Monthly Archives: October 2013

#21 Embrace Life Wholeheartedly

purple-dot??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Let us work like we don’t need the job; love like we’ve never been hurt; and dance like no one’s watching.      –author unknown

A lovely parable for how to live:

To work for the passion and joy of it,

not just for the paycheck.

To love wholeheartedly, without caution

or fear of betrayal, loss, or disappointment…

To enjoy life without self consciousness

or embarrassment.

The quote has stood the test of time because there is wisdom in it.  Those who approach life with few inhibitions get more joy out of it than those who put limitations on themselves.  I have seen this in my work with some psychotherapy patients.  They make day to day decisions on the basis of minimizing unforeseen negative consequences–on avoiding the possibility of painful experiences–rather than moving toward growth and a fuller life.

  •   What is one area of your work which you truly enjoy and would do even if you           weren’t paid, and presumably didn’t need the money?  How could you do more of it?
  •  Name one person or group of people  that you love without hesitation..  Send that person a message today and let them know.   Send that group a message and let them know how much they mean to you.
  •  What is something you enjoy without self consciousness?  or would like to?  How can you let go your inhibitions and do it more wholeheartedly?
Tagged , , ,

#20 Let Some Laughter Into Your Life


Français : Woody Allen au festival de Cannes.

Français : Woody Allen au festival de Cannes. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the movie, Hannah and her Sisters, Woody Allen plays his familiar character–a neurotic New Yorker struggling with the complexities of modern life.  His character is a divorced television producer with a failed show.  At first he is thought to have a brain tumor but finds out he’s all right after all.  Rather than be thrilled to go on with life, he lapses into despair over the realization that he could die at any time and that his life doesn’t mean anything, that he doesn’t believe in something big.

Allen tries to convert to Catholicism, then tries to join the Hare Krsna’s.  When these efforts fail, he puts a loaded gun to his head, determined to end it all.  The gun slips out of his hand and fires a bullet into the ceiling, startling him, not to mention his neighbors.  Shocked at what he’d almost done, he goes for a walk in downtown Manhattan and wanders into a Marx Brothers movie.

He says, “I started getting hooked on the film.  I started to think, ‘How could you think of killing yourself?’  What if there is no God and you only go around once and that’s it?  Don’t you want to be a part of it?  I should stop searching for answers I’ll never get and just enjoy it while it lasts.”

What saves Woody Allen’s character from despair and suicide is laughter.  He sees there is humor all around him.  This world is an interesting place.  It’s not too bad after all.  Why not be a part of it?

  • Life is like a river flowing past your door.  We can sit by the side of the river and agonize about the water quality, or bemoan the fact that not the right kind of boats come by, or fret over the tricky currents and possible waterfalls downstream.  Or we can just get into our own little boat and push off the bank and enter the stream.  We don’t have to know what it all means, or where the river is going.  Maybe, if we go down the river, we’ll figure it all out in the end.  In the meantime, we can enjoy the scenery and laugh a little.

How can you have more laughter in your life?  How can you pass it on to others?  The internet makes this easy.  Search websites for jokes, funny signs, cartoons;  send one to a friend or two.  Review some U-tube videos and send a funny one to a friend.   Note whether it gave your mood an uplift.

Tagged , , , , ,

#19 Sow Beauty

purple-dotDaisies, P.Park 

“Resident sows beauty, sense of community”

“I love beautiful colors and flowers,” said William Hollins, a photographer and business owner in the West End, a renovated inner city neighborhood in Atlanta.  “I want to look out the window and see beautiful things.”  This is the reason he gives for his habit of going for a walk almost every day for the past 25 years and doing some small task to beautify his neighborhood.  He picks up trash and debris.  He even blows away the leaves from the sidewalks.  When interviewed for the piece in the newspaper, he had just planted a garden around HowellPark.  He accomplished this by dragging the garden hose from his house across a major street to water the flowers.

Hollins said he developed the sense of community responsibility from his father who often gathered his children along with other neighbors to clean up the vacant lot and streets around their home in an inner city Chicago neighborhood.  Hollins viewed the way his family treated the neighborhood as reflective of the way they treated other people—with care and respect.  “It’s part of my ministry to put a smile on people’s face,” Hollins was quoted saying, “and the garden is just one way.”

  • Take a walk to your local park if you live in the city.  How does it look?  Would it benefit from some flowers?  Consider planting some as Mr. Hollins did.  Record how you felt afterwards.
  • Do you live in a small town or out in the country?  How do the roads look?  When I have been out in the countryside on long distance bicycle rides I have been disappointed to see some roads blighted by large quantities of trash along the roadsides and ditches, but uplifted by patches of wildflowers and blooming bulbs.  Who were these people who planted them there?  Take a morning when there is little traffic and reclaim one small area.  Pick up the trash and plant some flowers.  Other people do notice.  Record how you felt.
  • Not into flowers?  Go to you’re your local United Way website and look at volunteer opportunities.  For example, if you enter “United Way, Des Moines” as a search command in Google, you will be directed to the United Way of Central Iowa website.  There you will find a list of volunteer opportunities.  Volunteering does not necessarily entail a long commitment.  Some are as brief as a two hour event of stuffing back-to-school backpacks for poor children on one day only.  Pick one.  Record how you felt afterwards.


. Conwell, V.  Oct. 6, 2004.  “Resident Sows Beauty, Sense of Community.”  Atlanta Journal Constitution, E7.

Tagged , , ,

# 18 Get Off the Hedonic Treadmill


English: KUNSAN AIR BASE, South Korea— Airmen ...

English: KUNSAN AIR BASE, South Korea— Airmen from the 8th Fighter Wing use cardio equipment at the fitness center. Cardiovascular exercise is one way to stay fit and maintain weight according to health and physical fitness experts. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In their now classic paper on the psychology of happiness, researchers Brickman and Campbell suggested that all people labor on a “hedonic tread-mill.”  As they obtain more possessions and achieve higher goals, their expectations also rise.  Soon they habituate to their new level of affluence or success, and it no longer makes them happy.  Likewise, people may be terribly unhappy when they first encounter loss and misfortune, but they soon adapt to those as well, and they no longer make them unhappy.  Therefore, according to Brickman and Campbell, people are destined to be “neutral” on the happiness scale, no matter what happens.

Interesting theory, but it was only partially correct.  Studies show conclusively that people do adapt to most circumstances pretty quickly.  For example, people adapt within a few months to:  job promotions, job loss, a diagnosis of cancer, being told the cancer is in remission, imprisonment, major illness, physical impairment, marriage and widowhood, and a sudden increase in affluence.  However, they don’t return to a point of “neutrality,” they return to the set point which they have maintained pretty consistently throughout their lives.

For example, if you ask people to rate how happy they are on a scale from 1 to 10, with one being the bottom, and 10 being the top, most people, most of the time, rate themselves a 5.5.  We think this is because most people feel pretty good when nothing really bad is happening.  However, there are people whose set point is usually around 7, and then there are those whose set point may be around 4.

What makes the difference in this set point?  The answer to this question is complex, but certainly genes play a large part.  There seems to be a predisposition, probably inherited, to be unhappy.  People with this temperament tend to react with more intense emotion to negative events and less intensely to positive events.  Small negative events are exaggerated and positive events are overlooked.

Along with this is a tendency to set continually higher expectations for one’s happiness.  For example, the mother who says, “If only we had a nicer home, I’d be happy,” gets the nicer home and declares, “If only my husband wouldn’t work so much, I’d be happy.”  When he gets some time off, she laments, “Now, if only my son got into a good college, I’d be happy…”  People with a lower set point for happiness seem to be continually looking over the next hill for some external circumstance which may bring them the elusive state of happiness.

For example, did you ever wish for a higher level of success in your work, only to obtain it and find it carried with it greater demands, longer hours, more respon-sibility, more stress and more pressure?  As another example, many people in unre-warding marriages think “If only I could get a divorce all my problems would be solved,” yet find that after the divorce, they are faced with a new set of equally challenging problems such as financial downsizing, single parenting, child support payments to make, loneliness, being away from the children for days or weeks at a time, conflicts over visitation with the children, the adjustment to remarriage, step parenting, etc.

On the other hand, most people’s lives have had times when they had relatively little externally, yet were reasonably happy.  College students live in poverty, yet most people recall college life as an enjoyable time.  Middle aged couples often look back on their first few years of marriage, when they had very little money, as a happy time.  Many people who grew up poor say they were happy because everyone else around them was poor as well, so they felt they were not lacking anything.  The key ingredient here seems to be expectations again.  They had low expectations, and so they were content.

  • Are you on a “hedonic treadmill?”  When in your life have you said to yourself, “If only I had…”  or “If only I could…”  only to obtain that goal and still be no happier months later?  List two examples:
  • List a time in your life when you had “less” of something yet were satisfied.  What was different about that time?  List two examples:
  • What have you learned from this exercise?  How can you apply this  to your life today?


Brickman, P. & Campbell, D. T.  Hedonic relativism and planning the good society.  In M. H. Appley (Ed.). 1971. Adaptation-level-theory (pp. 287-305).  New York:  Academic Press.

Tagged , , , ,

#17 Give Someone a Purpose


Do you like to shovel the snow from the walkway of your elderly neighbor’s house in the winter?  Or bring her fresh tomatoes from your garden in the summer?  That may be all well and good, but it may do you more good than it does your aging relative or neighbor, according to results of a recent study on aging and well-being.  Stephanie Brown, a researcher at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, and her colleagues, conducted a study investigating whether providing help and support is of more benefit to the giver or to the receiver.  They interviewed 423 older couples over the course of five years, as part of a larger project investigating the changing lives of older people.

They found that people who gave no assistance or emotional support to others were more than twice as likely to die in the five year period than elderly people who helped others.  This was true whether the giving was to a spouse or to friends and neighbors.  What kind of support did they give?  This included transportation, running errands, shopping, housework, child care, or other simple tasks.  It included being available to talk to their spouse or tend to his/her personal needs.

A study such as this raises the possibility that perhaps it is those older people who are healthier to begin with, or more affluent, who are in a better position to help others.  It could be those reasons which account for why they live longer.  However, the results stood even when the authors controlled for such factors as physical health, mental health, age, income, and educational level.

What about receiving help from others?  One would assume that the level of help and support an older person receives would be associated with a better quality of life.  While no doubt the assistance was welcome, in this study at least, it had no association with reduced mortality.

  • Is it so surprising that older people, like everyone else, need a purpose in life in order to go on living?  For today, consider how you might ask for assistance from an elderly person.  If you are young, no doubt you have spent much of the last few years insisting on how little you need from your aging parents.  Make their day.  Call them and ask for a favor or for advice.  Write down what happened:
  • If you have an elderly neighbor, consider how she or he might be of use. Could he watch your house for you while you are away?  Feed and walk your dog?  Receive a package from UPS or FedEx?  Visit someone who is older and in poor health?  Would he like to go with you to serve at the soup kitchen?  Take produce from his garden to a new neighbor who just moved in?  Bake a cake for the bake sale at the local school?  Read to children at the pre-school?  Naturally, you may want to offer some trade of services to the older person so that you don’t feel they are being exploited.  The point is to remember that it is the giving, not the receiving, that extends the quality and longevity of a person’s life.  Write down your reactions as well as theirs.


 Brown, S., Nesse, R., Vinokur, A., & Smith, D.  2003.  Providing social support may be more beneficial than receiving it.  Psychological Science, 14 (4), 320-327.  Also:  Greengrass, M.  2003, Feb.  Giving to Others Linked to Longer Life, Study Finds. APA Monitor, p. 17.

Tagged , , , ,