Monday, June 13, 2016

A Contagious Habit Worth Catching

I remember the days when my boys were young and the amazement they often wore on their faces. Simple acts create shared pleasure.

A number of years ago, my youngest son asked me to please take him to McDonald’s to buy him a smoothie, just as we began to drive home in the opposite direction. I replied to him in a quick and assertive tone, “I need to get home and get back to work; I’ve got some tight deadlines I have to meet.” 

As I looked over on my son’s face, I saw a sad and disappointed look which made my heart ache. He is such a sweet and amazing boy, and if that reason I spit out was true, wow, it is pretty bad if I can’t take three minutes out of my life to buy my son a cool, refreshing beverage. As I entered the round-about, I quickly decided to do a full loop and head back toward the restaurant. He asked, “Mom, where are we going?” I replied with a smile, “to McDonald’s of course.” “You are the best!” he replied. I am always astonished at how big parents are in the eyes of their children and how such small random acts of kindness are truly appreciated. 

The interesting thing is that an amazing feeling came over me when I shared where we were going after departing from the circular intersection. My son was certainly happy, but I was elated. Joy is one of those emotions that definitely goes both ways…from sender to receiver and receiver to sender, all in a matter of seconds. That small gesture not only created a moment of shared delight, but it also helped alter my mindset and got me out of my short-term funk. 

So how do we live our lives infused with more habits of happiness and less ruts of negativity?

I have found that we all have times in our life where things go wrong, where they don’t go as we had obviously planned, and they may even lead us down a horrible, unwanted path. But those of us who choose to be positive and look at life from an optimistic lens, make conscious choices about how we respond to situations, rather than automatically reacting to the circumstances before us. 

I have a saying that I am known for: “I don’t have bad days; I may have unfortunate moments through a day, but not everything that happened to me during a particular day was bad.” I continually challenge myself to consider one, two or even three things that occurred that were good on a day that was unusually physically tough, emotionally draining, or just simply difficult to handle. This happiness habit, as I refer to it, is one that I choose to follow and live by daily. 

I believe that we each have the power to control our reactions, attitudes and intentions. But if we see ourselves as victims of circumstances or events, it is probably impossible to stay positive, even with our strongest intent. Don’t give into the victim mentality. You are worth more than that. You deserve as much happiness as anyone else. But just because you deserve it, doesn’t mean you will automatically get it. As with anything that is worth having, happiness is a habit that takes conscious thought and steadfast self-discipline. Simply put…work hard at it and you are more likely to reap the rewards. After all, I would choose a life filled with passion, purpose and positive people over one that is depressing, pessimistic, and consumed with negative naysayers, every single moment of every single day. My hunch is that all of us would.

Life is short. Enjoy the simple pleasures all around us and within each of us. Relish the feeling of the warm sun on your skin and the cool gentle breeze through your hair. Offer a hand to someone unexpectedly, even if it means five minutes out of your day. Surprise someone special with a tasty treat, and adore the large grin you see from ear to ear. 

Choose to spread happiness, as if it were a contagious habit.  

Sunday, June 5, 2016

PRIDE. It Can Be Bittersweet.

PRIDE. It's a powerful emotion. Pride is an inwardly directed emotion that carries two antithetical meanings. 

With a negative connotation pride refers to a foolishly and irrationally corrupt sense of one's personal value, status or accomplishments.

With a positive connotation, pride refers to a humble and content sense of attachment toward one's own or another's choices and actions, or toward a whole group of people, and is a product of praise, independent self-reflection, and a fulfilled feeling of belonging.

This past week I felt an immense sense of pride, but it was bittersweet.

Someone very special to me has made choices that have led him down an unconventional and difficult path. He chose to hang with a group of friends that were far from being a positive influence, which then led to more negative choices. After enduring six stints in jail before age 19, facing two felony charges (among many other misdemeanors), and deciding to drop out of high school, this individual has chosen to live a less-than-easy life.

Over the course of the last year, though, he has remained clean, maintained a full-time job, is successfully living on his own in a nice apartment he calls home, pays bills on time, renewed his driver's license after it was reinstated, bought a car and is insuring it, AND decided to adjust his work schedule to go back to high school to earn his diploma. After many long days, hours, and endless effort, a little less than one week before graduation day we were making the final plans for who would be attending the ceremony, we finalized our family celebration event, decided on the perfect outfit, and wrapped the gifts we couldn't wait to give.

On Monday, May 30, just three days before graduation, I received a dreaded and heart-wrenching call. He was arrested and currently residing in a holding cell.

Incredible fear. Intense anxiety. Too many questions to even imagine. What happened? How could this be possible? Is the agonizing whirlwind happening yet again?

Today is June 5, and unfortunately we know little more than we did on May 30. The charges are incredibly steep, but the proof is weak. I believe in his innocence and pray our judicial system leans in our favor. This week will offer many more answers.

I don't feel any less pride for him for attaining the milestone of graduating high school. In fact, it is that much more meaningful knowing the extra efforts that went into making it happen after dropping out. But I feel robbed of experiencing the joy and expressing the pride that was so deserving. He and I will never get that back. It is lost forever. Pride feels incredible when you are able to express it and enjoy it; yet it is tremendously painful when it is forced to be contained.

Whether feeling the powerful emotion of pride is positive or negative, I believe it is important to focus on what you can control. We all face obstacles, but it is our reaction to the tough stuff that we can control. How we choose to react will either lead us into a downward spiral of pain and sorrow, or lift us to a renewed sense of optimism. It is our choice.

After all...he did graduate--and even though he didn't get to be honored in the same way as others, he did ultimately accomplish his goal. But as with other tracks in life, this one was yet another that was unconventional. What's important to remember is that no one person paves the same path as anyone else. We each make choices that lead us down our path. I can only hope that his detour is short-lived and he can soon resume living his positive life.