Sunday, November 28, 2010


What does it mean to be grateful? Here are some thoughts:

*Gratitude means being thankful for what you have.
*Being grateful means not longing for more than what you have.
*To be grateful means not coveting what others have.
*Gratitude means saying thank you even for difficult experiences, as they generally have something to teach us.
*A grateful person is one who does not complain all of the time.
*Living a life of gratitude requires taking time on a regular basis to think about (or to write down) what you  have to be thankful for in your life.
*Practicing gratitude means recognizing that the good things in life are gifts that are bestowed upon you (rather than things that you earn or deserve). 
*A grateful person feels thankful for any opportunity to help others or to make the world a better place.
*To be grateful you must first let go of any and all sense of entitlement.
*Being grateful means not taking anything for granted.
*A grateful person is one who outwardly expresses his gratitude to others.
*Practicing gratitude means paying attention to all the "small" things we receive from others on a daily basis, such as service at the grocery store or post office, cooperation from coworkers, etc.

Just some things to think about...

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Feelings as Habits

So I made it through the wedding and I actually really enjoyed myself.  When all the hubub died down I was emotionally drained.  During the days following the wedding I wavered between feeling exhausted, happy, anxious, and at peace.  When I first noticed myself feeling anxious I was confused.  Why would I be anxious?  After all, most of the excitement had died down and things were starting to go back to "normal" (whatever that means).  I did a brief inventory of what was going on in my life and ultimately determined that I had addressed everything that needed to be addressed and that there was not really anything in particular that I needed to worry about.  I immediately felt better after making this determination.  Still, several hours later I noticed myself feeling anxious again.  I did another mental assessment, determined that all was well, and again felt better.  I repeated this procedure several times a day.  After a few days it occurred to me that I'd been feeling so anxious for such an extended period of time (maybe starting two or three weeks before the wedding) that feeling anxious had become a habit of sorts.  My mind was simply resorting to the state to which it had become accustomed.  It took another week of reminding myself that I had nothing to be anxious about before my mind started to catch on.   

The fact that emotional states can become habitual is significant because I think that people often maintain a negative emotional state for no other reason than the fact that they've become used to feeling that way.  Research supports this observation.  Many studies have shown that, for example, feeling and expressing anger breed more feelings of anger.  Feelings of depression often lead to negative thoughts that create more feelings of depression that lead to more negative thoughts.  Any given emotional state is self-perpetuating,  In other words, feeling any given way becomes a habit.  When happiness breeds more happiness there typically aren't any problems.  When the self-perpetuating emotions are negative, however, they can be very disruptive.

I want to stress the importance of paying attention to your feelings.  Sometimes people interpret feelings of anxiety as a sign that something is wrong and they begin looking for things in their lives to worry about.  And of course if we look hard enough we can all find something in our lives to worry about.  The reality is that feeling anxious does not necessarily mean that there is, in fact, something to be anxious about.  That is why it is helpful to ask yourself, "Is there anything in my life right now that seems to be causing my anxiety?"  If the answer is no then recognize that there is no external cause for your anxiety and that it is most likely coming from some biochemical process taking place in your brain.  This gives you permission to stop looking for things to worry about...which is always a huge relief.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

When Good Things Happen

I once did this self-help exercise that asked me to list the happiest, most exciting moments in my life.  That wasn't too hard to do.  Graduation from high school and then college were natural first picks.  I quickly made a list detailing my life's defining moments.  The second part of the exercise asked the following: "Which part or parts of you were present for each of these events?"  I put some thought into it and wrote down my answers.  As I looked over my responses I noticed something surprising; "Anxious Melody" was the only "part" of me that was present at every single event. 

So what does that say about me?  Well, it's pretty clear that whenever something big happens, whether good or bad, I feel anxious.  I'd say that this is probably true for change as well (i.e., whenever there is a big change in my life, whether good or bad, I feel anxious).  I don't think I'm unusual in this aspect.  Many people experience anxiety during periods of change and/or uncertainty.  What I think is sort of sad, however, is that anxiety is the predominant emotion I experience when good things happen in my life.  If you recall, the exercise I mentioned earlier asked me to identify the happiest, most exciting moments of my life.  One would logically assume that a person would feel happy and excited during these times.  But not me - oh no.  Me, I just feel anxious.

So what should I do about it?  Well, I've simply accepted it.  Some would say that it is simply not acceptable to feel anxious in situations where most people feel happy.  Some would say that it's a problem that needs to be treated.  I was first diagnosed with an anxiety disorder when I was five years old.  I've been developing ways to adapt to and cope with it for most of my life.  I've received treatment and have been taking medication to manage my symptoms for over ten years.  Most of the time I don't feel anxious.  This is an improvement for me and I am grateful for it.  And still, when big things happen in my life I feel anxious.  I probably always will.  I just try to cope with it in healthy ways and find hope in knowing that I'll get through the transition and the anxiety will eventually fade. 

I share this story for a few reasons.  For one, I think it is important to work to address and solve problems whenever possible.  When you've done all you can do, however, it is important to know when to stop fighting against what is and to simply accept it.  Secondly, I think anyone who has ever struggled with anxiety will probably be able to identify with some of what I've said.  And lastly, it's relevant to me at this particular point in time in my life.  I'm getting married on Saturday and my anxiety has been off the charts this past week.  So wish me luck...

Friday, November 5, 2010

America the Superpower

I don't talk about politics very often on this blog because I know it can be a polarizing subject and my aim is to bring people together, not to divide them.  However, given the recent midterm elections and the ever growing hostility between the two political parties I thought I should take a minute to reflect on the current political situation. 

The focus of the midterm campaigns was on the nation's financial situation, to include the economy.  This makes sense, given that so many people are unemployed (or underemployed).  People are worried about the national deficit.  They believe that our government is spending too much money and digging a financial hole that we'll never be able to get out of.  I'm not going to pretend to know the actual ramifications of an expanding deficit.  I'm assuming that at some point the taxpayers will be forced to pay for it.  I don't think anyone would argue that we should just continue spending and increasing our national debt without worrying about it.  The conflict arises over how to go about decreasing the deficit.

Now I'm no economist, but I have done a little reading on the subject.  From what I understand, there are two basic ways to decrease the national deficit: raise taxes (so the government takes in more money) or reduce spending (so the government spends less money).  Raising taxes is not popular.  No one wants to see more money coming out of their paychecks.  What about reducing spending?  Well, here's the thing.  A significant majority of government spending (and I mean a SIGNIFICANT majority) goes to pay for the following: Medicare, Medicaid, SSI, public assistance programs, and defense.  What politician wants to risk their career by proposing cuts to disabled people, uninsured children, or the military? 

So you can see the problem.  If we are to decrease the deficit in any significant way we have a choice between two unpleasant options.  Either raise taxes or cut government programs for some of our neediest citizens.  Or...reduce defense spending.

I work for the military and I support our service members 100%.  But here's something to think about.  What are our nation's priorities?  People say they want to decrease the deficit but they are not willing to give anything up in order to do it.  America is the only remaining world "superpower."  We need a big military so we can send troops all over the world to defend our way of life.  Or so goes popular sentiment.  I wonder though, can America really afford to be a superpower anymore?  I'm not saying we should cut our military down to nothing, but perhaps we could just mind our own business and let the world deal with itself.  That's not to say we shouldn't get involved in conflicts that threaten the safety of our country, but do we really need troops everywhere that we have them?  We have military bases all over the world in places where there isn't any conflict at all and hasn't been for decades.  Meanwhile, here at home, the economy goes down the tubes and we bicker about how to decrease the deficit.

It seems to me like our country has some hard choices to make.  The fact of the matter is, taxes are going to have to be raised, either now or later.  AND spending is going to have to be cut from places we don't want to cut it.  So what we really need to do as a nation is examine our priorities.  What is most important to us?  Where do we need to spend the most money?  Where can we spend less money?  It's just something to think about...

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