Failing At Life

Last year, Hubs and I went on a vacation to Mexico. We try to do vacations on our own at least once a year. I’m a travel fiend, and I also think it’s good for a marriage to have time to reconnect with each other without children being present.

We drove to a Cenote one day to rappel into (scariest but most amazing day of my life), and on the way back to the resort we drove through some small Mexican villages.

Descending into the Cenote

Our tour guide said, “I know you look at this and see poverty. I know you look at this and feel sorry for these people. Please don’t. This is the way they live. They have a simple way of life, and they are happy. They have everything they need: food, shelter, water, and love.” In essence, those people who look to us like they have nothing actually have their priorities straight.

We have gotten a lot of things wrong in the United States over the last few decades. We have also gotten a lot of things right. I love our country but sometimes I think we tend to focus on the unimportant things. To feel fulfilled and nurtured, we need social connection.

Lately, I feel like I’ve been failing at life. But, honestly, I think it’s our way of life that is failing me. It’s not meeting my needs. It’s making me feel far away from people. It’s literally making me lonely. I think we all need to step back and take a good, hard look at our lives and realize what’s really important in the end: love and family. Because we shouldn’t only feel connected to one another on vacation.

iPhones were invented as a way to help people connect socially, but they achieved the exact opposite. Now, we use our iPhones to shut one another out. How many people do you see every day walking around staring at a screen instead of what’s around them? I do this too. I come home from work every day, and my children are glued to their screens. We make them put them down for dinner, and lately, only because I needed and wanted a change in our family dynamic I’ve been doing other things with them at night to show them my love. Children thrive off of attention. When they don’t get it, they turn to electronics thinking it will feed their deep biological need for love and nurturing BUT IT DOESN’T!  Our families feel further apart than ever as we partake in technology, loving our electronics more than the living breathing people who should feel like they are the most important part of our lives.

And schedules. Work has become the driving force of America. That’s what happens in a capitalist economy where everything revolves around how many THINGS one person can buy. No thing will make you happy. People, with their cellphones, can now be reached 24 hours a day. They don’t know how to put their work away and truly relax. They are always available. This creates needless stress to them and to their families. Because while they might be available to work they are not emotionally available at home. It’s very hard to maintain a true presence while having one foot in the work-world and one foot in the domestic-world. Neither gets your full attention. Mistakes are made at work, and at home families suffer from lack of enough quality time with one another.

Parents, including me, over-schedule their kids and run ourselves ragged trying to get them everywhere, even as they juggle a job and their own social life.

Yesterday, I took Darling Daughter to OT at 2 PM (feeling bad I was missing work–trapped between two worlds that demand so much of me), came home for about an hour, did homework with the kids, took Son Number One to tutoring, and then met Hubby at the soccer field to pick up Son Number Two and Darling Daughter so we could eat and see a friend play. I didn’t get home until 9 PM, and by that time I was so riled up that I’d made myself angry. I shouted at my Hubby because I over-scheduled my day and felt worn ragged.

I wonder what kind of effect our always-on-the-go-no-down-time lifestyle is having on our kids. There’s no time to sit and reflect on life. Kids are bored without electronics. They need to be constantly entertained and so many of them don’t know how to have a real-life conversation unless they’re doing it through FaceTime. It’s no wonder people feel isolated and alone. It’s no wonder mental illness is on the rise.

We can learn something from that small Mexican village. What’s most important in life is meeting basic needs and LOVE. We are social creatures, and we thrive off of interaction with each other. Babies have failure to thrive if they are not treated with love, touched, hugged, and cared for. Why is it so hard for us to understand this lesson and bring it into our Western way of life?

Lauren and Hubs Ek Balam

Hubs and me at Ek Balam

When was the last time you stopped and enjoyed the little things? When was the last time you looked up from your phone to experience a moment of awe (the sun rising, the moon glowing, the waves crashing on the beach?)? When was the last time you sat down with your family, put away all the electronics, and really enjoyed one another? 

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To Be

Shakespeare__Cobbe_portrait

There’s a famous author named Shakespeare (ever heard of him?) who wrote the words, “To be, or not to be; that is the question?” And maybe Shakespeare, in his famous play  Hamlet had it right when it came to happiness and emotions all those years ago.

This week, I read an article that Harvard psychologists think the more one tries to be happy the less satisfied or happy they are. This seems counter-intuitive, because in life we are told the harder we try the more successful we are. We see these results over and over again. If we study, we do well on a test. If we work hard and bring in business, we get a promotion. If we set a goal and work hard to achieve it we’ll succeed. Following the same formula, it would make sense to think, if we try to be happy then we will be happy.

Instead of trying to be happy, the psychologists argue that “showing up” to your emotions and allowing yourself to feel produces a happier and more fulfilled person overall. When we allow ourselves to feel our emotions without judging them, even our negative emotions, we receive important information about why we’re feeling that way. This information can help us make necessary changes for a happier life. It can help us become more assertive. It can help us get rid of negative people in our life. It can serve as a signal that something in our life needs to be changed. When we sweep our emotions under the rug, they come back to haunt us, so to speak.

One of the parts of the article that really resonated with me was the part about stopping judgment. The author states, we should stop labeling whether our emotions and thoughts are good or bad. When we have thoughts they are just thoughts, and we should let the thoughts come and go. When we have emotions, they are just emotions, and we should let those emotions come and go. The article ended with the following quote, “Ultimately, the goal is to be — rather than to be happy, which is somewhat freeing.”

The thought is freeing. Instead of struggling to find elusive happiness, just be. Feel emotions: sadness, happiness, joy, cowardice, anger. Allow your brain to receive the information that your body is trying to give you so you can make changes that will lead to a more fulfilled life. As someone who suffers from depression, I’ve struggled with my down times. I’ve told myself to snap out of it before. I’ve swept feelings under the rug. I’ve done everything. But through the years, I’ve learned that my down times come in a cycle. And they usually are there to remind me of what my up times feel life. Without sadness, we would never know what joy feels like, right? This analogy was described perfectly in the movie Inside Out. If you have not seen it, rent it. I’ve started to let myself experience those down times without further negating myself and without trying to artificially drag myself out of the deep dark ditches of depression before my body and mind are ready. And since I started realizing my feelings and thoughts are valid and not good or bad, my depressive periods have lessened. Plus, on the upside after I go through a depressive period I generally have a great period of creativity. The darkness leads to the light.

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Letting Go

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By Camdiluv ♥ from Concepción, CHILE – Colours, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19871961

A few years ago, a movie came out. If you have little girls, you certainly saw it. My own little girl was still really little, and we didn’t go to the movies. Instead, we waited patiently for Santa Claus to deliver the little case with Frozen inside. And we sang and listened to the song a million times: Let It Go. It’s good advice, and if you listen to the song it’s about letting go of fears, expectations, and the past.

As I said in my blog last week, I’m reading The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. Kondo writes about how purging and cleaning out allows you to let go of the past and live in the present. Being someone who has suffered from depression for most of my adult life, I have problems with living in the past. I go through times where my past seems to haunt me, almost a present-being within my life, absorbing and sucking all the joys from today. I think we have a lot to learn from the past, but I also think some people, including me get stuck trying to relive the moments that made us happy.

I cleaned out clothes this past week. And I must have had 8 or 9 bags full. I threw out American University t-shirts I hadn’t worn in years. When I held them in my hands, I felt the memories sitting in them taking up space in my life where new memories could be made. I hesitated, and then tossed them. This was a milestone because for me, I have a hard time letting go. When people leave me or move on, and as life moves on, I mourn the past joys, excessively. Recently, I read that happiness is a moment. Those glimmers of sunshine where you know a memory will stick. Humans have a want to hold onto those moments and try to make them permanent when really the beauty in them is their impermanence.

I look at happiness as an action. Happiness has to be created. One has to stop living in the past or the future and focus on finding happiness every day. This can be done by influencing your happiness. Surround yourself by people you love, exercise, smile, laugh, find a sense of humor, be accepting and loving and giving. These are all ways to make yourself happy through action.

I haven’t gotten to the hard part of cleaning out: mementos. Last time I went through all of my writing and letters from the past, I ended up severely depressed. I’m thinking of scanning the letters this time and throwing out the originals. I have letters from my grandparents at camp when I was a kid. I have letters from ex-boyfriends and ex-wannabe-boyfriends. I have letters from friends who are no longer friends. Perhaps the funniest thing I kept was a fax from my mother when I ran out of funds in Spain asking me if I had drank all of my money away (I had). Boy, she knew me!

Since I started purging, my creativity has blossomed again. I don’t think it’s coincidental. I think the act of purging is redefining my desire to be a full time writer. I know writing makes me happy and defines who I am, and in purging I’ve realized the more I run away from that thought the unhappier I am.

How do you focus on the present? What are some tricks you have for letting go? What’s your dream in life?

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Writing the Feelings

Today is my 37th birthday. Not too young. Not too old. But it’s gone so fast. Actually, the first twenty years or so went super slowly. Then it took off. I don’t even remember the last ten years of my life. They were mostly filled with dirty diapers, grades, too much to do, spousal spats and reconciliations, gaining and losing friends, and kids growing up at the speed of light.

I’ve been down this week. And I think it’s because I’m not doing what I expected to do with my life. Plus, I started cleaning out my closets yesterday and stumbled upon pictures from college and when the kids were little. Nostalgia always makes me feel down. Not regret. But a sense of loss to a certain extent. I attach myself easily to people, and I feel such a sadness when they are no longer in my life.

But depression is a liar as someone told me yesterday. Depression tries to tell me I’m worthless. It tries to tell me I can’t and won’t achieve my goals. Well that’s total bullshit. And I know it. Deep down on the inside, I know I have it within me to write and to lead the life I want. Happiness is not elusive. It’s a decision.

I’ve told you before, but I HAVE to write. I have to write to get all the bad feelings out. I go through life smiling, because mostly I am happy. And I can find the positive in my life every day. But sometimes I feel so down. And this just happens to be one of those weeks.

The one thing about feeling down is it energizes my writing. I can type and hurt my characters. I can twist their souls with angst, guilt, anger, sadness. All of the above. All of the things I can’t seem to express that feel stuck inside. You see, I’m a better writer than a communicator. And it hurts me when it comes to real life relationships. People have always thought I was so cool because I didn’t give a damn what people thought of me. And perhaps this is why I tend to have more close male friends than female friends. Girls seem to get caught up in the small bits without looking at the bigger picture. And I’ve always been a bigger picture type person. I love and care about my male friends. But I need and want female friendships. I’m just not sure how to go about making them and keeping them.

I think I’m open and caring, but I feel like I can’t express my deepest wants and desires to others. In the past, I let the fear of intimacy rule my life. I didn’t tell certain people I loved them when I did. I didn’t tell them my wants and desires. I expected them to read my mind. And I became sullen and angry when they didn’t. Instead of expressing those emotions to them, I let them walk out of my life. Eventually I learned how to express all of that in my writing and it became an outlet for conversations never had, wants and needs never lived. Fear stifled my creativity and became a thief of happiness in my life.

But I’ve reached the point where pretending to make other people happy isn’t worth it anymore. I’m tired of living in a pretend world. I want the important people in my life to know what I think. I want them to know when I feel disappointment, sadness, love, excitement. I’m tired of being stuck in a box of despair, at the whim of my moods and emotions. And so, I’m trying to make a change. Once again. And feeling a little stuck in the muck.

It’s hard to change a behavior and a way of life I’ve been living for years. It’s hard to stop hiding when things get tough. It’s hard to stop shutting people out when all I really want is to let people in. As I work through these heavy emotions and feelings, I’ll be writing more for sure. But I also plan to be listening more, engaging more, and cleaning out my closet of all the emotional clutter that only serves as an impediment to my happiness.

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PS: The Devil Within is only available until May 31, 2016. Don’t forget to get your copy while you still can at Amazon.

Parenting and Expectations

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Kids. Guilt. Expectations. They go together like three peas in a pod. I probably read every article I come across about parenting. Some serve to judge. Some serve not to judge. Some ask people not to judge while they are then judging other people. Judgment is just human nature. Taking all the information in, processing it, and then finding what works for me as a parent is what I normally attempt to do. It isn’t a fine science.

A few years ago, I found I felt angry a lot. I took it out on my husband and my kids. I yelled and I snapped. I snipped at people. And it only made me feel worse. It took me a while, but I found a way to control that anger, especially when I realized it made my kids act like me. They took on all my anxiety and anger, and they began to express it. They expressed it in their play and in the way they interacted with other people. And that was not something I wanted, because I knew it was one of my major flaws. It prohibited me from appropriately relating to other people. It caused a cease of communication, when all I really wanted was to communicate.

I still have a temper. Sometimes I get so mad I could hit something. Instead, I write. Or do yoga. Or I go for a walk. Or I take a hot bath. I try to push a pause button until I feel better.

I thought taking the anger away was enough. I wanted my children to avoid feeling like they had to please me and their father above themselves. You see, for a long time I felt that way. My parents had HUGE expectations of me, and everything I had striven for in my early adulthood I did for them instead of for myself. I couldn’t figure out why it was so important for me to make them happy. And that feeling made me unhappy. Trying to please others above yourself always makes one feel unhappy, because you never know if you’re succeeding at it and because you’ve placed your happiness in the hands of another person who you have no control over. I felt like I had to be a superhero to avoid my dad’s criticism or to mold myself into their idea of success. And I don’t want that for my children. I love my parents, and I don’t blame them at all. They’re good parents, and they’re there for me, and everyone should be as lucky as I am to have been born of such wonderful, loving people. I know my parents are proud of me. I know it’s my own life to live, and I know that they didn’t mean to heap their expectations on to me. Parents should expect a lot from their children, but children should also expect more from themselves. They should be taught that success is driven by achieving their expectations of themselves, not by reacting to others expectations of them.

I read this great article yesterday (from April 2014) titled What to Say Instead of Praising. Praising brings conditionality into a relationship. In fact, saying “Good job,” implies that you expect them to be good. Instead of “Good job,” say “You did it!” and match your child’s excitement. This is one of the hints from the article. This also allows your child to realize the value of what they did, without feeling like they have to do a good job to please you. Instead, they learn that working hard reaps benefits for themselves. It in fact, leads them to succeed without having the burden of having to please their parents.

I think I say, “Good job,” more than any other phrase to my kids. And this morning, I changed that. I sent Hailey to the car while I went to the bathroom. I said, “Hey, if you try to buckle up while I’m in the bathroom it’ll be a big help to me.” She beamed at me.

When I came back from the bathroom, she was in the car completely buckled with a huge grin on her face, “Look Mom!” And I had to bite my tongue. My first instinct was to say, “Good job!” but I didn’t. Instead I said, “Look. You did it!” and I grinned back at her and gave her a love pat.

Like consciously stopping my anger, this is something I’ll have to work on as well. But I think like the article stated it will increase my children’s self-esteem. It will show them they have the power within to succeed in the ways they want to succeed. Instead of trying to understand and live up to my expectations as adults, they’ll live up to their own expectations and create happiness from within. At least this is what I hope for them.

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PS: The Devil Within is only available for the next three weeks. Don’t forget to get your copy while you still can at Amazon.

Expect Less, Live More

When I went to Midwest Writer’s way back in July (it now feels like eons ago), someone said to make a name for yourself you have to blog. She/he (all the faces blurred together-sorry for vagueness) said readers like to hear from authors consistently, so set up a blog schedule and stick to it. Well, obviously I’ve fallen short in that category. I intend to blog three times each week, but sometimes things happen (like lice, or vacation, sick kids, sick me, anxiety-ridden can only sit on the couch and watch seventeen episodes in a row of How I Met Your Mother type days). But it got me thinking about expectations.

A few years back, I felt unhappy. And during that time, I found my love for writing again. I started writing for catharsis, to heal old wounds, and new. I wrote to rid myself of feelings I deemed wrong or inappropriate. I wrote to find solace from within myself. I wrote so I could function every day and not curl up into a ball and rock back and forth in a corner even though some days I wanted to. Back then, I held myself and everyone around me up to sky-high expectations. And it was a nightmare.

Unrealistic expectations of others only serves to further unhappiness in yourself. When one has expectations of other people that those people don’t meet, then one is stuck in a state of disappointment. How can you be happy when you’re constantly disappointed with others? Expectations become a little like mind-reading. Come on, we all say we’re not mind-readers, but the truth is many of us expect others to read our minds. Many of us expect others to fill the void within us. Many of us expect to achieve happiness from other people, instead of searching for it where it really exists: inside ourselves.

When I really thought about this—letting go of expectations—I thought it was ridiculous. I mean come on. My whole life, I’d been trying to live up to my parents’ expectations, to my bosses’ expectations, to my teachers’ expectations, and to my own unrealistic expectations of achieving perfection. I wanted my marriage and life to seem perfect, and in the end I had set unrealistic expectations for myself. When I realized this, I sank further into the dark pit of oblivion called depression. And I had to pull myself out, one layer at a time. I had to realize by letting go of expectations that I had what it took to make myself happy and to spread that joy around.

You see, having expectations for yourself is okay, as long as you don’t set the bar too high. I have goals and expectations for myself on a daily basis, but I’m not afraid of failure anymore. I know failure is an opportunity to learn.

It took me a while to learn that pegging your expectations on others, well, that doesn’t work. It destroys relationships. It destroys friendships. It destroys happiness. Now when I reach out to a friend, I do it because I want to. Sure, in a perfect world, it’d be nice for my friends to always reciprocate. But I know when they don’t, it’s because they got busy. I’m not catastrophizing about all the reasons they don’t like me. I’m done obsessing about where they disappeared to when they didn’t call. Because all these things—they’re crazy-making, not happy-making! If you really want to know whether someone is your friend or not, then be there for them, and see if they give back from the deepness of their hearts. Talk to them. Put the phone down and meet them for lunch. Tell them how you feel. Stop guessing and expecting other people to read your mind!

The only person in this life who can make you happy is you. Let go of your expectations for others. Give because you want to give, not because you want someone to give back. I promise, if you do this you’ll see the world differently and it might even make you happy. Hold yourself accountable for your own happiness.

Have you found happiness? Have you found ways to let go of your expectations? If you’re a writer, do you write for happiness?


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