Musings and Amusings

I’m reminded this week how similar we are, even in our differences.

  •  Maggie worries about her godmother, Aunt Iris, and a blogger buddy named Iris who’s gone ‘radio silent’
  • Jen is determined to remain buoyant as anxiety monsters threaten to pull her under
  • Joey vexes over cold sores and cabbage while craving restful sleep
  • I’m reading a book about ‘happiness‘ while thinking the least we deserve is ‘resilience’, and we’d all be better off if experts touted ‘contentment’ rather than ‘happiness’

Happiness

 No matter what Maggie, Jen, Joey, the Mayo Clinic or I call it, we’re all talking about resiliency: the ability to cope with who you are and what life throws at you.

Taking the long view, if you fill your quiver with arrows of resilience, you are well on your way to a life of contentment.

Happiness, while not overrated, is certainly over-hyped as the optimal state of emotion. A math concept I remember is reversion to the mean – for every moment of happiness, there will be an equal, opposing force called sadness to pull you back to equilibrium.

I like my moments of happiness – the days my body doesn’t hurt and I’m not ruminating about the past or playing what if’s with the future. There are never enough of those days.

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Like some of you, I skew towards the anxiety of undesirable scenarios with an aversion to the many things I can’t control. Reversion to the mean hasn’t brought equilibrium in my innermost self where we suffer the most. If I dwelled on that, I’d be tempted to feel disappointed with some aspects of my life.

That’s where resilience and contentment come into play. In my worst years of mind/body ailments, I learned the cyclical nature of the day to day: on my worst days, I knew I’d eventually feel better; on my best days, I knew they wouldn’t last.

You learn to withstand the worst and cherish the best – for me that’s where resilience meets contentment, and life’s equilibrium is achieved.

It applies to everything, doesn’t it? From our mental and physical challenges to gardening  – where weeds grow prolifically and favored plants succumb – to friendships that seem like they’ll last forever and fall apart at surprising junctures. We don’t control any of it. We won’t ever achieve an uninterrupted life of happiness.

But we can acquire tools of resilience, hoping sooner rather than later to understand and rejoice that we live contented, but not trouble-free, lives.

I’m not discussing medications or extricating yourself from unhealthy relationships, although I highly recommend considering both when needed!

What I want to pass on are insights from the Handbook for Happiness (but I’d call it the Handbook for Contentment and I wouldn’t show a woman jumping for joy).

I re-learned that our brains were developed for one evolutionary purpose – keeping our species safe. Thus our brain’s default mode is to constantly search our environment for what’s not safe; what threatens us; what evils lurk to do us in.

Honestly, I was relieved to be reminded that my tendency toward preliminary pessimistic frames of reference is the norm for human brains!

The alternative to default mode is to consciously engage in learning, challenging, pleasurable activities and thoughts. The book has many chapters about cultivating the focused mind. While those tools are important, what I find more beneficial is the tools to turn off my default mode.

If you are like me, turning off the default is more complicated than solely turning on the focus. Perhaps our default modes are on the extreme end of the catastrophic spectrum, and we require more tools to quiet that mode.

One recommended tool is ‘Check Your Baggage’. Our minds carry three loads: the burdens of the past, the reality of now, and the anxieties over the future. Yesterday and tomorrow aren’t real; all that matters is now. Why not draw a mental image of a suitcase and pack past burdens and future anxieties for the rest of today? You can open the suitcase tomorrow, but there is no reason to do so today and you’ve lightened your load by 2/3.

I just used this concept successfully. Two weeks ago I received a letter from the IRS. One of those incomprehensible letters with four paragraphs of government-speak closing with ‘you will hear from us no later than 45 days from now’.

 In the past, I would have flipped out, calling the IRS immediately, waiting on hold for an hour or two, begging the know-nothing agent to explain, and raising my blood pressure over what could turn out to be nothing.

Instead, I decided ‘WTF, I can’t control this and worrying won’t help. I’ll hear something in 45 days. Or I won’t.’  I stashed the letter in my tax folder then – literally – washed my hands of worry.

You can decrease your baggage even more. Statistically nothing catastrophic happens in the next hour of your life. You will be fine for the next hour. When you consciously choose to carry only the next hour’s load, or simply remember that you will be fine for the next hour, those pounding drums of doom can be quieted, if just for a short while.

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Comments on: "Buoyancy, Baggage and Beyond" (73)

  1. I heard a fascinating lecture about resilience. The lecturer spoke of woman whose father murdered her mother then remarried several times, murdering each wife. After her father’s death, the violence in the family continued wither her sister making an attempt on her life – despite this sordid history, the woman went on to great things.

    Who was he talking about? Elizabeth I, Queen of England, of course, the daughter of Henry VIII.

    He went on to say that two thirds of children who have suffered traumatic events in their lives, fully recover and live productive lives.

    • Greg, thanks for that example! I always think of Victor Frankel who wrote Man’s Search for Meaning and now, of course, Louis Zamparini of Unbroken. My own husband survived a horrible upbringing and I often marvel at his resilience to come as far as he has.

  2. Thank you for this rich and wonderful post. So much truth. Yours is one of several posts in the last few days that deals with spirituality, meditation, living in the now. A sign, I know for certain, that I need this back in my life. I have lost touch with that. Thank you, again. ❤
    I also appreciate the link to my blog and to Jen's and Joey's. I had already followed Jen, but her posts haven't been making it to my reader. Will have to make that right!

  3. contentment. Beautifully put, Sammy ❤

  4. This is a great post Sammy. It’s important to be resiliant and to remember why we can be. I’m not sure if you and I were connected last April when I talked about why I don’t worry much at all. I’ll give you the link in a minute. It’s not so much tht I don’t worry, but I reflect back on my life and my grandmothers. I realize that on my worst days, I was so much better off that she was on a normal day and I fall into that resiliant mode. I hope you can get through the tough times with ease. Have a great week.

    http://nofacilities.com/2014/04/06/when-i-stopped-worrying/

    • Thanks, Dan! I often feel quite self-centered because we focus so much on our state-of-self compared to our parents and grandparents. But they would say they wished for better lives for us and that has pushed us higher on the hierarchy of needs.

      The Happiness book says the happiest people are infants (cradled in safety and love) and the elderly (who have weathered so much they have gained perspective on facing adversity). It’s true for me. I’ve had a good life, but the past few years have brought a sense of relief and peace that weren’t possible in earlier decades.

      Thanks for link!

      • I do find that things bother me even less these days as I head toward retirement. It’s still about 4 years away, but it looks like it will work for us. I like posts like this because most people don’t share stuff like this but we are all probably going through these thoughts.

      • I can hardly wait to see what new projects, hobbies and adventures you choose once you retire. It took us a few years to let go of feeling selfishly unproductive, but we’re over that now 😀

    • Dan, that is a beautiful post about your grandmother. A wise, strong woman; I cannot believe the hard knocks they took; perhaps it was living at survival level that kept their brains in focus mode rather than monkey mind like ours today.

      I love that you were able to remember and replicate her accent. That post is so rich for many reasons; I hope you re-publish it in the future.

      • I’ve been thinking about republishing some older posts during the summer, maybe a couple each month. II’m not sure whether to just reblog them or augment them. I do have a follow-up post about my grandmother that explains how (in part) she managed to survive. She was probably the most important influence in my life other than my father (who was an extension of her). Growing up, having to take care of her was a burden but I am so grateful to have had that time to spend with her, as I look back.

      • I wish I had clearer, detailed memories of my Grandparents. My mapping projects have stimulated some interesting lines of questions for Mom and Dad in the vein of … ‘Do you remember that …’ I’m trying to figure out how to get enough relevant, true detail then see if I can compose some interesting pieces. Right now it’s a broad expanse !!

        Your piece was so well-written, it occurred to me while reading that you should submit it or rework part for submission to a publication. Have you ever done that? It’s in my hopper to give that a try, and I’ve been looking at many online and subscription mags that accept submissions. I’ll publish a post soon telling you which mags I like and follow.

      • Thanks, I would be interested in that list. It’s an interesting idea but with the day job still going strong, I don’t find a lot of time for research.

        s to the other point, I’m trying to formulate a list of questions for the next time I’m in Iowa and visit my mom. She’s 90, so there isn’t much time to get those answers.

      • I recommend sending her your list (at least a few q’s) ahead of time. I’ve found with Dad that planting the seed then following up over a couple weeks gives him stuff to think about (instead of watching the weather channel) and he provides better info for me!

      • That’s a great idea. Thanks!

  5. I’m right there with you…trying to stay positive despite the circumstances. It’s not always easy, but it beats the alternatives.

    • Yup, this is when taking a long term perspective is important, knowing cycles always bring change. The term ‘staying positive’ can become a little wearying, can’t it? Like choosing ‘contentment’ over ‘happiness’, I typically focus on ‘enduring’ rather than being ‘positive’ during tough times. Otherwise I’m fighting myself over a state of mind I can’t quite reach!

  6. I really, really like this post Sammy. Resilience and contentment are far more powerful and useful than a pursuit for something that is ethereal and elusive.

    I didn’t know there was a principle in math to describe Newton’s Third Law – for every action there is an opposite and equal reaction. Reversion to the mean makes total sense to me. Nature always wants to create balance and we silly humans are always fighting against nature. Guess who will win? 🙂

    • Thanks, Joanne. Words are such powerful forces and we each assign different intensities and meanings to them. I guess the math law is more about everything evening out to an ‘average’ but it’s akin to the forces and equilibrium. At least in ‘old math’ it was 😀

  7. What a wonderful post. I struggle to turn off my default mode too. The brain can be such a wild, probing explorer and excavator. Always digging up old things and searching for the new. I like the suitcase idea. Not sure how successful I’d be at it, but I suppose it’s like everything: it just takes practice.

  8. cardamone5 said:

    So true, Mom. Last night, after returning home form my in-laws where there was equal moments of joy and annoyance, a thought occurred to me: God knows everything about me, and he loves me anyway. I know, this post isn’t about religion, and how did my mind get that from what you wrote? This only supports your theory that we can’t control things. Specifically, we can’t control how others will interpret our writings. Anyway, I was so relieved, and I wanted to believe/remain in this state forever. I made my nightly stops at my children’s bedsides before lying down myself, and marveled at these amazing beings. I need to let go of the should haves and just be with them. I can feel their anger and resentment at me growing every minute I choose to keep my defenses up in their midst, and I know this has to change so if God knows all and loves me anyway, why can’t I do this for myself? Because it is the shame that is keeping me defensive.

    Love,
    E

    • That is exactly how I feel about God, Elizabeth. He (and my husband) loves me anyway. That is where we receive our Grace.

  9. Loved this Sammy D thank you. I think happiness is an over rated word much of the time. Contentment and gratitude are more real somehow, resilience too …

    One thing I’ve learned is that I have no control over the past or the future; and I’m not sure I have any control over the now either. But as the now is good, I am thankful and grateful. Storms that come up in the future will have to be weathered, and I’m hoping that with G.d’s guidance and my resilience, I’ll get through.

    Good luck with the IRS and give it not another thought!

    • Thank you, Susan. I kept a gratitude journal during the years when I was most ill (and battered by work stress), and it was a very powerful resource. I look through them occasionally and am grateful those days are behind me!

      Warm hugs coming your way…

  10. I really love the idea of buoyancy. I think that’s so much of my day to day life, trying to go with the flow. Regardless of how I feel, I do my life, meet the expectations more often than not. A lot of times I’m really bobbing along, hopeful of something lovely happening soon. I do generally feel content.
    A friend of mine asked the other day whether anyone was living the life they wanted to live, and there were few of us who answered yes. Am I happy all the time? No. Am I content? Almost always. I love my life. My life is full of abundance. Of course there’s room for improvement — health, mental and physical, and who wouldn’t want more energy, time, or money? The sheer gratitude for what I do have keeps a lot of fear away, but when facing fear, all those things I hold dear stand to be lost, and that’s an unfortunate paradox.
    I’ve done a lot of reading about our reptilian brains, and while mine yields too much power in my life, it is better than a brain tumor.
    I don’t know how the baggage thing would work for me, since I definitely don’t worry about future crap. It’s crap, all of it, lol, and if I worry about it, I lose time in now, and it’s so much more fun to read and write and work and eat and play and love in the now. I’m no stranger to worry about piles of things in the night, but it’s so rare now, so rare. I used to spend so much time (like most of my 30’s?) worrying about future crap. What a waste!
    I feel a post of gratitude coming on.

    Thank you for sharing your perspective and some helpful tips. And thanks for sharing my link 🙂

    • Joey, you sound like you’ve got a good grasp on what it takes for the broad view which comes down to knowing our moments string together to make it all one amazing life.

      Jen is the one who came up with buoyancy, and she devide it’s her word fir the year. I absolutely glommed onto it!! If you haven’t read her post, I recommend her; she is an astonishingly vibrant, lyrical writer.

    • And PS we better be living the lives we want to live ‘cuz no one’s gonna do it for us!! How sad if someone answers that question differently!

      • There were far more people who said no. People said they made the wrong decisions. Lots of complacency. It really was sad.

      • That is a shame. We DO have control over the direction of our (adult) lives. Far too many people don’t understand their choices; don’t recognize the decision points, repeat the same bad choices over and over, or don’t understand the chapter if life they are in.
        I can’t imagine knowing my life isn’t headed in the right direction and not doing anything to change that. Complacency is a far cry from contentment!

  11. Sammy D., thank you for such a insightful post. But then, that’s your strength in writing. Agree, it’s resilience to make it through life’s challenges. I’ll take your blue wooden chair in the sunshine as my “suitcase.” Just sit there daily and take in the day, plan the events, and don’t think about yesterday or tomorrow. Love that image! In retirement I can do that! Christine

    • Thank you, Christine! You are all such a supportive community; it makes us safe to reveal ourselves. I do love my Adirondack chairs – bought long ago and each weighing about 500 pounds (!) and the screws coming loose and the wood warping. Sort of a metaphor for me !! I’d love to have you sitting beside me.

  12. I love that baggage tool — I’m definitely giving it a try! I’m definitely one of those who worries about the future and beats herself up about often really insignificant things that happened in the past. It’s nice to know that a lot of that is due to the evolution of the brain — and not just me being neurotic 🙂 It’s so hard to turn off the default worry mode though, it’s obviously something we have to work on and build tools for. It reminds me of a song by Jason Mraz, called Living In The Moment, and part of the lyrics go:
    I will not waste my days
    Making up all kinds of ways
    To worry ’bout all the things
    That will not happen to me

    It’s a song I should really have playing on loop all day 😉

    • That’s so true, isn’t it, Celine? “All the things that won’t happen to me.” For much of life I coped by figuring out how I would handle the worst case (because I was thinking about it anyway; might as well figure out how to handle it) and then I’d be ok. I don’t usually have to do that anymore – I really DO think there’s an emotional shift with this aging thing – probably since death becomes more of a certainty, all my imagined catastrophes begin to pale!!

      Don’t rush to get here though. Just get yourself a beautiful virtual set leather luggage (maybe a steam trunk!) and pack up your troubles 😀

      • I do the same, projecting myself in quite a lot of detail into the worse possible scenario. In the end it occurred to me that I was making myself really miserable over things that never happen, so these days I make an effort to try and project myself into the best possible scenario (I keep alternating between imagining best sellerdom for my novel and being a complete flop, lol ). It’s good to know that it goes away over time though, I guess you also get more perspective on the things that really matter versus the things that don’t (and therefore that aren’t worth worrying over).
        In the mean time, I do like the idea of the steam trunk for all my worrying — put my worries away in style!

      • 😀 last night I was telling Hub about all the vintage steam trunks and pretty leather luggage I was imagining for my Worries Baggage when I realized I wouldn’t remember which worry I’d packed in which suitcase, then I started worrying about rummaging through the suitcases to find a particular worry!

        We had a good laugh about that 🌺🌺

        Your book will be a bestseller in the hearts of those who love you, and you will take great pride in your accomplishment. Those are the ‘markers’ that matter 💖

  13. Resiliency is one of the things that separates the “strong” from the “weak.” I use quotes because those are perceptions based on how someone handles problems. I know the yesterday, today, and tomorrow philosophy well, and it certainly helps with anxiety and grudges. Beautiful post.
    The other day hubby handed me an article to read (I haven’t yet) about how maybe chronological time doesn’t exist and it’s just an illusion. That would sure throw a monkey wrench into things! I hope all is well with you, Sammy dear!

    • Thank you, Luanne, for taking time to comment. I know resilience is a trait you and your family are drawing on now. 💖

      The article on chronological age sounds sounds interesting, especially in light of your Family Kalamazoo project! I find the topic fascinating because of endeavors such as yours along with new discoveries we continue to make about the evolution of our species ( did you hear they just found a set of bones indicating yet another line of ancient hominid at same time as Lucy’s?) and even time travel comes to mind when thinking about age.

      It’s true that some days I feel 35 and some 85 😉

      Take care, Luanne.

  14. Sammy 🙂 I’d taken a bit of time away from the blogging scene only to return and find you’re back. Made me happy to know I’ve have several of your posts to enjoy.
    Thanks for sharing your insights from the book! Might be one I need to check out. I love the luggage analogy… it rings so true.
    Hope you are experiencing good days and are feeling better 🙂

    • Thank you, Elsie! Your caring words brought a warm smile to my face. I hope your time away was pleasureable😀. I’m a self-help book slut!! I love reading them but seldom (aka never) follow through on exercises or journals or mind/body practice. Don’t you think the osmosis of reading so many guides should suffice? It does make me an expert at suggesting ‘improvements’ to others 😍💞🎶

      I must say I love the luggage visual – I’ve been imagining those vintage steam trunks slathered with travel stamps and beautiful leather luggage in luscious colors and shapes. Are you old enough to remember that song ‘Pack up your worries in an old kit bag and smile, smile, smile’? I don’t know what a kit bag is.

  15. Quite timely for me, Sammy.
    Thank you ❤

  16. I was Skyping with Raye last night and we were discussing this post. As far as she is concerned it is a printable and put in her special file. I’m thinking she has a great idea.

    I guess, knowing some of my story, you could say resiliency is my middle name. I hadn’t thought of the happy vs content thing until now. I think content sounds even more comfortable, doesn’t it? Happy often brings to mind an overly-exuberant, not necessarily sincere display of emotion.

    I, too, love the suitcase/trunk idea. I like the idea of clapping that sucker shut and moving forward!

    I just finished Michael J. Fox’ book “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Future” – a whopping 100-pager. Now this is a resilient man indeed! He quotes the recovering alcoholic’s expression: “If you have one foot in yesterday and one foot in tomorrow, you’re pissing all over today.” I like it. Call it mindfulness, living in the moment, being present… Definitely how I choose to live my life!

    Excellent post. Think I’m going to do like Raye and print it to my “special file”!

    • Dale – that is just sbout the nicest compliment I could receive. To think that I worded something in a way and at a time that resonates with you and Raye. Thank you for telling me. I, too, have always kept ‘special files’.

      Contentment seems to be a ‘steady-state’ emotion without a polar opposite (discontentment??) and it stays within a range rather than large peak and valley swings. For my mindset and physical state of being, it’s more realistic and, frankly, easier to appreciate than elusive happiness.

      I will look for Michael’s book; he and Tracy Pollan have exhibited such grace during his illness, and I’m sure his insights are worth learning.

      I’m sure Mick knew you well enough to know you would ‘soldier on’ without him, but to see you embrace blogging, Mary Kay, walking, photography and your friends the way you have would make him very proud of his mate.

      Thank you again for loving support.

      • You did indeed! And I think it’s important to let the person know when they make an impression!
        I agree. Contentement is not something to be denigrated!
        His book “Lucky Man” was a joy to eead as well. The one I mentioned was directed to graduates, actually!
        He did indeed. He used to say that he would never look for love again and I told him he was nuts (course it all depended on the age that this would happen – neither of us expecting it to happen so soon).
        I support those I connect with! 😙

      • Yeah, Hub and I joke like this:

        When I don’t do something the way he wants me to

        Me: “well maybe your NEXT wife will do it like that!”

        It’s scary to think about losing him; i’ve become more attached to him in the last decade than our earlier years. But I take heart from trailblazers like you who never let the traumas knock you out for long. 💖

      • We joked about that too!
        It is scary and then, once in it you just do what needs to be done!
        I had lunch with a highschool friend who’s husband was killed by a taxi while he was walking. Theur boys were 2 and 3 (she was 40). She did what she had to do and is now happily married – again!
        I just can’t help it. I yam whay I yam! 💪

      • LOL i was most amazed by your ability to sell his brloved truck? Car? Can’t remember exactly what model but I remember thinking you had steel in your veins to accomplish that.

      • His much adored Ford F-150. That was THE hardest thing. (Losing the cost of nearly $1000/mo helped ease the pain…)😉

      • 👏👿😓😂😍

      • 😀💜👌👍can’t believe there are no trucks!💲🚐

  17. My default mode is pessimism and negativity. But nowadays I’m aware of it, and have had more content days as a result. The minute I have a negative or pessimistic or angry thought, I smile at it, and I tell it is is just a thought, and let it go. I’ve decided I’ll only give energy to thoughts that are constructive and positive. I have to say I’ve had less sad days, and have been achieving goals more regularly because I’m more forgiving of my lapses. 🙂 This is a post so in tune with my efforts these days, thankyou, Sammy.

    • How nice of you to drop by, Damyanti. I like your idea of smiling in the face of your ‘woes’, and it makes me want to try something more positive than just corralling my pessimistic thoughts. I hope you continue to increase your balance of positive and negative ways of looking at your circumstances. It helps me to keep reading books like the one I just finished – it was a big relief to be reminded that looking for alarms and danger is our inborn nature. It’s up to us to rework that!

      • Thoughts come and go like so many waves on the shore. The power lies within us– to choose which ones to give our energy and attention to. If our attention remains with our breath: the breathing in and out, a lot of our problems melt away. Calmness comes with breath. If you are into books of this nature, I recommend Peace is Every Breath by Thich Nhat Hanh, and The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. I can’t say that I’ve absorbed everything in these books but I find that tiny spells of practice make a huge amount of difference.

      • Thank you fir the recommendations; I will look first at my library. You are so right; simply breathing deeply is something we forget about; I’m shocked how shallowly I’ve been breathing whenever I think about. I’ve been focusing on it more as I’ve been working the last few months on chronic pain management and breathing is key to relaxing the muscles are chronically wound too tightly.

        Thanks, again, Damyanti. Take care 💐🎀

  18. What a wonderful post Sammy! A much needed narrative for me today while having my morning cuppa 😉 Hope you are well x

  19. I love your checking your baggage idea. I wish I could do it. Anxiety for the future is always on my mind. So are worries about the now. Going it alone with my kids all these years, have I made the right decisions to prepare us for the future? There is so much for them to learn, how can I possibly teach them all they need to know to succeed in the world, the way it is today? So often I feel that I’ll never be able to do enough or make the right choices. I guess time will tell.

    • Lori, I can’t even imagine what that must be like, but I have learned that everyone, including your kids, has resilince when they need it.
      You can’t control their world but you are helping show them how to adapt in one of life’s biggest challenges.

  20. Thank you SO MUCH for the shout out, Sammy!!! 🙂
    Excellent post! I couldn’t agree more about contentment vs. happiness. I think happiness is a feeling within a moment, not a state of being, just like sadness. Contentment is definitely that “equilibrium” state, the one I’m aiming for – living life day to day and being OK with where I’m at.
    For me, writing has become a means for me to build resilience and work towards contentment – balancing my anxiety and depression with the joy and satisfaction of writing stories. It’s my therapy!!
    I will definitely check out the Handbook for Happiness. Thanks for giving me a few more ideas to add to my “resilience toolkit”! (And, BTW, I totally thought the same thing about that lady jumping for joy, lol!!).

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