On a lighter note

I met a Dutch girl with inflatable shoes last week, phoned her up to arrange a date but unfortunately she’d popped her clogs.

I went to the zoo the other day, there was only one dog in it, it was a shitzu.

Slept like a log last night…….. Woke up in the fireplace.

I’ll tell you what I love doing more than anything: trying to pack myself in a small suitcase. I can hardly contain myself.

Other People Can Be So Annoying!

You’ve probably noticed that other people can be a real pain at times. Interfering, making too much noise, demanding, whining, doing a sloppy job, messing things up, wanting their own way – other people can find a million ways to get under our skin.

Yet before we react to them, we must look to ourselves to cultivate inner peace. Physically looking after ourselves and leading a balanced life gives us more resilience and we are less bothered by the perceived faults of others. Also, an attitude of love can be fostered for all people, regardless of whether they ‘deserve’ it or not. In fact, often the people who rub us the wrong way are the very ones who need the most compassion, as they have not yet developed inner peace of their own.

Feelings and attitudes are catching. One angry person can fuel anger in a whole room; another person’s laugh can set off a wave of laughter. This is why happiness is a social as well as a private phenomenon.

As conscious beings, we can learn which feelings and attitudes to catch and spread, and which to reject. Self-care and an attitude of love help us to tolerate the idiocy or idiosyncrasies of other people. Then we don’t become part of a negative chain of angry action and reaction but instead become a starting point for the spread of good feelings. This is what social happiness is all about.

Gratitude for the Hard Times

We all know that it’s beneficial to be grateful for the good things in our lives, especially when we know that other people don’t have all the comforts or luxuries we have. But we can develop gratitude for the hard times too.

This is easiest done in retrospect. Thinking back over the most tragic, difficult or painful times you’ve been through, you can usually identify some silver linings – the experiences you had or the people you met that wouldn’t have happened otherwise; the people who came out of the woodwork to support you; and especially the ways in which you learned and grew through those difficult experiences.

Once you’ve mastered retrospective gratitude for hard times, you can begin to cultivate gratitude even while hard times are actually happening. In a way, difficult times are a privilege. They are opportunities for growth that lift you out of mediocrity and test your mettle. Approached with an attitude of acceptance and faith, difficult times can only lead to becoming a better person. While you could never say that the experience was ‘worth it’ or that you would wish it on anyone, often our hardest times are the very experiences that force us to grow strengths and understandings that we might never have found otherwise. An attitude of gratitude towards our difficulties means we see them as opportunities for growth and look for their lessons.

Imagine if nothing ever went wrong in your life. Things would be predictable and easy – but you would be severely limited in your ability to adapt, stretch yourself or show compassion for others. This alone is a reason to be grateful when something happens that sorely tests you.

Happiness = Openness + Boundaries

Happiness, confidence and other good feelings are generally associated with openness. When we are happy, we are more sociable, more compassionate and more likely to help others. On the other hand, when we are angry or depressed we close off from other people and are less likely to notice or care about what’s going on for them.

These associations are not simple cause and effect, but self-reinforcing cycles: the better you feel, the more open you’ll be, making for more satisfying relationships and experiences, hence even more good feelings. It’s been shown that happy people cultivate habits that reinforce this cycle, leading lives characterised by community-minded actions.

However there are times when being too open can lead to pain – such as when you find yourself being used or taken for granted, or when more is asked of you than you can deliver. As mentioned above, troubled people cannot be relied upon to notice, much less act, if their demands are too much for you. This is when it is important to practise firm boundaries; drawing a line in the sand that indicates how far you are prepared to go.

This can be hard to do, for a number of reasons: compassion; not wanting to offend; expecting people to ‘be reasonable’ or, more commonly, waiting for the other person’s permission before you stop giving.

Here are the steps I’ve come up with (I’m still practising!)
1) Decide how far is too far
2) Convince yourself (not the other person) that it’s okay to go no further
3) Refuse to cross the line
4) If you’ve already crossed the line, say you won’t be doing so any more
5) Offer no apology or excuse
6) Decide to feel good about yourself even if the other person is disappointed or angry

The happiest people are those who are able to be open and vulnerable, but also practise good boundaries. (A good reference on this is Brené Brown’s book The Gifts of Imperfection.)

Kindness is all around

I have been in my current job and geographical location for a year, so have got to know a few people but not made a lot of close friends. Recently I have been suffering from overwork and found myself feeling very low in energy and enthusiasm. Part of the stress involved the fact that I live at work.

To my surprise and delight, a number of people immediately offered help and support. One person offered a couple of relaxing reflexology sessions and the use of her flat on my days off. Another person, whom I hadn’t even met, offered a weekend in her caravan at the beach whenever I like. Another said I could use her lovely home while she was at work. It seems some people talked amongst themselves about how they might help, and someone arranged to take me out and let me talk if I wanted to. Today another person offered me a place to house sit over Christmas.

Someone else came in to work on her day off so that I wouldn’t have to. And several people keep putting on a mock commanding tone as they tell me bossily to stop working so hard.

I could easily have dismissed these offers and continued to feel sorry for myself, but I choose to be deeply grateful to all those people who have shown that they care.

And here are some more random acts of kindness in photo form:

The difference between advice and counselling

When you look for advice, you tend to choose someone you consider wiser than you, or someone who looks as though they’ve got their life together. This is because ultimately the only advice another person can give you is, “Be more like me! This is what I would do in your situation. You should do what I would do.” If you want to be more like that person, then the advice will suit you.

But everybody is different, and the other person’s values, priorities and aims in life may not be the same as yours. And in some cases, such as when the advisor is a relative or close friend, there may be ulterior motives for wanting you to choose a certain course of action.

Look up the word ‘counsel’ in the dictionary and you’ll find the definition ‘advice’. Yet professional counselling is not about advice at all. Professional counselling works with you to find the way forward that helps you to be more truly yourself, guided by your own values, priorities and spiritual path. A good counsellor will help you understand who you are, without trying to impose their own values on you. This is within certain limits of course; there are some general values that are expected of a counsellor and you can expect to be challenged if, for example, your decision veers towards harm or unfairness towards another person.

Personally I have experienced great satisfaction as a counsellor from helping people find their way forward. Equally I have found counselling enormously helpful at times of difficulty in my own life. And there have been other times when counselling wasn’t helpful at all. These were the times when the counsellor spent too little time exploring the issues and was too quick to come up with advice. (Even counsellors can fall into that trap at times.)

If someone comes to you with a problem, try to refrain from advice-giving and simply listen, showing that you care. Often that is all that’s needed. People usually know who they are – let them talk and they will most likely come up with their own answers.

Who do you think you’re talking to?

Something I’ve been thinking about lately is the fact that we are so connected with one another that even in our private moments we are not islands. Our thoughts are always directed at someone – we think to a virtual listener, just as we speak to an audience with our speech.

In a way, thoughts are our communication with ourselves, or rather, between one aspect of our self and another. There is a verbaliser (I) and a virtual audience (you). The ‘you’ or second person is never neutral, but always has an opinion or attitude. It is to this opinionated virtual audience that we address our thoughts.

It’s especially obvious if we find ourselves repeating the same thoughts over and over – we usually find we are trying to convince someone of something. Often we can identify the person we are trying to convince; the inference being that if only that person would believe us everything would be okay. Of course, it’s not the actual person, but the part of ourselves personified by that person, who needs convincing.

I think this is the reason why it’s so helpful to surround yourself with good, positive people who care about you. These positive souls become the virtual audience to whom you direct your thoughts, leaving you free to come up with better and more useful ideas.

So if you find yourself thinking thoughts that bring you down, a simple strategy is to imagine yourself talking to someone wise who cares about you. Or turn to prayer. When your virtual audience is a Higher Being, you can’t get stuck in that same way.

Start with the physical

Recently I’ve found myself sinking into negativity, getting irritated with people and their perceived stupidity and thoughtlessness and especially their negativity. Of course, it’s not that people have suddenly got more stupid or unkind. The problem is that I am lacking energy, which means I also lack patience and find it harder to be understanding.

I have been working hard and long hours, and forgetting the self care that is so essential to my wellbeing. Eating well, exercise, sunshine, fresh air and plenty of sleep – these are all physical factors that help us to stay on top, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. And of course, socially. It is so much easier to accept other people in all their imperfection, and even find their little quirks endearing, when we are feeling physically strong.

So it’s back to basics. It’s good to remember that when you are feeling low, the simplest answer is to start with the physical. Then the rest can start to take care of itself.