January 02, 2014

Four Steps for Contentment in the New Year

I'm sure these ideas have been expressed by others before, and probably better... but this might turn out to be helpful for someone else who has the work ahead of them.

1) Worrying about things that haven't happened yet, is only doing it to yourself twice.

I have learned that you can't change the outcome of something by feeling that sickening sense of inevitability. All you do by dwelling on it is to double the dread that you will experience. Sometimes, terrible things happen. You will find the strength to go through them when they happen. Trust that. It won't be pleasant, but then it will be over. Instead of fretting, do the best you can to accept it, and let it go for now, so you have the resilience built up in you to face whatever turmoil is on the horizon with dignity.

2) If you aren't happy with what you've got, you're not going to be happy with more. Like attracts like.

A change of focus from the things that are wrong with your life, to the things that are not, can do wonders. Even if you feel like everything is a disaster, there will be something, some small thing that you can be grateful for. Focus hard on that gratitude. Practicing gratitude means that your mental focus is on things that are good for you. And then you see them more and more.

3) Someone who has never cried, can't wipe away the tears of others.

Pain is woven into everyone's life. There is no sliding scale against which all of our experiences can be measured against how much pain they should or should not cause. Changes are painful, but also necessary for growth. Loss is painful, but it leaves room for gain. Pain is dreadful, but without it there would be no empathy, and compassion is one thing guaranteed to improve your lot.

The Dalai Lama goes on about compassion all the time, and he knows a thing or two about happiness and how to find it. If you have experienced a lot of pain, that puts you in a privileged position for the future. It means you will have greater tolerance and patience for the pain of others. It means you can love so much more fully. Let pain teach you, give yourself the time to feel it, but don't despair.

4) Accept your limitations, as well as those of others, and forgive them.

There is nobody alive who can do everything at no personal cost. We all have strengths and weaknesses. For some, keeping everything clean is an easy habit; for others housework is an intolerable grind. For some (like me 98% of the time), staying calm is second nature; for others, moods are erratic and they may find themselves knocked into a tearful or an angry state unless they exercise massive self-discipline. They may or may not have it. For some, drive and energy are seemingly boundless and they can leap out of bed and run five miles before breakfast; for others, activity levels are curtailed by their uncooperative bodies. I could go on and on. The point is, whatever your level of ability or disability, we need to learn to live with it.

Bottom line: If someone is letting you down in some way, consider replacing "won't" with "can't" when you are upset and you will find that instead of resenting them, you are in a state where it is easier to be accepting and forgiving.

I learned this in order to undo years of damage caused by internal anger toward someone a family member - when I learned to change "wouldn't" to "couldn't" in my thinking, it changed my life.

What I've been working on in the last year is applying the same patience to myself. It's trickier, but no less necessary, and incredibly liberating. Not to mention beneficial to my relationships - I can say to people "when this happens, it is because of this condition and I can't remedy it alone. I need your support," and guess what? I'm allowed to be imperfect, just as I allow it in others.

My strengths and abilities make up for my weaknesses and disabilities. Others' strengths can fill the gaps in my life, just as I can help others with strengths I have that they may not possess.

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