including my feelings.  I could easily go on and on to someone about how a certain thing made me feel.  I always found it pretty easy to express to others when I was hurt, sad, in pain, or when I needed help.  I was doing this a lot with a particular friend, while she remained silent and just listened.  She didn’t share back.  Finally, I apologized to her, thinking that she was tired of listening or that she thought I was sharing too much and not giving her time to talk.  But then she said to me how much she admired my ability to express my emotions, to share, and to ask for help when I needed it.  What I saw in myself as a weakness, she saw as a strength.  She said that it takes a lot of courage to be able to open yourself in this way to someone, and she wished that she was able to do it herself; this was a fear of hers.  In Brown’s book she talks about the Latin origins of the word COURAGE, which derived from cor or heart, and originally meant “to share all of yourself, share your whole story, with your whole heart.”  In the article, she adds “An act of courage was an act of storytelling.”

I’m not going to tell you that it’s been easy being like this.  I’ve been hurt many many times in my life, as I’m sure we all have.  Many times I’ve just want to slam shut the cover of my ‘open book’ and not open it back up.  When I met my husband, I told him that I’d built walls around my heart, and that he was going to have to do some serious work if he wanted to break them down.  After he hurt me deeply not long after getting married, I told him that I felt like every time he hurt me, I was building that wall back up again, one block at a time.  Yes, it can be very hard to wear your heart on your sleeve.

And maybe it hurts deeper when you’ve opened yourself up so much to someone, only to be rejected, or have that personal information used against you.  But should we let other people’s flaws/fears/weaknesses prevent us from being who we are, prevent us from being a better person, prevent us from living how we’d prefer to live?  No!  You know that other inspiational quote which has become very popular these days?  Here it is:

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Don’t let fear of being criticized, rejected or hurt hold you back.  If you want to dance, dance.  If you want to sing, sing.  Don’t beat yourself up and stop if someone says you can’t dance well or your voice is terrible.  Do it because you want to and it makes you feel good.  I was told all through high school by a music teacher that I had a bad voice, and for a long time I was afraid to sing.  But now, I sing because I like to and it makes me happy.  And you know what?  People now ask me to sing for them, especially my children.  All those years I stopped singing because some idiot wanted to put me down.

And, tying this into Roosevelt’s quote more, especially don’t let yourself get pulled down by people who aren’t even on the playing field.  If they are the type of person who would do or say these hurtful things, then they are not worth your time, they are not the kind of person you want to surround yourself with, and they are not worth you getting upset over!  Also remember that often we dismiss the notion that people are hateful to us because they are simply jealous!

In all, be true to yourself.  Because when you’re alone, you still have to love and accept yourself.

Potsticker Soup: Requested Recipe!

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If you love potstickers but hate all the long, tedious work that goes into making them, try this recipe instead.  Much simpler and tastes amazing!

Ingredients:

minced garlic (I use the kind in a jar, it’s quicker and easier)

leeks, shallots, and/or scallions (whichever you prefer)

medium to large yellow onion

minced bok choy OR 1/2 head cabbage

1 lb ground pork

wonton wrappers

soy sauce and/or tamari

hoison sauce (optional)

worchestershire sauce (optional)

16 oz. container beef broth/stock

salt & pepper

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1.  Mince onions, cabbage or bok choy, and leeks/shallots/scallions.  Add butter or oil to frying pan and begin to cook in a large frying pan.

2.  Add 1-2 tablespoons of minced garlic to pan (your desired amount, for flavor).

3.  Meanwhile, in a large soup pot, heat beef broth plus 3-4 cups water.  If you want to use more broth for stronger flavor in lieu of water, just add another 8 oz can.

4.  When veggies are mostly tender, dump into pot with broth.  Wipe pan if needed, then add more butter or oil to cook pork.

5.  Season pork with salt, pepper, about 2-3 tbsp soy or tamari sauce, dash of worchestershire if desired and dash of hoisin if desired.  (Each will add more flavor).  Mix well and cook until browned.

6.  Add pork mixture to pot.  Stir well.  Let cook on high for about 10 minutes.

7.  Meanwhile, cut up wonton wrappers into small triangles (you want them to be bite-size). 

8.  Reduce temp slightly and add wonton wrappers.

9.  Taste test!  Add more salt, pepper, soy sauce or other flavor-boosting ingredients if your flavor is too weak.  Hoison is strong so a dash will take you far.  Also feel free to drop in more diced scallions.  *Add more water in 1 cup increments if soup is too thick or most of liquid gets absorbed.

10.  Cook soup up to 30 minutes to increase flavor and thoroughly cook all ingredients.  Then enjoy!

Finding Happiness–today’s post

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This post is one in a series, so please check out the earlier ones to catch up!

I wanted to talk more about the book Unstuck by James S. Gordon.  There are many profound ideas in here, statements that make one think.  And I hope that these posts have been helping you to explore how you think and feel–and helping you to get happier!

Gordon writes, “The journey through and beyond depression requires a balance of action and acceptance.  Sometimes, the emphasis has to be on action that moves you forward…Other times, action precedes relaxation and acceptance.”  Think about these statements.  What does this mean to you?

When I initially read and pondered it, it made me think back to the early days of my relationship with my husband.  Often we go into relationships with high standards or ideals, and become disappointed, frustrated or upset when the person doesn’t measure up (in our eyes) to those ideals.  Sometimes, that proves too much for a person to accept and the relationship crumbles, only for a person to move on to another relationship where–guess what? the same thing happens.  We have to learn to love someone for who they are, not what we want them to be.  So it is with our lives.  The series of actions and choices that we’ve made in our pasts have led us up to this very moment.  We can live in regret, being mired down in the past.  This will always interfere with and weigh down our present, and discolor our view of the future.  We shouldn’t waste the time that we do have obsessing over different choices we should or could have made.  Because our pasts have given us wisdom

So when I read these lines by Gordon, I think that what he’s suggesting is that we need to embrace acceptance in order to move from a state of unhappiness into a happier place.  We need to accept that we may have made some bad choices, that we may not have achieved all of our personal goals, that we may not be exactly where we want to be in our lives at this moment.  But then, subsequently, Gordon talks about action.  Instead of being stuck at this place where you are in mourning, once you begin to accept, you can start to move on.  You can begin to take action.  Or, even if you don’t take any specific actions, you are already taking action by just embracing the concept of change.

For me personally, I think it has helped me to think in terms of a “revision of goals.”  I considered some of the big regrets that I’ve held on to, and some of my major life goals that I was feeling I’d never accomplish.  I have been spending too much time ruminating about my failures, losses and having an irrational focus on “but there isn’t enough time left in my life!”  So instead I’ve been trying to re-work my list, or “update” it.  Let me share with you an example.  Since I was a teenager, I had this plan that I wanted to hit all the hot spots in Europe (paticularly London and Paris) before I turned 30.  But that never happened.  It makes me sad and at the same time antsy because I keep thinking “I have to get there soon!”  It didn’t help that many of the women I met in college had already done these things, and seemed to have led a much more glamorous life than I.  And of course I occasionally meet these single, child-less people who are flitting off to some exotic location or another.  I’ve found myself saying on a number of occasions, “Well, I had to let that dream go–because I chose to have children instead.”  I know, that sounds horrible (I don’t regret having chidlren!)!!  But part of my point here is exactly in that statement.  My choices.  This is what I’ve chosen, this is what I’ve done with my life, and I have to accept that.  Anyway, my daughter has developed a love of all things Paris.  I’m excited that she’s just as excited about me as seeing Paris.  So I decided that when she turns 16 (as sort of a 16th birthday gift) we should go to Europe together.  She’ll be old enough to enjoy and appreciate it, I’ll finally get to go, and it will also solve my dilemma of who to go with, since my husband is more of a tropical lay-around-and-relax sort of traveler.  And, in doing all this, it has also helped me to be so much more ‘in the moment.’  Before, I might avoid looking at pictures of Paris, or try not to think about it because it was just a reminder to me that I’d never gotten to go.  But now, I’ve been starting to vicariously share my daughter’s joy.  She wants to buy and collect anything that has to do with the Eiffel Tower, Paris, poodles (she associates them with France), etc.  And I’ve been helping her to do this.  We’re even planning on re-modeling her room in a Paris theme.

Gordon tells readers that they need to “relax into the experience, to accept the guidance that comes.”  He also talks about how we need to surrender, to let go of control so that we can move ahead on our journeys.  I love how he clarifies between submission versus surrender.  He states, “Submission means giving up, resgining yourself to the limitations that are holding you back or keeping you down.  In surrendering, you’re opening yourself up to the current of your life, which is always moving, always changing.  And you’re inviting and embracing the deep changes that are starting to work inside of you.”  I want you all to think about this–really think about it.  Think about what this means to you.  It’s an excellent journaling prompt.

More to come soon–so check back!!

Quirky Band Names

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Earlier today I made a post asking you to submit to me your ideas for cool, unique, and interesting band names.  I was going to start making a list.  However, upon googling this topic I discovered that someone else has already been doing all this work, and really his list is just so comprehensive!  So I’m going to paste the website here for you to check out:

http://brightlightsfilm.com/weirdbandnames/#p

I think, so far, he has around 1,700 bands listed.  Here are a few silly ones:  Pissed Jeans and Pants Are Overrated. 

Hope you find it as amusing as I do!

In honor of our rainy day…some poetry about rain

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Spring Rain by Elise Stein

Wetness, like tears,

But it can bring life, bring flowers and newness.

Fresh, the smell of earth

I breathe deeply and feel renewed.

It falls on me, damp and dripping,

Like tears, but welcome.

 
Souls And Rain-Drops by Sidney Lanier
 
Light rain-drops fall and wrinkle the sea,
Then vanish, and die utterly.
One would not know that rain-drops fell
If the round sea-wrinkles did not tell.

So souls come down and wrinkle life
And vanish in the flesh-sea strife.
One might not know that souls had place
Were’t not for the wrinkles in life’s face.

 
Last Night the Rain Spoke to Me by Mary Oliver
Last night
the rain
spoke to me
slowly, saying,
what joy
to come falling
out of the brisk cloud,
to be happy again
in a new way
on the earth!
That’s what it said
as it dropped,
smelling of iron,
and vanished
like a dream of the ocean
into the branches
and the grass below.
Then it was over.
The sky cleared.
I was standing
under a tree.
The tree was a tree
with happy leaves,
and I was myself,
and there were stars in the sky
that were also themselves
at the moment
at which moment
my right hand
was holding my left hand
which was holding the tree
which was filled with stars
and the soft rain –
imagine! imagine!
the long and wondrous journeys
still to be ours.
 
 

Book Review

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I’ve been trying and trying to force myself to keep reading this book…I tell myself “but maybe the ending is good,” or “don’t you want to know how it ends?” But it comes to a point where one has to decide: do I care enough about how this book ends to keep wasting my time reading it, when there are so many great books out there?  Finally, I decided that I was going to be done with it, despite reading over 200 pages.  This book that I’m referring to is Life Among Giants by Bill Roorbach.  First of all, he writes back and forth between different periods in the main characters life with no distinction between these periods–so the reader can’t figure out what time period the author is even talking about until reading several paragraphs (or more) in.  What is even more irksome about this lack of division is that he often ends a particular time period before you get to the (potential) good part, which you’ve been reading pages upon boring pages waiting to get to.  And I suppose that hits the nail on the head right there–the book is just sort of boring.  There isn’t a great plot, and the plot that is there isn’t really ever explained very well (e.g. the main character’s sister is finally, after probably 100+ pages, alluded to as being mentally ill but you’re never sure and don’t know exactly what is wrong with her…maybe she’s just eccentric?).  There’s a lot of ‘stuff’ about football and ballet which, personally speaking, I’m not into and so that bores me as well.  Well, I suppose I could go on.  But my point is, that I’m giving up on this one.  I decided this the other day and I’m already 100+ pages into a new book that was recommended on here by a friend: Oxygen.  And so far it’s great!

Finding Happiness–Today’s Post

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This is a new post in a series, so please check out the earlier posts on this topic.

Today’s thoughts and inspiration come from the book Unstuck by James S. Gordon.  I’m going to share with you information and insights from his book, and expound from there.

Gordon starts off the preface of his book by writing “Depression is not a disease, the end point of a pathological process.  It is a sign that our lives are out of balance, that we’re stuck.  It’s a wake-up call and the start of a journey that can help us become whole and happy, a journey that can change and transofrm our lives.” 

Do you think that this fits for you–that is, do you feel like your life is out of balance?  In earlier posts I’ve talked about evaluating what things might be missing from your life, what “happiness needs” you have.  Perhaps your life is out of balance because you have too much perceived negative things on your scale and not enough positive.  Or perhaps there are things missing.  Stop to think about the current balance in your life.  If you’d like to do this visually, make a drawing of a scale and sketch or list it out.  Here’s an example below:

happiness balance illustration

Again, refer back to earlier posts.  We’ve talked about what your personal obstacles are that are blocking your path to happiness.  This is part of what Gordon is referring to about being stuck.  If we can remove some of these obstacles, if we can make some changes, then we can begin to get ourselves unstuck. 

Gordon presents a case study and talks about how his client had “…a sense that life would never measure up to her generous hopes for it.”  This made me think of the quote “Happiness is not having what you want, but wanting what you have.”  I think this is a huge obstacle for me.  I am such an ambitious person that I often get frustrated (read: feel very stuck) because I am not meeting some exceedingly high goal that I’ve set for myself.  I can’t be happy with all I’ve achieved in the past, or be happy that I am well in this moment.  I am too uber-focused on all these goals I have.  It even prevents me from relaxing.  Instead of just sitting and “being,” I feel that I need to be doing something, anything but sitting and “wasting” time.  What a strange paradox–one would typically imagine “stuck” as something rigid, fixed, like a root or a rock.  But for me, being stuck is evidenced in restlessness! 

Gordon talks a lot about the body’s response to stress, particularly chronic stress.  He writes: “These beautifully intricate and indiviudally variable but still imperfectly understood biological responses to stress and loss do not, however, constitute a disease.  Nor do they exist in isolation.  They are intimately connected to and can be profoundly influenced by:  the way we think and feel; how we act and express ourselves; what we eat and whether or not we meditate or exercise; how we relate to others, and how close we are to them; what work we do and where we do it; as well as our income and our gender.”  Everyone copes differently, and has a different arsenal of available coping skills.  It is also important to know that there are positive coping skills and inappropriate methods of coping.  Using alcohol as a method of coping is an example of inappropriate coping skill; a person is attempting to cope with a problem, but not in an adaptive or helpful manner.

Gordon helps his therapy clients to come up with their own prescription for happiness.  He asks them about what things make them feel good, things they are already doing in their life that they enjoy or that bring them happiness, and encourages them to do it more.  This information, along with skills and techniques taught by Gordon, are then formed in a person’s personal prescription.  I like the term that he uses:  sweet spots.  He writes “Just about all of you–no matter how troubled or confused–have these occasions of relief, these ‘sweet spots’…”   A few that he lists are talking a walk in the park, eating comfort food, or watching a favorite show on TV.  He suggests taking a few moments to become aware of what these ‘sweet spots’ are for you, and to “consciously choose to use or experience them.”

Gordon offers a 7-stage journey to happiness and goes into detail in his book about each stage or step.  As I read through this book myself, I’ll keep posting more information for you.  At the moment, I will end with a final quote from Gordon:  We need to know that we are stuck–depressed, unhappy, troubled–before we can do something about it; we need to acknolwedge our pain, so we can hear its Call to change.  This is actually discussed in the first step of his journey, and it’s also something that I pointed out in my post “Help! I’m stuck in the fog!”  If you are here reading all of these posts, then you likely already have an awareness that you aren’t happy, and are beginning the essential process to change that.  Congrats!  Keep going!

I’ll be back soon with more posts on Finding Happiness……