The Ice Bucket Challenge: Maybe Not So Great After all

win win

So I’m not on Facebook (I think we’re actually a dying race) but when I heard through the grapevine about the ALS Ice Bucket challenge I was confused, and then awe struck. BRILLIANT I thought. I love clever marketing that gets mass buy-in literally overnight. I thought the whole thing was a great idea, and having been somewhat familiar with ALS after reading Tuesdays With Morrie several years ago and learning about how devastating and tragic this illness is, I was immediately in support. Until I read this article by MACLEANS Magazine. Although the tone of the article is a bit harsh and may I say a little negative and reactionary, I do think the author makes some good points and presents some thought provoking data.

What can I say though? Most of us like bandwagons and if there’s one to get on that seems fun and maybe even altruistic and meaningful, then what could be the harm? The author does make the point though that people are giving their limited and budgeted charity dollars to a charity that by comparison doesn’t need the money in the same way others do. I might argue, though, that many of the people donating through this kitschy challenge might not necessarily have charity giving on their annual budget radar, so having a fun excuse to be unabashedly silly and at the same time feel like one’s doing a good and selfless thing that one wouldn’t normally would seem to be a win win. Or not.

Well, regardless of your opinion on all of this, what is not up for argument is that giving in almost any capacity is good for us, and actually impacts our happiness and sense of well-being in a real and meaningful way, unlike the things we think lead to genuine and lasting happiness like owning a sports car, wearing designer clothes, having the latest IPhone, or living in a fancy house. We were created and are hard wired as social beings who thrive on genuine connection, relationships, generosity, and compassion toward others. So give. Be intentional about it, think about what you’re giving and why you’re giving and do it regularly, and not only will other lives be changed, yours will too. In my opinion THAT’S a win win.

The Power Of…

dumpDoes focusing on the positive make you a more positive person in general?

I’m going to go ahead and say yes. If any of this brain research that’s been all the rage over the past couple years regarding brain plasticity and how quite a good part of our brains are made up of that which we put in to them, then it stands to reason that if we put pessimism and negativity into the old noggin (i.e. by focusing on what we might think sucks about an interaction, a situation or, our lives), then that’s most likely what our minds will default to most of the time without even trying. Which, obviously will generally leave us feeling sad, mad, bad, angry, or frustrated. Oh no, I really hate to go here because it would drive me crazy when my mother would say: “Be wise about what you put into your mind because garbage in, garbage out.” Yikes. It’s true. She was right! I guess the good news is that now, as a mother myself, this means that moms are usually, if not always, right. At least we’ll say that. The bad news is that if she’s like me, it will take my daughter over 30 years to realize this. Oy.

I digress. So I’m not saying that we should go around pretending everything is lovely roses, rainbows, and sunshine all the time because goodness know, living in pink cloud of avoidance and denial isn’t generally recommended either (unless you’re hoping for an epic mid-life crisis, or major emotional breakdown… whichever comes first). But what if we made a conscious effort to complain and feel upset about some things if we feel it really necessary, and choose not to upset ourselves unnecessarily about other things? Sometimes, but not all the time, we can chose how we interpret, respond to, or think about a given situation or interaction, which means we can chose to focus on the things that are not so bad, and heaven forbid, maybe even think about the good! And if all this brain research actually does have a leg to stand on, then the more we work on seeing and focusing on the good, the less work it will eventually be for us to do so. It will just sort of start to happen more on its own, without really trying. That’s encouraging.

As the Tide.

 

beachThe truth about our emotions is that sometimes those sneaky little buggers get the best of us by making us wholeheartedly believe that what we’re feeling in a moment of discontent is an accurate portrayal of reality. If I feel like an idiot or a reject then I must be an idiot or a reject. The truth is, though, our emotions lie to us. If you think about it, we know how we may be feeling in a given moment can’t possibly be the total and utter truth because we’ve all had times of feeling, thinking and believing a whole slew of nasty and negative things about ourselves, others, or the world around us, and then a few minutes, hours, or days later things don’t seem quite so bad. And sometimes all it takes to shift our thoughts, emotions and mood is a healthy meal, some exercise, or a good night’s sleep. Those little emotions of ours can sure be fickle! So why do we insist on wholeheartedly buying in to the really upsetting ones the moment they pop in to our minds?

When we draw reason from an emotion in the moment it’s something that’s been cleverly termed Emotional Reasoning. The dangerous part of it all is that often our fickle little emotions can’t be trusted and when we do choose to trust what we’re feeling in the moment as the undisputed truth we are left feeling sad, mad, frustrated and downright crummy.

Quite simply, our emotions are the by-products of our thoughts. What we think about or how we interpret or draw meaning from a situation, circumstance, or interaction will cause some kind of emotional reaction. In other words, an emotion is based on thought.

So here’s a little exercise for you to try next time you find yourself in a downward emotional spiral. Call those feelings out for what they are: instead of saying “I’m such a loser!” start the sentence by saying “I notice I’m having the thought that I’m loser right now.” So again, all it takes is to start by saying “I notice I’m having the thought that _____.” Try it right now. It works for all sorts of things. For instance, last night my one year old daughter, and by proxy, I also, had a really tough night and I remember thinking to myself is: “today is going to be a really challenging day, sigh.” I quickly managed to catch myself though and changed the internal dialogue to “I notice that I’m having the thought that it’s going to be a challenging day.” Immediately a large weight was lifted off my chest and things didn’t feel so fatal. Just by saying this sentence to myself I was able to get a little space from my feelings instead of getting all wrapped up and overwhelmed by them.  And you know what? It actually turned out to be a half decent day after all.

Who Says? and Who Cares?

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I find it curious when people talk about how they feel bad because they think they should be more interesting by being more interested in something that’s “cool” (I’m not really sure who’s the official word on what’s cool and what’s not, but anyway…) Let’s look at this.

Feeling crummy about yourself because you think you should be more interested in x, y, or z in order to make yourself more interesting. But what happens if you’re NOT actually really all that interested in x, y, or z? Some of the ones I’ve heard are: “I wish I knew more about politics,” or “I wish I could play the ukulele,” or “People who talk about English literature are so sophisticated,” or “I wish I know more about cool-cutting edge indie music.” And to this I say: If you’re interested in it, start doing it and make it a priority to get in to politics, English literature, playing an instrument, or obscure hipster music. BUT if you’re not actually interested, but think you should be, then I say why would you even bother? And why would you beat yourself up for not liking the things you don’t? Really, what’s the point? Why not just like the things you like and not like the things you don’t. Who says there’s anything wrong with that? And who’s actually that final authority on what’s okay to be in to and what’s not? If you’re in to cutting edge music, neat-o! If not, so what.  It’s about what you like, and the whole point of an interest is for it to be something you’re interested in – meaning it’s something you like and want to make time for. It’s simply for your pleasure and enjoyment, so if it’s not all that pleasurable or enjoyable for you, then don’t worry about it. And if there is something you’re into, then do something to make it a part of your life. It’s not really all that complicated. If something’s not working, stop doing it. If it’s working, do more of it!

The BIG HURT.

kid and bottleOne day when I was in Junior High, seemingly out of nowhere I was targeted and forced out of the little posse of 12 year old girls that was my friend group. For some reason, to this day I still have no idea why, the leader of our little group of pre-teen girls decided she didn’t like me and didn’t want me in the group and was able to convince the others of the same (talk about an influential person! I hope she’s using her powers for good now). Anyway, I was out. I say this a bit matter-of-factly, but don’t be mistaken, I was devastated and I was hurt, confused, sad, and scared for weeks and weeks. Eventually though, I did find other people to be friends with, and things got a lot better. And, not so long after, I was also able to patch things up with the other girls, but I never did go back to being in their group – I just didn’t want to be close to people I didn’t think I could trust.

You’d think that although devastating and confusing, because the worst of it only really lasted a couple weeks and then things got better again, that would have been that. Issues resolved and I would have just been able to fully move on. But no, unfortunately that’s not the way it all works. Although short lived, that was a big hurt at a very formative time in my life. I was able to move on somewhat from it all, and I thought mostly forgive and forget, but as it turns out, I wasn’t really able to leave all of it in the past so easily.

That’s because of the way things work up in our brains. The big hurt events from our lives – usually the ones from childhood and adolescence – kind of get lodged right in there. Sometimes they are so locked in there that even when we think we were able to forgive, forget, and move on, the big hurts have a way of creeping back up and rearing their nasty little heads well in to adulthood. Throughout my 20’s I can recall several occasions with friends when something would happen that I would interpret as someone leaving me out on purpose, and when I’d ask about it, they would insist this was really not the case. They weren’t trying to leave me out. Although part of me knew it was true and it had nothing to do with them not wanting me around or not liking me, but that old wound – that old all-too-familiar feeling that my friends were going to decide they didn’t like me anymore and leave me was still right there deep inside and obviously not totally healed.

That’s what happens. And we all have our own little hot button or big hurt in there somewhere. Some of us may even have a few. When something happens to us that causes a pretty intense emotional response that may not really match the intensity of the event or interaction that just occurred, what’s happening is that those vulnerable, unhealed wounds are being poked at we usually get either the pit-of-the-stomach hurt feeling; the hot head-is-going-to-explode angry feeling; or the heavy head-sinking-lower-and-lower-want –to-hide-under-a-pile-of-coats sad feeling.  AND THEN, to make matters worse, we verbally beat ourselves up and call ourselves down for letting stuff upset us and not being able to keep it together by being non-reacting fortresses all the time.

That doesn’t seem all that fair, or really all that useful. We need to learn to be more kind and compassionate with ourselves. We need to understand that there are sometimes deep wounds in there that are not healed. And although in the past, and often quite distant past, sometimes it’s not so easy to just “Get over it!” Sometimes, and by sometimes I mean most of the time, we need to learn to be more compassionate and understanding with ourselves, because goodness knows, those wounds and big hurts really don’t stand any chance of ever healing if we keep kicking ourselves when we’re down.