Are We Foolish to Hope? To Trust?

It’s common to see optimism as foolishness. Because
not everything “works out”—at least, not the way we pictured it.

Our specific hopes and dreams may turn out to have been, well, incorrect.
Oh, no, not that!
But Trust is about more than wishing for something specific and then getting mad at a world that doesn’t deliver what you ordered.

Trust, or a clearer definition of Optimism, is about the bigger picture.

It’s also the belief that your own behavior can change some things—like putting on your seat belt to prevent serious injury should there be an accident.

It’s not the blind belief that you are immune to the actions of others (like
the other driver who ran the red light).

In fact, despite rumors to the contrary, optimists are folks who are willing to do the hard work to prove themselves right—and accept when
the outcome they visualized might have to be altered.

Yes, Positive Thinking does rely on hope to some extent—but it doesn’t omit personal responsibility.

All Will Be Well.
Somehow.

All Will Be Well does not absolve us of all responsibility to do our best,
or to learn from mistakes. It’s just meant to address the needless anxiety and doubt that comes after we’ve done all we can do, learned from it, and fixed what we can.

And then…choosing (gulp) optimism.
Yes, optimism. All Will Be Well. Just maybe not the way I expected it
to be.

  • excerpt from Happier Made Simple: Chapter Five, T is for Trust.
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Funny You Should Ask: “How do you stay so positive?”

I think I recognize the eyes and the hair. Is that my friend Beth behind the N95 mask? (One of the all-too-familiar new brain tasks in our Covid-19 world.)

Yes, it is Beth, and we carefully hug each other hello (faces pointed away to avoid germs, sheesh) in the supermarket aisle. It has been way too long. 

I really miss seeing people’s faces and hugging without fear. Sigh.

Anyway. After the health and family check-ins, Beth says:

“I’ve been meaning to call you for ages. I really want to talk some time about how you stay so positive through all this, and everything else that has happened in your life.”

(Seriously. I have not made this up.)

“Funny you should ask,” I say. “I’ve just written a book about that very thing.”

guess I should have worn this button sent by Book coach Cathy Fyock!

Beth’s question represents the reason I wrote Happier Made Simple. 

It has been a decade since I wrote the memoir about our family experience with serious mental illness, and the grief and hope that seesaws with that challenge. I’ve spoken to a lot of groups about our journey, and that very same question almost always comes up in the Q&A after a talk.

I answered the question “How do you stay so positive?” so often that dozens of people followed it with, “you should write a book about that.”

I procrastinated for ten years, but now the book is written, and on its way to readers soon.

Thanks for asking!  Your questions have been the inspiration to do my best to answer them. We non-fiction authors hold the same hope: that our words can be of help.

 

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Happier, Not Happiness. Why? Setting the Record Straight

“Randye, I really hesitated bringing up the topic of happiness tonight, because of your book. I don’t want to negate your message.”

Those words, from the leader of our Mussar study group (I’ll explain later) last night.

I so appreciate her concern, but immediately move to set the record straight. 

Constant happiness has never been the goal of my book – or, indeed, of life. I state that right away in the first chapter, and in the subtitle: Shortcuts to More Serenity in a Complicated World. (Italics added here for emphasis)

Why more serenity? 

So we can be less distracted by needless anxiety, creating more emotional space for things like appreciation, love, and service to the world.

Happier is not the same as Happiness. 

When we are Happier, we can meet life’s challenges with a clearer mind, 

What is Mussar? It’s “a traditional Jewish path of spiritual development that leads to awareness, wisdom, and transformation.”

I think of it a Jewish Zen of a sort. Mussar’s roots are in Judaism, but the applications seem universal.

Ethics, philosophy, spiritual belief… the group meets every week or so on Zoom to explore teachings that cultivate “personal growth and spiritual realization.” 

That description comes from the back cover of our optional textbook, Everyday HolinessFrom its chapter on Trust:

“t makes sense that God created this world replete with all its difficulties. It’s because it’s not our job description to be happy and fulfilled….It is only when you are running after the elusive goal of being happy that this world seems so terrible.”

From my book:

We’re not supposed to be happy all the time. We’ve got a beautiful range of emotional states that co-exist so we can tell the difference between them – and put all that energy to good use.

There is no conflict here.

Not “constant happiness.” That is not the goal. Just happier – so we can love more, work better, have the space to find and fulfill our life purposes.

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Hindsight Resolutions: What Got Done in 2021?

What Got Done is Also Who You Are!

Happy New Year! If you feel like you’ve already let yourself down by not yet making any Resolutions for 2022, you can opt to give yourself a break.

How? Just decide not to make any resolutions this year. Instead, take a look back and see how 2021 played out for you. You might be pleasantly surprised at how much you accomplished – or at least survived – in the last 12 months.

Yay, you! Pat yourself on the back.

For inspiration, take a look at your calendar, and some photos, of the past year. Then answer these two questions:

  1. What got done in 2021? This is the place for things you accomplished, even (maybe especially) if you just went with the flow and took a spontaneous shot. It could be anything, from finally replacing the toaster to earning a PhD. If you feel proud (or relieved) it counts! This list is more proactive – life didn’t force it upon you. You created the change.
  2. What challenges did you meet/survive/learn from in 2021? Here is where you give yourself credit for getting through the stuff life threw at you this past year. We all get a free square for living through another year of Covid.
  3. If you rewrote (or wrote) your 2021 resolutions now, with the hindsight of what actually happened, how cool would you look?

If, at least, sometimes, life is what happens while we are making other plans, then what does your personal history have to teach you?

Share your top three items in the comments! (just click the bubble next to this article’s title)

Be proud! You are a rock star.

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Parenting: The Love Whose Goal is Separation

Children Must Learn to Ride Without Us, Step by Step

I waited at the school bus stop for E, my oldest (Kindergarten) grandchild, and looked forward to the huge smile and hug she always gives when she sees it’s me meeting the bus today.

This time, though, I got a consolation hug and a small smile. No running into my arms. No “Hi, Grandma!!!!!” . Instead, E handed me her backpack and walked four steps ahead of me to be with the two older girls who live across the street.

For the first time as a grandparent, I got the lukewarm shoulder. Oh, E was sweet and respectful, but I didn’t feel like the bestest person in the whole wide world in that moment.

Ouch.

For the first time as a grandparent, I got the lukewarm shoulder.

As a parent, I’d gone through this twice already. I know all too well the ego hit when your son or daughter grows away from depending completely on you to stepping further and further into the world.

Then I read this passage from The Art of Loving, by Erich Fromm.

In erotic love, two people who were separate become one. In motherly love, two people who were one become separate. The mother must not only tolerate, she must wish and support the child’s separation.

This is not meant as a total embrace of Fromm’s writings: I find a lot of it sexist and otherwise flawed, but this quote, standing alone, helped me view parenting through a different lens, and I’ll need it again as the grandkids grow up and step away.

The goal is separation.

The best gift we can give a child is the love, support and confidence to eventually take over their own lives, wisely and well, with confidence.

For that, we take little steps away, as appropriate, and our own egos must relearn to find other sources of esteem when our children begin to notice that we aren’t perfect, and that we are not the center of their universe all the time.

Painful, yes, but necessary – for our growing children and grandchildren, and for us.

Someday we will be an embarrassment to our children. That’s the hard truth. No matter how cool we think we are, they will find us, um, let’s just say less than cool.

I guess I just didn’t expect a moment of that from a kindergartner. Sigh.

The best gift we can give a child is the love, support and confidence to eventually take over their own lives, wisely and well, with confidence.

The goal is separation….with love. Doesn’t mean we can’t be the safety net, the foundation, the guideposts…but when children show signs of being okay without us, that is a good thing.

Gotta remember that when the two younger ones get off that bus in a year or two.

 

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“I Appreciate You”: Does Enduring Love Require Gratitude?

“Without gratitude, love cannot endure.”

This quote stood out to me in the required reading for an adult learning class on Mussar ” a traditional Jewish path of spiritual development that leads to awareness, wisdom, and transformation.” That week’s topic? Gratitude, which happens to be a vital element in Core Phrase #4 in Happier Made Simple‘s chapter about Appreciation.

Three things come to mind:

1- Resist the temptation to take things for granted. Whoever gets up first in my house makes the coffee. These days it’s often my husband, even though he switched to tea months ago. I always, always thank him for the coffee. It’s such a joy to come downstairs and smell the caffeine. A relationship gets stronger with every sincere thank you.

2 – Express the gratitude whenever possible – don’t keep it inside, don’t make someone guess. I first heard my daughter say “I appreciate you” to the man who later became her husband, and I love how that sounds and what it means. When you are grateful to the person and not just for the task done, it adds another layer of positivity.

3 – Appreciation is the opposite of contempt – One study on marriage ( Drs. John and Julie Gottman) found that the strongest indicator that divorce might be near was the attitude of contempt, as expressed in gestures like eye-rolling. Imagine what might change, if we could catch ourselves before expressing contempt, and substitute appreciation instead.

Judaism changes with the times, but one practice in its roots is the concept of everyday blessings for simple situations.  An early form of the “gratitude list” – but expressed many times in a day, in the moment. I don’t spout Hebrew prayers all day (don’t even know those prayers), but I love the concept. My days are richer when I look for appreciation moments instead of trying to remember it all and make a list before bed (which seldom seems to happen).

In my book, I also talk about thinking how we are grateful to other people (as well as a higher power if you wish), and not merely grateful for.

This simple change can add the element of Engagement and Connection to Appreciation.

No one is an island.

Say thank you. Or I appreciate you. Your relationship will be stronger for it, your life richer.

Thank YOU for reading this, and for any stories you care to share.

 

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Can Words Help Us Mid-Panic Attack?

Last week I experienced my first panic attack. Ever.

At least, that’s what the internet says it was.

All I know is: my body took over my brain. My heartbeat was too fast, too loud, too strong. My limbs were trembling. My mind and my heart were both racing; nausea took over my digestive system. I was one step away from asking my husband to take me to the Emergency Room – but I had no idea what they could have done for me. I would have voted for temporary oblivion.

Instead, I talked myself off the cliff- well, I talked myself away from the edge of the cliff – using the advice from my own book.

Talk about a test of the material.

The Core Phrases are not designed to fix any serious mental illness or condition – but it was worth a try. It turned out to be enough to allow me to get some hours of sleep, and to function at work the next day.

What happened?

Background: I’ve had three surgeries on my left hip, and the last two contained some “surprises” – in one case, a damaged nerve that resulted in paralysis of the left knee for months; in another, a defect in the replacement causing it suddenly to slip out of place, leaving me to squeak like a rusty hinge with each step until emergency surgery could be scheduled.

That was two years ago, and though I don’t have full function in the leg, I can walk. I’ll take it, gratefully.

But suddenly, last week, out of nowhere: shooting pain in that hip. Like – owwww!

I can deal with pain fairly well – I gave birth to two children – but what caused the panic?

Fear. And the unknown. My body remembers sudden trauma all too well, and my inner (primal) brain just took over my logical brain.

I did not decide to have a panic attack. My fear just stepped in and took over.  It worked overtime.

To make it even more stressful, I had to be up all week at 3 AM to do a work shift (radio), and there was no understudy.

Worry layered over worry – and pain, and nausea.

So I did the only thing I could do -I took my own advice. I lay there, trembling, and focused on my breath. I tried to take air all the way in. With each inhale, I started repeating the two phrases that seemed helpful through the fear:

All Will Be Well. (Core Phrase #4, Trust)

and

Whatever Happens, I’ll Handle It Somehow. (Core Phrase #7, Esteem)

Did I miraculously get all better? No. But the ship turned around enough so that I stopped spiraling, and didn’t make myself worse.

I repeated those phrases over and over until, mercifully, I fell asleep. I repeated them again at midnight when my fear woke me up again, and got three more hours of sleep. I was able to get up, walk (with a walker) to work, and get the job done. And research my symptoms to understand what my body had decided to do.

I’ll confirm at my orthopedic surgeon appointment tomorrow, but I think the hip pain is muscular (a muscle that rests on the sciatic nerve), and the rest of the episode was, indeed, my body in panic mode.

With any luck, this is treatable. With more luck, non-surgically.

But in the meantime, I know how to talk myself away from the cliff’s edge. Words work.

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It Is What It Is: How Accepting Reality Leads to Happier

Core Phrase #2: It Is What It Is.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because (a) I did not make up the phrase – it’s widely used, and (b) the Reality concept here is also about something we also hear a lot about: Acceptance. 

Whenever I find myself spinning my wheels about “why me?” and “this shouldn’t be this way”…I realize I’m doing just that…spinning my wheels, and with absolutely no traction. In mud. Or snow.

So I’ve learned to come back to It Is What It Is…and that seems to lead to a more useful thought/question: Now What?

Yep. Acceptance is hard – and the difficulty increases along with the gravity of the situation. But if we don’t (eventually) get there, we can stay lost in the negative emotions that keep us stuck, and we never ever move forward from Pity Party Land. Or the Judgment Zone. 

There is an audio preview of this chapter on soundcloud. enjoy!

 

 

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Happier Made Simple: The Book, Some Listening, and You

What is Happier Made Simple really all about?

It’s about little changes that can make a big difference.

Like: the words we use when we talk to ourselves, and to others.

Like: trying some actions even before they feel like second nature- and noticing what happens.

Like: taking small, consistent steps until you reach your goals.

I’m thrilled to let you know that I’ve finished writing the book Happier Made Simple: Choose Your Words. Change Your Life (Shortcuts to more Serenity in a Complicated World)

How? One 30-minute writing session at a time.

The road to publication is in progress, too, and here’s where you come in.

You can get a sneak peek by:

1- joining the new facebook page

2- listening and subscribing to audio messages – link below to one

3 – signing up for my mailing list to stay informed.

 

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Aging Proudly: 5 Ways to Fight Back Against “Age-Defying”

68. And a half. That’s my age number, and I’m proud of it.

Or at least I’m working on it. Constantly.

My little grandkids will announce my age number loud and proud to anyone in line at Stop and Shop –  so why does part of me cringe when they do?

We’re Here to Love and Pass On Wisdom

In my best self, I, too, announce the number loud and proud. But…that little inner voice…the one fueled by years of “don’t admit you’re a grandma”, and “but you don’t look your age” , Zoom image enhancers, Insta photos of Christie Brinkley in a swimsuit (rockin’ it, as she always has, now at age 67), and countless ads for products that invite us to DEFY age, to DENY age, and to FIGHT age…that inner voice sometimes struggles.

And then, there’s plastic surgery for vanity’s sake. Don’t even get me started — and yes, of course it’s sometimes tempting – not the slicing of my face, just the supposed results.

I once voiced a documentary that mentioned a myth where a young man was advised to “seek out someone with grey hair, for they will be wise.” When did that wisdom become something to be feared, hidden – something shameful?

I’m frickin; wise, dammit!

My biggest teachers here are my granddaughters, ages 5 and 3 1/2 – and (of course) their mom, my daughter. If I were to act all coy about my age, blush with embarrassment when someone says the number (gasp!) out loud, or stare into the mirror obsessing about my wrinkles – what does that say to them about getting older?

Happy Proud Birthday, whatever the number!

Getting older. Is it something to desire (seems to be, until about age 21…), or to bemoan? In this world, where Gen Z is poking fun at Millennials on TikTok (yes  -insert eyeroll here – I know what TikTok is. Also Clubhouse.), when do we express respect – and admiration – for the wisdom that comes with age?

Women (especially) are trained to pick apart their appearance, to focus on specific parts that they’d like to “fix.”. Other people – especially those who love us – see the whole, not the parts. My grandkids look at me and only see pure, mutual love.

 

Five ways to rethink Age-Defying:

1 – Notice what you are telling yourself about your age.  Catch yourself judging yourself – or others – when a number is mentioned. Is it the number, or what you are telling yourself it represents?

2 – Question where any negative “stories” come from. Is it that magazine ad you just saw for Botox? Is it the sitcom where the older person (parent, grandparent, senior manager) is portrayed as an idiot? Is it something that was modeled for you by your own family or friends? (“oh, my god, I look so old in that picture! Rip it up!!”)

3 – Replace the words with another message. Not so easy. Models are hard to find. Compile a list of go-to phrases that work for you. I often remind myself that women (especially) are trained to pick apart their appearance, to focus on specific parts that they’d like to “fix.”. Other people – especially those who love us – see the whole, not the parts. My grandkids look at me and only see pure, mutual love.

4 – Seek out role models for age-proudness – and be one. Look for celebrities who haven’t had plastic surgery.  Which ones own their age without apology? Who has a sense of humor about it? Think Bette Midler, Sigourney Weaver, Sally Field, Michael Douglas, Diane Keaton, Justine Bateman. Jeez, we all get older! We are LUCKY to get older. Hollywood, and advertising creators, just don’t often agree.

5 – Limit Social Media Overuse. Come on, seriously? Filters, photo editing, selfies that were the best out of 15. Instead: Learn something new. Take a class. Read a book. Draw a picture. Toss a ball. Take a walk somewhere where the trees are way oldewr than you are.  Expand horizons, that kinda thing. It’s what we’re here to do.

so….what next?

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