Tuesday, February 23, 2010

I'll kick YOUR bucket list!

Have you ever heard the song by Tim McGraw called "Live Like You Were Dying"? You know, the one where a man finds out he has cancer and suddenly decides to live a more full life. He focuses on the idea that he only has a short amount of time left to live and decides to do crazy things like skydiving, rock climbing, and bull riding. Apparently, these activities are supposed to represent a life well lived and we, the listener, are encouraged to live as if we only had a few days left on earth.

This sentiment was also reflected in the movie "The Bucket List", in which two men who found out they had little time left to live decided to create a list of crazy things they'd like to do before "kicking the bucket". As a result, millions of healthy people world wild created their own Bucket Lists. Many of those lists included skydiving, I'm sure.

I have to be honest: If I knew I were going to die soon I would not go skydiving. I would, first of all, stop wearing clothes. Then I would probably run through my neighborhood, an activity otherwise known as streaking. I would eat hundreds of cupcakes with extra frosting and I would drive recklessly. I would tell everyone EXACTLY how I feel about them. I most definitely would stop going to work. These are all activities that have negative consequences, but since I wouldn't have much time left to live, I wouldn't care.

But, since I am planning on living a few more decades, I am going to make the most of my life by keeping myself healthy. I'm going to eat salad and take time to exercise and read books and go for slow walks through the mountains. I am going to spend quality time with friends. I am, grudgingly, going to go to work 40 hours a week. I am building a future for myself and taking care of my body because I am planning on living, and doing it well.

I think it's a bad idea to focus on our inevitable death. Yes, being reminded of death reminds us that life is short and we shouldn't waste time. But it also makes life itself seem less important and causes us to worry rather than enjoy life.

If we live each day as if it's our last, we will never grow. By instead focusing on life, we have the opportunity to learn and grow and strive for something better.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Why is it so hard to be happy?

Sometimes I feel like I have to put a lot of work into being happy, and I don't think I'm alone in this. I think we have all experienced a time when it's just easier to wallow in sadness and complain rather than change the circumstances that are bothering us. Staying with a bad job, for example, is easier than searching for a new one. Putting up with a friend's annoying behavior is easier than confronting them and asking them to stop.

In an article titled Why Happiness Is Such a Struggle, author David blames this struggle on some hardwired instincts that have been passed down it us through our ancestors. But, he adds, there is hope: We also posses the abilities to re-wire our minds and teach ourselves to be happy.

David is not alone in this thinking. This article on tinybuddha.com recognizes Eckhart Tolle's idea that we sometimes hold on to our problems because they make us feel like we have an identity. This attachment to sadness can be combated by "letting go" and allowing ourselves to feel peace.

My therapist told me that people have a tendency to recreate painful situations in their lives in order to help themselves work through feelings they haven't yet conquered. In other words, we create pain in an effort to try to work through pain. Though I'm not sure I completely agree with this idea, I can see how I might have done something like this in my own life. I can see how I've become comfortable in my own sadness.

I too, however, believe that I have the ability to change my patterns of thought and change my actions to focus on peace and contentment rather than pain. Over the past few months, especially, I've been making a conscious effort to rethink the things in my life that are painful and stressful.

I am choosing to be happy even when my body is telling me that I should be sad, and I am exhausted.

As I mentioned earlier, I don't think I'm alone in the belief that it takes work to be happy. Happiness can't be found in a 40 point list of ideas or a daily choice. It's like lifting weights to build muscles; it takes time and effort and struggle and repitition, and it is easy to give up and stay with the status quo.

I've wanted to give up so many times! I've relapsed into self-pity more times than a life-long alcoholic trying to sober up. But everytime I make the choice again to change my mind and be happy, I notice that it becomes easier than the last time.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

College vs. Old Man

Last night I found myself in an Irish themed bar near the U of A. For some reason, the atmosphere reminded me of a night in my late college experience that I spent drinking until 4am in the streets of Buffalo, N.Y. It was a friend's birthday, and there was a rowdy group of us traveling from bar to bar. In one bar we decided to drink Irish Car Bombs, and the dropping of the liquor into the beer something of a celebration, with cheering and laughter. This memory made me nostalgic, and I decided that it would be a good idea to try to relive the fun with a different group of friends in Tucson, on a Monday night, after mostly abstaining from drinking for about 3 months.

An old man sitting alone at the bar overheard us ordering the drinks and commented that he's never heard of an Irish Car Bomb before. I explained that I was trying to relive my college days, and he responded that I was too young to be doing that and that I looked like I was still living them.

(He also wanted to know if someone would think he was a terrorist if he ordered one.)

The old man at the bar was wrong. I am NOT living my college days, and I shouldn't even have tried to relive them. As is turns out, nostalgia does not produce the wisest of ideas. The chugging of beer was fun, and it left me feeling giddy for about 20 minutes. Then my body remembered how little alcohol it can actually tolerate, and I was miserable for the rest of the night.

(Well, except for the times when I pictured the old man at the bar sauntering into College Town, U.S.A. and attempting to order an Irish Car Bomb. "Kids these days," he'd say as he tried to chug the beer.)

Lesson learned: Trying to relive the past seems to be a bad idea.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Valentine's Day

Another strange fact about me: I like Valentine's Day more than Christmas.

I like it because I like to celebrate love. It's never solely about romance for me; I also use the time to show love to friendds and family.

This year I'm also going to focus on loving myself and I'm encouraging others to do the same. I'm learning to take better care of myself, to appreciate myself, and most importantly, to accept myself. I think a healthy self love is a vital foundation for overall well being.

One of my favorite bloggers wrote something similar today, called The Playgirl's Guide to Radical Self Love. I found it to be pretty inspiring and I'm looking forward to reading more!

I'm hoping to focus more on this topic throughout this month, but I'm not making any promises. I've learned recently that, over the course of my life I developed a bad habit that was one of many things that contributed to a strong self hatred. I'm somewhat of a perectionist, and I have lofty goals and high expectations for myself. When I consistantly fell short of my near impossible expectations I would feel guilty and worthless. Now I'm learning to set more realistic goals and to be proud of myself for what I DO accomplish, even if it's not exactly what I wanted.

Therefore, I'm not going to say that I WILL write regularly about self-love. I can say that it would be nice to expand on this topic but I am also going to recognize that this is a busy month and I will probably not get to write as much as I want.

I'd also love to hear your feedback!