Wednesday, February 11, 2015

That's Amore!
Ahhhh love. Doesn’t Valentine’s Day and the approach of spring, just make you want to burst with clich├ęs and sappy songs about love? Not so much?

I can relate. I’ve certainly had my recent confrontation with the utter failure of love. But, as the saying goes, “hope springs eternal”, and just when I think this is a concept better left to that which I share with my kids and furry animals, little wafts of sweet affection are gifted to me and I start to believe again.

Almost everyone has an opinion or thought about love in all its splendor and glory--especially those in the limelight. What is it about being a celebrity that turns a person into an instant philosopher, as if their entire life-experience is an E. F. Hutton moment? I don’t know honestly, but alas, in the spirit of the holiday, here are a few quotes from famous folks about the subject of passion. See if you can guess the authors (I’ll reveal the answers at the end of the post):

1. “You know when you’re in love when you can’t fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams.”

2. “True love cannot be found where it does not truly exist; nor can it be hidden where it does.”

3. “Sexiness wears thin after a while and beauty fades, but to be married to a man who makes you laugh every day, ah, now that’s a real treat.”

4. “Only time can heal your broken heart, just as only time can heal his broken arms and legs.”

5. “If dreams give you power, then I’m strong enough to walk through my heart till you love me.”

6. “Girls bored me, they still do. I love Mickey Mouse more than any woman I’ve ever known."

7. “Sometimes I wonder if men and women really suit each other. Perhaps they should live next door and just visit now and then.”

a. Katherine Hepburn     b. David Schwimmer     c. Dr. Seuss     d. Walt Disney
e. Reba McEntire           f. Joanne Woodward      g. Miss Piggy

There are as many thoughts and feelings on love is there are people willing to talk about the state of the heart. Love between family, love-gone-wrong, twisted love, supernatural love, divine love—you name it—love has been the subject, in one form or another, of history, books, movies, songs, poetry, art, religion, and even crime. It’s as basic to our human needs as food and water. No wonder we give it so much thought.

When it’s good, it’s oh so good. But when it’s gone-wrong or just gone, it can rip a cavern-sized hole in our hearts that hurts worse than almost any physical pain. I certainly don’t have any answers or profundity about love; I’m the least likely to give advice. But I do have the hope and belief that love—from friends, God, family, and yes, maybe even that sticky-sweet romantic kind, will prevail in my life.

So consider this bit of sentimental contemplation my Valentine's Day card to you. Wherever you’re at in the process of defining, finding, or healing from love, may the warmth of friends, the affection of family, the gentleness of the divine, and maybe even the allure of romance be yours this holiday.

OK the answers:

1. Dr. Suess (And it didn't even rhyme!)
2. David Schwimmer (Huh? He shouldn't give up his day job to be a philosopher.)
3. Joanne Woodward (I have to second this quote-- love a man who can make me laugh.)
4. Miss Piggy (HIYAHHH!)
5. Reba McEntire (Didn't this just sound like a twangin' country song?)
6. Walt Disney (A give-away, but truly, the man needed to get out more.)
7. Katharine Hepburn (Never one to do or say what was expected.)

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Negative Thinking Snuggies

Give me a show of hands: How many of you, every new year or perhaps every Monday, vow to start a healthier eating or working out regiment? (Ooo me, me!) I'll be honest, I know the choices I need to be making to be healthy, fit, and feel better in those damn skinny jeans I bought a couple weeks ago in an impulse indulgence of my midlife crisis (but let's not get into that). Ahem. Anyway, it’s easier to resort to foods I find comforting—basically anything carb or sugar based-- than try to change my habits. Comfort foods are like a drug on my brain, wrapping my psyche in a cozy endorphin Snuggie.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the solace we find in our habits.  As Edgar Rice Burroughs said, “We are, all of us, creatures of habit, and when the seeming necessity for schooling ourselves in new ways ceases to exist, we fall naturally and easily into the manner and customs which long usage has implanted ineradicably within us.” That’s a lot of fancy wordsmithin’ for saying it’s easier to nestle into our comfort zone, even if that’s not the healthiest or happiest option.

But more insidious than the in-your-face behavioral habits we cling to, are the more subtle attitudes and emotions that almost become a part of our personality. Negative Eeyore habits remind me of a pair of sweats I own: the elastic is so worn out they slip off me; they have a hole melted into them where I stood too close to the wood burner stove one time, and they have zippers around the ankles (I know; dated fashion statement right there) that scratch my legs. But they're so comforting to slip on, I'm loathe to part with them.

In my previous post, I coughed up the explanation of why I’ve been MIA for the last six months. It’s been two years of one angst-filled drama and hurdle after another. What I didn’t realize was that after a while, anticipating crisis, waking up and lacing up my emotional army boots to trudge through another day, became a habit of thought—an expectation of life. Weird how something so negative could be a place I go to so easily, and worse, maybe even find a bit of comfort in! How is it we find comfort in being miserable?

Martin Seligman, the father of Positive Psychology offers this evolution explanation of negative thinking, "Fear is a signal that danger is lurking, sadness is a signal that loss is impending, and anger signals someone trespassing against us. In evolution, danger, loss and trespass are all threats to survival itself." (Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment)  This makes sense to me.  I faced a lot of threat to my survival-- my kid's life, my life, and my lifestyle-- in the last two years. I was, in a sense, living the results of fear. He continues to say, “All of this culminates in a quick and decisive action: fight, flight, or conserve.” That was me. Life got tough; I put on my boxing gloves. Waking up and girding myself for whatever the day dished out became my modus operandi. 

The other morning, I woke up and stretched out in bed. My mind, still fuzzy and soft from sleep, wandered. Out of habit, I scanned the landscape of my day and circumstances, preparing myself for the 24-hour battle before me. Then it occurred to me: I don’t have a battle today. I feel good. My health is great. I have a good job that is providing for me. I am making friends. I like where I live. I like my cozy little apartment. I have solid relationships in my life. My kids are happy and healthy. Maybe I should worry about… I did a quick survey of what I might have to worry about for the day or week, reflexively reaching for my boxing gloves, trying to find the emotional foothold that had become so familiar to me. But, as I lay there in the morning quiet, there just wasn’t one. Wow. I was…gasp… content! So I started worrying about how fleeting and false contentment can be. Ahhh, there was that gnawing feeling I've come to know so well and cradle close to me over the last several years.

Oh brother!

When did this cloak of negative thinking become such a friend? I didn’t realize, until that morning, how familiar the feeling of angst had become. But then a great thing happened. As I tried to find a reason to be stressed or launch into my usual problem-solving mode, I got on my own nerves. Enough! Quietly, before getting out of bed, I acknowledged the good place I am in in life with a prayer of gratitude. I may not be able to claim this tomorrow or next week but for today, it was good.

As Seligman says, “…feeling positive emotion is important, not just because it is pleasant in its own right, but because it causes much better commerce with the world. Developing more positive emotion in our lives will build friendship, love, better physical health, and greater achievement.”

Life can hand out legitimate difficulties-- grief, sadness, hardship, sickness. But it's important to take a step back and make sure a negative attitude isn't just a habit of thought. Clinging to a defeatist gloom n' doom outlook can be a way of insulating against life. After all, something bad can't catch us off guard if we're expecting it, right? On the other hand, living like the sky is falling sure can rob us of a lot of joy and of a happier, healthier relationship with life and people.