REDUCE STRESS, INCREASE JOY AND BECOME THE BEST VERSION OF YOU
A bartender and Postal worker by trade I was witness to the overwhelming negativity that is so common in todays society. A firm believer in the motto "Better to light a candle than curse the darkness" I created this site to bring some of the positivity back into the world and share with otheres.
Many of you who have read both my book and these blogs may have questions as to how some of the material comes about. Trust me when I tell you that on some days I find myself asking the same thing. With that thought in mind, I am going to share with you a personal epiphany I had the other day that shed light on how I began practicing an early version of one of my main tools of self-improvement. I began doing this years before I was in the self-improvement field, and even more years before I knew what the heck I was doing.
The year was 1993. Recently graduated from high school, I was exploring the work world as a telemarketer. You think it is annoying receiving those calls, try making them 8 hours a day, 6 days a week! The best way to prepare for a career in telemarketing is to call a friend repeatedly and have them yell obscene thinks at you and hang up. Do this over and over again for hours. That’s pretty much what it is like.
As you can imagine a day like that can be tough on the nerves and tougher on the self-confidence. Even though you know it is not personal, hearing what people hope the proctologist does to you and your family gets a little exhausting. I do suppose it was a little better for me as I tend to be a friendly sort of chap. I refused to follow the “If the potential customer says ‘no’ then you say ____” This is also why I am no longer a telemarketer.
On lunch I needed to find a way to escape. Recently, my life-long friend Kevin had introduced me to the musician Bob Marley, and therefore reggae music. For those of you unfamiliar, most of Bob’s music has a very positive and almost spiritual aspect to it.
The most popular album people know from Bob Marley is Legend, which is a greatest hits of sorts. I can tell you that I listened to this recording on repeat for my entire lunch hour. I did this nearly every day. Changing my mindset to one of a more positive and hopeful one allowed me to take the second half of the verbal onslaught that awaited me. On many occasions this required another listen when I arrived home at the end of a day.
For some reason, it took about 6 years for the thought to occur to me that creating a happy Playlist, that is a collection of songs that bring joy to your heart might be a good idea. I explain the idea in my book, A Happy Life for Busy People, and have even updated that on my new book as well. With technology, this is now even easier than ever. With MP3, YouTube and streaming services, you can have a happy Playlist in seconds! It took a conversation with my Rastafarian friend, David, for me to remember how this all began.
This is a famous line from the play Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare. It is a phrase in Latin that when translated literally means, “And you, Brutus?” It is said in Act 3 Scene 1 of the play. At that moment in time Caesar is being assassinated. He recognizes one of his friends, Marcus Junius Brutus as one of the assassins. Struck by the fact he was betrayed by a friend he utters this famous line.
Sadly, we have all experienced betrayal by someone we considered a friend. Although it usually doesn’t result in being literally ‘stabbed in the back’, it still sucks and does not feel very good. Recently, I had the misfortune of this happening to me. There is a lady I work with whom I had fought to help her keep her job and even let her pick what she wanted to do because she likes having a routine. When there was physically difficult things to do, I did them because she mentioned it was too hard for her. I did it because I wanted to be a nice coworker, and more to the point, a nice person. This very same person went to our supervisor and sad some both unflattering and very untrue statements about me. What happens when you find yourself in that situation?
When I heard that news I was understandably not only disappointed in the young lady, but extremely upset. As good fortune would have it, I was also just about to enter the gym. That is not an actual picture of me above. The abs might look the same, but the skin tone is darker. (that too is a joke) I came in with a good deal of adrenaline due to my frustration with my coworker. I channeled that into one of the most intense and hardcore workouts I had in a long time. I also had some good conversations with it to friends and family. Margie, in her beautiful way, gave me some very encouraging words that made me fall even more in love with her. It also inspired the words that you are reading right now. I stayed at the gym for almost 2 hours and wanted to go longer, but they turned the lights off. By that time I was exhausted, but felt a lot better. I followed that up with a trip to the grocery store which usually helps lift my spirits.
The point of this post is as follows. When you are betrayed, make use of it. Especially if what is said is untrue. Take that initial anger and channel it into something useful, such as a good workout or cleaning the house. Then, follow that with something that lifts your spirits. Go for a nice walk in nature. Brew yourself a calming cup of tea. Have a great conversation with a friend. After all is said and done, make sure to be the best ‘you’ that you can be. We, unfortunately, cannot control the words and actions of others. What we do have control of is how we speak and act. If we are the best version of ourselves, it only makes those who speak ill of us look foolish. Those who know us for what we truly are will be unaffected. Those who are affected, are those who have not taken the time to get to know us. Injustice and betrayal are indeed terrible crimes, but they have their own punishment from a power higher than us.
Today we tackle the third and final strategy for coping with anxiety. Before we jump into today’s topic, I would like to take a moment to discuss the last few posts. The subject of anxiety has been front and center in the media as of late, and judging by the high level of engagement I have received in these posts (which I love) it has been front and center in your lives as well. I am honored and appreciate the responsibility of being asked to write about this subject. In speaking with many of you, it has become apparent that anxiety exists in some form in the lives of everyone. Personally, this time of year I face the highest levels of anxiety I face all year. Suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder and living in a cold climate make for a stressful situation. While writing about these coping strategies, I was reminded of some methods in which I can employ to assist me. I welcome – no I encourage – you all to continue to share your methods for coping with anxiety as well as other topics you would like to see discussed on this blog. It is you, the reader, that can take this blog to the next level.
Emotional coping strategies is our last category we are going to discuss. Anxiety, being an emotion, can make thinking of doing anything emotional as a formidable challenge. That is why we suggest you start with physical and social coping strategies. If you are like me, you start with anything and everything you can. Anxiety doesn’t play fair and neither should you when treating it. After all, this is YOUR life we are talking about here. The first suggestion I have for attempting to change your emotional state is one I use in my life-coaching and motivational speaking career. That is creating lists. This does not initially sound inherently powerful or sexy, but trust me, they work wonders. Ideally, the time to make these lists is before anxiety rears its ugly head, but if it is too late for that, there is no time like the present! There are many things that create powerful emotional reactions in our lives. Create as many lists as you can think of in regards to them. There are two types of lists to make. The first is a list of things that can trigger your anxiety. This is important to know for two reasons. First, and what should be obvious, is that it will help you avoid situations in which these may be present. Second, you can share these lists with people you regularly surround yourself with. Hopefully, these are also people who care a great deal for you. Letting them know what triggers your anxiety will help them better understand why you may not want, or be able to, do certain things. It will also better help them help you in addressing these concerns.
The second set of lists are not only very powerful, but can be fun to create. What a bonus! These are lists of things that put you in a positive mental state. One of the first I recommend creating is what I refer to as a happy playlist. Which is simply a list of songs that make you feel happy. The only caveat here is that they should be songs without negative lyrics. Seek and Destroy by Metallica may make you happy on the treadmill, but subconsciously the brain latches on to funny things when in a stressed emotional state. So for this exercise, do your best to only include songs with positive lyrics. Then when anxiety first begins to creep in, close your eyes, put on your headphones and just push play.
Begin to think of other items which have a powerful emotional reaction in your life. A list of movies that inspire you. This doesn’t only have to be comedy, although I would imagine a great deal of those would make the list. Think outside the box a little. Does watching Braveheart make you feel like you can overcome great odds? The Pursuit of Happiness may remind you that even the worst situations do not last and if you persevere great things can happen. How about foods that put you in a great mood? As we discussed in physical coping strategies, it helps if they are also healthy. At least a few of them anyway. Another list that is fun is places that make you happy. Sometimes a change of scenery can help do the trick. I, personally, like the grocery store. Parks and walking in nature have been proven scientifically, increase the positive brain chemicals we talked about in the post of physical strategies. Make as many of these lists as possible. Sometimes music may work. Sometimes you may need a movie, or a park or an ice cream cone. Have as many weapons at your disposal in the fight against anxiety.
Another great way to change your emotional state and increase the feelings of control in your life is the accomplishment of small goals. I understand if the word ‘goals’ may cause a slight feeling of anxiety in some. It sure used to in me. It is important to note the world small in front of them. Cleaning your entire kitchen may seem overwhelming and fill you with anxiety. Break this challenges down into smaller goals. It is like the old cliché, “How do you eat an entire elephant? One bite at a time.” I don’t have a personal palate for pachyderms, but you get the point. How you accomplish large goals is by doing one small goal at a time. After a few you gain momentum and find yourself closer to your large goal. This also does one other thing, it gives you a win and a feeling of accomplishment. It allows you to know you did something positive and took a step in the right direction. You may not have got that entire kitchen clean, but you organized that drawer so all of your spatulas fit with no fear of not being able to open the drawer once it is closed.
When all else fails, and quite frankly even when all else doesn’t fail, there is one thing you can do that will help you through some of the toughest and most anxiety filled periods of your life. I experienced this first hand. There was a period of my life when everything seemed to be flying south for the winter. This was made even worse by the fact that it was July. My job, relationships, money, transportation all seemed to be filled with problems that were causing a great deal of anxiety. Questions like, “Am I still going to have a job? If so, how am I going to be able to get to that job if my car is broken? If I can’t get to the job I might or might not have, how can I afford to fix the car that gets me to the job?” Those were just two of the many areas of my life that seemed upside down. There seemed to be no solution and I was getting more stressed by the minute. What did I do? Something I am going to implore that you do – find a way to help others.
Taking our focus of our own problems, even temporarily, can provide a great deal of relief. It also provides a sense of purpose, a sense of accomplishment and a feeling of value. When my life was upside down, I had the great fortune to be able to help at a meal program feeding the homeless and economically challenged. It not only gave me the feelings I mentioned prior, but did a great deal to put my problems in perspective. It also allowed me to see that we all have a great deal of problems in life, but there are always people out there who care and are willing to help. It may take a while to find them, but they are out there. While you are searching for the kind of people that may care and help you, it certainly helps to be one to others.
The last few posts we have explored the three categories for coping with anxiety. We looked at physical methods in the first post, social methods in the second and emotional methods today. We looked at many activities in the realms of these three methods. These posts have only begun to scratch the surface. Through a little research and effort on your part and the inclusion of a professional, you will discover many other options as well. Anxiety is nothing to be embarrassed of, ashamed of or feel hopeless about. We all experience to some degree in our lives and with treatment it is curable. I encourage you to share these posts with those you think may benefit. The conclusion of these posts is not the end of the discussion, but perhaps a way to begin a discussion on the topic of anxiety and how we can help ourselves and each other.
We have been discussing anxiety and ways in which to approach healing from it. Last post we discussed using physical strategies. Today we will discuss social coping strategies for anxiety. We began with physical coping strategies because they are a good first step. It requires very little use of the mind and thus can be easier to put into action. Anxiety can have us feeling keyed up and jittery. Expelling some of that energy through physical exercise, or consuming a calming tea can be a good first step. Ironically, anxiety can leave us feeling both mentally and physically exhausted. It can have us feeling completely drained. Changing our diet to a more healthy option as well as removing things like caffeine and alcohol can give us an energy boost.
When you are suffering from anxiety, being social with others may be one of the last things you want to do. The difficult part, is it can be one of the best things for you. There are ways to mitigate the additional stress often occurred when socializing. Certainly, we are not advocating attending a business networking event filled with strangers giving you high–pressure sales pitches. A small gathering at a familiar place with close friends and family can help us feel calm and collected. Discussing our feelings with those who care and we know we can trust can help us feel less alone in battling the challenges we are facing. There are occasions when focusing on the anxiety can only prove to make it worse. The focus does not have to be, and quite often should not be your anxiety. Spending time trading jokes, recalling fond memories or even fantasizing about a future vacation, trip around the world or what it would be like to win the lottery can help change our focus, even if only for a moment.
You may not feel comfortable sharing some of your inner most thoughts or feeling with your friends. Maybe it is uncomfortable to feel that vulnerable with someone you are that close to. Those are understandable and valid feelings. If you are not ready or feel comfortable seeking out a professional counselor or therapist, there are still plenty of good options. As a friend and reader of this blog mentioned on our first post on the subject of anxiety, it would be wise and helpful to talk to your priest, rabbi, shaman or other spiritual leader. Not only are they generally the most compassionate people, but if we are honest, helping those in a challenging emotional state is in their job description. Depending on the the source of your anxiety, life coaches can be another good option. Although they do not deal in challenges of the past, they certainly can help you map out a plan for the future. Sometimes knowing where we are going and having actionable steps to take can relieve a lot of the anxiety we feel.
The challenge with all of these options is that often when we are suffering from anxiety we do not even feel like leaving the house. Thanks to modern technology, and even more so because of the current pandemic, all of these services are available online. As a life coach, I have had several meeting via zoom which not only allowed my clients to feel safe, but allowed me to service individuals across state and even international borders. There are services that allow you to speak to spiritual advisors as well. You can do so through the telephone, online or a mix of the two. There are also plenty of online forums and groups that you can join. There are even ones specific for people dealing with anxiety. I have included a link from verywell mind that lists the top 7 online anxiety support groups for 2021 at the end of this post. Knowing you are not alone is a very important element when experiencing anxiety. Knowing there are several options to explore, I encourage you to reach out and try one. It can be as simple as clicking the link below.
Last post we looked at discovering the cause of anxiety. Today we are going to begin to look at ways in which we can begin to treat our anxiety and take back control of our emotions, our mind and our life. We are going to take them one at a time, starting today with Physical coping strategies. Please know that the methods we will be discussing, although very valuable, are not all that is available. Before beginning any lifestyle changes it is important to check with your doctor to make sure they are safe and right for you.
Why start with physical coping strategies? Quite often anxiety can cause a paralyzing effect when it comes to mental and emotional changes. There are, however, some physical tools we can use to ease the level of stress that may allow us to then begin to explore methods more directly associated with the mind and emotions. As with any challenge we face in life, anxiety can best be approached using several methods and what works for one may certainly not work for everyone. The order in which you utilize the methods we discuss is less important that your willingness to try them. There will be enough options in each category to find something not only helpful, but enjoyable. Just because we are utilizing these tools to help us become less stress and anxious does not mean we cannot enjoy the process. Quite the contrary. The more we enjoy the method we choose, and the easier it is to incorporate into our lifestyle, the more likely we are to stick with them and the more successful we will be.
The first physical coping method we will look at is being physical. Do not worry. I am not going to tell you to go to a gym, an activity that causes anxiety in some, or run in sandals like the lady in the picture above. Both of those would be helpful, but there are so many other options. One of the main symptoms of anxiety is feeling tired. Believe it or not, this will only be made worse by not moving. Newton’s first law of motion says that an object at rest tends to stay at rest. That is as true of human beings as it is of planets in the universe. The important thing is to just move. Find a physical exercise you enjoy. It could be basketball, swimming, hiking, roller skating, dancing or just going for a stroll in the park.
Why is exercise important? Exercise is a natural and effective anti-anxiety treatment. Not only does it increase energy and provide a boost to your immune system, two things that can suffer with anxiety, but it also releases endorphins. Endorphins are a type of neurotransmitter which is a fancy term for a chemical messenger of the brain. What message does this neurochemical transmit? When endorphins bind to receptors of the central nervous system, a pleasure hormone called dopamine is released. As you might guess a pleasure hormone helps relieve pain and manage stress making you feel good. In addition the chemical serotonin is released when you exercise. Serotonin helps regulate mood, body temperature and appetite. These three areas are also affected greatly by anxiety. There are even more beneficial chemicals released during exercise. As you can see, exercise can help you feel better from the inside and you don’t even have to think about it, you just have to move.
Another physical action many people do not consider is their diet. High processed foods such as chips, snack cakes and fast food can increase anxiety. A diet rich in whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and other such items can not only increase your good health and immune system, they can actually decrease your level of anxiety. A healthy diet is something we can all benefit from. It will not only help our waistline, it will help our bottom line when it comes to reducing anxiety. Start by adding additional healthy foods to your diet. Swap out a bottle of water for your usual soda. Enjoy a nice healthy protein bowl instead of a burger at lunch. If you try to transform your diet all at once that can cause additional anxiety. Meal prep is another great way to take a lot of the stress out of healthy eating. On what is your slowest day of the week try putting together a few healthy dishes to make cooking and eating them a breeze.
These are but two physical actions you can begin to take today to help cope and treat your anxiety. As with any major health change, make sure to consult the appropriate professional. Physical actions are a great way to begin to reduce anxiety because they do not put additional stress on your already taxed mind. Here area few more you may consider. Quit drinking alcohol. It may seem to relax you, but from a physical standpoint can stress your body even further. Ditch the caffeine. When we are feeling a little tired because of how anxious we are feeling, it may be tempting to reach for a coffee or energy drink. That can leave you feeling jittery and increase the level of stress in the system. Practice deep breathing. Another action that can benefit anyone. By paying attention to your breathing you refocus the mind off of the anxiety and focused solely on the breathing. Plus, deep breathing has a host of other benefits as well. I encourage you to try some, if not all, of these actions to find which ones work for you. Do not stop there. A simple Google search of ‘physical treatments for anxiety’ can open up a lot of other options for you.
Today we are going to discuss something that touches the lives of everyone – anxiety. In these crazy days of political bickering, health worries due to the pandemic as, well as financial and job worries, it would seem you fit into one of two groups. You have some degree of anxiety or you know someone who does. It is not just the 3 big factors we mentioned either. Each one of us has a whole host of small worries and concerns that we become anxious about. Children and other family members, bosses and coworkers plus a million other issues that can creep up. Maybe even just reading that sentence caused a feeling of anxiousness in you. Trust me when I tell you the one thing you can be certain of is that you are not alone in feeling this way. In the United States alone, 40 million adults suffer from some form of anxiety. That is roughly 18% of the population. That is the bad news. The good news is that anxiety disorders are highly treatable. Sadly, only about 37% of those affected receive treatment.
I am certainly not a doctor or psychologist. I recommend having an honest and open conversation with, at the very least, your general physician. As a certified life coach with over 2 decades of self-improvement experience, I am confident I can offer some tips that will help. As with any challenge in life, I recommend a multi-faceted approach to treatment. In the next few posts we are going to look at several of these starting today. The first thing is to recognize that having anxiety is not something to be embarrassed about. As we discussed you are in some very good company. With all that we experience, it is completely natural to reach a state where we are totally overwhelmed. The next thing that is important to know is that anxiety is treatable. With a proper plan, you can begin to regain control of your life.
One of the first steps in treating anxiety is understanding the source of that anxiety. It may be a single source, but oftentimes it comes from several different sources. Looking at the pictures above we can see several of them. Some come from genetic and family backgrounds. Some are organic in nature, meaning it can involve chemicals in the brain. Even these are treatable with proper medical care. A portion of anxiety can be onset by a tragic or very emotional life event. PTSD is a very serious and complex issue. It may involve several different methods of treatment, but can certainly be treated. In today’s world, there is also a good deal of social anxiety. This can come in the form of things like cyberbullying. It can also be an over exposure to negative and fear driven social media. Speaking of social media, we can even feel a good deal of anxiety viewing our friends social media pages. What people post on social media tends to be their best lives. We see the end result, but not very often the struggle that goes into it. That can leave us feeling like we are failing or falling behind. You see the couple that is always posting loving photos while you sit eating fast food for one.
Which brings us to our first major question, “How do I discover the source of my anxiety?” There are several paths to explore discovering your source of anxiety and you will have to discover what will work for you. I am going to look at 4 to get you started. Do not feel limited by these, but at least explore them. The first is the obvious one, talk to a trained medical professional. This can be a trip to your regular doctor who may have some answers or be able to steer you in the right direction. If you don’t feel comfortable speaking to your doctor or may be looking for something more specific or confidential, I suggest taking advantage of your workplace’s Employee Assistance Program or EAP as they are often known as. Most large companies have one. If you are not sure if that is something your workplace offers, check with your boss or human resources department.
Perhaps seeing someone in person is a little too uncomfortable for you. There are 2 other methods we are going to look at. There are doctors and professionals available in a virtual setting. You could speak to someone over the phone or even have an online session. With all that is happening in the world these resources are expanding at a tremendous rate. A simple Google search will offer you many options to get you started. Many are available for little or no cost to you.
If you do not feel comfortable sharing yet, there is one therapist that I use and recommend to everyone – a journal. It is private, it is extremely low-cost and can be a valuable tool in self-discovery and treatment. Often recording our feelings can result in a great deal of clarity. When we take the emotions and anxiety we are experiencing in our heads and put it on paper it can diffuse a lot of the emotion or offer us a clearer picture of what we are feeling. I relate it to taking a step back or taking a moment to breath. This makes a journal not only a great tool for discovering the source of anxiety, but can do a great deal to treat it as well. Journaling has some added bonuses too. Should you discover you may want to speak with someone in the future, having a record of your thoughts for the last few days/weeks/months can help them better understand and assist you. Not sure how to get started? It can be as simple as sitting down and beginning to write down how you are feeling and what comes to mind. Some moments, even getting started can be difficult. Do not worry, there are plenty of sites that offer free prompts to get you started such as the ones pictured above from our friends at journalBuddies.com.
Discovering the source of our anxiety can be a very liberating and helpful first step. I encourage everyone to take that step. Even those of us who feel we have a good handle on our anxiety can benefit from developing a relationship with someone, even if that is a journal, for when life overwhelms us. Discovering the source of our anxiety is just a first step. Next post we will begin to look at the three different methods for treating anxiety and which one may be right for you.
Throughout our time together in these posts, I am often reminding you of how much impact the language you use (especially in conversations with yourself) has on the outcomes of your life. It is a subtle, yet powerful influence people often overlook. Sometimes, however, the actual layout of a word can answer some very deep and difficult questions we have. Today’s post is one such example. If you keep this post in mind it will help you improve your repour with others. It will help take your health and fitness to the next level and will do the same for your business or career. How to we go from being just like everyone else to having a life that is full of passion, excitement, good health and abundance. In other words, what is the secret to an amazing life?
Let’s take a look at the word ordinary. As you can see it is an adjective meaning not unusual or special. The part that really hits home is the second definition, “Neither very good nor very bad: not very impressive” There are certainly worse things than you can be than ordinary. As the definition reads, you would not be very bad. Such as if you receive ordinary service. It is certainly better than bad service. Of course, as the definition continues, it is not very impressive either. If someone asked to describe any facet of our lives, I do not think we would want someone to say we were not very impressive. How is this employee’s work ethic? “It is neither very good, nor very bad: not very impressive.” Maybe you don’t really care what your boss thinks of you? Try this one. Perhaps that special someone is getting together with their friends and they are asked, “How is your relationship?” or even a little more of a personal subject, “How is your spouse at making love to you?” Hey, I don’t know how personal you and your friends get. In either case how would you feel if your spouse answered either of those questions by saying, “It is neither very good, nor very bad: not very impressive.” Yeah, that might sting a little.
I think we have established that fact that we do not want to be ordinary. Not that there is anything inherently wrong with that. If you are reading a website called Secret2anamazinglife.com, you are not looking to be ordinary. We do not want our careers, our health or certainly our relationships to be defined as “Neither very good nor very bad: not very impressive” No. We want to be….
We want to be extraordinary! It is defined here as 1. very unusual or remarkable. 2. unusually great. If someone asked a customer about the service they received at your business, how happy would you be to hear that it was “remarkable”? If your spouse was asked about your love-making or relationship acumen, how would it make you feel to hear that they told your friends you were “unusually great”? That certainly would be better than hearing that you were “Not very impressive”. What about our physical health? Our stress levels? Our financial health? How about our ability to get along with others? What if your boss was asked about your work ethic? What if your spouse was asked about your work ethic in the relationship? Would you be not very impressive or would you be remarkable and unusually great? Would you settle for ordinary or would you want to be extraordinary?
How do we get from not very impressive to unusually great? How do we take our level from ordinary to extraordinary? The answer is in the very word itself. To go from one to the other, just add a little extra. In your relationship instead of giving flowers for birthdays and anniversaries, give them because your spouse is beautiful and they deserve it. Even better yet, give them for no reason at all. In your job, do not just do your job. Do your job to the best of your ability and with a great attitude. This is not so your boss is pleased, but so you will go from being a person and worker who is described as “remarkable and unusually great” and not one who is “Not very impressive” When it comes to our health, let us put in that little extra. You got your 10,000 steps today? Great. How about adding a healthy meal to go with that. We certainly want our health to be remarkable. How do you think it would impact your life if your mental and physical health were neither very good or very bad and not very impressive? Would you have more or less energy and vitality as someone whose health is remarkable and unusually great? The answer is obvious.
One word can help to remind us how we can take every area of our lives to the next level. How we can transform our lives from the blah state of “Neither very good or very bad: not very impressive” to one that can be described as “remarkable, unusually great”. We can stop living an ordinary life and start living an extraordinary life. All we have to do is add a little extra.
I recall seeing a picture with this saying on it in my grandparents house. It happened to be one of those things that just faded into the background after a while. I knew the saying but didn’t really ponder it all that deeply. On the surface it is not to hard to understand. This all changed with one very interesting and compelling conversation.
For research towards my upcoming books, I often pick the brains of people who have a genuine sense of inner peace and joy. I knew a rather religious man who fit this description. I had inquired as to the secret of maintaining such a sense of peace despite the stresses and trials of leading a congregation. He asked me if I had ever heard the saying in the picture above. Just like I told you earlier, I explained how it was seen daily on the walls of my grandparents house. He inquired if I believed every day was a gift from God. I replied I did. Now, whether you believe waking up is a gift from the creator, the universe or just a stroke of good fortune the point is still the same, the ability to open your eyes first thing in the morning is not only one of the most valuable gifts, but supplies a great deal of potential.
He then went on to ask, “Neil, how to you feel when you give someone a gift?” I replied that I enjoyed that very much. “Does that feeling depend on how much those receiving the gift feel?” He inquired further. This is a point not regularly considered. “I suppose it does, to some extent.” was my answer. He asked how I would feel if I spent time picking out and giving a very valuable gift only to have the person receiving it not appreciate or value it at all. Thankfully, I have not had many of those experiences, but imagining it did feel uncomfortable. I pictured someone tossing my gift aside, or worse yet, throwing it in the trash. What if you discover they regift it? That would leave you feeling sad and let down.
He then brought up a very interesting point and the secret to his happiness. “If I believe every day is a gift from God, if I am not enjoying and making the most of that gift, I am being insulting to the giver.” He went on to further explain that God had seen fit to give him the gift of life another day on this planet and he knew many were not that lucky. If he found himself angry, full of self-pity or letting the problems of the world get him down he simply thought about the saying ‘This is a day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.’ “I realize the wonderful gift God has given me and I am grateful.” He added. “I do not want to be insulting or hurt the feelings of the giver of this wonderful gift.”
There was just one question I had for him. It may be the question you are asking right now. “What about those days when things don’t go right? What happens when you lose a relationship, job or maybe even someone you love?” To me that certainly didn’t sound like a very good gift. He explained that those are the days when you are given the gift of growth. That even sorrow and pain can end up being one of the most beautiful gifts. They may not feel like it in the moment, but they end up bringing some of the greatest blessings to our lives. “How do you know that will end up being the case? How can you be sure that it is not just a terrible day, and thus a terrible gift?” I pressed on. Sounding more like a grilling detective than an inquisitive author. He responded as only men of the cloth can. He gave me a wink and replied, “That Neil, is what you call faith.”
No matter what your spiritual beliefs are, I think we can all agree that every day we open our eyes to greet the day, we are unwrapping the greatest gift. Whether you choose to have a saying like the one we began this post with, or a picture like the one right above this paragraph, it may be helpful to have a reminder by your bedside to be grateful for the gift of life you have been given each day. When you find yourself feeling down and out, remember the priceless gift you have been given that many have not. A great way to help you appreciate this gift is to start a gratitude practice. That could be something as simple as a gratitude journal where you record elements of the day you are grateful for. You can also begin the day with a simple gratitude meditation. I know some that send out feelings of thank you to the people and things they are grateful for as they brush their teeth, make their coffee or go through their morning workouts.
For those days when things are tough and it seems like you might have received a gift meant for someone else, just do what our friend above did. Look in the mirror, give yourself a wink and say, “That is what they call faith.”
Above is a graph on Valentine’s Day spending. As you can see, men spend an average of $200, women spend an average of $100. The average is not too hard to figure out, $150 a person. In total, over $20 billion dollars will be spent on Valentine’s Day this year. Yes, that is billion with a ‘b’. If you read my blog you will know that I advocate investing in your relationship 100% of the time you are in it. Still, taking time to just celebrate your love like you would the birth of someone, should be a fun and enjoyable experience. What are we spending all of this money on, you ask? Let us take a look.
Jewelry is far and away the number one investment we make to express our love. Not a bad investment. It can make your special someone feel beautiful and valued. Clothing is second. That is good I guess. We all need to be clothed. Ironically, if there was a day to be clothing optional it would be Valentine’s Day. Evening out rounds out our top 3. That is a good one. Creating memories is one of the joys of having a loving relationship. Some other items are flowers and candy. Seems like a good stimulation for the economy. If every year the world makes a $20 billion dollar investment in love, what is the return? That brings us to our next graph.
So this is a sober statistic. On average, over half of marriages end in divorce. There are over 100 divorces an hour. Well, at least we learn from our mistakes as we go along, right? We take the mistakes from the first marriage and learn from them. Wrong again. The divorce rate jumps nearly 20% for your second marriage and another 13% for the third. How can this be? We are investing record amounts to express the love we have for our partner, yet the divorce rate is higher than it has ever been. The problem is not the money we are spending. It is what we are spending it on! Imagine spending $20 billion on concrete looking to cure disease. I am not a doctor, but I don’t think this would get us very far.
We take this same approach to love. Whether it is on Valentine’s Day or any other day. When we think about investing in love, we should consider the ROI or return on investment. If you buy flowers, they may cause a good amount of joy for the moment, but what will the return be? Will it bring the two of you closer? Will it help you to get to know your partner on a deeper level? Will it help you get to know yourself better so you are better able to serve your partner? These are the questions we should be asking when investing in our relationship. Discovering your partner’s love language or how they express and receive love, do you think that would come in handy? Finding ways to help your partner discover their own inner beauty would make an amazing gift.
We spend a great deal of time and effort to invest in our homes, our cars and our retirement. When it comes to love we somehow imagine after we are together it will somehow take care of itself. Much like a business, we need to invest in research and development. This investment can impact every area of our life and offer great returns. While shopping for the love of our life this year, let us choose a gift that will be an investment in our relationship.
As a youngster, I have memories of this place called Skelly’s in my hometown of West Allis, Wisconsin. It was a small breakfast place. When you walked in you were greeted with the smell of frying eggs and buttered toast. If you wanted something healthy, your only option was to go somewhere else. I love places like that. Warm, comforting with a little greasy breakfast. Something about a diner just takes you back in time.
When I was still quite young, Skelly’s closed for good. I don’t remember much about that except one day it was just gone. When you are young I suppose that is how things go. Things are here one day and gone the next. There was a similar place down the road a piece, called The Cup and Saucer. Same sort of food and also went out of business when I was young. It wasn’t until I grew up (physically) that I began to recall and long for a place like Skelly’s.
Then, at that same very location opened a wonderful new cafe – Urban Joe’s. I do not recall the first time that I visited this wonderful place, but I do know I have not stopped visiting since. Unlike Skelly’s there are plenty of healthy options. (One of my favorites is the Mediterranean egg white sandwich. They also serve Valentine Coffee, which happens to be my favorite local coffee to drink. (I even have a Valentine Coffee sticker on my laptop) The best part of Urban Joe’s Café is the service that you receive there. It comes courtesy of the husband and wife team of Curtis and Danie. Both treat you as if you were more family than customer. I always enjoy encounters with them both. Curtis and I can maintain what amounts to rather entertaining banter the whole time that I am there. Margie and I actually have plans to go there a week from today.
Sadly, for those of us here in West Allis, Curtis, Danie and their young son will be moving to Las Vegas in May. This will spell the end of the era of Urban Joe’s. I heard rumors it may become a taco restaurant. Perhaps it shall keep its name and format, but without these two behind the counter things will certainly not be the same.
Unlike when I was a young child, I can see and appreciate this ending coming. Although knowing ahead of time allows me time to soak in a few more wonderful meals, cups of great coffee and experiences at Urban Joe’s, it is also bittersweet. Knowing that time is limited can be a somewhat sorrowful feeling, but it also reminds us how everything in our life is transitory, if not fleeting. Whether that is a friendship, a relationship, a job, a vacation and even more to the point, our own lives, everything comes to an end. Let us not view this as a somber thought, but let us use it as motivation to live every day – no wait, every moment – to the fullest. Be present when we are enjoying all of the moments of our life. Urban Joe’s may never be the same. Curtis and Danie may certainly be leaving. That is just going to inspire me to enjoy every moment I have left in both that establishment and with these wonderful people Margie and I have been fortunate enough to befriend.