30 habits for happiness

Be kind

Eat well

Exercise

Meditate

Be honest

Dream big

Be patient

Judge less

Smile often

Love yourself

Forgive easily

Show gratitude

Think positively

Drink lots of water

Believe in yourself

Keep an open mind

Put your needs first

Don’t make excuses

Speak well of others

Listen to understand

Choose faith over fear

Make the most of now

Exercise self-discipline

Look on the bright side

Avoid social comparison

See failure as opportunity

Don’t take opinions to heart

Select friends that lift you up

Let go of what can’t be changed

Have a healthy sleeping pattern.

(I didn’t write this. I don’t know who did. But it still needs to be shared.)

On anger

My grandmother always wore dresses until she didn’t anymore. That time came when she was in the nursing home and she was wearing adult diapers. It was simply easier for the attendants to make her wear jogging pants to help keep them on. I didn’t understand this at the time and so I commented on her pants. I commented on how nice they were and said they must be comfortable. My grandmother looked at me with great astonishment and she said “I’m not wearing pants” and then she looked down at her legs and then looked back at me and stated again “I’m not wearing pants”. Even in the face of reality she stuck with what she had known to be true her whole life.

There are many people who are like this about their anger. When you point out to someone that they’re angry they’ll often say “I’m not angry!” They’ll say that they’re “frustrated” or they’re “upset” but they won’t say that they’re angry. They have all the signs for it but they won’t say it.

I think our greatest problem is that we won’t acknowledge what really is happening outside or inside of us. How can we heal our brokenness if we won’t even admit to ourselves that we are broken?

It is OK to be angry. Anger is a normal feeling. It isn’t healthy to be angry all the time, though, and that can happen when we fail to recognize it and handle it in a healthy way.

Think of anger as needing to go to the bathroom. There is something that is in you that needs to get out. This is a normal part of being a human being. With bowel movements, we are taught as children how to recognize that feeling and to go to the bathroom to eliminate. The bathroom is a safe and appropriate place to take care of this need. If we don’t take care of it in a timely manner then we can end up with physical problems due to having this no-longer needed matter inside us. Or we can have an “accident” and get poop all over ourselves and others.

Anger is just like this. If we keep it inside too long we can hurt ourselves or have an “accident” and spew anger all over the wrong people and in the wrong place. If we don’t do it in an appropriate manner we can make a real mess.

An important part is learning to recognize the feeling. Just like with poop, ignoring it doesn’t make it go away. It will only get worse. But before that, it is important to admit to yourself that anger is real, and it is normal.

Rise up, not riot

The riots in Ferguson speak to the pain and frustration that the black community feels. Yet they are saying the wrong thing. They are saying that violence and destruction is standard operating procedure for the black community.

We all know that isn’t so. We all know that the majority of our black neighbors are kind, hard-working and polite. In short, they aren’t thugs and hoodlums. Sadly though, good doesn’t sell in the news, so we don’t see their stories on the evening news. The only problem is that there are thugs and hoodlums. They aren’t just stories. The only problem is that there are “baby daddies” and “welfare moms” aplenty. Clichés come from reality. The actions of the few speak for the whole and they drag down everybody.

When college educated black youths are made fun of for “talking white” when they speak clearly it drags down everybody. When some black employees “play the race card” to stay employed even though they are doing half the work (or only there half the time) it drags down everybody.

Yes, it is time to rise up but not with riots and destruction. If the black community wants to make a real change, to be really heard, there needs to be a collective decision to “check yourself before you wreck yourself”.

Use the library to get books not DVDs. And by books I mean educational and uplifting ones, not ones that teach the same old script of “thug meets girl, thug uses girl”. The entire genre of “urban erotic fiction” is dumbing-down black women and enslaving their hearts and minds.

Celebrate education rather than ignorance. Sure misery loves company but miserable people aren’t good to hang out with. Rise up past the peer pressure and the collective dumbing down of our society.

Get healthy. Good health leads to strong minds and spirits. Eat better. Exercise. All these things are doable even with limited means. If we focus on what we can do rather than what we can’t we get free. If we look for openings rather than closed doors we will see them. Quit smoking and go for a walk instead. Avoid all sugar, caffeine and fried and salty foods. These socially accepted addictions are dragging down us all.

Sure we have a race problem in America. Sure we have a long way to go. Sure there have been problems on both sides of the race wall. Sure people are going to say that I don’t get it because I’m white and have white privilege.

Yet I do know what it is like to feel dragged down by my peers who wanted me to be as petty and lazy as them, the worst version of lowest common denominator. I got a college degree and they are still working in fast food. I do know what it is like to have a learning disability and rise up above it through hard work. It is why I now tutor learning-disabled kindergartners. I do know what it is like to be obese and addicted to drugs. It is why I write now to show there is a way out.

It isn’t easy to change but it is possible. Change starts one step at a time, one person at a time. The strong have to encourage the week. Good deeds and efforts soon start to outweigh the bad and momentum is achieved.

All this may sound like I’m blaming the black community when it was certainly the fault of police who shoot unarmed, unresisting black youths. It is certainly the fault of the judicial system that lets the guilty go free. We need to work on that too but that will take longer. Right now the first and best change has to start from within. Each individual has to decide to stand up and walk away from the old rules and the old clichés. Each individual needs to lift up everybody else with their actions. It is about caring for yourself and our community through the true empowerment that comes from education and health.

Time and calories and money

I’m for an accounting of time and money the same as how some people account for calories. I think it’s important for all of us to be mindful.

I know a guy who started to write again after his wife died. He started to write very good insights about our relationship with God. But then he died seven weeks after she died. He didn’t have time to write everything that he wanted to write. But then again, why did he wait so long to get started?

We never know when we are going to die. Every single day that you have is a gift that is given to you. It is important that you use it wisely.

When people say they don’t have time to write or to exercise, that is not true. Everybody has the same amount of time – it just depends on what you do with it. Just like with calories, it is important to be mindful about what you do. Do you hit the snooze button five times in the morning? Do you go out for lunch every day? Do you sit and watch three hours of television at night? Everything adds up.

You can find ways to use your time better. You can use dictation software while you walk. To learn something, you can listen to a nonfiction audiobook or podcast on your way to work. You can take your lunch to work and go for a walk at lunch. In giving up eating out, you’ll have enough money in order to afford the gym.

The old saying is true – you’ll either find a way or find an excuse.

The only way to find spare money and spare time is to start writing down what you do. It is the same thing people do to learn how to eat better. It is the best way to become mindful and aware. No one else has to see it. It is important that you are accountable and honest to yourself.

I knew a guy who was trying to save money. The newest video game came out and he immediately bought it. And I said how are you going to pay for it? It cost $40. He said “But I wanted it.” Like that made a difference in a budget. Of course he wanted it – the problem is how are you going to afford for it?

We cannot become (or remain) animals who mindlessly take whatever we want. The definition of being human is being able to control our appetites. If we are unable to stop ourselves doing whatever we want then we are just like zombies. We are in human shape but we don’t have any self-control. We are wild ravenous beings.

When you see someone who has gotten famous or done something amazing it isn’t an accident. They worked very hard to make that happen. Just like how water wears away the stone we have to work day by day and minute by minute to achieve our goals.

There is no shortcut to being awake – but there are a bunch of little steps. You can’t take a pill to get healthy or strong or famous, but you can do a little bit every day towards your goal and you’ll get there.

Will power and won’t power

It isn’t will power.
It is won’t power.

I won’t eat another piece of pie.
I won’t get a second plate at the buffet.
I won’t let other people control my emotions.
I won’t buy that thing to make me happy.
I won’t blame other people for my anger.

But when you give up something bad, you need to fill that space with something good. Otherwise the bad habit will come back even stronger.

For example –

I won’t waste my lunchtime. I’ll go for a short walk first.

I won’t watch TV all evening – I’ll write or read instead.

Your life is yours to control. Everything you do is your choice. How you respond or react is your choice. And there are repercussions for every choice you make.

Choose wisely. This life is yours, but it is short. There is no reset button.

True mental health hospital

I envision a new kind of rehab hospital for people who are mentally ill. Perhaps better said, it will be for people who don’t know how to be human. It will teach people how to take care of themselves. It will teach them how to live on their own in a healthy way.

Rehab shouldn’t just be about getting off drugs but about how to get on life.

People would be there to learn, so they would be students, not patients. “Patient” is a passive word – something is done to you. You are sick, an “in-valid” – a “not-true” person. The word “student” implies an active engaging in learning for self-betterment. Teachers, not therapists, are there to help students help themselves.

One of the most important things will be that students will learn how to have a healthy relationship with food. They will learn what food is healthy and how to buy and prepare it. Every person will learn how to cook. Every person will learn what foods are best for them. There will be a blend of nutritionists and home-economics teachers.

The teachers will find ways that the students can exercise in a way that they will enjoy and are able to do. Exercise is essential to mental health and happy bodies. Not every exercise is possible for every person, and not every person likes every exercise. The trick is to find one or two that the student likes and will stick with. Then they have to commit to doing it daily. Every little bit counts.

This whole idea that I’m envisioning is to teach people how to live in their own bodies as their own homes. Your body is your first and best house. If you don’t take care of it you will be miserable. I have learned from my own personal experience that mental health is directly related to physical health.

It is also important that they discuss what happens when you fall off the wagon. Perhaps the stigma needs to be taken away from falling off the wagon, because falling off the wagon is part of the journey.

For some people it wouldn’t be “re-hab” because there was no “hab” that happened to start off with. They never learned how to take care of themselves in the first place. It isn’t that they forgot, it is that that they never were taught.

Ideally, everyone would learn how to take care of themselves early on in life. Ideally, people wouldn’t have to wait for a crisis in order to learn that they have to take care of themselves.

Perhaps that is just simply part of our society. We seem to fix things after they are broken rather than prevent them from breaking in the first place. This is a habit that should be unlearned. People need to become pro-active about their lives.

Rehab needs to teach people healthy coping mechanisms for life. Students would learn about codependency and enabling and boundaries. They would learn how to be helpful in a way that is safe for them and for the person they are helping.

They would learn the value of volunteering. It is a way to put your own needs and problems into perspective, and to feel not only a part of the community, but a part of the solution to problems.

They would learn how to take care of their bodies and their minds at the same time and learn that they are not separate things. Through books, they would be introduced to teachers from all over the world and all across time. They all have useful information about this thing we call life. Most importantly, they would be given the tools to be able to learn more on their own.

My biggest dream is that rehab hospitals aren’t ever needed, because everyone has already been taught how to handle life’s ups and downs in healthy ways. But until then, we have some catching up to do.

The best medicine you can ever take is to not get sick in the first place. And the best way to do that is to learn how to take care of yourself through eating well, exercise, and learning to establish boundaries.

Recovery, auto-pilot, and Jesus

I keep trying to worm out of being a servant of Jesus.

So, should I visit my mother-in-law, who is in the hospital? Jesus says yes, that is on the list of things I should do. No question about it.

But what if I really don’t like her very much? Jesus says to love your enemies.

What if I just intend to visit? Nope, doesn’t count. He’s pretty firm about this.

And I say that isn’t fair. It doesn’t take my feelings and needs into account. She’s really not that easy for me to be around. It isn’t her physical sickness that is the problem. It is her life-sickness, and I don’t mean the fact that she is dying. I mean the fact that she never lived.

I’m not very good around people with problems. Sadly, that is a lot of people. I can barely put up with my own problems, much less carry someone else’s. I have taken classes on how to be around sick people in a healthy way – a way that is safe for them and for me. I still don’t know what I’m doing.

Sometimes sickness isn’t just germs. Sometimes it still spreads anyway. Sometimes a person’s mental sickness can drag you down just as surely as a drowning person is a danger to a lifeguard.

I “hide” people from my newsfeed on Facebook who are very needy and broken. I can’t read about their constant boyfriend troubles, or addictive behavior, or sinus headaches. I think, save the whining for something real, like a broken leg or a divorce. Constant complaining isn’t something I can handle.

If a friend is constantly saying how drunk they are or how they couldn’t stop themselves from eating a whole bag of Lay’s sour cream and onion potato chips and two Oreo Blizzards from Dairy Queen, they get hidden. I don’t want to read this. Because the next posts are always about how sad they are that they have gained weight, and they don’t have a boyfriend, and they feel miserable.

I can’t watch people drown.

It reminds me too much of myself.

I remember those days. I remember feeling lost and stuck in that cycle. I remember feeling like life just happened to me, that I was a passive agent. I remember not liking myself very much.

I’m grateful that I started to wake up and take care of myself. I’m grateful that I learned what it took to build up my flame.

I’m far enough into my recovery that there isn’t a great risk (there is always a risk, don’t fool yourself) of a relapse. Recovery isn’t just about getting over abusing drugs. It is about getting over abusing the gift that is life. Not exercising, eating poorly, feeling like life just happens to you – these are all addictive, mal-adaptive behaviors. These are all ways of not dealing with the situation at hand, and the situation is life.

Someone who is new into recovery can’t really go into a bar safely. Someone who is long in their recovery could go in for a bit, but there is still a risk of taking a drink.

Being around needy, broken people is my bar.

I want to fix them. I feel helpless watching them fail and fall. I offer advice, and they don’t want it, they ignore it, they get angry at me. I want them to be free of their pain. I want them to live.

My addiction is sometimes named codependency. It manifested as not taking care of myself. I smoked pot so I wouldn’t feel other people’s pain. I had started to take it into myself, to name their pain as my own.

Some people would say that my problem is that I’m empathetic. How is that different from codependency? If I feel that your feelings are my feelings – that isn’t just empathy. That is a lack of boundaries. That is codependency. Even if the other person isn’t “dependent” on a drug, you can still be codependent with them. If you feel like you are responsible for their feelings, happy or sad or in between, then you have a codependency problem, not an empathy problem.

Mislabeling someone as an “empath” just delays the healing, because the disease is misdiagnosed.

So back to whether I should visit my mother-in-law.

I want to rescue her, to give her healthy attitudes towards death. She’s dying, really. She may or may not have come to terms with this. I doubt it, having noticed her prescription for an anti-anxiety drug recently. Sadly, that is the Western medical way of dealing with anything – there’s a pill for it.

I was the one who counseled my Mom on death, who talked her through it. I was her midwife for death. Thankfully, God had lead me to read certain books the year before I needed them, before we even knew she was going to get sick. Thankfully, I had the balance in my head and in my life that I could talk her through how to land this plane that is life – how to land it safely on the ground and not crash.

Because that is what this is.

So many people fly through their lives on autopilot. They get in, and they go where everybody else is going because they haven’t thought about it. They do what everybody else is doing because they haven’t thought about it. Then, when things get so real that they can’t ignore them anymore, they go up to the cockpit and learn the pilot is gone.

They have to fly the plane themselves. And they don’t know how. They’ve spent their whole lives letting someone else fly their plane. Now it has gotten real, and now they are on their own.

They often freak out. Sometimes they manage to figure out how to work the radio and call for help. Nobody can fly their plane for them, but they can talk them through how to do it, as long as they are calm and focused.

Sometimes they have enough energy to fly on their own, to fly to safety. Sometimes they have enough energy, enough power, to fly anywhere they want.

But sometimes, the plane is almost out of fuel, and they have to land.

Death is landing. You can either do it easy or hard. You can coast in gently, or you can crash and burn.

I had to do this for my Mom. I had to talk her through this. I had to be the person in the radio tower. I had to because I lived with her. It affected me. Her freaking out spread a foul odor throughout the house, colored the air, set off air-raid sirens.

But this lady? I don’t see her. She isn’t here. I’d have to go into that battle-zone. I’d have to voluntarily enter into that lion’s den.

And she hasn’t called for me.

She cries that I don’t visit, but not to me. Other relatives think I should visit, should “make peace”, but she hasn’t asked me to visit. They don’t say anything to me, but to my husband. Nobody is talking to me. But that makes sense, because nobody has been listening to me all along anyway.

There isn’t a war. I just can’t be around this madness.

Over a year ago, when she was first diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, with a year at most left, I asked her what she wanted to do.

Her answer? “Live”.

I said “Of course, but that isn’t an option. Say you were going to go on a vacation for a week, and there were all sorts of things you wanted to do, but only time to do ten of them. You have to pick what you want to do. Your time is limited. Think about what are the most important things you want to do, and do them.”

There is a difference between being alive and living.

Her answer? She wanted to decorate the house. She’d spent her whole life decorating her house. There were over forty cans of paint left over – gallon cans – when she and her husband moved from Georgia to here.

I gave up.

Over seventy years old, and she has nothing to show for it.

What else does Jesus say? “Let the dead bury the dead.”