“Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul—and sings the tunes without words and never stops at all.” — Emily Dickinson
This is a beautiful message that I wanted to share with alll of you. (Reprinted with permission from Whitney Johnson – WLJAdvisors.)
I was twenty-one years old and freshly arrived in Montevideo, Uruguay, from the United States.
For the next 18 months I wasn’t going to see my family or friends––,we would communicate via letter only, except for a phone call home on Christmas and Mother’s Day. I’d chosen to come to this far-flung place as a missionary, but reality was setting in. Jet-lagged and homesick, I opted for a nap.
I was roused from my slumber sooner than I would’ve liked to discover something wonderful was happening outside my bedroom window. Birds were chirping—not just one or two, but dozens—a grand welcoming chorus. I’d left winter at home; in Uruguay it was spring.
“Hope is the thing…that perches in the soul.”
Over the past few months, I’ve had to make choices. We’re all having to make choices about what future world we want to build out of the rubble of the present.
Will we choose to give up, give in to existential despair, or will we choose hope that in the end all will be well. That spring will come again?
To be clear, there are different kinds of hope. And some ‘hopes’, we would do well to relinquish. Hope that present circumstances would suddenly be different, that bad things that have happened hadn’t happened. These are really wishes, and unfulfillable. As Beverly Flanigan said, “Forgiveness is giving up hope of ever having a better past.”
The past can’t be changed, only our perspective of it. And some of our proximate hopes, things we anticipated rolling our way in the near future, need to be abandoned as well, in favor of longer term, ultimate hopes.
Because as much as we need hope, we don’t need false hope. Which is the subject of this week’s podcast, an interview with Kelly Goldsmith (yes, daughter of one of my wonderful mentors!). I find the conclusions of her research refreshing and helpful during a time of limited resources, and pronounced feelings of scarcity.
Kelly suggests that scarcity itself isn’t the issue, but the absence of hope. When we know that something is truly gone—the boyfriend isn’t coming back, the money is lost, life as we’ve known it has permanently changed—we can mourn the loss and then lean into the constraint that has been created to grow in a different direction. Ironically, it’s when we’re still clinging to unrealizable hopes, uncertain, that we feel scarcity and those feelings become problematic.
People crave certainty, which is hard to come by, but if it’s certain that something is gone and not coming back, it’s better to face it. That’s loss, not scarcity, and when we know something is truly lost we can move on, rather than compensating in ultimately self-defeating ways. If there is hope, let people feel hope. If there isn’t, don’t string people along, inadvertently creating scarcity, thinking it’s kinder. It’s not.
Are you allowing people to feel hope about something that you shouldn’t?
Are you trapped in futile hope for a better past that you need to free yourself from?
What are you willing/able to choose to do to help build a more hopeful future?
Maybe it’s continuing to social (physical) distance when you’ve grown weary of distancing. Or thinking about not only the financial implications, but the long-term public health implications of the virus? Is it extending yourself, providing work for others, when you’d rather save your money for you and yours? Or even finding ways to serve, not necessarily where you want to serve, but where you’re needed?
Then there are the small things you can do. The delicate, little live things. Picking mint from the garden, putting it in a Mason jar with water and lots of ice. Washing dishes with your family after a home-cooked meal. Pushing open the window to listen to the birdsong. Whenever I hear the song of a bird, my heart sings with hope.
In your moments when you want to give up—even just a little—what can you do to rekindle hope? What gives you hope?
What happened to common courtesy and dood manners?
They used to be the norm – but, are now practically non-existent.
When I observe simple acts of kindness and respectful behavior it is almost startling because it is such a rare experience.
The anonymity of social media seems to have created a breeding pool for poor behavior that is spilling over into daily actions for the majority.
Being on the receiving end of rude behavior is extremely unpleasant – so, let’s not be guilty of the ones who are being rude.
It’s Time to Dust Off Your Manners
There is no excuse for being rude and disrespectful. It is selfish and immature behavior that reflects a complete lack of concern for anyone except yourself.
My theory is that rude behavior begins at home. When children are allowed to be rude and disrespectful to family members (including their parents), it becomes a way of life when dealing with people in any situation. It’s the only behavior they know.
It’s time to change!
Unfortunately, we cannot control others’ behavior, but we can control our own.
You and I can choose to be kind and courteous to others – family, friends, associates, colleagues, clerks, service agents, and strangers. YES, I’m talking about EVERYONE.
Being polite and showing respect for others will never go out of style (maybe buried under a pile of “you know what”) – but never lost unless people accept perpetual rudeness as a way of life.
Respectful behavior that is fueled by kindness is the foundation of a good life and a joyful society.
. . . and it starts with you and me dusting off our manners and displaying common courtesy even single day.
To pique your memory, I have compiled a list of common courteous behaviors from years past. They are not difficult to perform, but if they are not currently part of your behavioral patterns, it may take time and practice for them to become automatic, as they should be.
Get in the habit of saying please and thank you!
Say hello and goodbye when entering and leaving a room or group of people.
Stop swearing in public.
Say, “I’m sorry” when you bump into someone.
When meeting someone for the first time, smile and introduce yourself.
Give an elderly or handicapped person, or pregnant lady your seat on the bus or subway.
Cover your mouth when you yawn, sneeze, cough, burp, etc. and say, “Excuse me.”
Put your phone away in public! Don’t text or scroll through messages while walking, driving, or during a face-to-face conversation with someone. Phones should be used when you are sitting/standing alone and you will not disturb anyone else.
Hold the door open for those behind you or for anyone who may need help.
Let the other person enter the building, the room or the elevator first.
Promptly R.S.V.P to any invitation.
Send thank-you notes (preferably handwritten) for dinner parties, gifts, etc.
Acknowledge and accept differences of opinions (even on social media) – acknowledgment is not agreement.
Always introduce people to each other.
Make introductions immediately
When you are being introduced, listen carefully and remember names.
Respond – “It’s nice to meet you.”
Ask a question to let them know you are interested in who they are.
When leaving, say, “It’s nice to have met you.”
When someone says hello – smile and say hello back (or be the first to say it)
Listen attentively without interrupting – let the other person finish before you speak.
Be kind and respectful in your response to others.
Consider all opinions – you don’t have to agree, but be willing to listen.
Respond to questions with kindness and respect.
These are only a sampling of good manners. There is so much more but these are a good place to start.
Model the behavior you would like to see in your children and would enjoy when in the company of others.
We usually get back what we put out into the world. Let’s start putting out kindness and respect! That is today’s challenge!
Do you often feel that you don’t even have time to breathe?
Being busy to a point can be a good thing, but being “too busy” all the time is not!
Why are you so busy? That is the question!
The answer may be as simple as – you are not saying NO enough. You may be trying too hard to please others, to get them to like you, to fit in, to fulfill a sense of obligation or responsibility, or maybe being busy has become a badge of honor that signifies your importance in the world.
Whatever the reason . . . it’s time to change!
When every minute of the day is focused on doing what others want you to do that there is little or no time for things that matter to you – you are putting your mental and physical health at risk.
You can’t do everything – choices must be made. If you are caught in the YES trap because you cannot bring yourself to say NO, your life will be controlled by everyone around you. You are living for others, not for yourself.
Your daily habits define your life. What you do repeatedly day-in and day-out is what you become good at doing. If you want to change a behavior, you must destroy the root of the problem.
If you are too busy, the root of the problem is probably your inability to so NO.
NO is an incredibly powerful word! Learning to say it can change your life.
Think about the impact of saying no to foods you shouldn’t eat, to things you don’t want or shouldn’t do, to taking on others’ responsibilities, to people who make unreasonable demands on you, to toxic relationships and just because it is your choice to say no
How Do You Eat an Elephant?
One bite at a time, of course.
How do you stop saying yes? With one NO at a time!
If you have been a habitual YES person most of your life, this change will not happen overnight – but you can make the change. Slay this particularly dangerous dragon one battle at a time. Small steps will deliver amazing results.
Start saying no in one particular area of your life. Say no . . .
When your child or spouse asks you to do something they could (and should) do for themselves.
When a friend wants you to do something that holds zero interest for you.
When you are tempted to eat the second piece of candy (rather than stopping at one).
When your significant other asks you to have dinner with friends you do not want to be around.
You get the idea!
When your comfort level with saying no in that situation increases, choose another. Slowly, it will become easier and easier to say no when it is in your best interests.
A Daily Challenge
Challenge yourself to say a “difficult” NO at least once a day. Keep a record of your successes. Use an app on your phone (i.e. BEAR for IPhones or NOTEBOOK) or keep a small notepad handy for quick recording when it happens.
Don’t worry when you falter and say yes instead of no. Changing a deeply ingrained habit takes time. So, be patient with yourself and keep on keeping on.
Why Saying NO Is Important
It is essential for your mental and physical well-being.
You have a greater sense of control over your life.
You have more time to do what youwant to do.
You will have more fun engaging in activities of your choice.
People will respect you more.
It establishes healthy boundaries in relationships.
It sets clear expectations about what others can expect from you.
Now that you are an empty nester, what would you do without Gimley, your ‘fur baby’ – man’s best friend?
You may even be living alone, trying to figure out what comes next and Gimley keeps you sane.
You are one of the 76 million Baby Boom Generation, born between 1944 and 1964 – a generation that loves dogs.
Dogs have been called ‘man’s best friend’ since they were first domesticated, thousands of years ago. But, Baby Boomers seem to have taken it to heart more than other generations.
They make up 37% of all dog owners – a sizeable chunk of the dog-owning population.
If you are a ‘boomer’ or are related to a ‘boomer, you know their dogs are more than just a friend to keep them company as the years pile up and retirement is looming. They are part of the family.
Why Boomers Relate Differently to Dogs
Baby Boomers were welcomed into a world that was enjoying a new level of comfort. Life was different and possibilities unknown to prior generations were everywhere. This included dog companionship on a different level.
They grew up with their dogs in the home and developed strong bonds with their furry friends at an early age. The connection to pets was intense and those relationships were carried into adulthood.
The Shift from Outside to Inside
Before the Baby Boomers, dogs were primarily outside pets. You may remember the backyard dog houses. But with the Boomer Generation things changed.
Pups were kept inside and integrated into the family, which created a companionship dynamic that had never before existed.
The strong bond Boomers have with their dogs goes a long way in keeping them feeling fulfilled and sociable.
Coping with Change
The companionship and unconditional love that dogs provide helps owners adjust more easily to life changes.
The empty nest – filling the gap when children leave.
Physical well-being (staying active) – dogs must be walked, so owners get more exercise.
Mental health – there are issues that can arise as a person moves into different stages of life. The loving companionship of a dog reduces loneliness and lessens the risk of depression and anxiety
Dogs Are Social Facilitators
Boomers know that dog owners reap social benefits that do not come with other types of pets.
Dogs love to be outside, they love to run and play, and they have to be “walked” for exercise and relief. The result is dog owners tend to get out of the house several times a day and enjoy the side benefit of easily connecting with other dog owners.
A few activities that Boomers enjoy with their furry best friends:
Getting to know the neighborhood and the neighbors
Being part of a dog-walking group
Attending dog-focused events
Regular visits to the dog park
Dogs Are Good for the Heart
When it comes to heart health issues, dogs have your back. According to a nationwide study, dog owners have a lower risk of heart disease.
The researchers also found there is a link between the breed and the relative risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Hunting breeds were related to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease than any other breed of dog.
So, if you are in the market for a dog, you may want to consider a Labrador, beagle, Weimaraner, golden retriever, or bloodhound.
And . . . That’s Not all
There are many health benefits of living with man’s best friend.
The companionship and higher levels of exercise that come with having a furry friend lowers the risk of high blood pressure.
It is hard to stay stressed when you feel the unconditional love that dogs provide. Studies have found that the simple scratching of your dog’s head can improve your mood significantly.
To sum it up – dogs are still man’s best friend, just ask any Boomer dog-owner.
Reaching high levels of professional and financial success at any cost has been the modern-day Mecca to multitudes of business men and women for several decades.
Unfortunately, the attainment of such an all-consuming goal has not produced the peace and happiness that was expected. There was a dark side to success.
Fairly recently, the question of balance and its impact on mental health and happiness has taken center stage in many circles of psychological research. Dozens of studies have been conducted and published on the subject as companies and individuals alike have noticed that their chaotic lifestyle has not produced the happiness they hoped to achieve. The cost has greatly outweighed the benefits.
The majority of these studies agree on one thing – there is potential for incredible benefits from living a balanced life filled with interesting and varied experiences rather than living with an all-consuming focus on career.
The studies also included some important findings about the effects of stress. Stress is not always detrimental to health and happiness. In fact, a bit of stress here and there is actually healthy, for both plants and animals – it stimulates growth and development. It depends on the source of the stress, how relentles it is, and how it is managed.
The danger comes when relentless stress pounds the mind and body and the individuals accept it as the norm. They cope with it the best they can; but allow no time for recovery from the depletion of resources.
Professional burnout from chronic stress debilitates the individual to the point that s/he can no longer function effectively on a personal or professional level.
“Burnout is one of those road hazards in life that high-achievers really should be keeping a close eye out for, but sadly – often because of their “I can do everything” personalities, they rarely see it coming.”
The individual may suffer with any or all of the following:
Physical and emotional exhaustion
Cynicism, anger, detachment
Feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment
Bouts of anxiety and depression
Professional burnout does not happen overnight. It comes on slowly, overtime, making it difficult to recognize. There are warnings signs, but there are rarely recognized until it is too late.
The human body thrives on moderation. In spite of that being a fairly well-known fact, there are huge numbers of people who gravitate toward extreme lifestyles. They tend to be adrenalin junkies with a need for more and greater challenges.
It may be a psychological compulsion to escape the sea of sameness that drives them to seek everything in unhealthy proportions. But, whatever the cause, there is an endless list of good reasons to avoid the rat race and live a life of moderation on all fronts.
The Pressure Starts Early
A close look at America’s higher education system is good case study for what is happening. As knowledge increases, and job requirements become more demanding, the amount of curriculum required to graduate from college goes up, while the time allotted for completion of tasks goes down.
This places students under incredible amounts of stress. If you are a recent graduate or have a child in college you are probably aware that symptoms of chronic stress are everywhere – poor eating habits, lack of sleep, chronic anxiety and depression, poor quality of work, and a decreasing appreciation for study.
As a nation, America, has created such high expectations and placed such high stakes on a single four-year period of life that the pressure is almost unbearable. Even the students with the highest scholastic standings begin to dread the moment they have to open a text book.
High schools are not much better. Even the elementary schools are intense. Kindergarteners and First Graders have homework! Is it any wonder than many children hate school?
The problem is simple. When you put too much emphasis on a single focus, and create too much pressure around it, eventually even pleasurable activities become drudgery. The joy of the activity itself is smothered by the stress connected to it.
A good illustration of this is that many artists decide to keep their art as a hobby or recreation, rather than pursuing it as a profession. They realize that if their livelihood depended on their art, the pressure would dampen the fun, and joy of creating would lose its magic.
In America the one aspect of life where this principle is most blatantly violated is work/life balance. American professionals push themselves beyond reason their entire lives with the goal of retiring early and enjoying life more. Unfortunately, they often get the early retirement in the form of an unexpected permanent vacation because they literally work themselves to death.
Today, even a “typical work week” is extreme – more often than not it is 60 to 90 hours rather than 40.
A Series of Unhealthy Extremes
In order to cope with the unrelenting pressures, people turn to energy drinks, alcohol, ice cream, cheesecake, and other comfort foods and activities to dim or wipe out the memories of everything that happened during the past week – or that they have to face in the coming week.
Life becomes a series of unhealthy extremes – each one throwing everything else more and more out of balance.
The Solution is Simple
Simple – yes! But, not necessarily easy to incorporate when you have been on the fast track for years. It is called BALANCE!
Limit the number of hours you work each week – cut it down to at least 50, but 40 would be better. Disconnect from your electronic leash at the end of the day and on the weekend.
After a busy day at work, make it a practice to enjoy a nice dinner with family or friends. Plan time in your schedule in the evenings or on the weekend to do something you really enjoy – painting, hiking, swimming, basketball, reading, going to the movies – anything that is FUN and takes your mind from the pressures and responsibilities of work.
When you take the time for self-care on the weekend, going back to work on Monday morning will be much easier. You will have decompressed and regenerated enough that you will be able to handle work stress and the occasional crisis with grace and dignity – and let it go when it is over.
Daily and weekly rest and relaxation stabilizes you emotionally and psychologically. It is a much wiser strategy than working nights and weekends 95% of the year so that you can take one extended annual vacation.
Developing a nice balance of work, rest, and fun throughout the week increases overall satisfaction with life.
Balance and Moderation in all Things
The human body and mind were not meant to handle excess.
Balance and moderation can be applied universally in life, whether it is eating, sleeping, exercise, entertainment, socializing, study, or work. For example, the body does not do well when you starve it for three days and then binge eat for three hours.
The secret of good health and peace of mind is striving to find balance in every facet of your life.
Be sure there is time in your schedule to purchase fresh, healthy foods, to prepare tasty meals and allow plenty of time to enjoy them. Eat regular nutritious meals every day to provide the necessary fuel for your miraculous body to function at the highest level.
Regular exercise in moderation is also a key factor to mental and physical health, as is regular social interaction, regular eustress (a good form of stress that can actually increase our performance at a task and your general happiness and sense of well-being), regular sleep habits for adequate rest, and regular relaxation.
The word “regular” comes from the root “to regulate” which means to keep things in their proper proportions. But, even regulation can become extreme. If you obsess over counting calories, timing your exercise to the second, and stress when you only get seven hours and twenty minutes of sleep, you need to loosen up a bit.
It is not uncommon for people to go from an extremely chaotic lifestyle to an extremely regimented one. Flexibility is critical to a balanced life. Being able to go with the flow is important.
There will be days – even an occasional week when things get out of balance. That is to be expected. It is perfectly OK, as long as you do not allow it to become the “norm” again and slip back into a permanent pattern of imbalance.
Other Possible Dangers
When making the shift from a chaotic, extremely hectic life to a more normal pace, there are some common pitfalls to avoid. One in particular is going to the opposite extreme and taking the stance that life is to be “lived fully.” That you should stop taking life so seriously and do whatever makes you happy – whenever you choose to do it – no matter what anyone else thinks.
This approach also carries with it the potential of great dissatisfaction. Meaning and direction in life, both personally and professionally, are powerful factors that contribute to health, happiness, and fulfillment.
If you remove the meaning from your work, then you remove the reason to work at all. It is the same with life. In fact, many of the happiest people claim that their source of joy comes from finding a deeper meaning to the everyday aspects of living.
The lesson to be learned from all this is that extremes of any kind are dangerous.
Recognize your physical and emotional instincts and live a lifestyle that accommodates them, but does not make you a slave to them.
Moderation and balance are the keys to a peaceful, joyful life.