Monday, October 13, 2008

What Will Make You Happy?

In response to aguales , who, in addition to some kind comments about my post The Risk of Transparancy, also said...

...When I get in "perfectionist mode", risk becomes all about what I can lose. It's hard to break the perfectionism habit and learn that allowing imperfection actually allows room for growth (which is the gain). Do you ever get in "perfectionist modes"? And if so, how do you deal with that? ...

The answer? I do stuff to force limitations on myself. Like now. I'm about to blog about something I was thinking about this morning, and I need to get it done in... Um... Let's give it fifteen minutes.

Ok, so I've got 15 minutes to blog about... About... What was it again? Oh yeah!...

It's about getting the most of what you want in life.

(Ok, ok, it sounds corny, but bear with me for a minute...)

What do we do in our daily existence? Really think about it. What do we feel like we have to do? We have responsibilities, leisure, family, spirituality, community/giving back, friendship, fun, work... All of these things and more. How many things do we do in out life that we really don't want to do?

For most people, a lot, probably.

Let's take work as an example. Personally, I believe that the way we earn a living should be based on something we enjoy, but that's not always reality, as some people "fall into" their jobs. Although they may not hate their work, it's not really a part of who they are or what they enjoy.

"Falling into"... That is a topic for another blog. For sure. I don't like that "falling into" unless it's talking about love. (Yet another topic.)

Ok, Lorin... back on track. Tick-tock-tiock-tock, remember??

So, if we are to get the most of what we want out of our life, we must first consider why we do the things we do. In truth, NO ONE does something that they do not get one benefit or another from. The benefit might be that you succumbing to someone's unreasonable demands, that contradicts what you want, may leave you with the feeling that the alternative (what is threatened) is worse. (If this sounds like you, please go read
The Risk of Transparancy, specifically the parts about the way risks statistically result... You might like that.)

If I have a financial responsibility... Say I own a home, I need to keep my home by paying for it. To pay for it I must have income. So if I have a job I hate (theoretically, because I would not work in a job I hate) I am working in that job by choice because I need the money. Why? Because I need the house. Why? Because living in a home is a lot better than living in a shelter.

My home makes me happy.

If I have a child who needs financial help, and I have to struggle to support that child, I may feel stress from having to work two jobs. But if the "warm and fuzzies" I get from the smile on my kiddo's face is worth it when I can gift the gift of a teddy bear, then the second job is getting me more of what I need.


Yep, that's right. Whether we are volunteering or working or helping family or scraping up dog poo...

Oh crap. Time's up.

Well, I had some freeze-ups. I'll just set it for another 15 minutes and add in whatever editing time. That's about right, right?

(Besides, 15 minutes was unrealistic to start with, right? This stuff is important!)

No matter what we are doing, (even blogging) we are getting something out of it. But here is the enlightening thing. (Well, I think it is…!)

Sometimes we do things thinking it will bring us what we want or need, when there is an easier way. Or a better way.

Remember that Teddy Bear? Say it gives me warm and fuzzies to see the smile. I could say that giving him toys makes me happy. Why? It makes him happy. But what if I found out that he was smiling to make ME happy?

What if I said first, “Son, I was going to get you a Teddy Bear, what do you think of that? If I work on Saturday I will get a check, and with it I can give you that Teddy Bear.” What if the response would be “Um, mom…? I like the Teddy Bear, but I would like it better if on Saturday we went to the public skate park instead.”

Dumb me.

Here I am thinking I’m working to make my kid happy, I’m working at this job, slaving away, and that the result will be my happiness because of his happiness, and his happiness comes in the form of something I want to buy that I think he’ll like. But that’s not reality…

What I want most is happiness. What brings me happiness? His happiness. What would make him happy? If I spend time with him at the park on Saturday instead of working.

Oh, but what if it were my older son?

“Son, I love you so much, and making you happy makes me happy. What would make you happy my love?”

“Well, mom, I love candy. Lots of it. I want candy for every meal. And although I’m not 16 yet, I really want a car to drive. I’m almost 14, so I think I’m ready. As for bedtimes, it would make me happy to stay up as late as I want, every night. And it would make me happy if you let me drop out of school to run away with the circus. I love you so much, mom, you are the best.”

Uh… Well, yeah, I want him to be happy… So am I about to thwart my own happiness by giving him some bad news?

“Wow, son… Those are some things, now! I love you very much and I AM going to make you very happy. Here’s how…

I’m not going to let you eat that candy because you will be happy when you are an adult and still have your teeth at age 40. If I let you have all the candy you want starting now, you will likely lose all your teeth at a younger age than you would otherwise.

You are almost 14 and so brave, but one day you will want to get married and have kids, and you can’t do that if you are dead. It will make me so happy to see you happily married and grow to do all the things you want to do, so I will not let you have that car just yet.

Bedtime… Hmmm… I know how you feel at school when you have to struggle to work and keep your eyes open. And if you don’t stay awake in class you will get poor grades. That will make it difficult to get into the college you decide to go to and have the career you choose. Although we don’t know what those things are just yet, letting you stay up as late as you want will certainly limit your options. I love you and seeing you have the whole world to conquer when you graduate from school will make us both happy!

Drop out of school? Well being with the circus sounds like fun, although leaving school limits your options. Instead, I will be happy to sign you up for a clown class, but I think one day you will be happy to have the option of being a professional in the circus field, instead of a pooper picker upper.

You can thank me when the time comes, son. You have made me so very happy by giving me this opportunity to bring you future joy! " :)

I can’t remember what book it was (yes I do, but it’s irrelevant) when I read “sometimes the easy way out is the right way in”. The point was that so many…

Oops… Forgot to set the timer. Hang on…

Ok. So many people work and work on something and over do it, because they believe that is the way to get what they want. You know the type. You normal people call them perfectionists, right? Yes,
Aguales, my new blogging buddy, I fall victim to the very problem you do

But when we get going on a task (you know… like the task of LIFE for instance…), we forget about what we are working toward!

Let’s go back to the example about me working in a job I hate to keep my house. (Again, I don’t , and wouldn’t, have a job I don’t like, but I am willing to consider a job I would enjoy, if anyone reading is hiring!)

If I believe that working in a job I dislike brings me happiness (ultimately, by retaining my home) then why not seek happiness straight out?

That sounded confusing, didn’t it?

What I mean is that if you are at the store and you know that you don’t enjoy cooking, what’s the point of buying every ingredient to make a home made pineapple upside down cake, if you can get it from the bakery? If it’s the cake that brings you joy, get the cake, by gosh!

Sometimes you can’t go straight to happiness. For instance, I hear jokes about “squatters’ rights” in reference to homes, but I imagine that I can’t keep it if I don’t pay for it, right?

So instead of picking up the cake pre-made, I can get a box-mix, canned pineapples and go from there.

But what does this have to do with getting the most of what we want?

The bottom line is that what we want is happiness. If making our kids happy makes us happy, it means keeping our kids happy. If we think the answer to keeping them happy is working two jobs because we think what makes them happy is lots of “stuff”, then we will do what we don’t want to do to get something we want more. We will struggle doing work we don’t enjoy (for instance) because we think giving our kiddo a teddy bear is what will put a smile on their little faces.

But do we know that??

I’ll tell you something… I have a son who turned 13 last year. He loves magic. I wanted to make him happy, so I paid out the nose to take him and his brother to Magic Island. Not a hit with the kid. He liked it enough, but what would have made him happy was if I had called up some of his buddies and said “hey, meet us at Double Dave’s pizza, but don’t tell Addison!” I could have paid half as much, and he would have been twice as happy.

But I thought the way in had to be expensive.

My mom used to buy me lots of clothes. All the time. I wanted nurturing affection. That’s what would have made me happy. I wonder if she ever thought boy, keeping Lorin happy sure is expensive! Seems like no matter how much I give her, she isn’t happy!

My ex-husband was really good about taking care of me. (Notice the “ex”?) What would have made me happy was to have an emotional bond with the person who was my husband. When we began the separation process, he was confused as to why I wasn’t happy. He had done so much for me.

When it comes to getting what we want, we have to ask ourselves, what do we want in the first place?

(Yeah, I know… Time is up again. I’m not trying to be perfect here, but I am trying to wrap it up.)

I was in a relationship some time ago, and I thought what I wanted was to be married. One day I thought, If we are to marry, that might not make me happy if he is not happy being married to me! What I wanted was a happy, long term relationship.

Same with time. If I have a person in my life that I feel close to, do I want to spend every breathing minute with him, or do I want to enjoy the time I do spend?

I have a friend who is staying married for her children. She wants her children to be happy, so she remains with a man who she is constantly fighting with, or are otherwise ignoring each other. But does she know what her child really wants? Maybe her children really want to see their parents not fighting, not “stay together”. Maybe the only way to not fight is to be apart. Maybe my friend is sacrificing her happiness for no reason. How will the mom feel if she finds out that the time she spent married so that her child could be happy, in fact caused more distress? That doing what she wants, ending the marriage, would in fact make the child have a happier existence?

I happen to be one of those kids who was the victim of an in-tact, unhappy marriage, so I have some very strong feelings about “staying for the kids”. There are several interesting studies on that
, like this one which states that when parents are unhappy, their kids become distressed and grow up to be generally unhappy people. Although, when unhappy parents become happy people through separation / divorce, unhappy kids become happier when their parents do, even if not together. The marriage of parents who are not in a loving relationship is actually proven to be detrimental to a child. Parents “staying together” is not nearly as important to a child’s happiness, as the happiness of each parent as individuals. The study goes on to say that kids who grow to be happy people are more compassionate towards others, more successful, have better relationships, have better self-esteem, and have the ability to elevate their moods more quickly. (Among a lot of other things.) Essentially, if you apply the information in the study to the “should I stay for the kids?” dilemma, staying together for the kids creates an unhappy person, but giving a child the gift of a happy parent sets them up for a successful life. For more information on the study of the clinical and all other affects of happiness on a person’s life and those around them, read THE UTILITY OF HAPPINESS by Ruut Veenhoven Published in: Social Indicators Research, 1988. (Since I was a kid with unhappy parents, like my girlfriend’s daughter above, I have some pretty strong feelings about the decision to use kids as marital glue... But I’ll leave that blog for another day. : )

So getting back to the issue of getting more of what you want out of life (yep, that’s happiness), maybe the key is to think NOT about how to get what you think will make you happy and go forward, but think about what will make you happy and go backward.

One way goes like this…“If I get a degree from a good school, I’ll get a good job that pays a lot. Having lots of money will make me happy so I’ll get a degree from a good school.” (Not the best way to approach it…)

Another way goes like this. “I want to have a career doing something creative. There’s a great trade school offering degrees in design and graphic illustration, so I will go that. In order to pay for that, I need a job. I would like a job doing something I enjoy, like writing, so I’ll look for that kind of job. When I have that kind of job, I’ll enroll and get going on my career path.”

So when we think about why we are doing things, doesn’t it make sense to stop and say “what do I hope to accomplish?”

What do I hope to accomplish?

Actually it should be the first question. (Maybe that’s how I can stay on track a little better!)

If we ask what do I hope to accomplish? We can re-evaluate our process. If I hope to accomplish making a clean area in my bathroom, it doesn’t make sense to paint the bathroom first.

If I hope to accomplish getting a job I enjoy, I need to be looking for jobs in the right fields, not at jobs which I “think I can get quickly”.

If I want to have steady income, I need to be considering employment, not scrounging for cash.

If I want my child to respect me as a parent, I need to be the authority, even if he doesn’t understand, instead of giving in to his pleading.

If I want to leave my job, I need to stop putting 150% of my effort into a job I don’t plan to keep. Instead, contribute what is necessary for the job, spending extra effort on fostering a new job.

If we want to spend more time with people who make us feel good, we need to distance ourselves from cynics and those who make use feel uptight, and move toward those we enjoy.

If we want a new relationship, we need to end the one we don’t want in order to begin one that we do.

If we want our child to trust our actions, instead of giving up on our dreams, or what we know is a good idea, we need to stand firm in the decisions we make for ourselves and them, so they will realize the positive result of our decisions.

If I want to… Want to… If I want to... Uh oh.

If I want to learn how to keep my blogging time down, I need to set a reasonable time on the timer and stick to it, instead of saying “what the heck…” when the timer flashes “Time’s up! It’s good enough!!”

(At least blogging makes me happy…! :)

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Risk of Transparency

I read somewhere that if we are to truly love, we have to risk transparency.

Ok, can I admit that this scares the shit out of me?

(Oops... I think I owe my kiddos a buck for that one. It's in print, so does it count?)

So, fine. Be transparent. Risk it. Well, I'll tell you one thing, I'm good and transparent under the cover of anonymity! Although I guess sometimes wearing my heart on my sleeve doesn't go over so well with those who happen upon it.

Just yesterday I tossed a message in a bottle out into the gulf. After about an hour it whipped back my way and bonked me in the head. The note was in the same bottle but on different paper. It was a response from another person! Someone read my heartfelt words and decided to respond! Anonymously! Yea!! So I read it and it said...

Oh, you don't want the details. (Trust me. I'll owe my kids another seven bucks if I reprint it.) But let's just say I made an impression. But you know, the transparency of my message in a bottle did rub that person the wrong way. (For certain.)

So is being transparent not a good idea after all? Oh, but hold on a sec...! I don't even know that person that tossed the bottle back at me. I don't even know the GENDER, so how could they possibly know (let alone understand) me or what I was trying to say? Should I really be upset that my attempt at being transparent flopped like a deflated soccer ball in the heat of summer? Anyone would tend to say things anonymously, which they wouldn't dare to say face to face. After all, the anonymity potential of a "message in a bottle" prompted not only the other person's colorfully rude comment, but my nakedly honest original message in the first place.

But what about transparency with someone I actually care about? How would that work out?
Differently, I hope.

Well, I had the opportunity to test that this week. This week, for a number of reasons, has been a whirlwind of emotion. Practical reasons aside, I have been dealing with a personal relationship issue that has been confusing to me.

(To say the least.)

I had the opportunity to be transparent early in the week, with great results. So great, in fact, that I tried it again on Thursday, when it seemed like things were losing steam. What happened then were, um, complications? And to clear, the "complications" which resulted could very well be interpreted as absolutely nothing at all. The fact is, I was afraid to risk being transparent in the first place. I was afraid of how the information would be received. I thought it was fine, and then I was transparent again, with basically the same information, and the same person, and got a seemingly different response. What prompted the second round of honest dissertation to begin with? Um, fear. How did I decide how I thought the second response was intended? I went off of my fear(s). I was afraid that what seemed like "nothing" was really "something" without any explanation.

(Boy, I sure can get mixed up in the complexities of life!)

But if I am to back off and look ''less closely'' at who said what to whom, (or didn't say or do) and what happened when and where the... uh.. Well, all of that, I would see that nothing has really changed.

Nothing has really changed.

Yep. The same stuff going on from Tuesday through Thursday has not vanished since Thursday. Nothing has changed! But see, that is what fear does to us. It screws with our heads.

No, really.

Funny thing, those movies... Ever watch a movie where there is a closeup of the actor on the ledge of a building stories high, and you just know they are only probably six inches off the ground? Without thinking about that, your mind tricks you into thinking they are up high. But the reverse is true, too...

I was recently up on a ladder, and pretty darned high. I don't especially like heights, particularly when they are high enough to end my existence. But I imagine ladder climbing is not too dangerous when done properly.

''Six inches off the ground... Six inches off the ground... I'm only six inches off the ground...''

And before I knew it, I was on the ground itself.

The point here is that what we think influences how we feel. So much so, that it can alter our life's situations and important decisions.

I have a girlfriend who is in an unhappy marriage. She considered transparency, considered the risk. If she is transparent, she risks her husband exploding, accusing, blaming her for the problems in the marriage. She was afraid he would tell their son that she broke up the family, and God forbid, what if the husband began some self-defeating behaviors? Transparent for this girl means saying "you know, this isn't working for me because you don't seem happy with me. I need to go and have a different life." And to her, what she though could happen if she said that, wasn't worth the risk. She talked to unsupportive family members about it, and decided not to risk transparency. As for me, I feel like the risk is not to consider what you lose, but what you gain. After all, what could she gain? At the very least, freedom. (If nothing else.) At the most? A happy life with someone to love her the way she needs.

Hey, I think I'm hitting on something here.

I mentioned earlier that I am afraid to be transparent. Scared shitless, to be honest! After all, I am risking that person not responding the way I want. For instance, if I were worried about saying "I love you" to anyone, the greatest risk is that they will not say it back. But is that a life-altering thing? If I say "I love you" it's to express it, not to fish for information... If I don't get an "I love you back", that is OK with me.

I think that when we consider what we are afraid of, especially when it comes to being transparent in relationships, we need to consider not what we risk to lose, but instead what we risk not gaining. (There is a difference, you know.)

I was just in Dallas where I visited another friend named Karen. Karen is very much in love, although not technically dating, a man she had as a boyfriend 20 years ago in high school. Today, she says he surely loves, but doesn't seem to be "in love" with her, although he is often "around", helping her here and there around the house. I, personally, think he loves her, because he does so much for her. On the other hand, he doesn't spend a lot of time with her because he has a crazy work schedule, a lot of family, and kids on alternating weekends. But when she needs him, he is there. He's just in and out as quickly as he can be. It's like a relationship without the relationship.

The truth is that Karen loves this man, always has, and wants nothing more than to be in a real relationship with him, where she doesn't have to wonder about how he feels, or if he wants to be with her or not. (Not to mention dating anyone else!)

"You don't understand," she told be a couple of weeks ago, "yeah, he does a lot for me, a LOT, but when he is over, he doesn't take that minute to, you know... Look into my eyes, or kiss me really warmly. He comes over, says 'hey, I know you need oil in your car...' he takes care of it, gives me a quick kiss and a big hug, and he's out the door! If he loves me, why wouldn't he be able to spend two hours watching a movie, instead of two hours trimming the hedges?''

(Yeah, I can see her point...)

But I know something she doesn't, and that's because I've read The Five Love Languages! His primary love language seems to be Acts of Service. He IS loving her, but her love language is quality time. Something he doesn't have much of. As an outsider, I can see that he is doing everything he can to be loving with the time he has. He's cramming lots of love into every moment he is with her. But she doesn't feel it that way. She sees it as a bunch of busy work and "what about the good stuff??" She wants to be transparent, but is afraid. She needs that relaxed time with him, needs to know if he loves her the way she loves him, but is it all too much to ask? If she asks, is she being insensitive to HIS needs?

Should she risk transparency? Let's look at this new concept of risk that I hit on a minute ago, shall we?

There are two kinds of risk when we consider transparency. Risk a) of what we fear, and risk b) of what we lose by not being transparent. It's the difference between gambling and not investing, when you look at it that way...

So what would happen if she says, "As busy as you are, could we spend some 'quality time' together instead of 'work time'? I sure would love that...!''?

A) She is risking that he'll give a reaction she doesn't want. Since she is very much in love with this man, the WORST reaction would be something like, "Uh, well, I don't feel that way about you, so no. I don't want to spend 'quality time' with you." (I guess the one thing worse than that would be to add "...and I don't think I should keep helping you either." Ouch!)

B) If she DOESN'T risk transparency, she risks losing out on something she could gain. But what is that, exactly? We did "worst case" in A, so "best case"...? He says "I thought you'd never ask! Sure!" He comes over, things go, uh... they go well, he stays until the wee hours of the morning and he decides he can't live without her either. They decide to get together, eventually marry and have a long life together, living every moment blissfully happy until they both are 102.

Ok, I said best case.

So maybe it's stretching it out a little past what we could reasonably predict, but you know... If we are going to be afraid of "the worst" isn't it reasonable that we anticipate "the best"? (It's logical to me, anyway!)

Ok, so let's dial it down on the reality scale. Revisions...

A) He says something she doesn't want. (Reality check! He DOES care for her!! Why would he do all that stuff otherwise? Come ON now!) So maybe this... "Oh gosh! I wish I could, but I can't. At least not this week. I have to do [x,y,z] and I am probably going to be busy this weekend too..."

Hey, that wasn't too bad. He cares for her, maybe he can do it another time. Maybe he won't, but that he told her he WANTS to come, but can't at least tells her something: it tells her how he feels. It's not just about getting stuff done. There are feeling there.

Ok... B) What does she reasonably risk if she doesn't try? Well, maybe he would go over and they would have a nice time watching a movie and eating friend chicken. Maybe they would kiss and when he leaves two hours later, (Reality check! He's busy!!) she'd feel this really great sense of joy, and maybe he'd feel pretty good, too.

Hey, looks like the good is pretty darned good, and the bad ain't that bad. Seems like there is no reason to not risk it.

The people are the same, the situation is the same, everything is the same. Now, things DO change, but things which change can also change back. Things which are not changeable won't change in the first place. What does this mean? It's simple...

It means that if I (you, we...) are afraid that things are one way one moment, and another way the next, we need to do a reality check. Anything which is a constant, and causes the good thing, won't change into something different. If my dog loves me, but one day she is ignoring me, the dog didn't change. The circumstances changed. The second part to this is that circumstances, which could influence a constant, is temporary and can (and will) also change back. If my dog is ignoring me, maybe she has an upset tummy. That will go away and she will no longer ignore me. It's how we respond to the constants and the situations which influence our life. This is the crux of why good things come into our lives, by the way. When we see the good things for what they are, and don't worry about the changeable aspects which temporarily influence the current state of the positives, while dismissing the bad things, the bad things fall away and the good things remain. (More about that another day...! :)

So I think I've just proven something to myself. (And maybe to you.) The risk of transparancy is much greater than you think. The great risk is not is losing so very much if you are transparant and you "fail"... (by not getting your desired response.) The GREAT RISK in not risking transparancy is what you can not gain if you do not take the step to be transparant. Karen may decide to risk transparancy. (Especially after reading this!) And she has a better than 50/50 chance of things going her way. She can't go backwards, only forward. My other, unnamed friend didn't want to risk it, and lost much more by NOT risking it than she would lose if things did not go as she'd wish. At the least she'd have her freedom, if nothing else.

So when I was transparant, I took a risk. My efforts turned out one way one time, and another way the second. But what I have learned is that nothing really changed. Risking transparancy means opening the door for opportunity, and if I choose to let my fears influence how I think and feel about what results, that is my problem, and not an accurate reflection of what is going on. I risked transparancy. Risk. Hey! I risked transparancy! I risked it and I came through ok, and not only that, I have a lot to look forward to. Opportunity is just around the corner, my cristal-clear self was only days ago. The risk is over, I've done my part. And all constants remain, so I am in good shape.

I'm in great shape! I did what I was afraid of, and I came out just great!

(And I didn't even have to say, "Six inches off the ground...!")

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