Staying positive is something that seems obvious to be happy, but it’s hard for some people to do. Harder for some than others, and I believe that’s because of constantly training ourselves to either think positively, which is hard and must be consciously done sometimes or think negatively. Thinking negatively is easy and I’d even say lazy, and it’s poisonous to ourselves and to relationships. No one like to be around or associated with someone that always thinks negatively, whether it’s about others, events in life, themselves, situations they find themselves (which are typically no different than any others people find themselves in at some point), or any and everything that comes their way.
Either way, we condition ourselves to think one way or another. And after time goes by, it becomes the routine way our brains travel when we have to ponder a matter. Do we look at it with optimism and trying to think of good things about it, and try to see the positive, or do we curse it and look at it woefully and how bad it is is how helpless it makes us change it? I know people that do both, and I prefer to be with the optimists. Everyone has negative events that occur in their lives but it’s how we learn to manage and cope with them that I think makes us stronger and able to hand even worse matters, that, unfortunately, do lie around the corner if you live long enough.
Learning to be grateful is one way to change yor way of thinking positively. Keeping a list of things you have to be grateful for work for me, and I still write down things I’m grateful for. Gratitude goes hand in hand with happiness. And everyone has something to be grateful for, no matter how dim life might look at times. I wrote down 10 things each day I was grateful for, and it changes your perspective. It conditions you to be more positive.
I’ve also found it’s easier to be more positive when you’re more down and out that when you’re on top. When you have more to worry about losing or are up on top, there’s a long way down to fall and the footing sometimes feels unsteady. When at rock bottom, things feel like they only get better, so it’ easy to be optimistic. It’s ironic, really.
People that have a negative outlook on life are corrosive and have an anchoring effect on your soul. They drag you along, tire you out and drain your resources. Miserable people love to commiserate (misery loves company is true) and they’ll pick at you until they find a spot to saturate and infect you with their cancer until you quickly die. So I tend to stay away from negative people because it’s as unhealthy as smoking, eating poorly, drinking alcohol and being complacent. All things I coincidentally did when younger and have quit and never been happier and both mentally and physically healthier as a result.
Everyone’s different so I don’t have specific answers for everyone can achieve that outlook, but I can list some ways that have worked for me:
Go for a walk. I don’t really consider this “exercise” exactly, but it gets you outdoors and gets your blood and chemicals pumping, which is good for you.
Change your playgrounds and playmates. The people and places we choose to go to have an impact on us, good or bad. And if you struggle with keeping a good outlook, it may be due to these things.
Music. Music can instantly change the mood I’m in and the things I think about. I find it’s one of the most powerful influences in my life, which is why I embrace it the way I do and play guitar and go to live performances. Bonus: Live performances also put you among lots of other happy people who share the same love of the music you’re hearing.
Pets and animals. They have unconditional love, which goes a long way. They are appreciative of everything you do for them, which lifts spirits automatically. Dogs especially have a profound impact on my life. Good dogs, at least.
Read good books that have a positive message or make you stronger somehow.
Listen to a Ted talk. (Not a TedX talk. There’s a difference.)
Help others. There are always people that need a hand, and everyone can help someone else somehow.
I’m sure there are a lot more I’m overlooking but that’s a good list for starters.
You may ask: why bother? Because being positive allows us to be happy. It makes us happier and healthier. People want to be around us more, which has a snowball effect with regards to happiness, and I’d say even success. You become a magnet for positivity and a repellant for negativity, which draws negative events and people to us, which I doubt many people welcome. When you’re happy you want to help others, which I’d say is a big reason to live. If you want fulfillment in life and are trying to find a reason we exist as people, one is to help others, which being positive helps us do, and want to do.
We often hear that we should be grateful and be humble, which is true. Humility is a lack of ego. Some people confuse it with “humiliation,” which is totally different. But I wonder if everyone really takes that into consideration as much as it should be, which is enough to actually practice them consistently. They aren’t natural ways to be, and for some people, it comes much harder than others.
I know a lot of people who I’ve known for nearly my whole life that have grown up demonstrating a facade that they have and are the way they are because of entitlement or some God-given grace. They’ve never had to show gratitude or humility, and to do so in the least would be as mortifying as standing in Times Square at noon naked. Admitting that would be impossible, which comes with the attitude. But through life, I’ve gotten to know many people who are gracious, grateful and humble, and they are some of the people everyone wants to strive to be like and want to know. It’s the difference between people that give and people that only take. It usually takes some twist of fate that puts us in some compromising position to begin thinking about what we should be grateful for and how to truly be humble. I know in my case that’s true.
But I don’t think it has to be that way. Empathy and the ability to put ourselves in other people’s shoes allows for it. Men like Robert E. Lee understand humility and haven’t been down and out like some people have. Although “down and out” is relative, generally speaking. What seems huge now might seem laughable at a later point in life. I know I’ve faced what I thought were some hard times, but in retrospect, they were pretty easy comparatively. And although I’ve been what people would certainly consider “broke” I’ve given my last $5 to a man standing out in the Summer heat on the corner of a highway asking for help because obviously, he was in a worse spot than I. I at least was sitting in an air-conditioned car, driving to a house with water and food.
Whenever we feel great about the position we’re in life and proud of where we find ourselves, it’s a perfect time to reflect and try to think of all that we should be grateful for, and not proud of. And remember that it can all be taken away in the blink of an eye. Usually, the easier it comes, the easier it goes. But not always. And to remember that we’re all human and imperfect is something to keep in mind. No one’s better than anyone else. It’s easy to judge someone else based on perceptions we have thanks to the experiences and gifts we’ve had and been given that others haven’t. I don’t think it has anything to do with “luck” or fortune or misfortune. It’s that everyone takes a unique, complex set of routes through life that makes us see things differently, and make choices to the best of our ability that differ from others because of what we’ve been exposed to and learned from our past.
At the very least we need to be able to be grateful to be happy. They go hand in hand. And when the cards are down, being humble makes life much easier when you have to reach up and out for help. There will be many more hands available than if you need to reach down for help from the pedestal you’ve maintained, and turns out you’ve borrowed the whole time.
Definition of a Gentleman
Robert. Edward Lee
The forbearing use of power does not only form a touchstone, but the manner in which an individual enjoys certain advantages over others is a test of a true gentleman.
The power which the strong have over the weak, the employer over the employed, the educated over the unlettered, the experienced over the confiding, even the clever over the silly–the forbearing or inoffensive use of all this power or authority, or a total abstinence from it when the case admits it, will show the gentleman in a plain light
The gentleman does not needlessly and unnecessarily remind an offender of a wrong he may have committed against him. He cannot only forgive, he can forget; and he strives for that nobleness of self and mildness of character which impart sufficient strength to let the past be but the past. A true man of honor feels humbled himself when he cannot help humbling others.
I’ve been noticing some interesting things recently as I deal with a number of stressful issues occurring in my life. They are separate and related, and vary in scope and scale and how they were injected into my life and relieved. They’re dynamic, in other words, but persistent, and lately, sizable in any way someone looks at them. They’re relative, I know. Everyone has problems, and I know there are people with greater problems than I have, and others with less. But to each person, the stressor is relative to the amount and type of coping skills they’re armed with, the amount of time they have to devote to them, and all the other resources needed to deal with each one separately, in conjunction with one another, and often compounded by each other. I don’t mean to compare my situation with anyone else’s because they’re all unique.
So I’m not writing about this as a complaint; more like a clinical observation about how my own person, physically and mentally, have reacted to what I’m experiencing. I think nearly anyone would agree that what I’m experiencing, knowing the details of it all, is unusually high-stress in any context, however. “Measuring” it seems pointless and futile because of what I described above. I’m just trying to impress the fact this isn’t your everyday “I got into a car accident” or “my power was cut off” type of problem that’s being dealt with.
So what initially happened when I was hit with the sudden news that my wife left me and my family was destroyed, dreams shattered, the dog died, etc… was that I lost a lot of weight quickly. My cortisol levels went off the chart. I lost over 25% of my weight in two weeks, and I wasn’t overweight. That was from about 175 lbs to less than 152 pounds, and then it kept dropping into the 140s, to about 145 and then to 135 when I stopped weighing myself because it was frightening to see myself turning into a skeleton and not being able to stop it. Even though I was eating normally and living as I always had. Eventually, after gorging myself for months and time doing the work time tend to do, I put the weight back on. Yes, I went to the doctor, and he just said it was because of stress, which is what I already knew and why I dismiss most doctors to begin with.
Fast forward to now, about 2 quick years later when I’m experiencing a resurgence in stress from some of the same issues that remain unresolved, or have become worse, plus a number of new ones. I had financial stresses removed temporarily, and then the rug pulled out from under me and me crashing on the ground even harder than before, which I’m working on getting back up from now.
But what is interesting to me is my body’s response this time. I went through a period of sleeplessness where I would go days without sleep until my common sense and biology made me get some sleep. And then I’d rest very hard, and find it hard to even move a muscle in the direction out of bed, to shower and tend to the numerous obligations I have. I don’t drink or smoke, and I exercise when I can, but I’m not on a regular exercise regimen. My daily chores typically provide quite a bit. Just mowing my nearly vertical yard is more than I believe most men my age could do, and I do it every week, plus chasing my daughter nonstop around gets the heart pumping. I’ve never worried about becoming Mr. Universe but I’ve always been active. Always.
What’s more, I find that I have an insatiable appetite. I’ve never eaten for comfort or as a coping mechanism. I consider food fuel and eat healthily. I tend to graze throughout the day and night instead of eating big several full meals like most people I think do. I don’t wait until I’m starving to refill my tank. I’ve never been a snacker. But I do have a sweet tooth and will eat dark chocolate or ice cream as a rare treat.
But lately, I have been eating non-stop, which I think is due to our fight or flight instinct. I stay awake forever as a fighting stance. And my body wants me to bolster my energy sources by eating a bunch of food and resting, once I give in and lie down. It tries to keep me down to rest, to be prepared to fight, although to me when I’m lying there, it feels more like flight. I keep getting bad news which is body blows that also tempt me to hide from the world as well. But I know that’s the least productive thing I can do and will only make matters worse, so I fight it. I’m a fighter, not a quitter, and I’m a doer, not a talker, which is are facts that will remove me from this pit eventually one way or another. People have had to face far worse circumstances than I am, and have emerged so much stronger than most people on Earth as a result. I don’t think that I fall outside that group of people with the background and fortitude I have. And although nearly everyone has turned their backs to me, I still have a group of people that I know live me and care about me, which will always be remembered and helps lift me up when I just want to lie down and give up.
This time, despite my ridiculous appetite, I’m not putting on any weight, but it’s especially noticeable when juxtaposed against my daughter’s appetite. She is 4 years old and eats like a bird, to begin with. And she’d rather play than eat. I have to force her to focus on settling down and eating, and even then she’s picky, so she’ll only eat a few bites at a time and then it’s back to work for her. She reminds me of myself in that regard, where I will often neglect myself in the name of finishing something else I’m focused on to the point of being manic. When I did consulting work, I’d stay up for 3 days straight to finish a project and not come up for air until it was done. That’s always been my ethic, and I recognize it and recognize it’s crazy, but that’s another post. I also notice stress compels me to want to create/produce, like writing, building things, fixing things around the house, playing guitar, and being artistic. And it’s the reason I’m up typing this at nearly 2 am instead of getting sleep. But I’m not crazy, so goodnight.
I’ve come to a point in life where I’m truly between a rock and a hard place. My whole life I’ve been able to come up with solutions to some complex problems, but I find myself suddenly stuck with no way out.
I have no one to turn to, no safety net and no one but myself to save me. I’ve tried to prepare myself for any emergency, but this one is stripping me of all my resources and leaving me completely vulnerable.
I’ve asked my tiny family for ideas to remove me from this position, and it has resulted in nothing more than a pat on the back. So now I’ve decided to ask the world, via the internet, for solutions.
Here’s the problem that needs to be fixed:
I am a recently divorced father of a wonderful 4-year-old who has found himself in a city where he doesn’t belong: Louisville, KY. But this is where we landed so that my ex-wife could begin her teaching career, and is where my daughter was born, and will likely have to stay, unfortunately. Away from family, away from where I grew up in South Carolina, and away from my reality.
All savings went to divorce lawyers and staying alive.
I’m 50 years old and have spent much of my time learning to prepare myself for the working world. I’ve held a lot of jobs along the way to make ends meet so that when I entered the workforce I had some experience.
I’ve pulled every string and applied to every company in a 30-mile radius, and remotely, and the response has been chilly. Lots of nibbles thanks to having an MBA. But no curious interest beyond that. It makes a person wonder.
It leaves me with no income yet I still have responsibilities, such as taking good care of my daughter, paying weekly rent to a very gracious landlord, utilities, food, toilet paper and so on. So I systematically relinquish my limited and cherished possessions in exchange for money to survive. But I’m quickly running out of road and I can only see three exits, which is always the good, better, best scenario:
Best case: Job falls in my lap from my hundreds of applications. Unlikely.
Better case: I find a job that will allow me to get back on my feet and move along. Although I’m willing to do anything, there are areas that I’m trained in (marketing) and I must earn at least enough to pull me out of this pit. Because of circumstances that are now out of my control, I’m fixated in a lease that requires $2000 per month, which I’m paying weekly, so my daughter and I at least have shelter. I’d like to move to another house that’s less expensive but I haven’t the necessary funds to do so. That’s a tight knot.
Good case: No job is found, I’m evicted and cannot see my daughter anymore. Homeless wretch, a possible suicide.
So that’s where the puzzle presents itself and I turn to the world for solutions. What says the world?
Cecelia and her Daddy
POSTSCRIPT EDIT OCTOBER 7, 2019:
Well it’s been a week and I have my answers.
It was interesting to see who responded. This post was a distress signal. An emergency SOS cry for help, for anyone that couldn’t figure that out. When you open yourself to the entire world and plea for some help, there’s no road left and life has become dire.
Who came to help were my longtime friends from boarding school. No one from my family popped up to see what was the matter. No ex-wives who pledged to be by my side through thick and thin and obviously didn’t mean it. No drinking buddies from decades past when such things bound men together. I’m not mentioning them to shame them. That’s their decision and I try not to judge others when I don’t know what they’re thinking.
But the men who came to my rescue didn’t surprise me. And the way they did was no surprise either. When someone’s drowning, giving someone your phone number and telling someone to call you who’s going down for the third time isn’t going to save them. You have to reach out a hand, as hard and exhausting as it may seem because you don’t know what you’re going to be grabbing. It may be an easy lift up, or it may require all your resources and then some. But usually, it’s somewhere in-between those two extremes, of course. And how much it taxes the person reaching out is a measure of how strong they are and how prepared they are to handle such a rescue mission, from staying fit in the ways that matter leading up to the save. For men, it means a display of character. I didn’t expect any women to come to offer real help, because it’s rare they do. That may sound very sexist, but in my 50 years of life, that’s what I’ve experienced. You’re free to change my mind.
The men that answered the call all grew up with the same sense of honor and commitment that I did. It’s no surprise that we all went to the same boarding school, and shared the same life experiences, and learned to become a man the same way. We learned through teamwork, playing sports. We learned through leadership. We learned through having to be independent, away from our families. We grew to learn how to respect each other and how to behave in a healthy society and be there to help when another schoolmate needed it. It was a tight-knit community and always has been. It’s why it will always remain all-boys, all boarding, and relatively small, with 400 boys in 3rd through 6th form(9th-12th grade).
We learned that when times get tough, the tough get going. You don’t sit around and ask questions and talk, you start acting and doing. It’s what separates the men from the boys. I’ve known the guys that responded to my question for around 35 to 40 years+ now. And although none of us live in the same cities or even states, they didn’t think twice about being there when the alarm sounded. It’s truly amazing and demonstrates what a strong bond was formed back when we were boys. Our school’s mission was to transform us into honorable and respectful men of moral purpose. Something to think about.
People’s perceptions are amazing things. They can be extremely strong motivators. They fascinate me not only from a human behavior standpoint but because they matter so much in life. Not necessarily to me, mind you, but in life they do.
Perceptions are what mainly help us form opinions and cast judgment about situations and other people. That’s why they’re important. They also are what help us shape ourselves and determine who we are as people. All that is is pretty important stuff.
But they all are different, and they all are formed differently and they matter in different ways, and even the way we perceive perceptions makes a big difference. That sounds confusing, but if someone thinks others perceive them some way, even if it’s accurate or not, that will determine behavior and future thought.
Some people are capable of looking at others and situations from different perspectives, which is a valuable skill. Some people can’t ever change their perception, and some people consciously make their perception a certain way just so they can live with themselves.
I used to say perceptions are all that matter, but I’ve changed that stance. Of course, things matter more than perceptions, but they’re still crucial to how we live our lives. Perceptions are a two-way phenomenon. They matter in how we perceive others, and they matter, sometimes more to some than others, to how we perceive ourselves. And the different angles and accuracies of those perceptions vary greatly, which is where things get interesting.
Our perceptions change through life and depend on what stage of life we’re in, and who we live among, and where our priorities lie, which also shift all the time. Despite how dynamic perceptions are they seem to maintain a pretty strong steady linear direction through life, even with all the variance, give or take 5% either way. If I had to guess, I’d imagine they are formed during our most malleable years, which are through childhood, teen years, and early twenties. That’s when it seems people get their set of lenses through which they view the remainder of life. Like going to the optometrist and being given a set of glasses and sent on our way to navigate, cope with, judge and behold the world around us and those in it.
More often than not I see people judge books by their covers, instead of waking a mile in their shoes. Those are two ways of saying that some people have a narrow perspective view, and others have experience, wisdom, intelligence, and knowledge enough to try and view others from different angles. This ability is what places people in different political camps, different socio-economic strata, and different levels in life.
When I look around I’m not sure I’d be wrong to state that most people worry about how others perceive them more than how they perceive themselves. Meaning, the concern about perceptions is disproportionately placed outwardly and how total strangers and meaningless people, or just a very small subset of people that really don’t care one way or another, perceive us. It’s why people buy cars that are so over the top luxurious the King of Prussia would be embarrassed to drive them, or people worry about what neighborhood they live in, or how big their house is or what kind of clothes they wear, and so on. Some people actually pay money to designers to advertise the designer on themselves to make sure people’s perception is something they’ve crafted in their heads to mean something other than what they are. And that seems to be what perceptions are most about. People trying to manipulate other people’s perceptions to be something dreamt up in the person’s head that isn’t even real.
That has more to do with integrity, self -respect, self-esteem, maturity, accountability and a list of traits that some people concern themselves with and others don’t. It has to do with character and what a person does when no one’s watching. When no one knows or will ever know your behavior. If the whole world were blind, how would you dress? How would you act? My guess here is that if surveyed and linear regression was applied, you’d see an effect where there are two camps: One that holds themselves to a higher standard, or aspires to a higher standard, even if not achievable, and those that don’t. In other words, a group of people that have no standards, don’t worry about them and don’t care, but they DO care about perceptions. That’s how strong perceptions are.
Some people simply rely on stereotypes to form their perceptions. Lots of people do that, including much of Hollywood. That aligns with people that have equally narrow perceptions. I don’t know about others, but I’ve had people have the wrong perceptions about me since I can ever remember. Being a Southerner. Going to prep school. Being a deadhead. Having an MBA. You name it, people will form judgments about me knowing nothing more about me than what they can perceive from a label.
And personally, I don’t care about any of those things. Because they alone don’t shape my character. Having a three-year-old child and setting an example for her is what dictates how I want to be perceived. I am concerned about how my daughter perceives me, but I don’t worry about it, because I behave just as I would if she were around even when she isn’t. I have standards for myself, and aspire to higher standards, even if I can’t achieve them. It’s (just one) a reason why I keep a clean, neat home, from top to bottom. I don’t have many visitors, but when people stop by, they’ll leave with a perception that I can manage my life and home and surroundings well. And I care about the environment I raise my daughter in, and set a good example for her. It’s why I make my bed every morning and I make sure Cecelia sees me do it. I’m teaching her how to manage her life and maintain personal control over her environment. Not everyone can do something as simple, but important, as that.
On the other hand, some people spend all their time creating what they want others to see, as best as they can. They stage themselves and use lies, deceit, omissions of fact, and any manipulative tool at hand (but usually reach for the two or three they’ve honed and are comfortable with over their lifetime) and are only worried about how they believe others perceive them. They’re superficial and transparent usually, and devoid of integrity and meaning. People’s perceptions are their own reality can be quite true, and some people, who don’t mind lying to themselves(and others), will change perceptions to create their own reality. And that reality can be wildly different from actual reality, believe me.
That seems to be where a lot of the trouble lies. When you have one group who cares about the accuracy of perceptions, and another who is indifferent and self-absorbed.
“Truth” doesn’t seem to be a central point to thought anymore. My ex-wife told me she doesn’t care about the truth. No kidding. Our freshman congresswoman from NYC, AOC also doesn’t care about the truth. So how do we manage perceptions when no one cares about the truth, which is the foundation of discourse?
People will eventually and more and more often, find themselves in situations where emotions and stakes are high and you’re in a position to do two things. Continue to engage with your adversary as they try to drag you down the low road into the gutter, or walk upwards and way from them politely and with humility and as much grace as you can muster. It’s harder than it should be sometimes, but in the end, it’s always worth it. There is nothing to gain by going low, and a lot to lose, which will be difficult to regain in time. Often it’s respect, peace of mind, and dignity which takes time and effort to build. Not to mention respect and dignity are traits that are relative to the people you choose to associate with or aspire to.
That said, taking the high road is more for personal betterment than something that should be done to impress or even require an audience. It has to do with integrity, which is how you carry yourself and make decisions when no one is around, and you know you are choosing the right path versus the wrong one. Always take the right path, and you’ll have nothing to regret or worry about. There should be reasonable and justifiable reasons for choosing the right path of course, should anyone ever ask. No one should, but if you can’t defend the reason for making the choice made with solid, prudent, sound, intelligent, honest, truth-based responses, then you may want to sleep on it some more or give it some more time before responding or deciding. As you get older, your gut will be able to tell you what’s right a lot of the time, but your gut should always have reasons you can write down to support it.