Happy Things April 2024

Lemon Pecan Pancakes

Once again I feel blessed with a wonderful month of happy things. Composing, singing, playing the harp, playing the piano, are definitely highlights of every month. These things were also the heartbeat of my life in April. In addition I was able to get out of town for a long weekend to see family and experience the joys of another city. During that trip I ate some great food that was both unexpected and indulgent. I had some lemon pecan pancakes that almost brought me to tears. Given all of my food allergies I rarely get to have something like that, both safe and delicious. When topped with maple syrup it really made my day.

Other things that may be happy in April:

brown wooden harp on garden
Photo by Анна Малышева (Заволока) on Pexels.com

A patient harp teacher
Breakfast with a talented composer
A zoom conference with a famous composer
Beginner harp music
Singing a duet with my favorite Scotsman
Airbuds
Find your airbuds app
A kind veterinarian
Phone calls from my son
Potato chips – a guilty pleasure
Composer and mentor Andrew Maxfield
Voice Teacher Timothy Wilds
Pictures of grandchildren
Tulips
Blooming lilacs
Woodpeckers
Mechanical pencils
Maple syrup
Naps

I hope you have started keeping track of all the happiness in your life. I’d love to hear about your list.

Happy Things January 2024

I’ve written before about the book 14,000 things to be happy about by Barbara Ann Kipfer. I think that focusing on happy thing of the things we are happy about is a fabulous strategy for improving health and happiness. So, I decided to do a monthly blog post about my happy things. Finding things to be happy about in January was a little tough. But, that’s probably when I need it the most.

brown framed eyeglasses on a calendar
Photo by Leeloo The First on Pexels.com

January is the month of my deceased daughter’s birthday and this year it was the month when my mother died. If that’s not bad enough, it was also my mother’s birthday. This involved frantic travel to get to her before she passed, the painfully sad event, and the family drama that frequently rears its ugly head around such events.

If I wasn’t intentional about it I could have easily missed all of the things I’m grateful for and feel happy about.

Here’s my January 2024 list:

sea shells on body of water
Photo by Oleksandr P on Pexels.com
  1. A caring Hospice chaplain
  2. Abundant sea shells on the beach
  3. Watching ocean waves under an amazing cloudy sky
  4. Finding a restaurant that could manage food allergies that overlooked the water.
  5. Phone calls from friends and family
  6. Successfully completing a composition I’d been working on for a long time
  7. A hotel that offered compassion and a last minute reservation change without a fee
  8. Slip on shoes
  9. Flights that left and landed on time
  10. Unsweetened iced tea
  11. Puppy kisses
  12. Beautiful hymns of faith
  13. Allergy medication
  14. A large woodpecker on the tree outside my office window

Humility

humility
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One of the lessons I am learning as an adult student of both composition and voice is humility. This humility is necessary in order to set aside any excess pride or superiority that can interfere with my learning. That isn’t always comfortable. Some definitions of humility include.

  1. A modest or low view of one’s own importance
  2. Freedom from pride or arrogance
  3. The feeling or attitude that you have no special importance that makes you better than others
  4. Not believing you are superior to others
old books side by side on library shelf

While I believe all of these definitions are accurate, they don’t fully capture my experience as an adult learner. Then I found a description that was more illuminating. It said that people who are humble can still think highly of themselves, but are also aware of their mistakes, gaps in knowledge, and imperfections. This awareness of mistakes, gaps in knowledge, and imperfections has been very important in my current student status.

Jeff Boss at Forbes.com (3/1/25) wrote that humble people are confident and competent in themselves so much that they can help others. They don’t feel the need to boast but let their actions speak for their ideals. They don’t feel the need to show others how much they know. Humble people actively listen to others, and they are eager to understand others because they are curious. They are perpetual learners and realize that they don’t have all of the answers. Also, they glean knowledge from the experiences of others and crave more opportunities to learn. They accept feedback, assume responsibility, and they ask for help.

When I am able to engage in this manner I find that I am able to focus my attention on learning rather than trying to prove how much I already know, a practice that interferes with learning. It is also sometimes very difficult for me to ask for help. Unfortunately this has been my default mode for most of my life and now I’m trying to fill in the gaps in knowledge that resulted.

humility
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

So what can we do to show up ready for learning in this way? I think the first step is to take a good look at your reasons for being in the situation. Are you there to get praise or acknowledgement for your brilliance or are you there to expand your knowledge? What behavior or attitude will help you most to achieve your goal. Don’t get me wrong – I LOVE praise and validation. But I learn the most when I don’t let that be what motivates my behavior.

The second step may be to identify where your areas of weakness might be as well as how willing you are to be vulnerable enough to show those areas of weakness to the person(s) that are trying to teach you something. For me that is sometimes not at all vulnerable and other times I can choose to be extremely open. This does not always feel comfortable, but with a trusted mentor or teacher, it can be so extremely effective.

Give it a try.

Responsibility

Responsibility for me

The New Oxford American Dictionary defines responsibility in several ways. The two most relevant to this post include:

1. the state or fact of having a duty to deal with something or of having control over someone

2. a moral obligation to behave correctly toward or in respect of: individuals have a responsibility to control personal behavior.

In Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life by Steven C. Hayes, Ph.D., the term is broken down into “response” and “ability.” The concept is that it involves an ability to respond and has nothing to do with blame. One may not always be able to respond to a situation, but they can still respond to the pain it might have caused.

Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D. also uses the idea of response-ability, describing the capacity to choose and remembering to be in charge and make careful and thoughtful choices. This is the ability to respond to life without placing blame upon one’s self.

I Can and I Will affirmation

Why is this distinction important? Many people confuse taking responsibility with assigning blame. Blame is disempowering or victimizing. Taking responsibility, in part or in whole, for what is actually mine is empowering. Am I responsible for an approaching hurricane? Of course not. Am I responsible for making decisions about how I’m going to deal with it? Absolutely.

Another reason why this distinction is important is that people feel responsible for the feelings, actions, and situations of others. I’m not suggesting that there isn’t some aspect that may be mine to manage or respond to, but I only have limited response-ability. Other people maintain the right to be wrong, make mistakes, interpret comments, and respond with their own feelings. I’m not response-able for those. Can I learn to be careful with my speech? Yes, to some extent. But, the choice still belongs to the other person about how to interpret what I’ve said and it often involves patterns from the past that I cannot predict or control.

question mark symbolizing why

I find it important to check if my sense of “responsibility” is really located in the present moment rather than a worry about the future or a carry-over from the past. Then, if it is in the present moment, I actually ask myself if the current concern is really within the area of my own “hula hoop.” Is it that close to me? Can I do anything with it? Is it really someone else’s response-ability rather than mine? Then, I can choose my response. If any of those questions suggest that this issue isn’t really mine, I can interrupt the tendency to blame and shame.

Boundary setting is an important part of this process. If my boundary is punctuated by gates that I control it will be helpful when considering my response-ability. If my boundary is open, without gates that I control, it is very tempting to take ownership of someone else’s responsibility even if there is no response-ability on my part.

The basic question for me is always, “Does this belong to me and is there a way that I can reasonably respond.”

Repeat the Work

Things are rarely one and done. Sometimes we have to repeat the work. I don’t know about you, but I find that fact really annoying. This is true for me whether we are talking about reps at the gym or playing the piano. It is also true about cleaning the house, doing the dishes, or using my stress management skills. In many areas I am aware of the need to create muscle memory through repetition. But even then, after I have “mastered” a skill or passage in a piece of music I know that that mastery will degrade over time if I don’t play it regularly. It usually isn’t completely gone, but I don’t play as easily until I’ve repeated it several more times.

practice with metronome

I also get it where exercise is concerned. I know my body has to get used to a weight or distance through repetition. Then after a time I can go harder, heavier, or farther. If I skip very many workouts I lose a little bit of my progress and have to fight my way back up. Again….annoying.

My resistance is stronger in other areas of self development. I’ve written in other blog posts about my training in Reiki and Meridian Tapping. So if I’ve used Reiki or Tapping about a personal problem or situation once I seem to expect to never need to do it again. While there are people who report such amazing and long-lasting results, I find that sometimes things come up again but it a bit of a different context. I know that if I would do the work again I can resolve the issue in the moment, but still I resist to my own detriment. That doesn’t mean that the first time was a failure, but sometimes context is important.

Cat Sleep

I found references about the power of repetition such as Get Lighthouse, MasterClass, and Thunderhead Works. All of these sites have articles about repetition as a means toward mastery. I believe that is definitely true. Repeating the work can also lead to increased confidence. To repeat the work in the various aspects of daily living, it can also be an exercise in patience with oneself or situation, a practice of mindfulness in which we are actively aware of needs, and an exercise in controlling our own ego that tells us we don’t need to do the work “again.”

Remember, your needs change. Your situations change. Your body changes. Even your level of confidence can change. As those changes occur, consider repeating the work.

Expectations, Friend or Foe

“When the world doesn’t live up to our expectations, we rebel against its unfairness by turning to food.” – Jessica Ortner

question mark symbolizing why

“When you stop expecting people to be perfect, you can like them for who they are.” – Donald Miller

“I’m not in this world to live up to your expectations and you’re not in this world to live up to mine.” – Bruce Lee

“That was the thing about the world: it wasn’t that things were harder than you thought they were going to be, it was that they were hard in ways that you didn’t expect.” – Lev Grossman

“Set the Standard! Stop expecting others to show you love, acceptance, commitment & respect when you don’t even show that to yourself.” – Steve Maraboli

“Life is not obligated to give us what we expect.” – Margaret Mitchell

Admittedly, these quotes, found all over on the internet, are probably taken out of context. However, I think each of them address this interesting challenge with expectations. In one context, understanding and stating our expectations can be quite helpful. In other contexts, expectations likely do more damage.

Expect has several different dictionary definitions, and that may explain some of the challenge. One definition is to consider probable or certain. How much difference do you think there is between probable and certain? If you consider an outcome certain and it doesn’t happen what is your response? Is it different than if you consider the outcome probable? It is for me.

A second definition is to consider something reasonable, due, or necessary. Again, if you think something is reasonable and then are disappointed your reaction is likely to be very different than if you think something is due to you. Or another definition, to anticipate or look forward to the coming or occurrence of something. What reaction do you experience when that doesn’t come or doesn’t occur? In all of these definitions there is considerable variability that largely derives from our own perceptions, beliefs, and ability to accurately evaluate the current situation.

I also found a definition that an expectation is to suppose or hold something as an opinion, belief, or assumption. This is where a lot of people get into trouble. Many people have difficulty differentiating between an opinion/belief and a fact. Just look around. You will see this everywhere.

We are often told to state our expectations clearly. This is a sound recommendation. Other people can’t read our minds, so being clear about our expectations can help. But stating your expectations, no matter how clear you are, won’t necessarily mean that they will be met. When your expectations are not met it can lead to feelings of disappointment, frustration, anger, betrayal, and mistrust. Other people have competing beliefs and expectations. It is important to ask yourself if these are your rules, red lines in the sand, or a statement of your wishes and desires.

Ask yourself these questions:

questions answers sign

Are your expectations realistic? How do you know?

Does the other person have a free choice to respond? Do they have the right to disagree? or fail?

What will you do if the expectation is not met?

Are you stuck in a thought trap such as “life should be fair” or “people should agree with me?” What was the likelihood that I have over-estimated the probability of something?

Disappointment is certain. People will not always live up to your expectations. Situations you desire won’t always happen. You will not always be treated fairly. As most of us were told when we were growing up “life is not fair,” but we still expect it to be. People will sometimes break your trust. I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t state our expectations. I think it is essential for effective communication and relationships. What I’m suggesting is that we need to monitor our responses to disappointment when those expectations aren’t met. As you can see from the first quote above from Jessica Ortner, some people turn to self-destructive behaviors when our expectations aren’t met. Obviously overeating won’t change the fact that life isn’t fair. If our reactions are self destructive it is a pretty clear indicator that we have personalized the situation or other person’s behavior. This is usually not helpful.

I have lots of expectations of myself and others. I don’t always live up to my own expectations, but when I’m operating in mindfulness those failures are an opportunity to evaluate the expectations, relationships, and situations and don’t usually lead to self destructive behaviors. Even when I state my expectations people don’t always comply. While hard, it is generally beneficial to recognize their free will and that won’t always conform to my hopes, wishes, or desires. This strategy does remind me of my friend Zach who once very correctly and lovingly said to me, “It’s not always about you.”


Parla Come Mangi

I was introduced to this Italian idiom through the book Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. I digress just to say that there are many hidden gems in that book. Although a search of the internet suggest some dispute about the actual meaning, both Ms. Gilbert and www.wordsense.eu offer that parla come mangi means speak the way you eat and is an invitation to use simpler and clearer language when speaking.

wine for relaxation

In my profession I talk to lots of people every day. One of the things I notice is that people make a big deal out of the things they are trying to tell me. They often resort to jargon or labels rather than simply saying what is on their mind or describing a situation. This generally complicates things. Parla come mangi often comes into mind as I listen to them. As in food, simple is often so much better.

When I pause to consider how or why this happens I land upon several possibilities. Perhaps the individual has been shaped to believe that what they have to say is unimportant and so try to use words, expressions, and descriptions that they believe might give their words more weight or importance. Another possible explanation is the saturation of labeling from social media. I have done this before desiring some sort of a short cut. I have also intentionally utilized medical jargon when interacting with other medical professionals to try to prevent them from talking down to me, a sort of elevating my believability if you will. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

comfort food

I now strive to embrace the concept of parla come mangi in social communication. I also try to model it in in my psychotherapy work. There is much less chance of a chance for misunderstanding when I interact in that manner.

Showing Up

Showing Up is one of those expressions that seems to be used more now than ever before. Frankly, I’m not a fan. When I ask people what they mean when they say they want to “show up” they usually can’t really explain it. Labels and expressions such as this one seem to interfere with self expression and communication. Since most people I talk with can’t describe showing up I decided to dig into it a little bit more.

What does it mean to show up? At the most obvious level it means being in a specific place. Woody Allen is famously noted to say that 80-90% of life was just showing up. I don’t know for sure, but I think he was talking about this level of showing up. According to thesaurus.com synonyms for showing up include arrival, presence, manifestation, actualization, and emergence. Antonyms include departure, absence, leaving, and end. Melmagazine.com writes that showing up means doing what you say you will do and not flaking. OK. That wasn’t helpful. www.mindful.org may get a bit closer. They say that showing up means being intentional, open, and acting skillfully.

showing up

Team Tony (Tony Robbins) says that showing up is about participation. This includes being fully present and really being focused on the other person (in a relationship) instead of focusing on the past. I think we are getting even closer. Kaitlin Kindman LCSW, describes “showingupness” as reliability, empathy, care, intentionality, thoughtfulness, and embodiment of “just being there” that someone demonstrates.

So why are so many people using this expression? I suspect there are many different answers. One is that it is thrown around a lot on social media platforms and has just seeped into common discourse. Also, people are genuinely yearning for deeper connections with others as our lives become more distant and fragmented. If you are going to be in the same place at the same time and for a limited amount of time, you want it to really matter.

happy senior couple in love with bunch of fresh flowers in nature. showing up.
Photo by Gustavo Fring on Pexels.com

I think showing up could just as accurately, and possibly more accurately, be expressed with the words mindful and intentional. Instead of saying I want to show up, I could express that I want to engage with you fully and intentionally. I don’t let my mind wander to things from the past or skipping forward to concerns of the future. I want to be in the here and now and feel whatever is going on NOW.

One of the activities I use when working with therapy clients is the Personal Mission Statement. Clients frequently use this expression when writing their Mission Statements. In the personal mission statement exercise they often use showing up to mean not dwelling in the past or worrying about the future. People instinctively know that either of those is not the pathway to joy or contentment. Their answer lies in remaining fully present in the here and now. Although this can be difficult, the effort can be worth it.

Lifelong Learner

They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Bah Humbug. Poppycock. Rubbish. I am proud to call myself a lifelong learner. As an old dog, I am committed to learning new tricks in a variety of subjects.

I have spent a large part of my life in formal education. From kindergarten through graduate school I think the total is 22 years. In addition, there were many years of piano lessons, ballet lessons (very briefly), and martial arts lessons. I also took a few classes in conversational Japanese. One might think I would have tired of school but in reality I love learning and I love school. Currently I am taking lessons in Gaelic, choral composition, and voice. Based on my career path I also am required to do continuing education classes. I don’t necessarily include those in my personal definition of lifelong learning. Those classes aren’t based on my curiosity and desire to know and understand something. Instead those are based on what somebody else wants to me to know.

Lately I’ve seen quite a few articles on lifelong learning. Brian Fairbanks posted an article for Phoenix University (August 2021). He defined a lifelong learner as someone who seeks continuous development and improvement of knowledge and skills for employment and/or personal fulfillment. This would include both formal and informal learning opportunities. I’m focused on the personal fulfillment aspect at this stage of my life.

Emma Parkhurst, Extension Assistant Professor at Utah State University, wrote that lifelong learning may include returning to school, taking stand-alone workshops, or using an app to learn a new language or cooking skills. Emma also noted that the important component is that the activity is useful, interesting, meaningful, or enjoyable. I’m not sure how useful my Gaelic lessons are but they are definitely interesting and enjoyable.

Many articles cite benefits of lifelong learning. These often include:

I Can and I Will affirmation
  • increased self esteem
  • increased confidence
  • improved cognition and memory
  • decreased risk for dementia
  • increased social connection (expanded base of like-minded people)
  • positive feelings of accomplishment

That sure sounds good. I have noted several of these benefits, particularly the increased self esteem, increased social connection, and positive feelings of accomplishment. As for the decreased risk of dementia, I am an “old dog” so only time will tell about that.

Have you ever wanted to learn a language, explore cake decorating, play a musical instrument, or learn the tango? Why not give it a try? Join the ranks of lifelong learners. Experience the pleasure. Reap the benefits.

Overwhelm

overwhelm

Overwhelm is a word I hear a lot. In fact, I hear it often enough that I decided to explore it more in depth. If you look up overwhelm in the dictionary you will find 1) to affect (someone) very strongly, 2) to cause (someone) to have too many things to deal with, and 3) to defeat (someone or something) completely. Usually it involves all three of these meanings for most people I talk to.

When I ask what symptoms people associate with overwhelm, I hear decreased sleep, increased worry, fatigue, tearfulness, irritability, and intrusive thoughts. Those symptoms can be associated with many different feelings so they don’t set overwhelm apart from other emotions very well.

Factors that often contribute to this feeling can include having too many tasks. Excessively high standards, poor time mangement, inadequate mindfulness skills, or focus on another person’s evaluation of you can also contribute. This certainly suggests definitions 1 and 2.

Expectations of one’s self also may play into the feeling of overwhelm. The high standards or expectations mentioned above fit in this category too. I find that the words “should” and “shouldn’t” are the biggest contibutors. When these evaluations are present they really can drain a person’s resources and limit problem-solving skills. Many people have pretty rigid beliefs about how things should or shouldn’t be without being really clear about why. In fact, it is often just a preference.

Having weak boundaries can also contribute to feelings of overwhelm. People who self-identify as people-pleasers often have too many things to do and not enough time to do them because they haven’t learned to say no. They are also afraid to engage in the self-care that would increase their energy for tasks and overall resilience. Difficulty with prioritizing can also be a factor. If you look at your task list and see everything on it as the highest possible priority it would feel overwhelming.

Possibility List

When all of these things are considered it seems clear that the feeling comes from the inside but there may be outside factors. If the boss wants something NOW it likely impacts overwhelm. But if there is a confidence in one’s own ability to prioritize, set boundaries, and complete tasks it probably won’t be nearly as uncomfortable.

Other words people use to describe overwhelm include swamped, buried, flooded, saturated, overloaded, and engulfed. I was drawn to the words saturated and overloaded. Interestingly, saturated seemed to be from outside forces (although I acknowledge I have some control on what I let in). Overloaded seemed to be more internal for me. It is sometimes quite difficult for me to choose from the many things I like to do. I often take on more activities (because I really like them) than fit easily into my day.

When considering difficult to manage feelings it can be helpful to consider where you feel them in your body. This can be a great way to monitor how your coping skills are working since it makes the feeling more tangible. Does overwhelm feel like a knot in your shoulders? Maybe a pressure in your chest? Does it feel hot or cold? For those of you who know about tapping, it also is useful to use the bodily sensation as a focus for your tapping.

I Can and I Will affirmation

When you get down to it, the thoughts in your head that are associated with overwhelm generally are some variation of “I’m not enough” or that “I can’t handle it.” Those belief patterns come from so many different places. For me there is a childhood statement from a parent of “why can’t you be more like Lori.” Then there was a question about whether I deserved to be valedictorian since I was in chorus instead of advanced math. The media also perpetuates those feelings of not being enough for many people.

I would argue that for most of us the truth is really more like “I don’t want to handle this” or “I shouldn’t have to handle it.” This is an important thought pattern to explore and it can lead to solutions.

Speaking of solutions, here is a brief list of solutions you may want to try:

  1. Planning – Break tasks into the smallest possible pieces and assign a time to do them.
  2. Values clarification – Decide whether the competing tasks share a similar value for you. Do the things that are congruent with your highest values. (This isn’t always easy to figure out and it is ok to get professional help with any of these.)
  3. Mindfulness – Practice your mindfulness skills. Then you can stay in the here and now rather than ruminating on the past or catastrophizing about the future.
  4. Affirmations – Make statements of affirmation about your own ability to problem-solve, self worth, and intellect.
  5. Tapping – Tapping is a great way to manage the feeling of overwhelm.
  6. Self care – Set aside time (even a few minutes) to rest, relax, and renew. It will help you be more productive when there is an onslaught of activities.
  7. Language-monitoring – Watch your language for should, shouldn’t, ought to, have to, etc. These are energy drainers and not helpful.
  8. Choose your battles – There really will be times when it is not possible to do everything. You also might not be able to do everthing at your highest level.