Monthly Archives: January 2012

Try New Things

“Try something new” may be a phrase that you may hear quite often. Surprisingly it’s the one piece of advice many people hear often and seems to be the common theme of movies or songs. Unfortunately trying something new can be difficult, especially when you are not sure where to start. Some people have extreme thoughts of trying bungee jumping for the first time, having a new clique of friends, or moving to another country when hearing this phrase. Fortunately this is not exactly what most people need to do when trying something new.

Trying something new can start out small. I remember the first time I had Thai cuisine for example. Thai may not seem all that exotic for many, but I had never had it before and am not an adventurous person with trying new food. It took me getting out of my shell a bit for me to try it. I had decided to take a Beginning Italian Language Course during the summer. From that, I had made a couple of new friends. One of these friends invited me out to lunch and we had Thai food. Ever since I have loved Thai food, and was one of the reasons I decided to go to Thailand last May. Who knew! All that from trying something different and taking a course on a language I was interested in.

Trying something new does not mean throwing everything away and having a complete restart on your life. Although that may be what happens to some people, it’s certainly not what happens to most people. Trying something new can be as small as going out to a different place to eat, joining a club, taking up a new hobby, taking a course, taking a dance class or deciding to volunteer with an organization.

So when thinking about how to be happy and the simple steps you can take towards that, consider trying something new. Just make sure that you can make the commitment and remember to start small.

Provide Unconditional Kindness

Many do not realize how conditional our kindness can be until someone challenges our kindness or makes a mistake. Some of us may be perfectly kind to someone for years but once they make a mistake, we resort to being unkind. Others are kind, hoping to receive something back for that kindness.

James and Kerry have been classmates over the past semester and have even participated in group projects together. Although both do not hang out with each other outside of class, they still share jokes and have nice chats during and after class. James and Kerry decided to do a group project together for the final project. Both were contributing and making their deadlines, but towards the end Kerry stopped responding to emails as swiftly. James, concerned, sent her emails reminding her of deadlines. She barely made the deadlines to the point where James became more frustrated. As a result, when James saw her in class he stopped chatting with her so much. Instead he would ask her abruptly about assignments and would not say much else other than that. Kerry would attempt to try and chat with James, but James was not as responsive anymore. For their final presentation both James and Kerry did a good job, even though Kerry did not respond promptly to James emails about meeting to rehearse. After the class, Kerry apologized for her previous behavior. She explained that she had been dealing with a recent breakup from her boyfriend whom she had been in a relationship for several years. She had been doing the best she could to keep up with assignments. James, felt bad for treating her unkindly throughout that time, and realized he should have probably asked her what was going on, rather than being passive aggressive and ignoring her attempts to try and speak with her. If he had shown kindness, he would have been less angry at her throughout their project and would have given her the opportunity to be open about her situation.

Many people deal with situations that are variations of this. Sometimes we see people acting in a manner that is not what we want, and in return we do not show back kindness. This occurs with all types of relationships. We even do this with people we love. Once they start acting in a way that offends, inconveniences or even angers us, we decide to treat that person with less kindness.

I mentioned earlier about how you shouldn’t do kind acts to expect something back. You may know someone who does something nice for others, and is doing it either for praise, recognition or in anticipation of getting something in return.

Years ago, I used to be like that. I did things expecting that people would show the same sincerity back towards me. I would give people gifts, expecting a gift of similar value when my time of celebration came. I would do something nice for others, hoping that one day that it would be reciprocated. I remember being very disappointed when I realized that some people did not return the favors that I gave them or in ways that I felt were of value.

The main mistake I made was doing something nice for the wrong reasons. Sure, I did many of those things with good intentions and that were for the right reasons, but one of the reasons I did those things was because I expected something back for those kind actions. After I realized my error, I learned that I needed to start being kind just for the sake of being kind. Changing that action has made me much more sincere with giving and I hardly ever think about what people have done for me in return.

I will be honest with you. When I typically give to others, I rarely receive something back in return, but that doesn’t bother me anymore. I’m happy to just do something kind and make someone else happy. I’m happy to grant someone a favor and help make their life easier. I’m happy to lend a helping hand and know that my actions helped influence someone’s life positively. That’s the reward that counts. That’s the reward that matters. The reward of simply being kind and being a positive influence on someone’s life is enough for me.

Here are some steps to avoid conditional kindness:

  1. When you do something kind for someone ask yourself why? Be honest if you are doing it for the wrong reasons. If you are honest with yourself regarding your intentions with others, you can be aware of when you are placing conditions with  your kindness.
  2. If you feel the need to be unkind towards someone you once showed kindness towards, then think about why that is occurring. Did that person hurt you? Did that person offend you? Rather than showing disrespect, show kindness and ask that person why they are treating you differently. If the situation becomes increasingly more hostile then it’s better for you to limit your contact with that person than being rude or hostile in return.
  3. If someone does not reciprocate your kindness then consider how this makes you feel and how you will handle it? Ask yourself why this happened? For example, if a friend did not give you a gift for your birthday, is it possible they just do not have the finances to do that? If someone you regularly go out of your way for, does not go out of the way for you, why do you think that is? Are they too busy?
  4. If you are dealing with a situation that is clearly unbalanced, and not for sensible reasons such as lack of finances, time, or other constraints then consider what that means to you. If it really hurts you that the situation is unbalanced then consider trying a few things.
    • Bring the situation up with that person. Ask them honestly what is going on since it does hurt your feelings.
    • Listen to what they tell you and be understanding to that. People can undergo drastic changes when under stress. For instance, a miscarriage or other traumatic event may cause a close friend to be rude or unkind temporarily. If their reactions become too hostile then give them space. It’s better for you to distance yourself from that than feed a situation which can cause you to be unkind.
    • Consider making things more balanced. Maybe make yourself less available or do not be the first person to offer whatever that person needs.
    • Consider asking them for something in return. If this is something where you are spending tons of your resources on another person, then there’s nothing wrong with asking if that person can help you out. Be specific too. The person can most likely help you in some way, such as cleaning your house, babysitting, carpooling or whatever you think is easiest.
    • If the person is truly testing your patience, then consider limiting your time with them or possibly ending the relationship with them. If you truly cannot find a way to be kind to this person, then you are probably benefiting both yourself and them by keeping contact to a minimum.

How To Stop Focusing On The Past

The past is in the past. I’m sure you have heard that phrase before. Well, it’s true. The past will always remain in the past and no matter how hard we pray or wish, the past will never be changed. Many of us have things we regret from out past. Some have so many regrets that the list never seems unending. We spend so much time reliving the past and wondering how our life could have been differently. We ponder the past with embarrassment and compare that to people who have a past that seems more positive and healthy. We may have lost important people because of those mistakes. We may have wasted opportunities, hurt people, or been completely out of control of our lives. When this happens, many of us continue to relive that past. We dwell on the many mistakes and misjudgments that were made and continue to punish ourselves for the actions we made in the past.

Fortunately your past is not who we are now. Everyone has made mistakes but those mistakes do not define who you are now. True, we should learn from our mistakes. Looking back at the past should be done only to understand why we made mistakes and to not fall back into the same unhealthy patterns.

For instance, I had a friend who understood that hanging out with a certain crowd only fostered her to get back into the negative cycle of doing drugs. Only by looking into her past and understanding why it was so difficult to get through her addictions, was she able to realize that the social group she was spending so much time with was making those actions worse. She was trying to re-focus her life but kept making the same mistakes because she did not realize that she had to spend less time with people who were still entrenched in that world. So learn from your past and use it as an experience you can build from. Use your past to prevent you from making the same mistakes, but do not relive the past and do not let the guilt strengthen because you cannot let go of the past.

Here are some tips to stop reliving in the past:

  1. When your thoughts get redirected to the past, try and focus on your present.
  2. If you are continually haunted by your past then write down the positive actions you are doing presently. How long have you been off drugs? Are you kinder towards others? Do you listen more? Do you have healthier behaviors? Are you spending your money wisely?
  3. Try and get yourself to be busy with something. The less time you have with these negative thoughts, the better.
  4. When you think about what happened in the past, repeat aloud to yourself that it’s in the past and you are doing things much better now.

Focus On Small Improvements

I will admit that I am the type to have big goals. I’ll come up with some grand idea and sometimes I can achieve it, and other times I don’t. When I don’t achieve those goals, it ends up making me feel disappointed in myself. Even when I do achieve my goals, I end up finding that there are just more things to do which results in additional pressure on myself. It creates a cycle where I end up wanting to be the best at something and really wanting to achieve this big goal, and end up being disappointed.

It’s easier just to focus on one small goal at a time. For example, let’s say one of your hobbies is gardening and one of your main goals is to grow a large beautiful garden by the end of the summer. Instead of placing so much pressure on yourself, instead start with a more attainable goal. Maybe focus on things you can do throughout the week instead. So instead you may have the goal of clearing out the yard this week. Once that is finished, your goal for the following week can be to start planting some seeds in just one part of the yard and focusing there.

When making smaller goals for yourself, not only are you more likely to achieve your larger dreams but you place less pressure on yourself and will give yourself the time to really appreciate those accomplishments.

How To Not Dwell On Mistakes

Everyone makes a mistake at some point in their lives. We all make mistakes on a frequent basis. Making mistakes is perfectly normal and healthy. Nobody goes through life making the best decisions, doing the right thing and remembering everything at the right time. Some of us go through streaks of bad luck where mistakes seem to be at an ultimate high. Sometimes these things just happen and it’s important not to dwell on it.

About a year ago I went through one of those streaks of making constant mistakes. This period lasted for about a week but really dampened my mood. I had missed an important deadline due to me not thoroughly reading an email. I received a speeding ticket for spending more time having a nice conversation with a friend than focusing on my speed. I had been planning to participate in this class and missed my last opportunity due to me being distraught about receiving the speeding ticket. My car had gotten towed for being parked in front of my house during some sports games. I had even missed paying one of my bills. It had just been an annoying rough point and I let it ruin my week when it didn’t need to. I made some mistakes. Many of these mistakes were a result of other mistakes. As an example, the speeding ticket made me distraught that I missed a class and missed paying a bill.  Dwelling on these mistakes and letting them effect me so much, only made my luck worse.

On a slightly more serious level, a few years ago I spent so much dwelling on mistakes with a friend of mine. Our friendship had a ton of negative history, some his fault and some mine. He was someone I felt very close to and I wanted our friendship to last. I felt it was worth the effort to try and have a friendship that was healthy and positive. Unfortunately, I kept making minor mistakes with our friendship. He responded by bringing up the past and relating it to my current mistakes. The mistakes I made were unintentional but I kept dwelling on them and feeling so bad about the things I was doing and saying unintentionally. In the end it got in the way of our friendship, and we were unable to maintain a friendship. Afterward, I kept dwelling on those mistakes.

Instead, I should have spent more time acknowledging those mistakes, learning from them and letting them go. The friendship ending was not entirely my fault but I did play my part, by not being more confident and realizing that yes, I did make a mistake, but today I did not. Tomorrow, I will not, and if I do make a mistake, I need to realize it happens and does not reflect something negative about myself.

Each of us makes mistakes, some small and large. As we live our life we need to realize that we cannot expect perfection of ourselves. Making mistakes is a normal thing and is bound to happen eventually.

The following lists some things to remember as you make a mistake:

  1. Everyone makes mistakes. You are not alone when making this mistake. You are not unusual. These things happen to everyone.
  2. Learn from the mistake. Remember, what’s more important is not dwelling on the mistake but learning from those errors and correcting them in the future.
  3. Try to not let the mistake ruin your day. Dwelling on mistakes can set up a scenario where you feel more negative and are more prone to making additional errors. Once it happens, acknowledge it, and focus on making things better and improving your mood.
  4. Remember you are human. If you make a mistake, try and think about why that happened. Were you tired? Were you feeling grumpy or did you just not get enough sleep? Ask yourself, why it happened and remember that people make mistakes and often there are legitimate reasons for that.
  5.   Start the process of forgetting. Resolve not to repeat your mistake and be ready to put the mistake behind you.

Raise A Pet

Raising a pet can bring joy into the life of someone who is ready to commit the time and finances for a pet and who enjoys the company of an animal. Pets can really bring joy into one’s life and it’s hard for someone to realize that until the pet is really in their lives.

I remember when I first met my partner, he kept telling me that he couldn’t afford to care for a dog and did not see the benefit of having one. He had just moved to a different state for school and was having a difficult time adjusting. I surprised him with a dog since I felt he was perfectly capable of caring for the dog and could afford one. The day he got the dog, his outlook on owning a pet completely changed and he absolutely loves his dog. It’s really helped brighten his time with settling into a new location and he really enjoys taking the dog for walks, playing with him and just spending time with his pet.

The dog has really added new joy into his life. He still thanks me for seeing how much joy raising a pet can be and thanks me for helping him make this decision. So consider raising a pet as a potential way to find happiness. Just remember that if you do make this decision you must take a good look at your life. Do you have the time and finances to properly raise a pet? Does the place you live at have pets? If you travel frequently, do you have a reliable friend, roommate or family member who can watch your pet for you? Being unable to properly care for your pet can just as easily make you feel unhappy so be sure you can provide a loving environment for your pet.

Be Healthy!

Having poor health can make you feel very unhappy. Learn to eat better and to incorporate exercise into your daily health. Taking proper steps at eating better and getting adequate exercise can do wonders to your mood. It can also help lessen the chance of illnesses in the future.

If you feel overweight and are generally unhappy with the way you look, then consider changing the way you eat and exercise. Losing weight and building muscle can lead to you feeling much better about the way you look.

Exercise can also improve your psychological health. Exercise can be an effective way to handle negative feelings. If you feel angry or upset about something, then sometimes a good workout can really help lessen those feelings and put you in a more positive mood.

If you find that you do not have the time to exercise then think of ways to incorporate exercise into your busy lifestyle. Climb stairs instead of taking the elevator. Wake up 15 minutes earlier and aim to take a brisk walk in the morning. On weekend outings try to suggest to your friends or partner that you would like to go out dancing, rock climbing or something that requires some extra physical activity. Aim to take your pet for a walk for 30 minutes each day. If you are in school then consider taking an extracurricular course that is strenuous. Anyone can make small changes to their daily routine to incorporate exercise.

Plan Less And Think Less

For someone like myself this can be a tough one to follow but it can dramatically improve your life sometimes. I used to be the type who would keep a document lying around where I would start planning for the next year or two. I have my own personal budget, even sometimes a weight chart (if I was intending to try and lose weight), academic goals, and career goals all laid out for the next couple of years. Unfortunately, that list ended up adding more negativity to my life than positiveness.  I was disappointed by the goals I did not set out for myself. I started worrying about finances when there was little need to worry about it. I sometimes did not meet certain goals, but neglected to realize that I was making other goals that were not even on my list. The truth is, is that a life path changes more frequently than we think it does.  I couldn’t plan for the next two years because things happened. I met new people, had changes of interests, or maybe sacrificed an academic goal to commit to something more meaningful such as volunteering for a few weeks abroad. In the end, I was creating a somewhat useful list, but the list did not add happiness to my life.

Worrying about tomorrow, next week, or next year can add unneeded stress into your life. As simple as it may sound, it’s better to just focus on the present. Fearing the future only adds stress and does little good other than that.

Let’s take the situation of someone fearing financial problems that may occur next year. This person may end up wasting so much time fearing financial instability in the future, that he or she does not realize that this fear is leading to additional waste of time. Instead of focusing on making better decisions right now, focusing on the bills that need to be paid now, or saving money now, this person is spending time fearing the future.

This even applies to relationships. When a relationship is going through a downwards turn, sometimes one or both of the partners start to fear the future. Many will start to envision the long line of arguments that lie ahead, the broken promises that have not yet been made, the disappointments and eventually the break up. While doing this, many add fear and tension to the relationship rather than realizing that today is indeed a new day. Today you can start anew. Today you can keep a promise, make your partner happy, and instead of an argument have a fun conversation together. Tomorrow is unknown, and all we know is today.

Instead of spending so much time predicting the future, spend more time focusing on today. Instead of spending so much time planning how tomorrow and the next few months will go, spend more time focusing on the present. Instead of fearing the future and worrying about the unknown, start appreciating the opportunities that await you today and the many changes you can make right at this instant.

This does take time and discipline but it’s well worth the effort. Keep in mind, that I am not saying there’s anything wrong with making plans, but there is something wrong when you start developing negative thoughts because you are stuck spending too much time planning and thinking about the future. It’s easier to live a happier life when you focus on the changes you can make right now and start realizing that the future is still unwritten. Your life or relationships do not have to go so negatively. All you need to do is focus on the present and enjoy that time and take the opportunities life throws at you.

Sometimes, I still feel tempted to make that list for the next year but stop myself. I know that that list isn’t important. What’s important is what I’m doing now to reach my goals and the opportunities I allow myself to take presently.

Judge By Your Values, Not The Value Of Others

People consistently make the mistakes of judging themselves by the standards of others. Take the case of a son who is in a career he really enjoys but his parents think it’s not a worthwhile endeavor because he is not making much money doing it. Or think of the cases where someone has low self worth because of abuse from a partner. Or perhaps you are in the situation where you may have made a mistake and therefore people misrepresent who you are by calling you a liar, jerk, or stupid because of a few mistakes you made in the past. You know yourself better than anyone else does. You know what you need and desire. You know how you have changed and grown. Nobody else knows that but yourself.

When you start to judge yourself based off of what others tell you, you are on the road to unhappiness. It’s definitely normal and healthy to ask friends about your character and take that into consideration. For example, if you have a slew of failed relationships, it may be worth asking a friend why they feel that may be happening. If they say it might be because you tend not to prioritize girlfriends as highly as you should, then that’s definitely worth thinking about. What is not acceptable is when you continually trust your friends’ judgment over your own. If you make a mistake and others spend time trying to make you feel guilty, but you don’t feel as guilty, then try and understand why you have that lack of guilt. It’s likely because you understand your intentions and attitudes better than they do.

I once had a really good friend and we parted ways due to a similar situation such as this. I had made a joke, one that was shared by many of my friends, at an inappropriate time. The wrong people heard and took the joke seriously, and did not register it was a joke. What ended up occurring was a few people saying that I was talking negatively about my friend. My friend, rather than asking me exactly what had happened, believed what they said. I explained to him the situation afterwards and he understood what I meant but the damage was already done. Our friendship declined shortly after that. Some people might respond by feeling guilty or thinking they had said something terrible, but I know my intentions. I was just making a joke and I did apologize for saying it at an inopportune moment and that things had gotten out of control, but I know that making that one mistake does not make me a bad friend or someone not deserving of friends.

If you make a mistake then try not to consume yourself with it by the way people judge you. If you are surrounded by people who easily jump to negative conclusions about your character then it’s best to get away from those people.  If you hurt someone, then it’s normal for that person to be upset with you but you have to be aware of when that negativity becomes out of control. If someone is continually devaluing you as a person, then it’s better to cut that person out of your life.

If you have something you are passionate about or you enjoy living your life a certain way, then stand up for that. It’s great to have people around who have your best interests at hand, but it’s one thing to say something lacks value based off of negative ways it influences your life and another thing to say it lacks value because that person cannot see the value in that. If there is something truly important to you that you value, then try to not let others influence that. If someone wants to take away something that brings you joy, then consider cutting them out of your life. Remember to also understand where people are coming from when they place value on things you do. If something is indeed adding negativity to your life, that you really enjoy, it is worth considering what your loved ones have to say about that. It may be an activity you should limit or consider healthier alternatives.

The same theory applies for material items and other life pursuits. Just because something brought joy into someone else’s life does not mean it will for you. Someone who truly loves traveling and a true genuine experience at viewing the life of other cultures may absolutely love the experience of spending a month living in a tribal village with very limited amenities. For others, that could end up being an experience that makes them feel unhappy and uncomfortable. A person who loves cars may enjoy saving up and spending money on a really nice car, while for another, that could be a happiness that lasts for just a couple of days.  One person may truly not be able to live without a pet, and find love and joy in raising one, while another would hate owning a pet.

Everyone places different values on things. If something is important to you, then treat it like it’s important. If something is not important, then don’t make it out to have more value in your life just because it’s something your friends value. It’s wonderful to respect other’s values, but that does not mean you have to adopt their values.

So again, learn to respect your values and everyone else’s values. Take what people have to say about you in consideration. People can typically see things about your character that you may not be aware of. Be open to the suggestions and opinions of others. Place rational thought into what people tell you. Just remember that some people’s judgments are misinformed and are meant as an attack. Keep this in mind and try not to punish yourself unnecessarily.

Get Organized

Get organized! Seriously. Lack of organization can waste a ton of time and can result in someone feeling like they are wasting time or do not have control of their lives. If you find yourself procrastinating or not making deadlines, then first look to see if you are truly organized. Are you spending too much time looking for things on your computer or around your desk? Do you find yourself forgetting meetings, missing class deadlines, or not remembering to schedule appointments?

Instead, schedule a few minutes a day to schedule appointments or to make weekly lists of what needs to be done. It really makes a difference. I went through a few episodes where I was looking for documents and nearly freaked out because I could not find them! During one of these, I realized that it was more than worth the effort to just be more organized than to panic over not spending literally an extra few seconds being organized.

That day I went through my computer and made easy to follow folders. I spent close to an hour organizing all my documents on my computer and making sure every folder had a name that made sense and was in the most appropriate spot. Not only was my computer much cleaner and easier to look at, but ever since when I wanted a document, even a document I haven’t looked at in over a year, I could find it within 30 seconds. Being organized saved me so much time and less things to worry and panic about. Also, I stopped feeling like such a procrastinator. Sometimes simple steps at being organized can help one feel accomplished and happy.