Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Star-Studded Soak

I sat in the hot tub and gazed at the stars above me. I smiled to myself as I thought how the celestial globes DID look like diamonds in the sky, just like the lyrics in Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.

I savored the water jets as they pummeled my aching neck and shoulders. I relished in the simple pleasure of a quiet evening sitting, soaking and star gazing. “So what is the big deal about that?” you may ask. Certainly I have thought the same thing at times. I’ve had a hot tub in the backyard for several years. The stars have twinkled before my birth and will go on sparkling long after I’m dust. However, what was unusual about this encounter is not that I enjoyed myself, but why I hadn’t regaled in this experience more often?

When my spouse, CB, is home, the hot tub is not an overlooked box of water and heavenly bodies are never taken for granted. However, when my nature-loving spouse is traveling and I’m alone, I generally find something else to do rather than partake in the pleasures that exist in my own backyard. I thought about this odd behavior and decided that I cheat myself out of this available indulgence because ...

1. CB isn’t there to enjoy it with me.

2. My muscles aren’t sore so why bother?

So why did I finally enjoy the tub and stars? Did I have some magical moment of insight? Unfortunately I slipped into the tub because my muscles were sore and I was out of IB Profen. But the bigger question is why do I feel have to wait until I have a good reason to enjoy myself in my backyard haven? Is there some Puritanical edict that declares the hot tub is off limits if my muscles are not bound up in knots, my cupboards are stocked with pain reliever and my spouse is out of town?

Of course not.

However, somewhere in my misguided psyche I felt like I had to earn this luxury out of either medicinal or marital need. However, while I have the misguided notion that I have to “deserve” to sit in the hot tub, I do feel that I am free to enjoy a happy life. This has not always been the case. Just as I rationed my smiles and laughter, in the past I put limits on my happiness as well.

Fortunately, I learned that happiness is something we can all enjoy. There are no stipulations. We may put a few self-imposed restrictions on our happiness, but these are restrictions of our own choosing. There is no law that we have to punish ourselves first in order to experience joy in our daily lives.

That is not to say that you should quit your job, refuse to clean your bathroom and simply do what you want regardless of the consequences. Happiness isn’t about a life of hedonistic pleasure and debauchery. It’s about enjoying what there is to enjoy and reducing the unnecessary attachment to negativity that eats away at our souls.

So to reiterate, the first tip in this article is to debunk the notion you have to do the emotional equivalent of 50 pushups before you can smile, laugh or be happy. You earned the right to happiness when you took your first breath. Happiness is your right.

The second roadblock to a more cheerful existence is immersing ourselves in negativity. That is why my friend and co-author Jackie and I wrote Erase Negativity and Embrace the Magic Within. Remember, you wouldn’t cuddle a cactus, why would you want to hang on to negativity for dear life? Let it go. If you must hold onto something, embrace happiness.

For more tips, please visit our website, EraseNegativity.com or buy the book through Amazon. If you can't afford to buy it, ask the library to carry it. You can also enter “erase negativity” and find us on you tube. We will be posting a video very soon on simple tips on how to erase negativity from your life.

But enough happiness tips for now. There are stars and a hot tub calling my name and I’m ready to enjoy a starry, starry night.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Halloween Rerun

By popular demand I'm reposting one of my favorite Halloween blogs.

It’s nearly Halloween and the stores are filled with ghoulish d├ęcor. On a recent outing my little granddaughter, Rosannah, discovered some holiday decorations packed more trick than treat. Rosannah is nearly two years old and quite fearless. She runs through the house with her hands in the air, scales the couch and her high chair with the speed of a mountain goat, and follows the family’s Rottweilers through the doggy door, with no worry of being trampled.

However, my plucky, little granddaughter’s bravery melted like a candy bar when she encountered a cackling witch at the local hardware store. Rosannah buried her head into her mother’s shoulder and whimpered, “no, no.” When she looked up, she saw another display – a werewolf. She smiled at the item and said, “doggy?” Then the eyes of the beast turned red. This elicited another whimpering “no, no” and she buried her dimpled face into her mother’s shoulder once again. Even something as innocuous as a skull on a glass elicits a quick retreat.

I’m not sure why the symbol of a skull is so frightening to Rosannah. It makes me wonder if there could be universal phobias that are buried deep within our collective consciousness. I read somewhere that snakes are feared in many cultures – including those areas that have never seen one of the slithering reptiles.

Other phobias are not so universal. For instance, my friend, Michele, has a 36-year-daughter who is afraid of dryer lint. I reminded her of this quirky habit. I assumed she had outgrown it. Nope. If her husband wanted a divorce he could chase her around the house with the lint, much like how her brother used to do when they were kids. But, like I said, the man wants to remain happily married so he takes care of the lint disposal. My normally logical sister, Diane, gets squeamish touching balls of cotton. I always felt I had a sense of power over her as I would valiantly pull the wad of the white padding from bottles of aspirin. Recently I reminded her of this childhood fear. Well, guess what? She still won’t touch the cotton balls.

The point is, there are many things that strike fear into the hearts of humankind. However, there is one demon that, unlike dryer lint, has caused tremendous harm, but holds free reign in society – negativity.

These pessimistic messages take various forms – news reports, gossip, complaints, lack of gratitude, judgmental thoughts, as well as stinging criticism of ourselves and others. Unfortunately, negativity has become so pervasive that many of us accept it as a normal part of life. This is especially true because we are bombarded with negative news 24/7. The reality is there are many more happy incidents in a day, but no journalist is going to lead the 5 o’clock news with a story of good cheer. As the old adage goes, “if it bleeds, it leads.”

As dismal as this may seem, the good news is we still have a choice on whether or not we are going to allow negativity to stain our lives. There is no law that says we have to watch depressing news. We should not feel compelled to listen to others say disparaging things about others. And we should never repeat gossip…period.

Living a happy life is not that difficult. Even in the most depressing situations there are things to be grateful for. It’s all a matter of perspective.

Every morning I recite several things that I appreciate in my life before I get out of bed. This only takes a few seconds, but it creates an attitude of gratitude that I try to embrace throughout the day.

For those who have a little more trouble adopting a positive attitude, there are little tricks you can perform to shift into an attitude of gratitude. I outline several in the my book, Erase Negativity and Embrace the Magic Within. I’m also happy to provide customized advice to those who contact me through my website, EraseNegativity.com.

In the meantime, you can always adopt an adult version of Rosannah’s technique when confronted with negative messages. It’s the same thing we teach children who are tempted to take drugs. Turn away and just say no.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Was I Switched at Birth?

I was sick a few days ago and spent a couple of days camped out on the couch. With little energy to do much else, I browsed through Netflix and watched a movie about two little boys who were accidentally switched at birth. When I finished the movie I saw a television series, Switched at Birth, based on the same premise. However, instead of little boys, the main characters are two teenage girls. I’m no teenager, but the show really captivated me. I will have to patiently wait for season 2 to become available to see what happens next.

I think two of the underlying themes of the series are ones all of us can identify with, the difficulty of fitting in, as well as being accepted for who we are.
I remember when I was a young girl I wondered if I had accidentally been delivered to the wrong family. I was the only one who hated math, loved reading and had a crossed eye. Physically I couldn’t deny my heritage. There is a striking resemblance between me and my siblings, especially to my older sister Diane. Complete strangers would come up to us and mistake us for one another well into adulthood. However, when it came to other matters, I was a polar opposite of the rest of the Marks clan.

In retrospect, I think most of us feel out of step, even within our own family dynamic. In fact we may even feel that way about our place in the world as well. How often have we wished to go back in time and change past choices or whine about the ramifications of our decisions? It has to be a common thought because I have seen dozens of movies with a similar premise.

However, we should not wait for an angel or magical genie to appear and change our life. But that does not mean we should give up hope for a brighter future. All of us have the power to affect change. Oddly enough, rather than do something to improve our situations the typical course of action is to whine, stay stuck in our own miserable mindset, and then wonder why our lives turned out the way it did.. It’s as if our life is a television show and rather than switch the channel, or write a new script, we continue to not only play these sad episodes, we play them over and over and over again.

In our book, Erase Negativity and Embrace the Magic Within, I interviewed a woman named Tammy D’Antonio. Tammy is an intelligent, strong, articulate woman. I assumed she came from a wealthy family who had ingrained a strong sense of purpose and pride in her warm, but ambitious soul.

Nothing could have been farther from the truth.

When I interviewed Tammy I learned both her mom and dad were drug addicts and her mother was murdered by drug dealers. Tammy’s only brother also went to jail for drug-related crimes (however he has since turned his life around.) Rather than stay immersed in family tragedy and drama, when Tammy was a teenager she decided she could write her own life script.

In the book she defined some of the goals she set for herself.

1. Set goals.
2. State your intention.
3. Take action.
4. Have faith.
5. Always keep moving.
6. Never be defeated.
7. Always strive for something bigger than you.
8. Have humility.
9. Love.

Later she would convert to Buddhism and incorporate a more spiritual approach to integrate into her goals to improve her life. However, using these simple nine goals, she changed the direction of her life.

The important thing to remember is we have far more power than we believe. We may not be able to change the past, but we have the power to create our future. While it may seem seductive to imagine how our lives may have been different if we had made different choices, or better yet, been born to a better family, that is not reality.

While fictional television shows and movies are entertaining, they are a writer’s creation, not fact. Your life, good or bad, is your creation. Or, as in the words of David Thomas: If there are things you don't like in the world you grew up in, make your own life different.”

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Are You Cheating Yourself Out of Happiness?

For those of you who would rather listen than read, check out this out interview.