Gratitude Confetti When Times are Tough

How many times have you been to hell and back? Maybe in this post-election, holidays-are-coming time of year, you feel the embers of hell at your feet right now. Any type of suffering…physical, mental, familial…it’s hard. The only way to get through it is to sort of turn your hell beast into some sort of anti-superhero.

Kind of like this…
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Why? Because the saying goes, “what you resist, persists.” The more you DENY that your situation sucks right now, the more it holds a grip on you, keeping you from DEALING WITH IT and moving on. You stay stuck. And you burn up. Ouch.

Painful times can help us grow and discover who we are and what we really want out of life. Whether you are in hell right now because it’s your first Christmas without a loved one, your traditions have changed due to separation or divorce, your kids are away from home, you lost a job or your business is suffering, you’re worried about the state of the country with Trump at the helm…know that no matter what THIS TOO SHALL PASS. In some situations, it means you have to get out of your own way to LET IT.  The gurus say that it isn’t the situation that causes us unhappiness but in our REACTION and THOUGHTS about the situation. In other words, it’s us, not them. It’s our own mind that causes us misery.

So what are you going to do about it? Mope for the next four years…or take action to work on a social cause to make a difference?

Spend the entire holiday in mourning…or do something special to lift your spirits or create a new tradition?

I get that “making the most of what you have” is easier said than done, but it is possible. Is it weird and awkward when you switch up a tradition? Can be. But it can also be better than you expected. I had to learn to let go of the importance of “the date” versus an experience around a holiday because I have shared custody of my kids so I have to be flexible and make sure they experience a beautiful time despite what day we celebrate.

The holidays aren’t the same if a loved one has passed and honestly the holidays don’t have the same BIGNESS as they did when my grandmother was in charge of our holiday merriment – and she’s been gone 25 years. They don’t have the GIDDINESS from when my kids were little and we did the whole Santa thing and waking extra early for unwrapping gifts, either.

Because it makes me happy, I put out holiday photos of the kids when they were little and elfish. This year I even added a photo of my grandparents to my mantle display so I can remember the two decades of holidays spent with them and honor their memories.

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Now my kids are older and it’s my third Christmas with the man who recently asked me to marry him. I am so full of love and gratitude and that’s what life is really about, isn’t it?

pic by Valerie Sebestyen
pic by Valerie Sebestyen

My antidote to surviving life’s hellish times is to THROW GRATITUDE LIKE CONFETTI. It’s like throwing water on the fire – extinguishing some of the pain and soothing the burn. Gratitude makes you realize not all of life is so terrible…there’s always something, someone, to be grateful for.

List your confetti…heck, maybe you should even write them down on a  piece of paper, cut them up and throw them over your head. Add the little things, too. I’m so thankful for Lipsense because I can kiss Chris and drink coffee and it still stays on my lips. I’m thankful my daughter is so chatty with me. I’m so thankful for bride tribe of supportive girlfriends. An on and on. List it. Live it. Volunteer. Whatever works to cheer you up.

Namaste. Happy holidays.

xoxo—ready.aim.grow—>

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Get Happy: Summer’s End and The Meaning of Unconditional Happiness

The frail elderly woman picked at her short curly hair with a comb, her back against her husband’s chest. “Did I get it all?” she asked.

“Yes, honey, but don’t make it too big.”

She laughed. “I had to wait until it dried.”

“Remember how wild and crazy it was when we were younger, baby?” He teased.

She laughed at the memory.

This went on for several minutes, cooing affectionately at each other on the aptly named loveseat.

When they were quiet, I couldn’t help but comment from across the small waiting room. “You two are too cute.”

They went on to tell me that they had been married 42 years and despite the wife’s bad health the last few years, they figured they looked better laughing than crying.

What better segway into my new six-week blog series on unconditional joy (Get Happy) than this couple who obviously lived happily together despite all of the obvious health problems and likely much time spent in waiting rooms.

What does it mean to be happy? For most of us, happiness is conditional, the circumstances all leading to or away from a feeling of joy or bliss. As a fiction writer, I get to create those difficult journeys for my characters, putting them through hell and back to a hopeful ending. In real life, I struggle as much as the next person, but I’ve come a long way, baby and want to share because I think that’s why we’re here. Happiness, connection and growth.

One of my favorite mantras since 2003 was “I shall not let circumstances dictate my joy.” That mature couple in the waiting room totally get this. People who have cancer or are dying yet are happy know this. Why can’t we know this now?

All year I’ve been blogging about getting real, including getting fit and getting out(side) and for the next six weeks I’m focusing on unconditional happiness, a joy that comes deep within, unfettered by the jerks or bad luck or cranky kids or tough work day.

I’m starting the series at a time of transformation for all of us, summer’s end, when the carefree feelings of sunshine and vacations and sleeping in are replaced by a new school year for kids. The seasonal shift to more responsibility with kids back in school, hectic schedules, and a “buckling down” mentality can add extra stress to our already busy lives.

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The great thing about unconditional happiness is it isn’t based on a beginning or an ending, but a knowing that life is good and worthwhile and precious despite what’s happening around (or to) us.

Like everyone, I struggle with moods and mostly with my “monkey mind” which I refer to as a squirrel circus. Because I have obsessive compulsive thoughts (which works GREAT in my work life for finishing projects and writing books), it can wreak havoc on my personal life, presenting as both worry and anxiety. I’m also extremely empathetic (and a little empathic) so I’m sensitive to energies around me as well as dealing with my own high energy. (My friend Carie’s fiance said she and I share that “hummingbird on crack” personality.) Well, it is what it is.

As Dr. Susan Campbell writes in Getting Real, we can’t be authentic if we aren’t self-aware, so knowing yourself is key.

Being self-aware, I’ve realized what I need to balance my energies, pay attention to ruminating thoughts and assess how I feel and adjust my attitude or actions if necessary. For me, I need a lot of physical and intellectual stimulus in a day so if I don’t work out every day and get some good input and output (usually reading and writing) then my day can feel “off.” I also know my mind is better off giving it a break with daily or twice a day meditation – getting in touch with my “spirit” and making sure the window to my higher self is at least always cracked open to get through. Keep track of your day and how you are feeling and see how you might need to adjust your schedule to help you feel energized and “optimally you.”

What about when shitty things happen?

Last week someone took a cheap shot at me via an email to someone I love. My first thought was, “How dare they?” (Ego) And then I felt hurt. (Ego) And then I felt my loved one’s pain at being on the receiving end of a spiteful remark. (Empathy) As a bit of time passed, my Ego calmed down and I knew THIS TOO SHALL PASS and later that evening, I was even able to smile about it, because really? Try this quote on!

Don’t try to win over the haters; you’re not the jackass whisperer.’Scott Stratten

In a nutshell, those hard times just don’t bring me down and ruin my days/week/month like they used to. Better coping mechanisms and a more positive attitude + appropriate actions equals CHOOSING HAPPINESS (even while holding an opposite emotion like grief or sadness or dealing with ambiguity). It’s not easy and I wish I could do it as easily as blinking an eye, but it has gotten better with time/practice. More on that when we discuss Getting Real, a book I serendipitously found at a used book store in Maui. Amazing.

We simply can’t live authentically without getting real about our lives and the choices we’re making and what’s holding us back.

Here’s my list of 7 Keys to Getting Happy and I’ll blog about each of them in more detail in upcoming weeks.

1) Remove roadblocks to happiness

2) Change your attitude (as the song goes, “take your life from negative to positive”

3) Practice gratitude and self-care

4) Live with intention (on purpose) – which can begin with saying yes or no when we really mean it and setting intentions and sticking with them

5) Feed your passions

6) Take time for stillness/ be mindful

7) Be an adventurer. Stay curious. Play more. Be silly.

In addition to Getting Real, I’ll be discussing Daring Greatly by Brene Brown and The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer. If you’ve read those books, I’d love your feedback in comments.

Week One Get Happy Questions:

If you were honest about your state of “unconditional happiness” how would you rate yourself? Do you depend on other people or things going a certain way to “be happy?” What fed your spirit this summer? As summer ends, what are your intentions for autumn? What would you like to accomplish? Who are the people, places and things that make you happy? Review the list of 7 Keys and answer how you do or don’t do those things. Schedule how to make them happen and then DO IT.

Thanks for reading. Happy End of Summer!

xo,

Malena

Happy pics of the week:

A bee having lunch outside an office visit.
My GetFit challenge for myself was a SUP Bootcamp. I survived! And I loved the gorgeous morning on the lake.
My GetFit challenge for myself was a SUP Bootcamp. I survived! And I loved the gorgeous morning on the lake.

 

Excerpt from my work in progress non-fiction essay book on letting go and living authentically, inspired by nature, Return to Wild.

 

Psychologist Dan Gilbert, author of “Stumbling on Happiness” talks about our inability to accurately depict our future selves. We believe we’ll be more or less the same as we are right now…forever. We believe our interests won’t change that much and who we like to hang out with is fixed and we think we’re pretty darn good at predicting what will make us happy in the future. We aren’t. In fact, in his research, it showed we’re poor at predicting what we’ll like ten years down the road and that’s because we do change. Knowing this can keep us from feeling like there’s “something wrong” with us, when in fact it’s simple biology and beyond our control. We can’t grow if we stay in the same place and stagnate. Growth is why we’re here. Let’s give ourselves a break.

 

Excerpt from my work in progress, a novel about a war vet amputee struggling with life and love after war. My character Jake is certainly struggling with happiness. 

My gut burned as we turned the corner at the big Oak tree. We were close.

The air turned cooler as the brush thickened. We ditched our bikes and began crawling through, over and under the limbs and fallen trees. I should’ve been more worried about Ben getting cut up, but I felt hypnotized, unaware of his thick little body behind me as I pushed on.

The sun shone through the clearing like a spotlight on the burnt limbs for a good quarter mile radius. The trailer had blown up just seconds after I’d been shoved out the door. The door had fallen on me, which is likely why I only had the slight burns that I did.

Grams said it was a miracle I hadn’t been burned to a crisp.

Said it was an angel who put that door over my frame.

No one wanted to give my meth-coooking mom credit for my survival, but I don’t think that’s fair. Even though she shouldn’t have been doing what she was doing, she did respond the way a mom should when she saw her kid in danger.

Besides, it was me who brought that flame to the fire.

The space between the storms

Note: wrote this post last week on vacation. Publishing now.

Miranda Lambert accompanies me as I sit in front of the floor-to-ceiling windows at the Marriott airport hotel in Nashville, just hours before I’ll head back home to Oklahoma – a place Miranda also calls home. I titled this post when I was 20,000 feet in the air on our way to Tennessee last Thursday, wanting to follow up on my post about growing up in Tornado Alley. It’s fitting that it’s pouring rain outside. That’s the way of life – sunshine, storms and back again.

I wanted to write about being human, about the importance of giving ourselves space between the storms to regroup and unwind. To allow ourselves to cry and gather strength for what comes next.

Our vacation to Colorado had been set long before the EF5 tornado hit central Oklahoma on May 20th and left 24 dead. I gave myself space to see what good I could do – something to help the teachers of Briarwood and Plaza Towers where the courageous teachers not only shielded students but went above and beyond well after the storm.

With breathing space in the mountains of Colorado, I decided the benefit “Authors Love Teachers” could help pay tribute to teachers and I called on my author friends around the country to help. Authors have been extremely generous with their book boxes and bundles which will be auctioned off on eBay between June 15th and June 25th. See the full list in photos on our Facebook page. Full information will be listed on Facebook as well as on buzzbooksusa.com. Full proceeds from the auction will benefit the teachers and staff to get as many items as we can on their wish list.

Two days after the Moore tornado, I gave a workshop to executive women on the importance of giving ourselves space to allow creativity. We also discussed the biggest creativity busters, the top among them being stress and anxiety. This time I was able to physically give myself that space with the fresh air in the Colorado mountains, but usually we must find that peace amidst our day to day life, right where we live, even if that means among the ruins.

Because even if we away, we will get hit again. You know a storm of some sort will always be around the corner, whether it’s in the skies or our jobs or families or other tragedies near or far.

Three days after we returned from our peaceful trip, central Oklahoma was under a tornado watch again, even while I was emailing authors to confirm their donations for the recovery from the last tornado. The watch turned into warnings to panic as thousands of Oklahomans decided it would be better to get out of the way of the new powerful tornado with the multi-vortices. Their decision to flee caused gridlock on the highways as rain poured down causing flash flooding. The sick feeling returned – “here we are again,” as I went to bed that Friday night knowing people would be dead. The storm didn’t stay on the track the experts predicted -storms can be that way. If we knew exactly what would happen in our lives, how much easier it would be to set the course. Instead we do what we can with the information we have and hitch our morals on “doing no harm.” Normally it works. Normally we stick together and those that remain know we’re the ones who must work to make a difference.

When we checked the forecast for Nashville, we knew there was a chance for storms, and it did storm two of the four days we were here, but life is about being flexible and not planning for perfect. A vacation will likely not go the way we had pictured. Life is full of peaks and valleys. Lately Oklahoma has seen more valleys, but the peak comes from our attitudes and our actions; our strength in rebuilding and making the most of the space between the storms.

As I wrap up this post, Pandora has randomly given me Carrie Underwood’s, “See You Again,” from her Blown Away album. I used to be surprised when coincidences like that occurred, but not anymore. The universe has a way of staying in sync, of giving us what we want when we least expect it – big or small. Today was the first time I’d heard that song, but Carrie has been a big part of this trip and a big part of Nashville, period. Her Blown Away tour exhibit opened last week at the Country Music Hall of Fame and I saw it on Friday. Her latest tour was based on a tornado theme, but Carrie grew up in Oklahoma and Tornado Alley just like I did. It seems rather natural, though it’s eerie. Storms have a way of inspiring us; we can find creativity in our darkest days. We know life is unpredictable and too short. We should go ahead do those things that need to be done. Sooner than later.

Carrie donated a million dollars to the relief efforts from the May 20th tornado. She’s a young queen here in Nashville and Oklahoma is proud to call her our own.

Now it’s our turn to help. I’m hoping for a great auction and ask that you help me spread the word so we can gift teachers with those items they need to feel great about their upcoming school year.

Thank you for being generous you.