Tuesday, January 1, 2019

New Year's Resolution: Strive to Be Happy

Will Smith in "The Pursuit of Happyness."
Happiness – that's the watchword! All resolutions should be geared towards bringing greater happiness to the individual. The pursuit and accomplishment of a resolution should bring more peace and fulfillment; should allow one’s authenticity to shine through and take the place of fear, shame, doubt, sadness, and discontent.

Thus, striving to be happy is the essential framework for the setting of resolutions. I feel many resolutions are set in a framework of shame, that one is not living up to one’s potential; or discontent, that one is not good enough as one is, or does not have enough.

No wonder resolutions tend to fail. The emotion behind them, even if unstated or unacknowledged, is negative. Many people despair when they look at their resolutions in the cold light of January 2nd, because the list just reminds them how lacking they believe they are.

Equally sad is those people who are high achievers who bend their will to fulfill all their goals, yet at the end of the day still aren't happy. There's a real disconnect there!

What makes you happy?

Making good resolutions is a process that starts with defining what makes you happy. I honestly believe – and have often experienced – that goals are most quickly achieved when there is an undercurrent of excitement about them. If a resolution does not make you feel joyful, or excited, or filled with eager anticipation, then it is likely to fail. And what happens then? You find yourself trapped in a negative cycle of feeling bad, setting an uninspiring goal, and feeling worse when the desired end fails to materialize.

Invest time in some inner exploration to identify that which makes you really happy. Recall moments of pure happiness in your past – even if they were fleeting. Try out some ideas in your mind and ask yourself if the thought of them really makes you happy – or are they in fact being suggested by guilt or shame or some other negative emotion?

Living an authentic life is very happy-making. Authenticity is honoring who you really are, doing what you are meant to do, developing your innate skills and talents, and living the kind of life that leaves a unique legacy when you are gone.

When you are living authentically, you feel “right” in yourself. It’s like flying in the slipstream – you know you are on the right course. There is less drag on your energy. The milestones ahead are consonant with your vision for your life.

When you have a few ideas that make you happy, jot them down on your list of resolutions.


Obstacles to being happy

Many people don't know how to be happy. True story! They pursue the wrong ends, are too scattered or cluttered to be effective, try to be something they are not, or suffer from topsy-turvy beliefs that damage their self-esteem and drive. Here are four common stumbling blocks that prevent many people from being happy.

1. External focus – “Stuff will make me happy.”
Happiness is an inward quality, but in our culture, we are brainwashed to believe that happiness is something you get from things, such as accumulating more and fancier belongings; or from circumstances, such as having a particular job or living in a particular place; or status, such as being married or being famous. People allow themselves to feel unhappy because they lack those things or that status. What rubbish! Jesus called this “building your house on sand.” Buddha clearly taught that we only feel peace when we rid ourselves of attachment to such longings. You don’t have to be religious to realize that dialing down your longing for externals makes room in the heart for emotional equilibrium. If possessions, circumstances, or status are the primary source of your happiness, then you condemn yourself to misery when your situation changes and you lose part or even all of your talismans.
2. Future focus – “I’ll be happy when …”
True happiness is not conditional on circumstances. I once met a woman who had been unhappy for years. She persisted in thinking that when her family moved again, or something else in her situation had changed, she would finally be happy. She projected all her hopes into an ephemeral future and lived in a state of misery.
Friends, unhappiness is a shadow that packs its bags and moves with you. You must find happiness here and now, in this place and moment – or not at all.
3. Negative thoughts – “Oh, woe is me!”
Perhaps it’s part of the human condition, but some people get so stuck in patterns of negative thinking that they can never be truly happy. Stop it now! If you suffer from this, you need to reboot your brain by practicing positive affirmations and learning to look for the good around you. Teach yourself the art of appreciating little things every day. 
4. Negative speech - “Oh, woe is me,” part 2.
The worst thing anyone can do is to worry out loud. There is an energy behind words that “puts it out there” into the universe and may attract the thing you fear. Negative words affect the mood of others, too, and bringing down the people around you is hideously counter-productive.
How to be happy

1. Apply possibility thinking to your problems.
Instead of dwelling on a problem and using your fertile imagination to explore all the terrible ramifications that could result, turn your thoughts around and imagine all the possible solutions and upsides. Force yourself, if you need to – “fake it till you make it,” as they say. Your mood will lift as the heaviness of the problem is whittled away by thoughts of solutions, workarounds, and remediation. “Chance favors only the prepared mind,” said Louis Pasteur. Prepare to find a happy outcome by planting thoughts of positive possibilities in your mind.
2. Really know that happiness is an inside job.
You have to truly make this statement an integral part of your belief system. Sure, we can enjoy acquiring new things or piling up more money or singing like an angel or having a body like Superman or Wonder Woman, or insert your old resolutions here. That’s all part of the enjoyment of life, and we should all try to better ourselves and the world as much as we can. But remember that enduring happiness is that eternal glow that comes from within and is not dependent on things, circumstances, or status.
3. Indulge yourself sometimes.
Many people feel guilty if they are not doing for others 24/7. Being other-centered is a virtue, but if service to others does not spring from a well of joy and charity in our heart, it becomes a burden. It makes us bitter, angry and tired, and the resulting stress can lead to physical illness. When your resolution framework is “strive to be happy,” you will be able to find the right balance between service to others and care of the self.
4. Make room for happiness by cleaning the "house" of your heart.
I don't know how anyone who is burdened with guilt, shame, or sin could feel happy. But I do know some great ways to lighten that load. For many people, turning their life over to Christ and receiving divine forgiveness bears immediate results. But for most people, including Christians, honestly facing one's weaknesses and faults and restoring one's relationships is a process that takes some time. 
The gold standard for cleaning up one's life is the Twelve Steps. If you do not struggle with an addiction (or a relationship with an addict) you do not have to join a group. The Twelve Steps in themselves are effective for everyone. Pay particular attention to the steps in which you ask God for help, take a personal inventory, and make amends to those whom you have hurt.
5. Stay open to the unexpected.
Deepak Chopra makes a wonderful case for embracing the unexpected: "When you live your life with an appreciation of coincidences and their meanings, you connect with the underlying field of infinite possibilities." Making resolutions, or plans of any kind, that are too watertight, closes the door on the possibility of something even better happening. One could also say, "Expect a miracle." Why not?!
6. Be happy with what you have.
How many things did you buy because you thought they would make you happy? Almost everything you own, I bet! So instead of hitting the mall or the online shops yet again, stop. Look around you, and enjoy every single thing you have right now. Appreciate what each item does to make your life a little better. It is probably sufficient for your needs. So let gratitude well up in you. When your heart is full, you won’t feel such a craving to go spend more money on more stuff. This is an excellent way to reduce debt as well.

Strive to be happy 

Can this simple phrase really be your only resolution? Quite possibly, it could. You may wish to add some color and excitement to your resolution by also jotting down those things that make you happy and will enable you to live your most authentic life. You could also create life categories such as health, family, relationships, talents, finances, leisure, self-improvement, and so on, which may help you organize your thoughts and remember some additional areas you'd like to be happy in. Just please, ask yourself what would true happiness would look like in all those categories before you write down any tiresome, old-style goals.

Keep your eye on the prize, as they say, and keep believing you can attain it. If you are really excited about your resolution, your beliefs will fire up a sub-current of activity that naturally guides your behavior and effort in that direction.

When you strive for happiness, you will be more powerful and successful in everything you undertake.

Wishing all my readers a happy year ahead!

Quotes for inspiration


"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." - Jeremiah 29:11

"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things." - Philippians 4:8

"Pray, hope and don't worry." - Padre Pio

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Delay Is Not Denial

A wonderful, uplifting passage from God Calling, by Two Listeners.
Delay is not denial - not even withholding. It is the opportunity for God to work out your problems and accomplish your desires in the most wonderful way possible for you.

May 1:

Read the lessons of Divine control in Nature's laws.

Nature is but the expression of Eternal Thought in Time. Study the outward form - grasp the Eternal Thought, and if you can read the thoughts of the Father, then indeed you know Him.

Leave Me out of nothing. Love all My ways with you. Know indeed that "All is well." Delay is but the wonderful and all-loving restraint of y
our Father - not reluctance, not desire to deny - but the Divine control of a Father who can scarcely brook the delay.

Delay has to be - sometimes. Your lives are so linked up with those of others, so bound by circumstances that to let your desire have instant fulfillment might in many cases cause another, as earnest prayer, to go unanswered.

But think for a moment of the Love and thoughtful care that seek to harmonize and reconcile all your desires and longings and prayers.

Delay is not denial - not even withholding. It is the opportunity for God to work out your problems and accomplish your desires in the most wonderful way possible for you.

Oh! children, trust Me. Remember that your Maker is also your Servant, quick to fulfill, quick to achieve, faithful in accomplishment. Yes. All is well.

For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:9

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Choices

Remember. You ALWAYS have choices. Even when it seems you don't, you can choose to pray. This is the power that brings more and better choices to you. So don't allow yourself to be stuck. Pray, and exercise your choices.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

I have met the crone within, and she is us

By Cynthia Edwards
Dec. 18, 2002

If you read self-help books, as I do, you’ll know that many of the New Age authors recommend exercises of the imagination where you turn inward to meet and gain wisdom from an inner sage. This persona is sometimes called the higher self, a spiritual guide, or, more suspiciously, for women, the Crone Within.

As intrigued as I am by the idea of absorbing wisdom without having to buy any more self-help books, I’m rather afraid that if I meet some inner android who claims to know more than I do, she will turn out to be an evil step-mother type, looking like Cruella De Vil and giving me advice like I should wear nice underwear in case I get hit by a bus.

Psychotherapists—from Dr. Phil on down—also tell us that even healthy people have voices living inside, which may do damage if allowed to prattle on, unchecked. There is the inner critic, for instance, who is constantly taunting us and never letting us get away with anything. Even our good deeds can get a thorough hosing by the inner critic if he or she is inclined to be scrupulous.

It’s bad enough for an overweight person like myself to feel that there is a thin person inside struggling to get out (or as Edina Monsoon’s mother dryly observed, “Just the one, dear?”). But to know there is also a crone waiting to be birthed, a sage puffing up to pontificate, and a possibly pipe-smoking critic hoping to spread vitriol far and wide—a girl starts sympathizing deeply with Greta Garbo who just wanted to be alone.

If all these personae are known to be living inside me, recently I started to wonder who else might be lurking in the shadows of my psyche. Feeling pretty sure that I was sound enough of mind to face the truth, I decided to hold a town hall meeting of my inner selves. I closed my eyes, and imagined.

The Brothers Grimm meet the U.N. 

 

It was my visualization, so I got to choose the setting. I was going for a five-star Riviera hotel banquet scene, with soft white table cloths, champagne-filled goblets, delectable catering and waiters who had stepped straight off the pages of the Chippendales calendar. However, I couldn’t seem to conjure all that up. In practice the scene looked like a Colonial meeting hall—very plain, with wooden floors and folding chairs. Oh, well, I thought. At least there’s room enough here for all the characters to assemble.

And indeed there was, but only because the room kept expanding to accommodate newcomers, as though it had ingested one of Alice in Wonderland’s magic mushrooms. Peeking out from behind a curtain, I watched them come in. I saw Echoes of my Childhood. Shades of my Past. Intimations of Things to Come. I counted a number of brightly dressed extroverts, and some bossy ladies in sensible shoes and a strong sense of self-assurance. There were thoughtful characters who sat down and observed, as I did, with an air of quiet amusement. A Harlequin swung across the ceiling on a trapeze, singing, and somewhere at the back, a baby hiccupped.

When a few hundred good, bad and generally confused characters had arrived, I started the proceedings by banging my shoe on the podium. I had to do something to get their attention above the din. Everyone was talking at once, it seemed, and not all in the pleasantest of tones. It was a family reunion, after all. You’ve got to expect a little chaos, and some pushing and shoving for the most prominent place.

When the cacophony had subsided to a dull roar, I addressed the group.

“Hello, and welcome,” I began, trying not to show my unease at the large number of totally unrecognized faces.

“Sez you,” came a jeer from the back, and there was a general tittering. The Inner Jackass had made its appearance. I plunged ahead.

“I have gathered you here today to get to know you, and find out if any of you have needs that are perhaps unmet, or contributions you can make to my growth as a person.” I had started to sweat, and I prayed it wasn’t visible from the audience. I knew from experience this was an unpredictable crowd.

Olga, my Inner Gypsy and a familiar adversary, did an ostentatious twirl in the aisle and smacked her tambourine, rattling it until all eyes were fixed upon her. With her sultry looks and black tumultuous hair she was a fetching sight. Effective attention-getting devices, I thought in a detached manner.

“Ve vant to travel!” she cried in a throaty Hungarian voice. “Ve vant to step into our colorful gypsy cart and roam around ze world, playing sensuous music by day and dancing around ze fire by night!” The crowd was swept away with this image. They stamped their feet and hooted their approval. I was as enchanted as the rest.

“OK! More travel,” I said, scribbling a note. “Anyone else? Who’s next?”

A long, lean fellow in a tight velvet suit with yards of lace dangling from his cuffs rose to his feet and waved his pince-nez in the air in little circles. “Sink me,” he exclaimed in a thoroughly affected British accent, “a trip to Paris would be most welcome. And along the way we could wear disguises and defeat the forces of evil. If you could—ahem!—put that on your little list.” And he twiddled his index finger in the direction of my notepad.

My inner Scarlet Pimpernel had spoken, and that was two check-marks for a trip abroad. Hey, we’re getting somewhere, I thought. Maybe this explains some of the longings I have felt to get up and go somewhere. Maybe this explains my exquisite manners and the last frilly blouse I purchased, too. But just as I was relaxing and thinking the exercise was making sense, a large, boorish woman with talons for hands marched up on stage and shoved me aside. She sank her claws into the podium and leaned threateningly towards the audience, which collectively shrank back to the precise degree she was leaning forward. Then this Inner Harpy began a harangue that would have shredded the ego of Super Girl. Suddenly I knew who was making my plants wither during the dark hours of the night, and leaving rings around the bathtub.

Fortunately the crowd was united in their disapproval of the Harpy, and she was quickly escorted off the stage and out of our consciousness by a gaggle of kindly but determined nuns.

The demon exorcised, the rest of us were able to relax and have fun.

A few more characters who felt neglected spoke up and expressed their needs, all of which I noted for future action. I looked around for the Thin Woman who’s supposed to live inside me, but I honestly didn’t see her. Of course she might be so emaciated she’d be invisible behind a gypsy mandolin. I also looked in hope for the elegant, high-fashion Me I was sure must be dying to take control of my wardrobe. But if she was there, she must have fallen off her spike heels and run to the bathroom for a repair. Again, I was disappointed.

As the session drew to a close, a genteel elderly woman in rimless glasses, leaning slightly on a knobby cane, delivered some surprisingly insightful and inspirational comments, and with this closure, the scene faded quietly away.

Back in consciousness, I wondered about the meaning of all this. Am I, like Benjamin Franklin’s biographer said of him, a “harmonious human multitude”? Am I ruler of a ‘queendom’ of subjects having varying talents and qualities? I suspect it is it all just a metaphor for the glorious and messy thing we call human life.

Meeting so many personae in my dream gave me one insight that had been eluding me for the last decade or more. Having many intelligences and talents coiled within makes me feel like a person who is pregnant with possibilities. And like all pregnant ladies, I’m not just eating for one. When you’re feeding as many egos as I am, you’re bound to put on little weight.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The New South Africa

An editorial on the first general election held in the new South Africa. Published on the Viewpoints editorial page of the Dallas Morning News. Winner of the DMN Golden Pen Award.

By Cynthia Edwards - April 26, 1994

As today, for the first time, the polls open freely and universally in South Africa, my mind and heart are torn from my home and family in America. They fly to friends in that beautiful country of my youth and coming of age.

Tears stand in my eyes as I watch on the news an old black grandmother in a township being given voter education. A woman like sweet Angelina, who must now be so old, but who once washed and cooked and cleaned in our house with cheerful vigor. Angelina sent her children away from the dirty and violent township to receive a traditional upbringing with their grandmother in the distant homeland. She only saw those children one month out of the year, in accordance with the law that said she had no right to exist permanently in the white people's South Africa. When she came home to see them they called, "We remember you! You're Angelina." And she made this sacrifice of her family for the high-minded and noble cause of scrubbing my toilet every day.

You, Angelina, lived in servitude in our house, yet you reigned over us in purity of spirit and perfect resignation.

Thinking of the townships recalls Edith, who served in our household before Angelina. I often drove Edith home to the sandy and treeless township of Guguletu on her half-day off, to save her wasted hours on trains and buses lumbering in that general direction. In our suburban kitchen, Edith listened to my girlish secrets while she prepared gourmet meals for us. In her township kitchen, without advantage of electricity or plumbing, she prepared hot tea for me, boiled over an outdoor fire and lightened with sweetened condensed milk from a can, which needs no refrigeration. Edith kept all my secrets in her heart, even when we attended a blacks-only concert at the Seven Arts Theatre, me trying (and failing) to look non-white, to show my solidarity without actually courting arrest.

I remember, with unrelieved shame even after twenty years, the ultimate disenfranchised: a dozen or more black convict laborers who came one day to turn the soil and weed in our garden, with its flaming bird of paradise flowers and other exotic displays. And while the men worked under God's hot sun a white guard stood over them, pointing a machine gun at them to make sure none escaped -- at least, not alive. I watched with horror and prayed no one would put a foot wrong, lest his blood should water our soil, staining our household with the odium of oppression forever.

Today I remember my polyglot coterie of University friends, some of whom settled in South Africa, and some of whom left. Mike, Liz, Lucky, Fran├žois; South African, Flemish, Mauritian, and a chaotic group of French-speaking Greeks from the Congo. I remember my first and best boyfriend, and his mother, who was a mother to me, too. I remember Tony and Rajah, good-natured Indian friends. I remember toothless Uncle Adam, our gardener, and Mattie, of mixed race, abused by men and society, yet never failing to get our ironing done on Thursdays. I remember Afrikaner farmers who opened their homes to me, a total stranger passing by, with a measure of familial warmth never equaled in Anglo homes.

I remember my first date with a black South African, a cast member of Ipi 'N Tombia -- ah, but that was in London, safely out of reach of the South African Police.

I remember a white lecturer at the University of Cape Town, who used South African Economics class to dismember the apartheid system, proving that policies like forced migrant labour were economically indefensible.

Today, as the sun rises above the majesty of Table Mountain and the riches of the Witwatersrand and dances brightly and without prejudice on both the Indian and the Atlantic Oceans, my old friends will leave their Cape Dutch mansions, their high-security ranch houses, their cottages, huts, and lean-tos and head for the polls. My prayers go with you all. You are middle-aged, you are old, and some of you are ghosts looking on. But today, you deserve to enjoy the youthful feeling of rebirth, as you vote the new South Africa into life.

Sala kakuhle, old friends ... go well.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

How to Welcome the New Year

Many people like to make resolutions for the new year, and that's fine. But there are some practical matters that can be attended to before this year is over, which will tidy up loose ends and help you start the exciting new year with a clean slate. Here are some things to take care of by Dec. 31: 

  • De-clutter and donate. Clear out superfluous clothing, linens, toys, and household goods and drop them off at Goodwill, a homeless shelter, or other charity. There could be a tax deduction in it if you itemize. 
  • Make room for fresh, healthful foods. Clean out the pantry, fridge and freezer. Don't let expired food carry over into a new year. Shop anew for a healthier you!
  • Out with the old. Check medications, both OTC and prescription, and dispose of anything that's past its expiry date. Throw away old makeup, creams, and lotions - you ladies know what I'm talking about.
  • Know where your money went. Run end-of-year reports in your accounting system (Quicken, Mint.com, etc.). Take note of how you spent your money (by category and by payee), and see if you can find opportunities for savings next year. If you don't use personal financial software, consider starting to in January. You can also check your online accounts; some banks and credit cards offer budget views that provide a general summary of expenditure types.
  • Be as debt-free as possible. Pay off all outstanding debts you can afford to. If you have multiple credit card balances, consolidate them onto the lowest-rate card you can find, and make paying down the total a priority in the new year.
  • Check up on your tithe. Figure out how much of your income you have shared with those less fortunate than you, and consider making one more donation to the non-profit organizations that best address the issues that touch your heart.
  • Clean and tidy your living space and vehicles.  

Now you are ready to welcome the New Year and put your best foot forward on January 1.