A good life requires good relationships. To paraphrase the poet John Donne: “No man or woman is an island ….” We all need each other. None of us can survive — at least not well — alone.
Certainly, there are individuals with whom we would rather not have to deal. Some people get under our skin. Some people irritate us with their mannerisms. Some people are just downright rude! So how should we deal with people like that? The same way we should deal with people we like. We need to practice what I call the three essentials for good relationships: uncommon courtesy, impeccable manners and sincere appreciation.
Let’s start with impeccable manners. I am not suggesting that we act like members of a royal court in the Middle Ages. Doing such simple things as saying, “Please, Thank You, You’re Welcome” and “Have a nice day (or some variation, such as great, prosperous, healthy, etc.)” never go out of style. What truly makes these effective, however, is saying them sincerely, while looking the other person in the eye. Another example: In the past, men held a door open for a woman to allow her to enter a building or room first. Some of today’s liberated women find it offensive. Hey, ladies! Why not hold open the door for a man if he is carrying something? The gesture is not sexist.
What about uncommon courtesy? Isn’t that the same as good manners? To my way of thinking, courtesy goes above and beyond good manners. It means showing respect for the other person. It implies placing the interests and needs of others in the forefront of our mind. It infers acting with a spirit of consideration and cooperation. We not only hold doors open for people, but we ask if they need other help. We smile and inquire who they are and what we can do for them. We try and connect with them on a personal level.
Lastly, let us consider sincere appreciation. You might ask, “What if the person with whom I am dealing acts like a jerk? How can I show appreciation if I do not feel appreciative?” The simplest answer, of course, is: Fake it. Sometimes, especially in work situations, we need to act in a friendly manner just to keep the wheels of commerce going. But why not challenge yourself? Why not pretend to be appreciative, inquire sincerely into the other person’s needs and look hard for something good in that person. Find something positive about him or her, even if the person displays a negative attitude. Oftentimes, we may find that person suffered a severe emotional loss in life and their rude behavior is merely a defense mechanism. Then, again, some people choose to be rude, discourteous and unappreciative toward us no matter how nice we act with them. They are a minority, and we just have to live with them.
Most of what I have written may seem only to involve relations with strangers, casual acquaintances or coworkers. In truth, the toughest relationships to maintain well are with loved ones: spouses, family, friends and next-door neighbors.
Why? We take them for granted. We rationalize that a close relation does not need to be told “Thank you” or to have a door held for her or to be told what a great guy he is.
The best way to ensure that we establish and maintain positive relationships is to practice — first with family, then with friends and lastly with strangers – uncommon courtesy, impeccable manners and a sincere appreciation. Wouldn’t we want them to do the same with us?–rcb
Most of us would say, “Ordinary.” I did not ask, however, whether or not your days were ordinary. I asked if your life was ordinary. What is the difference?
We can view our lives as merely made up of so many seconds that tick away until 60 of them make a minute; 60 minutes then make an hour; 24 hours make a day; 7 days make a week; after 52 weeks pass, we lived another year, and eventually we die.
Is that all that life is? The number of seconds we breathe, the number of minutes our heart beats, the number of hours our brains function?
Or should we view life as the sum of our activities? Would you say: “Today I arose, dressed, ate breakfast, went to work, ate lunch, drove home, ate supper, watched TV, and went to bed. Tomorrow, I will do much the same.”
Certainly much of our lives can be characterized as commonplace and often filled with boredom. Routine can our friend or foe. It can help us complete necessary and useful tasks, but when we think about these everyday tasks too much, we can feel weighed down by the trivial.
(When I hear news reports about the illegal drug trade in America, I can understand the motivation of people born and reared in poverty who have no hope of a better life to seek escape through drugs. I often wonder, however, why middle-class Americans would seek some thrill/escape by using drugs.)
Few of us live lives that are a constant adrenaline rush. There may be a few people who cannot wait to rise in the morning and tackle another day of stimulating challenges. There may be some people who constantly check off their To Do list, which helps theme complete items on their Objectives list that leads them to accomplish things on their Goals list. They stick to a program of constantly setting exciting goals and working toward them.
Admittedly, I would love to say, “That describes me,” but if I did, I would be lying.
Living an extraordinary life to me means living a life of service and love and seeking out, appreciating and living a life filled as much as possible with beauty, truth, goodness and unity.
There are moments in days and days in weeks when the time we spend is time spent doing many mundane tasks. Rather than feeling annoyed, angry or resentfully bored, we should ask ourselves: “How can I use this time/task to give love, to serve others, to fill my life and the lives of the people around me with beauty, to reveal to them some truth about life, to do good, avoid evil and promote harmony?”
Yeah, I know. Easier said than done. If we try to make this mindset our ordinary, every day mindset, however, we can build extraordinary lives that leave a positive legacy for those individuals who live after us. Our lives can become examples and templates for a better world.
Now there is an exciting daily challenge! –rcb
What I am writing about has nothing to do with the 100th anniversary of the R.M.S. Titanic hitting an iceberg, listing and then sinking within less than three hours with the eventual loss of more than 1,500 lives. My subject is much more mundane and more immediately important.
Are you a list maker? I am. I remember the first time that I actually developed the habit. It occurred when I was 16 and working at my first real, regular job. I bagged groceries, took them out to the customers’ cars, stocked shelves, swept and mopped floors, built displays of merchandise and did 101 other things necessary to keep the grocery store operating. I had plenty of bosses (from the senior clerks up through the manager) telling me what to do, often one after the other and sometimes in conflict with the previous person.
After complaining to my oldest brother that I often forgot to do what I was told or did things of less importance before doing things that were more important, he asked why I didn’t carry a notebook with me.
“Are you kidding?” I replied. “I can’t carry a big notebook around with me. My hands have to be free to work and the pockets on my store apron are much too small.”
“Do you have a pocket on your white dress shirt that you wear?”
“Then put a little, lined flip-up notebook in your pocket and a pen, and when someone tells you to do something, write it down.”
I tried it. It worked. I rarely forgot to do anything assigned to me, and if I didn’t think I could get everything done in the time allotted, I would say something like: “The manager told me to do X, the other clerk needs me to give him a break and now you want me to sweep the store. Which job is most important?” Usually, the person asking me to perform another task would back off and tell me to do what the most senior person asked me to do.
A list of “Things to Do” not only helps me remember what must get done, but it gives me a tool to accomplish these tasks. This might be called my MOP tool. The list helps me through Motivation, Organization, and Prioritization.
When I see my list of tasks, I can decide which must be done first, which should be done second and which may be nice to accomplish, but can be completed another time. I add items to the list as the day goes on and reprioritize my work accordingly. I check off the tasks as I do them, circle the ones that I will do another day and X-through those that I decided were not worth doing. At the end of my day, the unfinished tasks can be relegated to another day (usually the next day).
To Do lists can be created daily, weekly, monthly, etc. and can be related to objectives and goals, both short-term and long-term. I have found that anything that requires action by me, whether it is job-related or simply stopping at the grocery store for certain items on the way home from work, requires me to place it on a list. The list motivates me to accomplish what needs to be done, it helps me organize how I will do my jobs and it plays an important part of prioritizing my day. With today’s computers and smart phones, lists can be created electronically, as well.
So the question must be asked: Do you list? If not, why not? It leads to less stress, more productivity, and it helps in Living Your Good Life.–rcb
What makes you happy? What makes you sad? Think about it.
Is it really something external that happens to you, or is it your perception of yourself, your environment, other people, places and things?
Abraham Lincoln has been quoted as saying: “Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.” Is happiness a decision we make? Can I truly decide to be happy, sad, mad or glad?
I believe that our expectations have a lot to do with our emotional states. If we expect to be sad, we will be sad; if we expect to be happy, we will probably be happy.
I used to joke that I always expected very little positive in any given situation to occur; that way, if I was wrong, I would be pleasantly surprised, and if I was right – it was what I expected! This meant, at the least, that I would not feel disappointed. Perhaps, I had too often expected something wonderful to occur and the heightened anticipation did not match the letdown of reality.
By using this ploy, I was actually deciding that I had no control over my own feelings, therefore I had to trick myself into expecting negative or at least neutral emotions with the secret hope that I was wrong,
Certainly there are external circumstances over which we have no control which cause unhappy feelings to arise, such as the death of a loved one, a huge financial loss, unrequited love, etc.
The plain truth is, however, that regardless of the external circumstance, we can decide internally to make the most positive result come from whatever predicament we are in. We can decide to act happy, to be loving and to serve others — focusing on their needs — while acknowledging within our hearts what we truly feel.
By placing our thoughts on serving others and accepting the reality of the situation, we diffuse our sorrow and often find some happiness in the joy of others.
Therefore, I contend that happiness does not depend on external circumstances as much as it does on internal attitudes.
Happiness is an inside job.
Let’s face it, most of us have faked something in life. Feelings, expertise, attention, indifference — there’s so many things you can fake. Yes, that thing too. Sometimes faking is necessary, sometimes it’s the most natural thing to do and sometimes it’s even fun. But doing it for too long is a bad idea. It will turn into poison.
Very few things will wear you down as much as constant mask wearing. Pretending to be someone you’re not may be ok for a while, but at some point tiredness kicks in. Regardless of what people think of you, you know you’re a fake. You can fool others, but can’t fool yourself. You feel hollow inside. You want to take that real feeling or lack of interest — whatever it is that you’re hiding — and shove it into people’s faces. You want them to see the real you, regardless…
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“Life is difficult.”
These are the first words of the first chapter in Psychologist M. Scott Peck’s book, “The Road Less Traveled,” one of the most popular self-help books of the 1970s. The first chapter is titled “Problems and Pain” and it kicks off the first section of the book, titled “Discipline.”
When I first read these simple words, they struck me as some sort of revelation. I certainly knew already that life was difficult, but here was a best-selling author who started his book with this fact. He was not spouting positive-dreaming psychobabble about how to create a life free of pain and suffering and glide through it worry-free.
On the other hand, Peck stated that when we face the fact that life is difficult, rather than living in the expectation that life can be utterly pain-free and absent of suffering, we actually defuse the fear that suffering will come to us.
Why do people suffer pain? I really do not have a good answer to this question. The best answers I can give are: Because that is the way it is. That is what life is like. You have to take the bad with the good in life. And so forth.
Therefore, if we cannot avoid pain and suffering, how do we handle it?
My own take on this has been to first try and avoid pain, particularly physical pain, through caution. For example: If I get out a ladder and climb it to get something off a high kitchen shelf, or to paint the bedroom ceiling or to go outside and take down the Christmas decorations, I know that I may need someone to hold the ladder steady and to make sure that I do not slip and fall.
I know also that if the medicine bottle says “do not drink alcohol while taking medication,” I should not be opening a bottle of beer or downing a glass of wine after taking a pill.
Sometimes, however, accidents occur, diseases develop or the body breaks down. After seeking medical attention and being told that I will experience a period of recovery that may include some pain and suffering, what do I do?
My own reaction has been to not think about it. I try and ignore the pain, unless it becomes so bad that I need to contact the doctor again. I also will offer up my suffering as a spiritual exercise for some good intention. Often, however, I simply recognize that I have pain; I endure it as best I can and I let it pass.
Sleep is often a helpful healing device when I am not well, though some pain can deter sleep and the lack of sleep combined with the pain is quite miserable.
My wife tells me that I am a good patient; that I never complain and make demands on her when I am not well. I just get very quiet and suffer silently until I am better.
People who have serious pain – cancer patients, the war-wounded, the chronically ill – may not be able to suffer quietly in bed. I feel great sorrow for them, and I hope that I will not have to bear such a burden myself. Yet, I know not what the future holds, and I do know that life is difficult.
Generous marital partners reportedly have happier marriages. That was the result of a recent study done by the University of Virginia National Marriage Project.
At first glance, this seems like a no-brainer, one of those I-wonder-how-much-money-that-cost studies. Yet the article also mentioned that only sexual intimacy and commitment outranked generosity as a predictor of a happy marriage.
What do they mean by “generosity”? It means giving good things freely and abundantly. It means doing something as simple as making a cup of coffee for your spouse without being asked to do so and without expecting praise.
That got me to thinking: why limit it to spouses? Why not make it a practice to be generous to other family members, to neighbors – heck – to total strangers! Would that not make for happier families, neighborhoods or even the entire world? Yeah, I know, that seems a bit far-fetched, grandiose and Pollyannaish. Then, again, how would we know whether it would work or not unless we try it?
Doing this is not as easy as it probably sounds. It is relatively easy for me to be generous with my wife; she is very generous with me and seems to put my needs before her needs 90 percent of the time.
I like most of my family members. As a matter of fact, I can’t think of any one of them I dislike. It is usually an easy thing to be generous with them, especially as I see them at most once a week or so!
What about co-workers? Now that can be tough. With co-workers, I want them to know that I went out of my way to do them a favor. I expect to get credit and praise (though most of the time, admittedly, I do not get it). We seem to take each other’s actions at work for granted and when someone does something above and beyond the norm, we tend to be quiet about it, maybe not even notice it. After all, they are just doing their job, aren’t they?
So it’s the Christmas season. That holiday time of the year. Maybe even before New Years Day, it would be good for us to make a resolution to be generous with our time and praise and verbal gratitude and work on giving each other more than expected, or perhaps even warranted, and without being asked or expecting an Attaboy.
With a little more of a generous spirit, we might just have a little more of a Happy Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, New Year … or Life!