Crazy People Pleaser

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The day my first baby was born, my mother visited us in the hospital. She brought cigarettes. I had stopped smoking for nine months, and I hadn’t intended to start again. But Mom was being thoughtful by bringing me cigarettes, so in order not to hurt her feelings, I lit up.

Sounds crazy. I risked my health and the health of my children so as not to say no to my mother. Her approval meant a lot and I knew how easily she could take it away. I had to be very careful to never displease her, even if it meant doing something that my brain told me was a bad idea.

I didn’t quite trust my own mind back then. There was suspicion buried deep in my heart that I wasn’t very smart. Or good. The only way anybody was ever going to love stupid bad me was if I did everything I could to make them happy. And also, if I did everything I could to make others happy, I would at least be good, if not smart.

Then time went on and I realized I was pretty smart in some ways. Didn’t that cum laude on the college diploma say so? Didn’t the second degree, earned at night while teaching all day, reinforce I was good at something? Still…giving myself a break was always a challenge, because I believed that pleasing others was the way to be good. If you thought about yourself first, well, that was selfish.

This crazy-ass philosophy of life stopped making sense to me at some point. Or so I thought. Then I took an inventory a few months ago that to my surprise revealed I was still had a tendency to say yes when I yearned to say no. I still had some assumptions about self-care that needed tending. Like the one that goes “I will honor my commitments.”

I have a very hard time letting other people down. I’d rather suck it up and do the job I signed up for, even if the circumstances around it had changed and doing the job would cause me serious grief. Maybe because in some way following through on every commitment, even those that had run out of gas and just weren’t good for me anymore, still made me feel better about myself. If I quit, people would boo me. If I stayed, people would admire me and say “Isn’t she fabulous? How could we ever do it without her?”

Except. Wanting admiration from others more than tending to self-care is like smoking a cigarette you don’t want just to impress somebody else.

Three Good Things

Ten happiness boosters may increase your happiness up to 40%. They are to savor life’s joys, drop grudges, get moving, give thanks, keep friends close, get with the flow, practice kindness, look on the bright side, avoid over-thinking and comparing, and recall three good things.

For the past week or two I’ve been posting on the UC Berkeley list, giving you my practices and ideas. I didn’t do great with kindness but I did figure out it is easy to be kind to those who are kind to me, not so much for those who show disdain, hatred, ignorance, or negativity. So I’m still working on kindness.

Looking on the bright side, I pretty much avoid anybody who bums me out. Distain me, not gonna sustain me. Hate me, never gonna mate me. Show ignorance, I’ll quietly give you a comeuppance, negative words, I’ll fly the coop at dawn with the birds. So that’s the bright side. I have a bunch of kindness in my life because the other stuff doesn’t get in much anymore. And if it does, it quickly gets swept to the curb with the other garbage.

Avoid over-thinking and comparing. Here is good news for older people. We like to use our brains but then they get tired so we rest. I meditate, my husband watches sports on the television. We are so over over-thinking. I have a habit now when something worries me, and I get to that circular reasoning thing where I just go round and round with a topic, where I eventually get dizzy and give it to the universe. Things have a way of sorting themselves out without my breaking my brain.

And comparing! Ha. What a waste. I hesitate to waste the words but in case you have not discovered this beautiful secret of getting older is comparison never ever feels good. Just the minute you find you have less necks than your neighbor someone across the street aged 22 is going to move in. So you know, give up the eyeing of the inches gained and the hair lost and your Amazon ranking and how many Twitter followers you have. It don’t matter, and neither does grammar. Ha. Just, when you start to compare anything, file it with the grudges.

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Recall three good things. Saying “I do.” Birth of my babies. Birth of my grandbabies. The day my author copies of The Paris Notebook arrived. Opps that’s four. Or six, depending on how you want to count them because Al, Mike, Tim, Owen & Ben should each be their own good thing. And they are. The men in my life. Then there’s the writing.

Somebody asked me yesterday why I still blog. 13 years, haha. I said “I like it.” Blogging is another good thing. I’m sorry, Berekely, it is impossible to recall just three good things. But I think I may feel 50% happier having realized that.

Happiness Encore

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Today seems a good day to review those ten happiness booster tips from Mindful magazine and UC Berkeley that I’ve been posting about:

1. Savor Life’s Joys

2. Drop Grudges

3. Get Moving

4. Give Thanks

5. Keep Friends Close

 I’ve been off the market for a few months owing to some injuries, and yesterday was my official day to release the crutches and walk unfettered in the world again. Yay! I had lunch with a group of friends, made plans with another friend to see an art exhibit tomorrow, and had a neighbor over for a glass of wine at cocktail hour.

Was I feeling cooped up? You bet. I’m so ready to be social and this is the weekend for it. We have a party with good friends on the 4th and then my Seattle family comes in next week. Al and I have been planning for a big party and some smaller “just us” time too. Then we’re going to visit his dad. Seems I’ll see almost every member of my family and some of Al’s in the next few weeks and all happy occasions.

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#6 “Get With the Flow” and I can see some of what that will mean to me beginning on July 15 when I receive my edits from The Wild Rose Press. I also have another book contract to sign with Amazon Encore, something pretty exciting I need to look more closely at today. With book contracts and edits come writing and promotion and this is the flow I’ll be entering after a long winter of writing, writing, writing. Of course I’m still writing…just needing to fit more of the big picture into my flow.

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#7 “Practice Kindness” is a big one for me. I always have love in my heart, but it doesn’t always translate into action in the real world. So I’ll be working on that too and letting you know next post some practical steps I took to practice kindness. And of course I hope to finish out those final three tips in my next few posts.

Happy Birthday, USA

Happiness & Gratitude

If you’re looking to boost your personal happiness by 40 percent, this series of posts, taken from tips researched at UC Berkeley, just might do the trick. I’m only on #4, gratitude, but have already noticed a general uptick in my mood. Gratitude is a habit that can only help. Begin every day with a big thank you list, maybe even before you open your eyes. I’ve been taking note of gratitude for many years, and one thing I’ve figured out is that the less happy you feel on any particular day, the more you need to find something to be grateful for.

What we are grateful for is such an individual thing, so personal, But it’s universal, too. We in the USA have a couple of precious things to be grateful for this week. Our courts have saved Obamacare (again) and made marriage legal for everybody. Decent health coverage and the right to love. Most of us are grateful our corner of the world is changing in positive ways.

So thanks America, because frankly, I have not been feeling super-grateful these days. It’s been tough going with the knee and the shingles and the pain and the crutches. Yet somehow gratitude wedged in to every corner of my despair, making space for happy. Maybe because I have permission to walk in the world again (without crutches) come July 1. That’s only a couple of days from now. Then a few days after that my Seattle family is coming to visit. See heart overflow with gratitude like a geyser.

The highly individual thing I’m really grateful for this week is the current book-in-progress. I wasn’t sure until yesterday I could manage what I wanted to do. Change setting. Change genre. Change tone. Change a character who has been with me for a few books now. Huge ask but I wanted to do it, really had that on fire desire to create this new thing that has been in my head for over a year now, have been aching to start the new story but the thing was just not flowing.

The problem was Paxton, an important character who would not let me in. Not even an inch. I thought, I stewed, I brainstormed. I simmered, I researched, I assembled a collage. Finally got a big hit of that feeling I’m chasing. The collage is pretty. I can’t stop looking at it. It makes me feel so good and this is even before words:) Somehow pictures help me draw out the words. It’s a mysterious process. I look through dozens of magazines and tear out imagines that call my name. I don’t know why a watch from Shinola called my name, but it did and into the stack of images it went.

I’m so grateful to that collage because yesterday I wrote pages and pages and felt that on fire inspired feeling that is the true reason I write. For me, it’s all in the process. Cracking Paxton’s code. Now I think I can write this book. Another good feeling. Happy, part four.

The fifth happiness booster on the list is Keep Friends Close which has not been a thing I’ve been doing lately. When I’m in pain, I isolate. So…the pain is leaving (thanks and goodbye!) and the peeps are gonna be hearing from me in the next couple of weeks. A lot.

Happiness & Grudges

Despite the dubious math involved, I’m on a quest to kick my happiness factor up a few points using a list from Mindful magazine. Really have been noticing the little joys that surround me but will refrain from mentioning all of them because that would just be bragging.

So, DITCHING GRUDGES was an interesting exercise. I made a list of all the people I held grudges against. They are usually front and center somewhere, so I didn’t have to think long or hard about it. 14 people, some of whom I have held grudges against for several decades. Nobody holds a grudge like I do. I know this. I’m not proud of it. But I am trying now to just stop it already.

14 isn’t that many. I figured the number of people who have done me wrong would be much higher. I have likely forgotten some folks. These others on the list–I’ve done a lot of work on “forgiving” each and every one of them. Many of them more than once. Forgiving works, for awhile. Then up comes the thought “If he hadn’t done that to me…” or “If she had only….” and I start thinking of the ways this person made my life so difficult and sad. And the grudge is reborn, like a weed in spring.

And you know how stubborn weeds are when you try to pull them out at the roots. But I did a good mental pruning of my life’s garden, and all the grudges have been burned like bad bridges. I learned a few interesting  things along the way. Like this: every person I held a grudge against had disrespected me in some major way. And they never apologized. Not even did they fail to say sorry, they pretended as if there was no need to do so, and in some cases, projected the blame back on me.

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So, yeah, I can feel that righteous grudge juice stirring. But no. Down the drain it goes. I’m done with that. What else I discovered: anyone formerly on the list who has passed did not make the last list. (And it will be my last list, if not my last forgiveness session.) It must be impossible to hold a grudge against a dead man. That surprised me. And gave me faith. In exactly what, I don’t know. The power of death to transcend and erase all the silly grudges of life? Or how about: What really matters at the end is not the grudges you hold but that letting go of the ugly stuff is an act of grace. In my case, bestowed by unknown angels, because I did no “work” to release those grudges as I am having to do with the living ones.

The “work” for me meant a long session of thought and writing and forgiving. When I feel a grudging thought pop up (and a few have since I started this grudge-begone business) I just think “I forgive you, and I forgive me too, for not being able to let this go before now.” Quick and effective. I can feel the happiness increase as the weight of those grudges slides off my shoulders.

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Another lesson learned while drawing up the (now extinct) grudge list, a few people I really love who hurt me bad were nowhere on the list. Probably we had an unpleasant verbal altercation or six. Difference was, those people loved me back, we talked things through, we made it okay. Turns out I’m pretty easy as far as grudges go. That delighted me just a little. I thought I was a way bigger bitch. Just don’t hurt me or hate me then leave me hanging on.

Truth is, haters gonna hate, I’m not always gonna be everybody’s best beloved, and nobody says I gotta hang with that grudge. I can be like a breeze and just blow it off. Done!

Happiness tip #3 is GET MOVING and I don’t mean out of town, though that might help some people. I am still banned from most exercise while my knee repairs itself, but I have been doing some easy floor stretches and other things that don’t involve my precious left knee.

Happiness tip #4 is GIVE THANKS and I know I can use some help in that department. Got any good ways to give thanks? Please let me know, in comments or email or phone call! I’ll post whatever I come up with in a couple of days:)