Friday, June 22, 2012

Top 10 Reasons to Erase Negativity and Embrace a More Positive Outlook

Happiness is something everyone wants. The framers of our constitution may look like they hadn’t smiled in weeks (poor George Washington had those wooden teeth to deal with) but adding the words, “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” to the constitution was truly an inspirational moment in history.

But for those of you who need more concrete examples on why you should kick out your inner grouch and develop a more joyful outlook, here are the Top Ten Reasons to Erase Negativity and Enjoy a Happier, More Optimistic Life.

1. Better health. It’s no longer woo woo science. Doctors, psychologists and psychiatrists agree that folks who adopt a happier, more optimistic mindset, enjoy better health and recover quicker when they do get sick. Studies indicate that optimistic folks even catch fewer colds. Do yourself a favor, save the money you’d spend on tissues and cold remedies and carry a smile around instead.

2. Longer life span. That’s right, happier people enjoy greater longevity. It may seem like grouchy people are living longer, but it simply isn’t true. It only SEEMS that way because every moment with a curmudgeon seems to last for days. Unless you want people cheering when they read your obituary, why not follow Scrooge’s more enlightened example and adopt a happier life before it’s too late?

3. Greater achievement. It makes sense that folks who see their glass as half full are more likely to see opportunities and have the tenacity it takes to achieve better results at work and school.

4. Stronger relationships. Think about it. Who would you rather be around someone who is happy or someone who is a negative Nelly or Grouchy George? I could cite statistics, but is that really necessary? It’s a no-brainer. Happier people have better relationships.

5. The ability to develop greater appreciation. Happy folks see their blessings and by bringing a focus on gratitude to the forefront of their minds they create more opportunities to enjoy a happier life.

6. Become a magnet for better opportunities. In the law of attraction the concept of like attracts like is mentioned time and again. If you attract what you focus on it makes more sense good things follow positive thoughts and negative energy is a poop magnet.

7. Better appearance. Happy folks smile more and a big smile makes everyone look better. I agree with Roald Dahl who said: II “A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.”

8. Reduce stress. Stress takes a toll on our bodies, mind and emotions. Researchers believe that reducing stress is a major component in leading happier, healthier lives and plays a major role in getting a better night’s sleep.

9. Increased creativity. Optimistic folks look for solutions in clever ways and their more innovative thoughts activate more areas of their brains in their decision-making process. When you are negative and give up hope, your options and your ability to feel happy and empowered is shut down.

10. Optimistic individuals are great role models. Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” By living an optimistic life you can be a catalyst for creating a better world. How awesome is that?

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Crossed-eyed Optimist

When I was six weeks old my mother noticed my right eye turned in. I think I was checking out my nose. People stick their faces close to a baby’s and I saw some real honkers on some of the folks who were cooing at me. My guess is I wanted to make sure I didn’t grow a Pinnochio schnoozola in the middle of MY countenance.

Fortunately, I didn’t. A small beak has graced my punim for more than five decades. Unfortunately my lazy eye stuck with me. Two surgeries later and my crossed eye (a condition known as strabismus) is not as noticeable, but it is there. Rather than fight it, I decided to embrace it.

The cross-eyed optimist has a unique way of looking at things and I want to share that with you.

As many self-help authors and philosophers have stated, it’s not what happens to you, but rather your attitude about what happens that matters. It makes me think of that joke about the kid who wanted a pony for Christmas. The child was an extreme optimist and no matter how many times his parents told the boy they could not afford a pony the child never lost hope. Finally, in disgust, the child’s older brother wrapped up a box of horse manure. When the little optimist opened the stinky present instead of being upset he was absolutely gleeful. He excitedly exclaimed, “I found the poop, now all I have to do is find the pony that goes with it.”

This analogy is usually meant as a slam against optimism, but I find the story encouraging. And whenever I think of it I hope that somewhere a hopeful boy or girl is getting the pony they wished for, even if they don’t get it until they are old enough to buy one and shovel the poop themselves.

My world view has always been a bit skewed. Due to my strabismus I never developed depth perception. My mother noticed something was wrong when I was a baby and I would reach for an object and miss it on the first and sometimes second attempts. This became more obvious when I was learning to drink from a cup. I would invariably knock the glass over. But, the good parents that they were, they never yelled at me about the spilled milk.

In time I learned to adapt. I occasionally bump into things, but I can drink milk without wearing it (most of the time) hit a tennis ball, catch a softball, play golf and perform a variety of tasks without anyone being the wiser. Driving a car is probably the most difficult task I cope with my lack of depth perception. However, once again I’ve dealt with the issue. I have learned to be cautious, courteous and give other drivers plenty of room. Tailgaiting is absolutely out of the question.

The outward appearance of living life with strabismus was more problematic. People would comment about it, some kids teased me, and others simply asked if I was looking at them or not. I got in the habit of avoiding eye contact with folks (something I’m still working on.) Much to my chagrin the “turned in” eye became even more pronounced in pictures. I adapted by acting like a clown, especially when a camera was in sight. It is rare to find a picture of me when I’m younger where I’m not sporting a silly rubber-face pose only Jerry Lewis or Jim Carey would admire.

However, what had been a setback became the impetus for me to develop my sense of humor. I learned how to tell a joke before I toddled off to school. I gained more empathy for others who were “different” whether that meant befriending boys and girls of color, different religions or those who had physical or mental disabilities. Many of these childhood acquaintances are still my loyal friends more than 45 years later.

My ability to tell and create original jokes morphed into expertise to create stories with comedic overtones. I don’t make funny faces at the camera any more (for the most part.) However, I can still pull a few goofy stunts out of my hat. My quacking Donald Duck sneeze is still a favorite with my granddaughters. They laugh and say, “Grandma, you’re silly.” Hey better to sound like a duck than look like a duck.

I can’t say that I’m happy I was born with a lazy eye. I was relieved neither of my daughters inherited this trait, nor did my granddaughters. However, they have been exposed to my slightly skewed view of the world and take joy in what I’ve learned from the experience. They embrace diversity in their friendships, they are compassionate and they never tailgate while driving. They’re still working on the Donald Duck sneeze.

The bottom line is we are all unique. We can curse our perceived deficiencies or use it as a catalyst for self growth. I think Roald Dahl said it best.

“A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.”

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Yard Work is Weedy, Weedy Fun

In a cynical moment while posting on facebook (and yes, even the author of a self help book can have a bloody snark attack on occasion) I wrote that I couldn’t decide what was more exciting – writing or pulling weeds. My niece, Lisa, quickly responded that I should write. I began a new blog article, “The Cross-eyed Optimist.” Ironically, I can’t find it. Hopefully it will turn up in my files in the future.

However, my friend and former Westwood High School classmate, Dick Luebke, was interested in the possible excitement surrounding pulling weeds. With the exception of my screenplays, I rarely write fiction. So now, because I like Dick and he has called me on my facebook challenge, I feel compelled to come up with something good to say about pulling weeds.
However, as odd as it may sound, I have a few insights on the subject.

When I was a kid, one of the few tasks my mother was willing to pay us for was to pull weeds. Rosebushes lined the entire front row of our front lawn and weeds would grow in between the thorny plants. We lived in a small, older home, but we had a big yard. Lots of roses, lots of weeds. However, the reward for accomplishing this weed-pulling project was $1. At the time my allowance was 25 cents a week, so a buck would be a virtual windfall.

I tugged at a few of the weeds and thought I was making good headway. But when my mom came out to inspect, she told me I couldn’t just pluck the weeds, I had to pull the stringy devils out by the roots. Between the cement like dirt, thorny rose bushes, the magnitude of the project on a hyper active kid, and now the more difficult stipulation of pulling the offending plants out by the roots, I felt overwhelmed. I gave up part way through the job. All I had to show for my efforts were sore hands, scratched arms and not one red cent.

Later, when my spouse and I owned homes of our own, I went back to the task of ridding the yard of milk weed and wild mustard.. There were times when it was relaxing to sit next to the earth, pull a weed (sometimes by the roots, sometimes not) and enjoy a nice sunny day. My favorite yard was the one surrounding our home on Brown Road in Mesa, AZ. The lot was a little under ½ acre. The home was built in 1945 and it reminded me of my childhood home only a mile away. The property had been part of a farm years ago. Sometimes as I would pull weeds (or mow the lawn) I would imagine what it was like to plow the fields and live off the land. Not that I ever wanted to do this, but it was fun to imagine.

More realistically, yard work was a respite from my duties as a young mother, college student, wife and waitress. There were few expectations in my landscaping adventure. I didn’t need to study or pass a test, take orders from customers and hope they left a tip, or tend to the needs of crying babies or change stinky diapers (although an occasional fecal present from a visiting dog might appear and require disposal.)

It was just me, a pair of gardening gloves and the earth.

However, after we sold our home on Brown Road, we transitioned away from big lawns and opted for desert landscaping and minimal yard work. An errant weed would pop up on occasion, but for the most part the weeds and I distanced ourselves from one another.

Decades later I moved to the Pacific Northwest. Even more amazing than the amount of rain that falls is the number of weeds that grow. In Arizona I was careful in my weed-pulling duties as I did not want to pluck out a wildflower by mistake. After we moved north, and on a rare hour when it wasn’t raining, I would inspect the multitude of greenery in the front, back and side yards. Were these green leafy creatures friend or foe? By the time I figured it out, the weeds were giants. Heck, Jack could forget about the beanstalk and come to our place and use the weeds as a stairway to heaven.

The good news is the ground up here is soft and the weeds pull out easily (even the roots.) As I garden my thoughts simplify and my mind becomes more focused. I enjoy the smell of the earth, the brilliance of the different hues of green of the various plant life, the sound of the birds chirping and I allow myself a simple smile at the occasional spotting of a lady bug or worm.

When I finish with the task at hand, I can survey my handiwork and take pride in the absence of the obnoxious weed devils that are choking the life out of our other plants, flowers and trees.

I also discovered there is a strong correlation between pulling weeds and controlling negativity (the theme of our book, Erase Negativity and Embrace the Magic Within.) Imagine your grouchy thoughts, speech and actions are like weeds. At first the thorny plants seems harmless so you do not take any action against them. Unfortunately, if left unchecked the weeds spread, choke off the life force of other more useful plants, and soon become the dominating force in your garden (or mind.)
Like weeding a garden, identifying negativity, pulling it out from its proverbial roots and replacing the offenders with more empowering thoughts, speech and actions is a powerful step in creating a happier life. It IS hard work, but so worth the effort.

I just came in from pulling weeds from the side yard. I may have disappointed my friend, Dick. It isn’t a thrilling experience to pull weeds. I felt a sense of pride and satisfaction at the work I accomplished today. And, of course, I wrote this little story. That wasn’t exactly a trip to the exhilaration store either.

However, after I post this, I’m in hopes that folks will read it. And maybe, just maybe, someone will find the article useful and it will give them a little nudge toward cultivating a more empowering mindset and life. If that happens, THAT is as exciting as it gets.