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Accentuate the Positive

In his book, “Happiness is a Choice”, Barry Neil Kaufman lists “6 key shortcuts to happiness”. The first key is “make happiness the priority”.

Getting all the things we think we must have or need in order to be happy, in reality does not make us happy. In fact, “things” in general will leave us wanting, disappointed and unsatisfied. Instead, being happy is a choice and it is only when we make that choice that we will be able to accomplish things in life.

We choose how we respond to what is happening around us. We form beliefs and world views and act upon them. In the process, we can accentuate the positive or remain locked on the negative. We can choose to turn something negative into something positive or become bitter, angry and resentful.

A lot of scientific research into the body-brain connection indicates that our thoughts create a chain reaction throughout our mind and body. What we think and believe has profound physical consequences.

Consider your response when you experience an unexpected kindness. One minute you may be feeling depressed and discouraged. Then someone tells you how much you are appreciated and suddenly, in a flash, you experience a lift of spirit and energy. 

Do we choose happiness or is it a result of external events? And if we have so much power and control over our happiness, then why are we so unhappy?

It is where each of us is required to ask the question, Am I happy? If not, why not? What keeps me from being happy? Was I happy in the past, and if so, what made me feel happy? What changed? What would it take to for me to experience happiness again?

Like you, I often go on the assumption that happiness depends on external events rather than a state of being that I create within myself.

Dan Ariely, Prof of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University, author of “Predictably Irrational – The Hidden Forces that Shape our Decisions”, cites many experiments and studies in his book that show how the expectations we hold about life will influence how we experience what is happening. Two people experiencing the same event may experience something totally different based on their expectations rather than what is actually happening.

If our expectations can influence and “shape” our responses predicting the outcome, then holding the expectation that we can be happy regardless of what happens, will have a huge influence on every aspect of our life: physical, mental, spiritual and psychological. When we make a deliberate decision to be happy, it becomes a mindset, an expectation, a belief that we live out in any situation.

We choose our expectations and our attitudes. Changing our mindsets can impact every aspect of our being: physical, mental, spiritual and psychological. We can choose to be happy or we can choose to be a victim of whatever is happening in the moment.

©2012 Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC

A new perspective

What new perspective has helped you re-build your life?

A New Perspective

Years ago I worked for a company contracted to help injured workers in chronic pain recover and re-enter the workplace. Some had been injured on the job even with all the safety precautions.

As part of their rehabilitation and recovery program, they attended a two week all day class. Most were not happy to be there; in fact some were downright hostile. Yet after one week, we began to see a transformation of attitudes, mind-set and way of thinking.

It was always amazing to watch this metamorphous from hopelessness, despondency and despair to one of possibility, hope and motivation. Some didn’t let go of what had happened to them. They were angry at the injustice of it all and did not want to hear about ways they could re-frame their circumstances. They hung onto their grievance and left with the same bitterness they were generating when they arrived.

But, it was those who took the information presented and applied it that humbled and encouraged me. While there were many people who I came to admire, one lady in particular resonated with me. Her injury left her unable to continue in her job. She would have to be retrained in some other line of work. Her benefits would soon run out. She was a single Mom living in a tiny one-bedroom house and the enormity of her losses was severe. Life seemed pretty grim and hopeless.

After the first week, she returned to class from the weekend off, glowing. She was not the same person who left on Friday. She shared with the class what had happened to change her outlook.

She went home and thought about all the information we had taught them and decided to apply it to her situation. The first thing she did was “re-frame” how she looked at her current existence.

She went through her tiny cramped house, room by room, looking at it with a new perspective. There was only one tiny bedroom. She decided to give that room to her children and make the living room her bedroom. During the day it was a living room, but at night it became a cozy, spacious bedroom. She positioned the sofa bed in front of the fireplace, and when she crawled into her “bed” that night, she lit a small fire in the fireplace and snuggled down to watch the flames and thought to herself, how many people do I know who have a fireplace in their bedroom. She helped her children make her old bedroom into their special space. They were happy and she was happy. In fact, she told us she slept soundly for the first time in years.

What had changed? Only her perspective. During the remainder of that last week in class, she actively sought out information about re-training and potential jobs. She was excited about the potential of a new job from a re-training program that paid more than her previous job.

Was she going to have to struggle? Yes. Would it take hard work? Yes. Would she still have to live with limiting conditions? Yes. But she would be bringing into that space a new outlook – a new perspective – that held possibility, options and renewed energy.

The world we live in today has drastically changed. We are challenged as never before to be innovative, creative and flexible. The beliefs we hold about ourselves can seriously impact our ability to move forward.

We may experience events that seem catastrophic, limiting and hopeless. But within each of us is the ability to take what we have and create something new from it. Out of the ashes of one disaster we can create the promise of a new beginning, if we are willing to re-invent ourselves, grow and change.

©2012 Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC

Expand Your World

In a recent local theater arts guild production of the Wizard of Oz, I played the role of a munchkin reporter. Munchkins were the little people Dorothy first meets when a summer tornado spun her out of the mundane and ordinary life of a Kansas farm into the exotic, make believe world of Oz.

So what does a Munchkin Reporter do? How does she act? Is she confrontational or hesitant and a little shy like the other Munchkins? Does she stride boldly on stage, pushing her way in front of the others so she can write the story about this Dorothy who has dropped into their lives. It was up to me to create the role and act out the part.

At first I felt awkward as the Munchkins were very active on stage, both speaking and dancing. It challenged my sense of propriety and good manners. But after awhile, I was able to carve out a role that I felt represented both a reporter and a munchkin.

My world was greatly expanded as a result of becoming a member of this theater group – not just in terms of meeting new friends, but in my personal, inner world. Since I had never acted before, my learning curve was huge. But the directors were enthusiastic, motivating and encouraging and I experienced acceptance, tolerance,  love, encouragement and support from them, the cast and crew.

Acting involves putting aside your usual safe self-image and identity to put on another. When rehearsals began, I was unsure of what was expected, how to act, or what to do. I was no longer a counselor, author, teacher, facilitator, etc. I was now a beginner, a novice, an experimenter, a singing apple tree, a singing jitterbug, and part of the great community of the Emerald City. It was exciting but scary – humbling but re-affirming; and in the end, life expanding.

We often miss opportunities in life because we fear taking a risk. We risk appearing foolish or lacking in some way. We choose to stay in positions where we feel safe and can continue to carefully craft facades that hide the vulnerable inner child inside each of us. With our masks firmly in place, we focus on the appearance of confidence which is unreal and unsustainable.

But unless we remove our masks, we cannot become genuine. Acting gives you the opportunity to remove your mask to expand your understanding of the character role you are representing.

If we don’t risk, we lose; we lose opportunities to grow – to expand our thinking and our accomplishments. Early in the learning curve, we learn humility and the ability to give and accept grace and kindness. We learn to become more tolerant and accepting – looking for and building on commonalities rather than differences and separation.

Everywhere in life there are opportunities, in every situation we find ourselves. We choose to see them or remain stuck in our comfort zones of anonymity, false security or brash bravado. We miss opportunities because of our fears: fears we won’t be accepted with all our warts, deformities and insecurities, fears we might not measure up or experience rejection again as we did in childhood.

Step out – risk – expand your world. The rewards are not applause – but a new layer of confidence.

Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC

Step Out of the Old

We get stuck in the box

Any unknown creates a certain sense of anxiety. When we don’t know what to expect it can leave us feeling insecure and unsure as to what to do, what is expected of us and how we should proceed.

It takes courage to step out

It takes courage to leave what we know to step out into the unknown – to challenge our status quo. Yet staying in our box of comfort can be limiting. I would never have known my wonderful daughter-in-law if she hadn’t been willing to have the courage to come to America to marry my son.

Change requires risk

Every day the world is changing in some way around us. I often find myself out of step with the fast pace of technology, and the changes it brings make me feel at times as if I am being dragged unwillingly behind the bus. We want to feel we are the ones initiating change and are in control of that change.

Yet much of life involves change that occurs outside our control; the loss of a loved one, a divorce, the impact of a chronic illness, or the loss of a job that requires re-training or abandoning of careers to survive. When change “happens”, new choices are required that take us out of our comfort zones and away from our well-planned goals.

How prepared are you for unexpected changes

How flexible are you? Can you roll with the punches and end up back on your feet? Change requires adjustment of some kind. It is an exchange from what we had or knew to something different – a substitute or replacement of some kind.

When we make and follow through with goals, we feel we are in charge of the outcome and our lives. When change removes something that was valuable to us without our consent, we scream our protests and struggle to come to grips with it.

Ways to deal with change

1. Become flexible in your thinking. The evergreen trees that live along the Northwest sea coast survive the winter storms by being flexible. They are shaped and molded by the winds, but their roots dig deep within the crevices of the rocks and remain strong. And they become things of beauty.

2. Sink your internal roots into God’s promises, positive thinking and an “I can do” attitude.

3. Develop an adventurous spirit. I would never have had the wonderful, life expanding experiences I have had without the ability to ask, “why not” instead of “no way” or “impossible”.

4. Be prepared. When we go on a trip, we service our car, check the route on a map and make reservations. With all our preparations, however, we may be required to go to plan B or C or take a detour. Plan for the unexpected ahead of time. It’s well worth the small amount of time and effort.

5. Check your attitude. Life isn’t perfect. It will have lots of detours, mountain passes and steep grades. Look at unexpected changes as opportunities, even if they don’t seem pleasant at the moment. Ask yourself, what can I learn from this? How will I benefit from going through this difficult time? What might I discover about myself or the world that can benefit me? What jewel of important learning will I forever have as a result of this unexpected change?

Challenging the way we respond to life’s unexpected changes can forever paint our life with new and vivid colors. Change can be the brush stroke that enhances instead of detracts. Unexpected changes can become the best thing in life.

©2012 Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC

 

 

 

The gift of love

Love is a gift. Have you received it?  Have you given it?

A Gift to Celebrate

Easter is a time of celebration – celebration of the great gift given so many years ago by a God who loves us more than we can ever imagine.

Easter is also a time of renewal, rebirth. We see the signs of rebirth every spring when seeds become beautiful flowers and new leaves emerge on barren twigs of shrubs. The greatest rebirth, however, is what happens within us when we reach out and take the gift God extends to us.

What is the gift we receive at Easter? Love – salvation – another chance – another opportunity – freedom to live with our God every day from now throughout eternity because He provided a way for us to come to Him through the sacrifice made on two pieces of wood nailed together.

On the 4th of July, we celebrate the freedom of our country as we reflect on the cost of soldiers who fought and died so long ago to make this country free. At Easter, I wonder if we have somehow lost the message of cost and sacrifice made by God to give us freedom from our sins, as we place so much focus on bunny rabbits, Easter eggs, spring flowers and new outfits.

What do we do with this love, so freely given to us? For love is a gift – no payment is due – in fact, if we have to make payment for it in any way, it no longer is a gift. If we have to pay for love, it has lost its value – it is diminished. The gift of love cannot be bought or bartered for or earned in any way. It is just that – a gift.

We often associate the value of a gift with how much it cost. The higher the cost of sacrifice made by the giver, the more value it has to the receiver. What greater cost and sacrifice can there be than to die for someone?

Jesus Christ chose to die for us. By choosing to die for us, He protected us from destruction – from the harm that befalls us when we are separated from God. In His death we are delivered from the consequences of our sins. It is a gift given to each of us. It is an expression of love – a love that says, there is nothing I wouldn’t do to have you with me forever.

We all want to be loved. It is a need as necessary as the air we breathe and the water we drink. We can’t manufacture love or find it in our halls of justice or science labs. Love is a gift freely given. When we accept God’s gift of love and salvation, we recognize our need for it and our unworthiness to receive it. But in that giving and acceptance of this great gift of love, we are re-born.

As we accept this gift, we are then asked to share it with others. We are to give it away to everyone: our children, our spouses, our neighbors and co-workers. In giving it away, it grows and becomes even greater than it was.

Happy Easter. As you accept God’s great gift of love and salvation, may you experience the greatest of joys. May it be a time of beautiful rebirth for you.

Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC

Hope that Sustains

When I write or speak about hope, I share my own personal life experiences as well as scripture and science. Throughout the Bible, we read stories of God interacting with His people where faith, hope and trust are played out. Within science we know that the thoughts we dwell on will have an impact on us mentally, physically and spiritually. Hope can change the chemistry in the body.

Hope says there is the possibility of something good happening. It is not only a belief, but a feeling that “something desirable” might happen. Without hope, we give up or find ourselves repeating the words made popular in a song of the 60’s that said, “Is this all there is”?

Hope encourages

When we are encouraged, we gain confidence. Within confidence, we find courage.

Hope motivates

With encouragement, we become motivated – motivated to look for solutions to tough problems and difficult life situations.

Hope energizes

When we are feeling helpless and hopeless, our energy is drained and depression settles into every cell and fiber of our body rendering us at times almost catatonic. Hope can change that in an instant. Hope allows us to focus on what we can do rather than what we can’t do.

Hope expects

When we feel hopeful, we expect a different outcome. We don’t worry about whether the earth will keep rotating; the sun will come up in the morning or go down at night. When the sun is hidden in clouds, we know it still exists and take for granted that it is there.

Hope played out in our lives expects that tomorrow has the possibility to be brighter than today, that our pain will recede, and that we can experience joy again. Hope says that when the world is all dark and we think we have been locked in a prison of despair, that we can place our expectation on a God who we can call upon in our time of need and trouble. We can go to Him anytime and anywhere.

Hope believes

When our expectation is placed on God, we believe that He exists, that He loves us, and that He will never leave us or desert us. He will give us the strength to endure. Hope believes God’s word that tells us He cares about us personally, and that His love is so great, He is willing to die for us. In fact He did – on the cross at Easter and rose again.

Hope never gives up

Hope doesn’t quit. When we are exhausted and think we can’t do anything more, we hear God whispering to us, “I am here with you. Try again – one more time”. We feel His arms carry us. We hear his promises in our ear and feel His strength flow into us. He intervenes in our lives.

Hope is surrender

Hope relies on something greater than ourselves. When we surrender to the knowledge that we do not know it all, will never know it all and we need God in order to survive, we begin to experience hope. We recognize that we are not sufficient unto ourselves.

Sometimes in that surrender, we are asked to let go and allow. The focus is no longer making something happen, but surrendering to what is happening and adjusting our responses. In that surrender, we find peace in acceptance. Hope then reveals itself in looking for blessings in all things.

The Easter story is that revealing of hope for us that there is life after death – a new life that goes beyond the grave; a hope of salvation made possible by God. Within our tragedies lies new hope and new life as well.

Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC

Hope

Hope is choice. How has hope moved you forward?

Hope Requires Movement

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; A time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;” Ecclesiastes 3:1-4 (The New Oxford Annotated Bible)

A Time to laugh and a Time to cry

We find ourselves within the chapters of Ecclesiastes. The seasons of life are demonstrated everywhere in the physical world and we identify with them. But making the transition from one season to another isn’t always easy. We don’t want to give up one to gain the other. We want life – not death. We want laughter and joy, not weeping and mourning. Yet both are necessary in order to live life to the fullest.

Perhaps it is only within our difficulties, troubles and losses that we are able to discover more of ourselves.

When we are mentally, emotionally and spiritually wounded, we retreat from the world to find solace and direction. This isn’t just a time for introspection, however, but an opportunity to discover anew God’s great love and purpose for us and our need for Him. As He gently walks beside us in our grief and pain, we begin to feel His spirit strengthening ours.

When I was grieving the great loss of my husband, there were times when I felt like a little child, my soul crying in depths devoid of sound to all except God, and in those moments found myself picked up and comforted by Him. Grieving is a journey to heal the wounds of the heart and spirit.

In our retreat and solitude, we arrive at a place where we need to lay our burden down, give up the struggle and rest in the comforting arms of our Lord. In acceptance we gain peace.

Hope is an active Journey – Hope  is a Choice

Hope is actively and purposefully taking part in the healing process as we explore options and possibilities. In my book, “Healing the Wounded Heart,” I share vignettes of from my healing and growth journey. Perhaps you will recognize some of your own journey here.

Learning anything new requires struggle, work and determination. It seems at times, however, that in the process we continue to push a proverbial stone that won’t move. And then, one morning, we wake up and find ourselves sitting on top of that stone! We haven’t moved it – we haven’t gone around it – we have climbed on top and are on our way over it!

That’s how I feel this morning. I have reached the top! I’m not sure how I got here – but here I am. Every morning I have written about my struggle to believe, make sense of what has happened and move forward. It was a new skill I was developing as I grieved my loss.

And now I sit on top of this mountain, my proverbial rock and look back and see the black canyons and deep abysses and steep trails that had challenged me. Now I see what I couldn’t see while climbing those often treacherous paths: the guardrails that God put up for my protection; the “angels” He sent to comfort me and the green pastures that were sweet resting places along the way. He put people in my life to assist and support me – to just “be there” for me. He provided protection, love and strength to endure.

In my times of solitude and retreat, I didn’t just journal about my loss. I took my Bible and met my God every morning in my reading and my writing. Gradually peace replaced pain, hope replaced despair. Even when the road seemed endless or too steep and I wondered how I would make it through the day, I moved ahead with resolve and the assurance that I wasn’t alone – God was with me. He would never leave me. For God never does leave us; it is we who leave Him.

Whatever the loss, grieving takes time and work. But in the process, we have the opportunity to make many new discoveries that might otherwise remain hidden. I ended that day’s journal entry with the following:

This morning as I sit from my new vantage point, I am captivated by the view extending before me, the options available to me. As I remember the dark, deep and narrow canyons, I am reminded that even there, patches of blue sky could be seen. When I had looked up, those walls expanded and I felt the power and love of my Heavenly Father and I would receive a new surge of energy and hope. And when the way out of those dark canyons of grief and sorrow seemed to disappear, God gave me toe-holds, branches to grab hold of and hang on to until the path became clear once more.”

Perhaps you are experiencing the pain of divorce, a life fractured by anger and misunderstanding, a chronic illness that forever robs you of the life you knew, or just the deep sorrow that you will not have the opportunity to realize your dreams. But we don’t have to remain in that ending.

With hope we can move forward to a happy new beginning.

Hope is action – It is moving forward even when the world is the blackest. Hope is believing there will be an end to the pain and struggle. There are good days ahead. Hope knows you are never alone – unless it is your choice.

While we may be in our time to weep, retreat and mourn, we know that we do not need to stay there. In the journey out of that ending we can find great blessings, renewed purpose and meaning.

Marlene Anderson, LMHC, NCC