Resolutions

This is the time of year when we typically reflect back on the previous year and look ahead to the coming year.  We may have positive or negative thoughts about where we are at, what we have recently experienced, and what lies ahead in the coming year. Many of us make resolutions or set goals for ourselves that we can hopefully achieve in the coming year such as losing weight or quitting smoking.  These are both examples of resolutions that focus strictly on the people who made the resolutions bettering themselves.  I would venture a guess that the vast majority of resolutions fall into this category.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, as anyone making a resolution to somehow better themselves at least realizes that they could make some improvements, whatever they may be.  And I applaud that.

However, my challenge to anyone reading this is to make at least one resolution that involves doing something for someone else, for your community, or anything beyond just yourself.  This might be something as simple as making more of an effort to keep in touch with friends and loved ones, which will also make them happy.  Or it could be finding a way to volunteer your time for a good cause, giving back to your community, or doing something special for our military personnel, our veterans, or anyone else who might deserve some appreciation.  Perhaps there is something you can do from which your whole family can benefit.

For myself, I will try to “take in the good” rather than dwell on the negatives in my life even more than I have recently, and I will also try to do more things that give me a sense of purpose and help me feel emotionally full.  For more of an explanation on what I mean by these things, stay tuned for my next few posts.

For other people, I will continue to volunteer at my kids’ schools in whatever way I can, I will continue doing what I do on behalf of my neighborhood, and I will look for even more ways that I can make a positive difference in the lives of others.  I’m not sure yet exactly what that will entail, but I hope this blog falls under that category for at least a few people.  I will also be encouraging my kids to think about doing more for others as well, hopefully something we can all do together.  Maybe I will even reward them by trying some new recipes this year and seeing if I can get them to branch out a little with their tastes in food.  Have you made any resolutions yet?

perfect the way I am

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Happiness vs. Joy   

At one point, the question was posed to me if I thought happiness and joy were one in the same or somehow different.  The person who asked the question had been pondering it and concluded that joy comes from within but that happiness comes from external factors.  I don’t know if I necessarily agree with that statement, but I didn’t totally disagree either.  I posed the question to my Facebook friends, and one response I got was that happiness is fleeting but that joy is what you feel in your heart no matter what your circumstances.  That might be more along the lines of what the first person was trying to say.  Or perhaps joy is a feeling that you can create for yourself by how you think, act, and approach life, whereas happiness depends on your circumstances.  Another possibility is that joy is a more intense version of happiness, which may be the case whether or not you agree with the first two thoughts.  I’m sure there are plenty of other ways to think about their similarities and differences, too.  If you have any you’d like to share, please feel free to comment.

No matter what you think about happiness and joy, I think we can all agree though that one can never have too much of either one.  I sincerely hope everyone has both joy and happiness in their hearts this holiday season.

Joy is not in things, it is in us.

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Opportunity

If opportunity doesn't knock, build a door.I love this quote.  Obviously, it is saying we shouldn’t sit around waiting for life to happen.  We should make opportunities happen for ourselves and others, hopefully good things.  I’m a “doer” who likes to make things happen, so that works for me.  In fact, nothing makes me feel better than knowing I have had a positive impact on someone or something.  Nothing.  That is what drives me.  That is a big part of why I became a teacher.  I love helping other people make sense of mathematics and perhaps develop a love for math.

I like making a difference in other ways as well.  I have volunteered a lot of my time at my kids’ schools in a variety of ways, all of which I do primarily because of how good I feel knowing I helped provide a learning or memorable opportunity for the students or that I helped the teachers in some way.  I have pushed for some changes such as a club that was added at the middle school from which many students will benefit for years to come.  That was time well spent, especially because it’s the only club where there are so many kids interested, it had to be split into multiple sections.  I do a lot of things for my neighborhood, too.  One thing in particular has to do with making the entrance to our neighborhood a whole lot safer to enter and exit.  I feel good knowing it was a result of my efforts and I now have many very appreciative neighbors, some of whom would be happy to help me out in return. In all of these cases and many others, I saw an opportunity to make a positive difference and did.

The thing is, there are so many different kinds of opportunities we can create, big and small … so many opportunities that could make a positive difference.  We just need to look for them and then take the time to make them happen.  There are all kinds of opportunities we can make to be more positive, to be more loving and affectionate, to laugh and smile more, to make others laugh and smile more, to do random acts of kindness, to help those less fortunate than we are, to be more respectful, to be more patient and tolerant, to live a more healthy lifestyle, to do things that make us happy, to set better examples for our kids of what it means to have integrity and character, to teach our kids how to be compassionate and not self-absorbed, and so on.   These are not opportunities we should wait for to come to us. We need to make them happen.

The holiday season is the time of year that we typically think of helping others who are less fortunate than we are, or perhaps we are more inclined to perform a random act of kindness.  These opportunities to make a difference shouldn’t be reserved just for this time of year though.  We should be looking for these and any other opportunities to make a positive difference, no matter how big or small or whether it will impact one person we do know or many people whom we do not know, all year long.

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Taking Sides

I have a son who is very careful not to take sides on an issue or make decisions about things before he does some research and considers the facts from both sides or perspectives on any given issue, whether it is a personal choice or situation presented to him or a news story or more of a political issue.  I am very proud of him for that and wish more people would do that.  It seems nowadays that there is a growing need for everyone to take a side on every issue whether they know the facts or not.  There is very little middle ground anymore, and it seems too many people are not willing to hear anyone else’s perspective other than their own.

I find this to be true not only with political issues and news stories that receive national attention but also in my personal life.  There ARE two sides to every story. Sometimes one side has much more validity to it, but there is still the other side to at least consider.  I do try to see both sides of a situation whenever possible and not just automatically take one particular side or the other, and sometimes I don’t take anyone’s side at all.  It should be OK to feel neutral or indifferent about an issue or see at least some of the validity to both sides of a situation and consider what each person might have been thinking or feeling, which in turn caused them to behave a certain way.  It is always easier to do this though when you are looking in on someone else’s situation vs. being in the middle of your own.

It is not humanly possible for one person to always be right and never make mistakes or contribute negatively to situation, but there are people I know who think along these lines.  It is very difficult to get them to see that at least sometimes they are part of the problem.  And when they don’t realize they are part of the problem, they can’t be part of the solution.  Instead, they blame everyone but themselves for their situation and expect everyone else to change without being willing to do anything differently themselves. This often leads to a downward spiral of negativity and makes positive change very unlikely.

The same can be said for the bigger issues.  We can’t make progress if the majority of people grab onto one or the other end of a rope and tug on it as hard as possible.   We need to not be so quick to take sides to begin with until we have gathered enough information to make an informed choice, and we need to be willing to be open minded enough to sometimes admit that maybe we don’t always make the best decisions or that our perspective or perception of the situation isn’t always the right one or in some cases, the only one.

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Getting Even

The need to get even with or get back at someone whom you feel has wronged you somehow is pretty strong for some people.  Unfortunately, people who behave in this manner don’t usually see that it is counterproductive and just adds fuel to the fire.  If your spouse or sibling or anyone else does something that annoys you or they don’t do something you think they should have, doing something that is going to annoy them or make them angry in response is not going to make them want to do what you are asking the next time or be more careful not to annoy you.  It is most likely going to have the opposite affect and make them less likely to want to do anything to make you happy.  Finding a constructive way to express your frustration is a better solution, even though it is sometimes difficult to think along these lines when you are in the heat of the moment.

I think kids often see their parents assigning consequences as getting even somehow.  I’m sure it feels that way to some, but it is also easier to see it that way than to admit that you deserve the consequences, unless the consequences actually are too severe or are being presented in the heat of the moment or in a way that make them seem like the parent really is trying to get even.

Unfortunately, I have a teenager who tends to post only somewhat accurate information about family situations on Facebook to throw her mom or dad under the bus without including her part in it when she doesn’t get something she wants either because of her behavior or because she didn’t get something done by a deadline, or both.  That’s her way of getting even, and she hasn’t realized yet that it only makes things worse for her.

The “need to get even” mentality becomes particularly scary when we are talking about people with guns who think that they are justified in using them anytime someone wrongs them either personally or in situations like what followed in Ferguson after the announcement of the decision of the grand jury, or any other time there has been looting, gunfire, fires set, and so on after a whole group of people who feel the need to get even weren’t happy with a decision or outcome.  Destroying your own community all because of the need to get even somehow, particularly when the people who own the businesses had nothing to do with the decision, is definitely not beneficial for anyone and only makes things worse because it feeds into the stereotype that certain people think is so unfairly placed upon them.  All the school shootings, disgruntled postal workers, and a whole slew of other news stories where people have shot and killed one or more people that were sometimes perfect strangers, all to get even after being wronged from their perspective, are coming to mind as well.

This seems to be a very instinctive thing for so many people, so perhaps we are hard wired to think along these lines and some people are just better than others at controlling these urges.  Or perhaps it is more of a learned response.  Either way, more people need to realize what a destructive behavior it is and then how to control those urges, not just in newsworthy situations, but in our everyday lives.  It can be difficult, as I have felt them myself from time to time even though I am typically not a vindictive person, but it can be done.  Again, we need to look for constructive ways to express our frustration whenever possible, not destructive ones.

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Keeping In Touch…You Don’t Need A Reason

My very favorite phone calls, emails, and texts are ones that start out something like, “Hey, I was just thinking about you and wanted to say hi.”  I don’t get those very often, but when I do, they make my day.  I know how good it feels, so I make a point to do the same for certain other people in my life.  I don’t necessarily wait for a reason to contact them.  I just check in every so often.  For some people, it’s more frequently than that.

I guess it would be fair to say that I do this most often to the people with whom I really want to stay connected, even if they don’t always return the favor.  And if there happens to be a reason to contact someone like something that just made me think of them, I usually take advantage.  There are those people who I have given up on maintaining contact with over the years though because it was always one-sided. It is sometimes easier to reach out to people whom I know will reciprocate.

What prompted me to write this post was one particular relative who feels he needs a reason to contact myself or my kids.  A couple times now the reason has been that he came across something he wanted to pass on to me and asked if he could drop it off and visit for a bit while he was here.  In between these visits, there is almost no contact initiated by him.  I have made it clear multiple times that he does not need to wait until he has a reason to talk to any one of us before he initiates a call or email. He can contact us at any time just to see what we’ve been up to.  That’s not his nature though.  He’d rather wait for a reason, which doesn’t happen very often.

Unfortunately, not only has he wasted a lot of opportunities to spend time with and get to know my kids and me, but he has also given us the impression that he is not all that interested in maintaining connections with us, or in us at all for that matter until very recently.  For many years now I have not felt like he views me as an important person in his life because of the lack of contact on his part all that time.  He is one example of a one-sided relationship that I grew tired of trying to maintain all by myself.

Even though it takes some conscious thought and a little time, making the effort to let someone know you were thinking about them however often can have a huge impact.  You may be putting a smile on someone’s face that could last for a while, and it feels just as good to know that you made someone else’s day by letting them know they were on your mind.  If you’re thinking about someone right now that you’d like to reach out to, stop what you’re doing and just do it. You might just make their day.

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Tolerance and Patience

My last blog post titled “Common Courtesy and Respect had to do with not enough people showing common courtesy and respect for others around them.  On the flip side of that is people also having less tolerance and patience for others.  I see this in my immediate family on a regular basis.  Almost every conflict between any two of my kids can be defined as one of them instigating somehow and the other overreacting.  Even though I point this out all the time, it doesn’t seem like either participant is willing or able to not instigate or overreact the next time so that the conflicts don’t continue to occur or escalate.  It is very hard to not do something that you have always done.  I am hoping to break these habits now, because I don’t want them to grow up and be adults who are very intolerant and impatient.

Road rage comes to mind when I think of this topic.  Not only are there plenty of people who are not courteous drivers who often drive like they own the road, but there are also plenty of drivers who get very impatient way too quickly and don’t hesitate to express their frustrations.  Sometimes they are even willing to risk theirs and others’ lives in the process.  The thing is, I think there is a lot of overlap in these groups of people, which leads me back to a previous post about double standards called “Make Up Your Mind.”  You can’t be intolerant of others who inconvenience you when you don’t hesitate to inconvenience others.

A father getting shot and killed in a movie theater because he was texting his babysitter during the previews is another example that comes to mind of pretty extreme intolerance.  I’m sure there are plenty more I could come up with that have been in the news recently if I thought about it.

Extreme examples aside, there are too many people who are so quick to criticize and complain but can’t see that their own intolerance or other negative behaviors are contributing to the problem.  I see this in my kids as well.  I get lots of complaints and sarcastic statements and have to remind them that all they need to do is calmly ask for what they want or need without all the negativity.  I’m sure they have learned this by watching others do the same thing.

I think social media, TV, and the anonymity of the internet have all contributed to people being more critical and quick to judge and make fun of other people, which in turn contributes to less tolerance and patience.  It’s so easy to post comments that are anonymous that many people don’t hesitate to do so.  And social media has gotten us in the habit of sharing every thought we have with others, good or bad. Then there are people like Simon Cowell who made criticizing others into an art form. Others then follow suit and think that’s acceptable.

A little patience and tolerance can go a long way, too.  It’s all about being able to control and censor your reactions or maybe have no reaction at all sometimes.  I think we all need to remember…

 No one can drive you crazy unless you give them the keys!

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