Saturday, June 09, 2012

Being Positive When It Sucks

Folks often remark about my positive nature, especially since I've been sick again and saddled with a second operation to fix a problem without a good solution. The past few weeks a lot of people have mentioned it to me, asking how the heck it is I'm able to crack jokes instead of running screaming into the night when things get bad. So I thought I'd talk about it a little and share what works for me and why.

Life isn't always sunshine, and in fact sometimes it's the downright pits. A positive person isn't necessarily deluded, and a happy outlook is not always the product of a carefree life. The funniest people I know didn't have charmed existences where cartoon birds helped them get ready in the morning and the road was paved with yellow bricks. Far from it. If anything optimism is a coping skill, and like any skill it can be learned, practiced, and flexed.

Here are some of the ways I manage to stay sunny when life gets bleak. I've tried to list them from easiest to hardest.

Do Something You Love Everyday: We all have something we enjoy. Whether it's listening to records, trying new coffees, writing screenplays, painting on velvet, rebuilding arcade cabinets, or [insert your passion here], there's got to be something you like to do. It is crucial to nourish yourself regularly with something that makes you happy. Think of it as watering your spirit. If you go day in and day out only attending to work, errands, and chores without providing this nourishment, your spirit will grow dry, bitter, and cracked. So, make the time to do [what you'd rather be doing] everyday. Before you gripe that you don't have time: you're on the Internet, so the jig is up. It doesn't have to be a big production, just set aside a half an hour to do something you 100% enjoy. Soon that half an hour will start to grow on its own, I promise. 

Be Nice to Yourself: We all have Liz Lemon mirror moments. It's so easy to beat ourselves up. I'll admit it, I'm a person who has "sitting on the edge of the bed crying that I'm a failure and everyone hates me" moments. (Aren't we all?) Sometimes you have a day when you're convinced you've taken every step wrong. Bad days happen. Being positive isn't about ignoring them or pretending everything is okay. It's about taking a step back and saying to yourself, "Yup. This is horrible. How can I fix this?"

Sometimes there is no fix. People die, and the grief continues to visit. Sometimes a fix isn't going to happen overnight. When I got divorced, there was no way to fix how I felt. I just had to mourn and move forward. Sometimes a fix is on the horizon. When I needed my operation, I had a few weeks of painful nights to get through before the doctor could perform it. And sometimes you're being ridiculous, flashback to my crying on the edge of the bed moments. These are the times when you need to be nice to yourself. Fix yourself a cup of tea. Read a favorite book. Buy yourself a present. Take yourself out. I like to go to the movies by myself when I'm sad, to which most people reply, "MY GOD, THAT'S DEPRESSING." It makes me happy though, so I do it! Whatever makes you happy, this is the time to treat yourself.

This needs to be a national holiday.

Surround Yourself with Places and Things You Love: Start every day strong in a space you truly love. Whether it's one room or a whole house, a cubicle or a corner office; fill your space with items you actually cherish, not just "stuff". That Hoarders show says it best: "If it doesn't improve your life, get rid of it." Hold onto the silly trinkets and sweet keepsakes that make you happy. Splurge on a whale mug because it makes your piece of the world better. On the flip side, get rid of overwhelming piles by donating everything you don't need/aren't crazy about. When you practice this little by little, soon enough everything around you will make you smile.

For me, it's this thing by HandaMade on Etsy.
I don't even know what this is, but Christ, isn't it magnificent?

Let Go of Problem People: "If it doesn't improve your life, get rid of it," remember? Give your attention to the people who make your life better, and let go of problem people. It's not up to you to fix them, it's not your mission to convince them they're problem people. They were unfair to you? What a jerk! Don't take their side by continuing to let them treat you poorly. Just let them go. Chances are, they're going to fight whomever is in their path. The good news is it doesn't have to be you!

Tyrion Lannister really needs to learn this lesson.

Focus on the Good: This one took me a long time to get. Even now, it's not always easy. And it's not absolute, because if you don't accept the bad then focusing on the good can become living in denial real quick. People face terrible ordeals everyday. Focusing on the good does not dismiss what you are going through: It lets you get through it. Find the good in your day and spread it across your thoughts. A mother I know has her child list three good things that happened when he comes home from school. I've started trying to do this as I fall asleep at night. It shuts out all the lousy stuff out right away, simply because it's not on the list. If a bad thought does enter your mind, go back to "If it doesn't improve your life, get rid of it." This is an exercise, it takes time to get it right.

Ralph Waldo Emerson put this better than I ever could when he wrote, "Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonense."

My blessings are all pretty fuzzy.

Choose to be Happy: This isn't so simple or absolute either, but hear me out. Good and bad things are going to happen to you throughout life. You can't choose which, and some of the bad things are going to be horrible. When I got sick years ago, I could have listened to the first two doctors who told me nothing was wrong (the third found the benign tumor causing my troubles). When I got divorced, I could have given up on finding love. When I started working at the bank, I could have given up on painting. When I fell in love with Ryan, I could have tossed my hands in the air and said "But he lives 3000 miles away." I haven't had a perfect life, but imagine what my life would have been like if I'd accepted all that garbage? We decide what we're going to make happen by choosing what to fight for and what to give up on. What do you want out of life? Did you know successful people usually spend most of their early lives failing? My Aunt Lizzie says "Keep shooting until you hit something."

Which 16th President had 2 thumbs and lost 8 elections?
This guy!

Realize You're Going To Die: This is one hell of a down note to end on, but it's the most important. If you take nothing else away from this post, carry this one off with you. Your life is not infinite. The average American lifespan is 78. That's not a lot of time. Terrible things happen to everyone, and if you spend all your time focused on them you are literally going to miss all the good in your life. When I look on the bright side, it's because a lot of days I feel like I'm throwing open the windows and it's Christmas morning and I'm still alive and the ghost of Christmas Future hasn't caught up to me yet.


This guy is real, he's called "Mortality."

This is what motivates me the most. When people ask me why I have a tough time just doing nothing, why I've always been writing and drawing nonstop, why I continually worked on projects despite college, full time work, relationships, health troubles, or days that didn't go my way--I want to grab them by the shoulders and scream "Because I am going to die, and I'm not the only one! WE'RE ALL GOING TO DIE! RUN! RUNNN!!!" Until someone steps up and slaps the hysteria out of me.

78 years is 28,470 days. That's thousands chances to become the person you want to be, not countless. Whatever Disney would have us believe, there is a limit to making our dreams come true. The days will run up. It sounds like a lot, but I'm 30. I've already used 10,950 of them. I have only have about 17,520 chances left--if I'm very lucky--to finish everything I want to accomplish. In terms of living, that's not a lot.

That's reality. That's as real as I can get. So, when I talk about problem people? You're not getting the time you're wasting on them back. They are time vampires, syphoning your only chances to be happy away. Choose the silly whale mug every time, because life is too short to play it cool. And doing that thing you love to do everyday, [insert passion here]? Someday you will not be able to, either because you're dead or (if you're lucky to grow old) because your senses will be gone/you'll be in too much pain. Every day you don't do that thing, is a day you did not get to do that thing.

And when was the last time you even did that thing?

That is all the bad you ever have to focus on. That is the greatest motivation there is to live the life you want, to make your own luck, to put yourself out there, and chase every possible opportunity to fulfill your dreams. We're all hurtling toward enough death to actually fill eternity, so whatever we're going through, however bleak it can seem at times, we're here. We're together.

(The guy in the video is Steve Roggenbuck. He's a traveling poet/wordsmith Ryan and I are fans of).

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