Category Archives: Midlife Wisdom

How Baby Boomers Can Find Themselves Again After Life-Altering Events

Do you feel like you need to find yourself again? Baby boomers can go through a lot of major life changes that throw off your sense of self. Retirement, caregiving, empty nest syndrome, divorce, or the loss of a loved one can change your life forever. 

After my mother’s death, I got a letter from the hospice bereavement coordinator that helped my family care for my mother in her final days. They acknowledged that family members who have spent most of their time caring for their loved ones for months or perhaps years often ask themselves after their death, “Where do I go?” or “What do I do?” 

Finding Yourself

That’s exactly how I felt after my Mom died.

I was the primary caregiver for my Mom who had Lewy Body dementia, a combination of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s that rendered her helpless both physically and mentally. Being a caregiver was the hardest job I’ve ever had – by far. When she passed away last June, I assumed that while I would grieve for my Mom, I would also feel a sense of relief that my job was finished and my life could get back to normal.

Instead, I felt lethargic, depressed, and yes, lost after she died. My life, my thoughts, and my feelings had revolved around the care of my mother. I discovered that when your roles change drastically, you lose a sense of who you are. Your self-image is shattered.

This uncomfortable feeling can happen whenever you go through a major change in your life.  Perhaps you’ve recently retired or became an empty nester. After dreaming of all the things you’d do when you had more time after child rearing and working 9 to 5, you feel lost instead.

Remember, although you may no longer be a caregiver, part of a couple, an employee, or full-time parent, you are still 100 percent you. You just need to find that person again. 

How?

Allow Yourself Time to Mourn

GrievingIf you have suffered a loss, be kind and patient with yourself. Acknowledge your feelings instead of sweeping them under a rug. Everyone is different. Emotions can range from anger, loss, guilt, sadness, lethargy, regret, confusion, and depression.

Whether you lost a loved one, a spouse in divorce, or a job, you may have lost your lifestyle and identity as well. It’s okay to mourn that loss.

However, be careful not to isolate yourself during this process. You’ll need a network of support. Healing may mean lots of heartfelt prayer, talking out your feelings with a supportive loved one, and/or focusing your energy in a healthy activity you enjoy.

Let it Go

As I wrote in my blog, Moving Forward After Adversity, avoid getting stuck in all the “I should have…” or “I wish…” feelings that often comes with grieving but can interfere with your recovery. Don’t allow sorrow, stress, resentment, or bitterness to become a way of life.  Take all that negative self talk out of your head like, “I’ve lost everything” or “My life is over.” The fact of the matter is that your life isn’t over; it’s just a new beginning for you.

The goal is not to wallow forever in negative feelings but to move on, be there for the people who need you, have a meaningful and productive life, and enjoy living once again. Be grateful for what IS working in your life right now. Live in the present and focus on the positive. Learn from your experiences and prepare yourself for the next exciting chapter of your life.

Moving ForwardRediscover Yourself

It’s easy to get lost in caring for your family and children or elderly parents or nurturing a career. You may have given up a lot of things that you enjoyed. Make time to get to know yourself again.

“To move your life forward, it has to start by focusing on yourself,” wrote Mark Branschick, M.D. in an article, Seven Ways to Thrive After Divorce, for Psychology Today. “Use this precious opportunity to rediscover who you are. Think of this time in your life as an adventure to explore the real you.”

You can lose sight of your unique gifts if you’re focusing on what you don’t like about yourself or your life. Think about your qualities and skills and how you can best use them. What truly makes you happy? What really matters to you? What do you feel is your true purpose in life? What hobbies and activities did you enjoy before becoming a caregiver, a married couple, or a parent? What is it that will make you excited to get out of bed every day? Make a list of what you can do to reach your goals. 

Rediscover what brought you fulfillment, satisfaction, fun, and joy as a way of rebuilding yourself and your life.

Reinvent Yourself

My life changed overnight and that can be disconcerting. Last summer, we moved into a new home we had built to be closer to my Mom (who unfortunately died the week before it was finished). My husband and I went from being empty nesters to a house full of grown children and grandchildren. Plus, I had to find new clients as a freelance writer and begin working again.

It was a tumultuous year in other ways as well. As I’ve shared before, my mother-in-law lost her fight against ovarian cancer and my son began going through a nasty divorce and custody battle.

Let’s get real, between all these events and changes in my life, I was shaken. I felt fragile and fought depression for the first time in my life.

It’s been a journey, but I am beginning to recover and heal. In the process, I’m learning to embrace all the new changes in my life. My new job writing magazine articles does require meeting strict deadlines, but the subjects are fun and it’s exciting work. We are a multi-generational family living together, but I’ve come to enjoy having the cocoon of family love around me during this difficult time. My oldest son is going through many of the same emotions as I am as he finds his way after divorce and we’ve connected on a whole new level. When our three grandchildren are with us, they bring us joy and keep us young.

My friend, Cindy (left), me, and my husband getting ready to zip line for the first time.

My friend, Cindy (left), me, and my husband getting ready to zip line for the first time.

So, don’t be afraid of change. Get out of your comfort zone and discover a new side of yourself. Maybe that means a new career, trying a new sport, traveling to a new place, changing your hair, or taking classes. Shake things up a little.

A few years ago, I reconnected with a childhood friend, Cindy, who was also a caregiver. In the last few years, she lost her husband and both her parents.

Cindy is my inspiration. Talk about embracing change. She is traveling around the world, went back to school, and moved to North Carolina to be near her daughter and three grandchildren. We went zip lining together for the first time and are making plans to go up, up, and away in a balloon next time she visits.

Embrace Your New Role

You will go through several stages before this step can happen. However, the time comes when you make a choice. You can move on and discover possibilities that a life change presents you or get stuck in negative emotions.

Find a way to put one foot in front of the other. If you can move forward, eventually you’ll see the light at the end of the tunnel. I know this from experience.

In time, you’ll reconnect with old friends or make new friends, go to work, back to school, or volunteer, rediscover what once brought you joy, enjoy new adventures, and find your way. You’ll look at the changes in your life in a positive way, feel more confident and in control, and become more productive and optimistic about your future.

The time will come when you will find yourself again, embrace your new role in life, and feel like your new shoes are a good fit. You will breathe a sigh of relief. Life will never be perfect, but eventually, you won’t have to struggle so hard to “make it work.” It just will.

Images courtesy of surasakiStock, Ambro, and renjith krishnan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

My Personal Review of 2015

I am taking the next couple of weeks off, so this will be my last blog of the year. Hard to believe that only two weeks remain of 2015. So what are my final thoughts about this year?

My husband, Scott, and I on a recent trip to San Francisco.

My husband, Scott, and I on a recent trip to San Francisco.

There’s a certain irony that after starting a blog called Baby Boomer Bliss, I had the worst year so far in my life. On the other hand, that doesn’t mean that every day was terrible.

That’s the thing, when things aren’t going according to plan, we encounter challenges, or even when we suffer from tragic events, we cannot afford to squander priceless moments of our lives. We simply don’t have the luxury to spend what little time we have on earth worried about the future or stuck in the past.

For example, this last weekend, my husband, two sons, and daughter-in-law enjoyed a quick but delightful getaway to Monterey and San Francisco. The beauty of these two places with all the breathtaking views, dramatic coastline, and pristine forests along with the terrific company made this a trip to remember.

Our family also enjoyed a fabulous vacation together camping in Sequoia and Yosemite this last summer with many treasured moments.

Our family in Yosemite this past summer.

Our family in Yosemite this past summer.

Along with these cherished memories, there are certainly important things I’ve learned this year that I wouldn’t have otherwise appreciated as fully.

I learned that with God’s help, I am stronger than I thought. Losing my mother and mother-in-law helped me understand that you cannot put off until tomorrow what you need and want to do today – tomorrow is not guaranteed. It’s given me perspective as to what’s important in my life and what is trivial.

As I’ve pulled closer to my family through the stressful events this year, my love has grown deeper for my loved ones. After 37 years of marriage, I was reminded that my husband and biggest supporter rocks! I am so fortunate that my children – including my youngest son’s wife — are also my best friends. My older son’s divorce and custody battle was awful beyond words but drew my son and I closer than ever and made me even more grateful for my grandchildren and the precious time I have with them. This year also made me thankful for all the love and kindness shown by friends and members of my congregation.

In memory of my Mom who died in June. Our family has enjoyed sailing for more than 30 years - Mom loved it too. People at the dock admired her for walking down the plank to get on the boat with her walker.

In memory of my Mom who died in June. Our family has enjoyed sailing for more than 30 years – Mom loved it too. People at the dock admired her for walking down the plank to get on the boat with her walker.

Caregiving for my mother who had Lewy Body dementia full-time before her death has given me a new-found appreciation and empathy for all of you out there who are in the same boat. Losing my mother drew me closer to my father and siblings. It also helped me learn the importance of consoling others who have lost loved ones through this most difficult time.

While I wouldn’t want to repeat this year, as hard as it was, I wouldn’t want to trade it away either. 

However, I am at heart an optimist, and am hopeful that 2016 will be a year for fresh beginnings and a time to refocus and recharge after a challenging year.

I hope the same for all of you. A big thank-you to the 13,000 people who have visited my blog and a big hug to those of you who took the time to leave wonderful comments that always make my day.

See you next year!

Moving Forward After Adversity

Have you ever faced the kind of gut-wrenching adversity that crushed your spirit and sank you into despair?

Facing adversity can feel overwhelming like a tug-of-war.

Facing adversity can feel overwhelming like a tug-of-war.

As I’ve written about before, I’ve been a full-time caretaker for my mother who suffered from Lewy Body dementia. On top of that, my son is going through a nasty divorce, my mother-in-law is fighting ovarian cancer, and we recently moved into our new house and had no gas for two weeks.

Even with all that – cold showers and no stove taboot – I was surviving. I tried to follow my own advice in my blogs about allowing adversity to teach me important life lessons and mold me into a better and stronger person. Then life served up another whopper a month ago when my Mom died. Now that stopped me in my tracks.

During her lifetime, my Mom was my best friend, advisor, and soul mate. She made me feel safe and secure and was the root and foundation of my being. True, because of the dementia I have been losing my mother slowly for years. Yet, I still felt a deep sorrow and loss when she passed away. As the reality sunk in, I couldn’t believe she was gone. I felt lost.

Maybe you’re facing some kind of loss or trying to overcome adversity. Maybe like me, you’ve recently lost a loved one. Or perhaps you’re facing a serious illness or going through a nasty divorce.

So, how do you move forward after a life-changing loss? How do you pick up the scattered pieces of your soul and begin living again? Here are five ways to find the strength to go on and make the most out of your life:

Take the Journey

As I’m discovering, there are no short cuts to the grieving process. Don’t fight the emotions. Whether you like it or not, you will be forced to go along for this painful and bumpy ride. I surrendered myself to all the feelings of loss, guilt, sadness, and depression. Accept all the ups and downs. Honor the journey.

Lean on Loved Ones

Although it’s tempting, now is not the time to isolate yourself. Ask and accept help from your loved ones. For example, losing my Mom has made me draw closer to my siblings who are traveling this painful journey by my side. This was my mother’s ultimate wish and she would be pleased that we have come to appreciate each other on a whole new level. If you’re a spiritual person, this is the time to strengthen your relationship with God so he can give you the power to carry on and find inner peace again.

Express Your Feelings

Don’t bottle up your feelings and try to appear strong for everyone. I am an introvert and a fairly private person, but I realize that now is the time to openly discuss my feelings with others. Pouring your heart out in a journal can also be beneficial. Sharing your thoughts with others can help you decide what to do next and figure out how to move forward with your life.

StuckLet It Go

Once you’ve gone through the first three steps, be careful not to get stuck in all the “I should have…” or “I wish…” that often comes with the territory but can interfere with your recovery. Grieving is inevitable, but don’t allow sorrow to become a way of life. The goal is not to wallow forever in negative feelings but to move on, be there for the people who need you, and enjoy life once again.

Take Positive Action

When something bad happens to you, it can actually be a potent and powerful influence in your life. It can clarify your priorities and define your path. Adversity can be a catalyst for making changes. As yourself what kind of action will make you feel happy and fulfilled. Then take one small step each day to move toward that goal. Focusing on the needs of others is also an effective and positive way to move forward.

Moving ForwardEveryone experiences hard knocks in life. No one is immune. But you do have a choice. You can give up. Or you can regain your footing, take a deep breath, and move forward.

You can make a conscious decision to make the most of your life no matter what obstacles or painful experiences come your way. If you make that second choice, you will develop strength and endurance. You will become wiser and teach others by example how they can overcome adversity. You will grow as a person in ways that would not otherwise be possible.

If I can leave you with one positive thought it is that you can survive anything. There is light at the end of the tunnel. I know it deep in my soul.

Images courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Taking Personal Responsibility Ticket to Happiness

“In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

Here’s a simple fact of life: We will never find happiness if we play the blame game.

Personal ResponsibilityWe all have this tendency. It’s so easy to fault our spouses, parents, friends, or circumstances for everything that goes wrong in our lives.

Maybe we blame a dysfunctional childhood, claim we have no choice in the matter, or argue that others forced us to act a certain way. Or we simply proclaim, “There’s nothing I can do; I can’t help it.”

Self-justification distorts reality. The trouble is that if we blame others for our bad choices and the bad repercussions that come with those choices, we’re not acknowledging our mistakes. We’ll never learn from our errors and even worse, we’ll be destined to repeat them.  As long as we refuse to accept responsibility for our own actions, we’ll miss out on valuable life lessons. We’ll never make positive changes in our lives. Happiness will always remain elusive.

In the end, we all must take responsibility for our own life choices, thoughts, actions, and decisions.

Of course, taking responsibility for our lives is a challenging lifelong process. But taking this important positive step will enable us to create the life we want, let go of anger, resentment, and bitterness, learn forgiveness, move forward, and earn the respect of others. In the end, taking personal responsibility for our lives is empowering.

How do you know if you have this bad habit and need to make some changes? People that do not take personal responsibility for their actions tend to:

Look for a Culprit

Attack the evil that is within yourself, rather than attacking the evil that is in others.” ― Confucius

When something goes wrong, do you immediately find someone to blame? Stop it! Blaming others is just a sorry excuse for taking actions that bring you pain and unhappiness. True, you cannot control other people’s actions. But nevertheless, you and you alone are responsible for how you think, act, and feel in response to what other people say and do.

Make Excuses

Making excuses is similar to blaming others. The only difference is it involves blaming your behavior and actions on circumstances instead of people.

Excuses are a way of defending bad behavior, justifying wrong actions, or negating responsibility.

When people attack, lose self control, lash out, or throw tantrums and say, “I couldn’t help it, my childhood made me this way,” or “These circumstances bring out the worst in me,” they are essentially placing blame of an internal problem on an external situation.

Play the Victim

When you constantly blame others and make excuses, you’ll eventually develop a victim’s mentality. This type of thinking is the direct opposite of taking personal responsibility.

In his excellent article, Are You Playing the Victim to Manipulate Others? Donald Miller writes: “In order to play the victim we need an oppressor. And when we manipulate by playing the victim, we turn people who are otherwise innocent (or perfectly human) into a bad person in our minds. Instead of forgiving somebody who has wronged us and moving on, we demonize them in our minds and play them up as a villain so we can be their wounded victim.”

As he wisely points out, it’s an unhealthy game to be sure and the ironic thing is that by manipulatively demonizing others and portraying them as oppressors, you may in fact, become the oppressor.

We all are guilty of these bad habits occasionally, but refusing to take personal responsibility on a regular basis will only lead to unhappiness and misery.

Sadly, blaming others, making excuses, or playing the victim can seriously backfire. These negative behaviors can stop you from reaching your full potential, prevent personal growth, lead to bad judgment calls, and result in a persistently pessimistic outlook on life.

You’ll also start losing the ability to empathize. Instead of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, you’ll be focused on defending your actions as a part of your identity. “That’s who I am.” “I can’t help it.” “You’ll just have to accept it!” If you find yourself uttering those phrases, take an honest look at who you are and the ways that this attitude is detrimental to those you love as well as to yourself.

Denis Waitly put it well when he said: “A sign of wisdom and maturity is when you come to terms with the realization that your decisions cause your rewards and consequences. You are responsible for your life and your ultimate success depends on the choices you make.”

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Five Worthwhile New Year’s Resolutions

Okay, I understand the compulsion to make New Year’s resolutions. After all, a new year is often seen as a chance for a fresh start. But I’m not a big fan of the typical broad goals people tend to make this time of year.

New Years ResolutionsResolutions like I’m going to lose weight, get organized, learn French, get out of debt, or go to the gym three times a week.

Not that these aren’t all good objectives, but I’m older and wiser and know that two weeks into the new year most of you will go back to your old habits. The time spent contemplating a long list of resolutions is wasted. Worse yet, when all the promises you make to yourself fall by the wayside, it makes you feel bad.

Why put yourself through that? How about making a resolution not to make resolutions anymore?

If that doesn’t work and you still feel compelled to make a list (I don’t have this urge anymore in my 50’s, but I know a lot of you still hang on to this tradition), how about making goals that are worthwhile?

With that in mind, here are five resolutions I think everyone should strive to keep for 2015:

  1. Make someone smile every day. Let someone cut in front of you in the grocery line. Compliment someone. Offer to help an elderly person. Tell people you love how much you appreciate them. Do volunteer work that will make a difference in someone’s life. Send a card or bouquet of flowers to someone who is depressed. Make someone’s wish come true.
  2. Resolve to start each day in a positive way. Make time to pray, meditate on spiritual matters, or for some thoughtful introspection. Even if you are rushed, spare a minute to take several slow, deep breaths to stay in the present moment and begin your day with calmness. See my previous blog on this subject for more ideas on how to start your day right.
  3. Do something on your bucket list this year. Conquer a fear. No excuses. Just do it. I’ve crossed a wide range of things off my list over the years like swimming with dolphins, reading the entire Bible, becoming a full-time minister, learning sign language, volunteering with the deaf, zip lining, writing a book, traveling, learning to scuba dive, and starting a blog. Envision your ideal life and take one step this year to making it a reality.
  4. Learn something new every day. Maybe it’s simply learning a new word to increase your vocabulary. Or maybe you’ll take a class, try a new sport or hobby, or learn to play an instrument. It doesn’t matter what it is, just get out of your rut and try something different that excites you.
  5. Get rid of negative people in your life. You know those frenemies you have that suck all the joy out of your life. Say good-bye. Don’t surround yourself with people you secretly despise. I recently read a great blog on this subject. Check it out. While you’re at it, quit being a people-pleaser and learn to say no.

That should be plenty to keep you busy, but if you need more or different goals, here are a few more ideas: clear the clutter from your life, get outside and enjoy nature more, keep a gratitude journal, think more positively, keep life simple, get more sleep, and live in a spiritual, healthy, and productive way.

In other words, do everything in your power to make this year the best one yet!

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Happiness As an Introvert

Earlier this year, a report touted that extroverts are happier than introverts.

Really? As an introvert, I protest!

In June, The Journal of Research in Personality published an article, “Why Extroverts are Happier: A Day Reconstruction Study” written by Wido G.M. Oerlemans and Arnold B. Bakker. The article was based on research asking introverts and extroverts how they remembered feeling during different activities. Overall, extroversion equals more happiness, the researchers said.

This backs up another study published in 2012 by The Journal of Personality which reported that introverts are happier when they act more like extroverts.

I disagree! How can forcing ourselves to be the social butterflies we are not make us happy?

Introverts define happiness differently than extroverts.

Introverts define happiness differently than extroverts.

Susan Cain, author of the New York Times bestseller, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, makes a good point. She says the latest report might be less about who’s happier and more about how we define happiness.

She is quoted in an interesting article by Gwen Moranas saying, ““I hear from thousands and thousands of introverts. When they talk about the things that they most love to do, it’s very often activities like reading, hiking, cycling, being with their spouses, being with their children. It’s a quieter type of contentment that often fuels introverts and that we don’t pay proper attention to,” she says.

Extroverts get energy from other people and recharge by being social. So it makes sense that extroverts define happiness as feeling energized and excited. For example, going to parties or meeting new people makes those with extroverted tendencies feel happy.

On the other hand, introverts like myself, tend to recharge by spending time alone. Constantly being with people, especially large crowds, saps our energy. We introverts find happiness in a different way. We define happiness as serenity, peacefulness, satisfaction, and contentment.

Nothing wrong with that.

Of course, I think that introverts have to fight the tendency to totally isolate ourselves. No one is happy living the life of a hermit.

On the other hand, we do have to pay attention to our need for time alone, our need to recharge our batteries after a social event, and our need to indulge in quiet activities like reading a book.

So if you have a tendency to be an introvert, can you be happy? Heck, yeah!

You can also be successful as I pointed out in my guest post for Wise Introvert. Check out the article for tips.

If you’re an introvert like me, feel free to share your thoughts and ideas on what brings you happiness in the comments below.

Image courtesy of Feelart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Recovering From Stressful Events

Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Have you ever undergone a dramatic, shocking, or painful event that made your body shut down so you couldn’t sleep or eat? A distressing situation that left you literally shaking and unable to function normally in day-to-day life?

I certainly have and I’d lay bets that most of you have had this experience as well. When this happens, how can you heal and move forward in your life?

Here are a few life lessons I’m learning along the way:

Refuel

This means a lot of different things to different people. Personally, refueling during stressful times in my life has meant focusing on my spiritual needs and constant prayer. It means forcing my mind away from all the drama, stress, and worry to make room for more positive thoughts. It means leaning on those who support and love me.

Step Away

When you are in an overwhelming situation, remove yourself from the situation long enough to gain perspective, calm yourself, and regain your composure so you can move forward.

Image courtesy of khunaspix  at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of khunaspix at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Be Still

“Within you, there is a stillness and a sanctuary to which you can retreat at any time,” Hermann Hesse said. When an event leaves you completely rattled, it’s helpful to leave the TV, computer, and electronic gadgets off to allow time for some quiet introspection.

Nurture Yourself

Do something peaceful and comforting that slows down frantic thoughts and emotions. This may mean reading something uplifting and inspirational, praying, journaling, taking a relaxing walk, or listening to soothing music.

Seek Lessons

Sometimes the best way to get past the melodrama and move on is to try to learn from the experience and look for any life lessons. Allow the painful situation to help you develop strength and resilience.

Be Grateful

Now is the perfect time to remember all the reasons you still have to be thankful. Keep a gratitude journal or make a list if you need help remembering.

Admittedly, keeping your sanity through a dramatic event is never easy. However, if you can keep these tips in mind, it will help you get past the emotional, psychological, and physical distress. Then you can regain the balance and peace in your life that everyone desires and deserves.

How to Build Resilience

Build Resilience“The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall,” said Nelson Mandela.

So true. We all fall, stumble, fail, and make mistakes. We all have problems, setbacks, and challenges in our lives. No shame in that. Our true strength shows when we are able to rise back up when we fall. That means we must be resilient.

What exactly does that mean? The word “resilient” refers to people who have the ability to bounce back from adversity. People who persevere, persist, and never give up – no matter what life throws at them.

Are you resilient? Want to find out? Be brutally honest with yourself and answer the following questions:

  1. Do you let difficulties or challenges paralyze you from taking action?
  2. Do you dwell on your failures?
  3. Do you learn from your mistakes?
  4. Do you look at challenges as opportunities for personal growth?
  5. Are you deeply committed to your spiritual beliefs, relationships, and goals and willing to overcome any obstacles or setbacks that stand in your way?
  6. Do you spend time focusing on situations you can’t control?
  7. Do you have an optimistic and positive attitude about the future?

If you answered “no” to numbers 1, 2, and 6 and “yes” to numbers 3, 4, 5, and 7, then you are one of those irrepressible people that can adapt when things don’t go your way or according to plan. You are able to cope and move forward when tragedies or life changing events occur.

Don’t despair, however, if your answers are don’t match the ones I listed above. Resilience is not a trait or quality that people automatically have but involves thought patterns and behaviors that anyone can develop or change.

If your answers reveal that you need to improve on developing some resiliency in your life to help you overcome life’s challenges, here are some steps you can take:

Take Care of Yourself

Who can cope when they’re exhausted or run down? That’s why you need to focus on your spirituality, get enough sleep, eat properly, and nurture yourself by making time for activities that you enjoy. Also learn how to manage your stress (for tips see my previous blog). The stronger you are physically and emotionally, the easier it will be for you to overcome life’s challenges.

How to Build Resilience: Be FlexibleBe Flexible

If you tend to resist change and cling to comfort zones, learn to become more flexible. Sometimes even unplanned and unexpected changes in your life can be beneficial – even though it may not seem like it at the time. In fact, change can even bring excitement and adventure to your life. So learn to go with the flow. Resilient people realize that nothing stays the same and embrace change.

Learn From Your Mistakes

Every mistake teaches you an important life lesson and encourages personal growth. As William J. Clinton said, “If you live long enough, you’ll make mistakes. But if you learn from them, you’ll be a better person. It’s how you handle adversity, not how it affects you. The main thing is never quit, never quit, never quit.”

Build Self Confidence

Resilient people strongly believe in themselves and fully trust that they will succeed eventually despite any obstacles or setbacks standing in their way. If you need to build up your self-esteem, make a list of your strengths and accomplishments. Set specific and achievable goals that will build your self-confidence when accomplished. Give yourself a pat on the back whenever you are able to deal with a crisis successfully.

Develop Strong Relationships

During times of calamity or stressful situations, it’s important to have a network of people that will support you. Caring people allow you to share your feelings and give you positive feedback. Focus on helping and comforting others during their difficult times instead of focusing on yourself and you will not only develop strong relationships but also experience inner peace and joy.

Think Positively

Try not to blow things out of proportion or panic when faced with adversity. Instead remain calm and optimistic that things are going to get better. As I wrote in a previous blog:  “A positive attitude empowers you to make better decisions, opens doors to opportunity, and helps you overcome obstacles. Optimists tend to devise a plan of action, marshal their resources, and ask others for assistance and advice instead of dwelling on their misery.” Sometimes we can’t control situations but we can control how we react to them.

Resilience may take time to build, but don’t give up. As Jodi Picoult wrote in  My Sister’s Keeper: “The human capacity for burden is like bamboo – far more flexible than you’d ever believe at first glance.”

Images courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Long Term Happiness versus Instant Gratification

We all know that self-gratification doesn’t bring true happiness, right?

Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

But did you know that instant gratification – like eating a giant bowl of ice cream or pulling out a credit card to buy a fabulous pair of expensive shoes – can have the same physical effect on your genes as being depressed or stressed out?

An interesting article on CNN Health discussed the findings of a groundbreaking study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last year. The study found that people who experience the “well-being” that comes from self-gratification had high inflammation and low antiviral and antibody gene expression similar to people who are depressed or experiencing extremely stressful situations.

Whoops. I think that means we’re all in a bunch of trouble since instant self-gratification rules the world today.

You know what I mean. Think about ATM machines that provide instant cash, fast food supplying instant meals, the Internet with its access to instant information and entertainment – all of which has turned us into impatient beings that can’t tolerate waiting for anything.  We don’t want to take the time or energy to lose weight the sensible way. We’d rather take a pill for extra fast results. Instead of waiting for our hair to grow out, we spend thousands of dollars on hair extensions. Who cares if tanning beds increases our chance of skin cancer? We choose that over laying out in the sun for days. Why work on a marriage when we can get a quick divorce and move on to the next relationship? Instead of taking the time to sleep, we’d rather skip it and drink a Red Bull in the morning for instant energy.

You get my drift.

Now I’m going to show my age. I’ll try not to sound too preachy. But if you’re a baby boomer like me, you’ll remember that in the not so distant past we worked hard and waited for the things we wanted. When I got married over 35 years ago, my husband and I didn’t go on an expensive honeymoon, buy a luxurious house along with brand new furnishings, or even own a credit card. Nor did we expect these things. We lived in a modest apartment with used furniture our parents gave us, drove old cars, and waited patiently until we could afford to buy something with cash. And we were happy.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Now we live in a society that wants everything right NOW and not a minute later.

Unfortunately, decisions made for the purpose of instant gratification are often made impulsively without much thought about future consequences. In addition, this attitude leads to frustration, anger, impatience which can cause health problems.

Family psychologist Dr. Jennifer Hartstein makes some sobering observations. She explains that “we have become an immediate gratification culture, and we expect things to move quickly, efficiently and in the way we want. When that doesn’t happen, we tend to become increasingly  frustrated and irritable, [a sign] of impatience.” She adds, “We’ve lost the art of just slowing down and enjoying the moment.”

According to the CNN article, there are two types of well-being. Hedonic well-being comes from a self-involved experience that gives us instant pleasure and requires continuous action to constantly feed our positive emotions. This type of well-being is reliant on external factors and the satisfaction typically leaves as fast as it comes. For example, buying an expensive pair of shoes creates a temporary high but to keep that euphoric feeling we must keep shopping for the next quick fix. If something threatens our ability to seek out this kind of personal happiness – for example, all our credit cards are maxed out – our entire source of well-being is threatened.

The second type, eudaimonic well-being, is a kind of happiness that comes, not from consuming products, but from working toward something larger than ourselves that gives true meaning to life. If we’re pursuing something worthwhile that involves collaborating with other people, we’ll also find well-being in the connections we make and these associates can help us get through hard times. This type of well-being can bring long-term happiness.

That’s not to say that we should never reward ourselves with a bowl of ice cream or a great pair of shoes as a special treat every once in a while. We don’t have to wait to enjoy the present or our lives.

However, we’ll all be happier if we develop some self-control and avoid the habit of wanting everything this instant. As pointed out in the beginning of this article, constantly giving into momentary desires can actually make us feel depressed in the long run. Advertisers have become experts at convincing us that instant gratification is the key to happiness. Don’t buy it.

Shoot for long-term satisfaction and fulfillment instead.

What You Don’t Need to Be Happy

When I was younger, I tended to set my expectations too high. Setting goals is fine, but I wanted everything to be a little too perfect. If life wasn’t going according to plan or if I hadn’t reached certain dreams and desires in an expected time frame, happiness seemed out of reach.

With the wisdom I’ve gained along the way, I’ve come to realize that happiness doesn’t depend on ideal circumstances or achievements. But sometimes I still fight that tendency. I’m certainly not alone.

Image courtesy of  supakitmod / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of supakitmod / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Unfortunately, we humans tend to overestimate the importance of life circumstances on our happiness. For example, we may think if we had more money, lost weight, got rid of our wrinkles, or owned a nicer house, we’d be happier.

Who hasn’t dreamed of winning the lottery or inheriting money to ensure a life without financial worries, travel around the world, or buy luxury items?

The truth is chasing, and even achieving, these goals may actually make us less happy. For instance, people who suddenly fall into extreme wealth — whether because of an insurance settlement, a professional sports contract, or a lottery win — rarely find happiness.

Take one of the most prominent examples of lottery winners, Jack Whittaker, a West Virginia businessman who won a $315 million Powerball jackpot in 2002. A decade later, his daughter and granddaughter had died of drug overdoses, his wife had divorced him, and he had been sued numerous times. Once, when he was at a strip club, someone drugged his drink and took $545,000 in cash that had been sitting in his car. He later sobbed to reporters, “I wish I’d torn that ticket up.”

Psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky, in her book, The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want, came to the conclusion that although circumstances and genetic factors play a large role in our happiness, we often underestimate how much control we have over our own feelings.

She reported that 50% of our happiness is set by our genes, 10% by life circumstances beyond our control, and 40% by our own actions. In other words, we have the power to make choices that can raise or lower our happiness level.

Life is never perfect. There will always be difficulties, frustrations, sadness, obstacles, and failures. Learning to overcome challenges makes us stronger as well as more confident, empathetic, and successful. So what if things don’t go according to plan or our lives aren’t picture perfect?

After all, happiness is not about what we have, it’s all about our attitude. Happiness is all about valuing, appreciating, and enjoying the people, experiences, places, and events in our lives right now – today – at this very moment.

As Martha Washington once wisely said, “I am still determined to be cheerful and happy, in whatever situation I may be; for I have also learned from experience that the greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our dispositions, and not upon our circumstances.”