Tuesday, March 31, 2009


There is some very serious stuff going on in the world these days.

It's a shame that every charlatan and fear-monger comes out of the woodwork to show us how terrified we should be, and of course to offer instant solutions to problems that have been years in the making.

For example:

Fix your credit

Get a great job!

Find Jesus :)

Save your marriage.

Keep your house

None of these problems happen overnight.

Credit problems or facing foreclosure results from a major catastrophe, or a habitual problem with overspending.

Faith can come overnight, on the road to Damascus, but sustaining it takes time. You have to build relationships in your chosen faith community and with your god.

Experience and a career path leads to a great job, not an interview.

And marriages don't just end, any more than they just begin. It takes time to get to marriage (or should), it takes time to undermine or destroy one, and it takes a hell of a lot of time and effort to either maintain or fix it.

Joy comes from dealing well with the details of your life, and allowing yourself to make mistakes.

Abe Lincoln said that a person is about as happy as as he makes his mind up to be.

I agree.

The key is perspective. And it takes work.

And good perspective comes from two things - reframing the situation, and working on your thinking.

The first gives a short term fix and gets you thru moment to moment.

The second gives a solid foundation to your perspective, and old habits, that often sabotage you, fall away.

In college I struggled thru a variety of land mines. I had grants and work study, and later a two year scholarship (love AFROTC) but making ends meet was a constant battle. There were many times I wrote a check to the university bookstore, back when bank float was a reality, just so I could eat.

I knew then that no matter how bad my problems were in that moment, I could lift myself out of panic, self-pity and even anger with a simple device. I took the long view. I remembered my goals of making a successful business career, thought about the life I would have once I graduated, or even remembered that a paycheck was right around the corner.

By re-framing the problem I put it in perspective. It was a bad day, not a bad life. Maybe I had made a bad decision, but I could do better next time.

I also did the other necessary things, worked one, two or three jobs, hit the books, made friends who were in the same boat but also optimistic.

I got thru and learned, as most college kids do, how to manage my time and money.

For many years after I used that re-framing trick to look forward and backwards. Sometimes it was the satisfaction of getting thru college that made me feel better on a bad day. Because of course my financial struggles didn't disappear when I started working full time. I just had new issues, balancing income with expenses, managing debt, all the normal stuff of life.

I also continued to look forward to the future, a bright one, and I'm glad to say 24 plus odd years later, I've had a wonderful rewarding career.

The thinking side of this equation also leads to joy, but in a different way. Re-framing helps in the moment, but better thinking keeps us from falling into common pitfalls in the first place.

Our feelings are what lead us to happiness and even joy. We get a promotion, or fall in love or sit on a beach and have that great sense of well-being. We want to hold onto it.

But feelings have a mind of their own. They come unbidden. They sneak up on us, and we can crash easily if we aren't ready for them.

I heard someone say recently we aren't responsible for our feelings, but we are responsible for our thinking.

When we address the places where our thinking is twisted or off or dysfunctional, we can get a better grip on our feelings. Naturally we begin to question feelings that come from old patterns, if we get our thinking straight.

For example, some people are perfectionists, and set themselves up for disappointment. This is obvious because "stuff happens". Traffic makes you late, or you misspell something in an important report, that spell check missed. Your spouse burns dinner. Your kid makes a bad grade.

Some people are so hard on themselves that they can't remember the good things they've done in their lives when the going gets tough. They seem to think that being perfect, or nearly so, makes them safe.

I've come to believe people like this are harder on themselves than loved ones, but they often push away those closest to them out of a desperate need - a habit - of being miserable, but safe.

So being safe becomes more important than being happy. Having high expectations (too high) of themselves and those around them, is seen as a good thing, rather than a prison.

This is just one example of twisted thinking, and with work, commitment and discipline, those tightly wound perfectionists can learn to be more forgiving, to relax, and to let go of mistakes and move on.

If you've ever seen someone do this in their life, it's a beautiful thing. It transforms that person. It leads to happiness.

Here's the cool news - when you learn to deal with life's smaller problems well, using a good perspective (reframing and right thinking) you find that those huge problems that come along from time to time, don't rock you as much.

If you lose your job, your company folds or you lose your marriage, your resiliency will see you thru - even in the midst of unbearable loss and terribly frightening changes, such as we see in the economy right now.

Do what has to be done to take care of yourself, but don't let your monkey mind or those fear-mongers mess up your view of the world. Inform yourself, but don't let TV and radio talking heads (the equivalent of strippers) push you over the edge. The sky is not falling.

One more thing. There is a third ingredient that seems to supercharge all the rest. Faith.

Talk about changing your perspective. It's not all about you. It's about you, G-d, and service.

Find Jesus, go to shul, pray three times a day to Mecca. Or just walk outside once in a while to marvel at the natural universe. Build your faith, and you will be unassailable - or at least your joy will.

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