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lemons to lemonade
Little Ways to Sweeten up Life's Sour Moments
By Addie Johnson
Red Wheel/Weiser, LLCCopyright © 2010 Addie Johnson
All rights reserved.
Sweet and Sour: How You Look at Things
Did anyone ever tell you the glass is half full? Somebody told me once it depends whether you're pouring or drinking. Seriously, though, if you can figure out how to get optimistic and stay that way, you're home free. I'm not saying your problems are over, but simply looking at the world through rose-colored specs means that half your problems will look like exciting challenges, and the other half you'll probably realize aren't problems at all, just facts of life.
I can think of people who have everything they could ever want and are still miserable. I can think of people just scraping by whose joy for life overflows onto everyone around them. Sometimes we take for granted the great pleasure we can take from very little things. Sometimes, too, we forget to give ourselves permission to enjoy over-the-top abundance, as if we somehow didn't deserve it. Most important, life is best when we set our judgments aside and savor the moment of whatever it is that the universe is dishing out, in big or small servings.
We're surrounded by beauty of all kinds. It can perk us up, calm us down, and even heal our bodies and souls. Getting attuned to this splendor is a great way to pass the time. It's time to shine up your sense of wonder and see the world in a new light. Make some new discoveries, and don't forget to pass them on through the magic of your own creativity.
Stop trying so hard. The harder you try to make yourself happy, or the more you focus on "being happy" for its own sake, without connecting it to actions in your life, the more it eludes you.
Somebody told me that an average kindergartner laughs 300 times a day, while an adult averages seventeen times. This makes me want to be a kindergarten teacher.
Laughing at Yourself
Persnickety, controlling, stiff. I catch myself in this mode and I have to laugh. More fun to be the wild, goofy child poking fun at my uptight self.
Some people are tough customers, whether they're actual customers, bosses, employees, friends, or even family. Don't let it drain your energy. Figure out the minimum contact you can have, make it as pleasant as possible, and move on. Don't let anybody sap your energy.
The spark of creativity is life's first and greatest gift to us; we're conceived in that spark. And we have the chance to create every day, even in how we look at the world around us. We also get to bear witness to that spark in others through literature, scientific discoveries, music, and painting. If we pay attention, we can notice it in nature all around us: a perfect spider web, the formation of ice crystals on the windowpane, even a close examination of our own animal natures. Creation brings us joy, awe, and often a much needed new perspective.
Ever bite into an apple with a worm? Make the best of it by remembering that even things we sometimes think are gross are really, truly wonderful. Spiders are good luck. Worms help plants grow. Bugs as part of the ecosystem, bugs making honey and silk, bugs eating peskier bugs, and so much more. It's a good exchange for a couple of wormy apples, or for those twelve mosquito bites I get every summer.
A Sense of Purpose
You may think that some work is beneath you, or that people are demeaned by having certain jobs. There are several ways to look at work you may not be excited about doing. You can feel demoralized or bitter about doing repetitious work that does not challenge or excite you, or you can find a sense of purpose in what you do. You can see your efforts in relation to the overall effect they are having as an essential part of the whole. Your sense of worth is in your own hands.
The Pursuit of Happiness
I've come to the conclusion (and I ain't the first or the last to come to it, let me tell you) that after the basic needs of survival are met, the pursuit of happiness is the most important thing we do in our lives. Why else would we spend so much time thinking about it, making art about it, hoping and wishing and planning for it?
Infinity and Imagination
The full reach of infinity may be beyond our imagination, but imagination itself is infinite.
As you wander through your life, friend, whatever be your goal, keep your eyes upon the donut and not upon the hole.
Simple Pleasures and Hidden Treasures
Happiness is all around us. We can't create it and we can't micromanage it. You can't force yourself to be happier. You can only discover it. The best way I know to do that is to put yourself in the path of happy accidents by doing what you love with purpose and staying open and aware to the possibility of happiness beyond your wildest dreams. Too often we hide away the treasure of our own happiness as if there's a limited supply, and we forget that life will bring plenty more for us if we only let it.
There are plenty of magic tricks and scientific studies that prove that if we expect to see something, that's pretty much what we'll see, even if it's not really there. The same thing happens in our lives: we see the same thing every day, and we shut off the part of ourselves that's on the lookout for the new and interesting, so sometimes we pass it by altogether. Can you vow to see something new every day?
Low on cash? Looking for a good way to have a blast or a nice way to calm down? Simple pleasures are the way to go for cheap thrills: going sledding; buying someone a single rose; driving with the windows down on a curvy road with your favorite song blasting; going wedding dress shopping (even if you're already married or have no intention of getting married anytime soon); enjoying the free day at the museum, botanical garden, boardwalk, aquarium; eating chocolate chips right out of the bag; taking in the view at the top of a high building.
Sometimes we forget how taking time to do the simplest things can calm us down better than any spa treatment. Drinking warm milk with honey, collecting pinecones or autumn leaves, fishing (or sitting in the boat all day), knitting or crocheting, putting pictures in an album, tossing a ball around, eating an ice cream cone, skipping rocks.
Got the bluey blues? Feel better fast by indulging in aromatherapy: lavender, chamomile, citrus, cinnamon. Smells are some of the most powerful stimulants and soothers. Or try color therapy: Orange peps you up, green calms you down, and silver is mentally cleansing. Get out your paintbrush.
I think gardeners are artists, scientists, even alchemists. They channel light and water into a canvas of plants, trees, and flowers and create a landscape for every mood. And don't forget the joy of good clean garden dirt so thick under your fingernails that no amount of scrubbing will get it out.
Did you know that lemonade helps keep the flowers in potted plants fresher for longer?
True friendship is at the core of any happy life. If our family is our root system, our friends are our fellow branches. We're all striving together, supporting one another, providing shade and comfort.
A dog will be there whenever you call, always be thrilled to see you come through the door, sit by your feet or on your lap through your darkest moods, jump at the chance to join you whenever you go out. What could be better?
Songs from Your Parents' Generation
No matter your age, there is something wonderful about the music your parents listened to. Even if you made mean gagging sounds about it as a teenager, chances are that now you have at least a little nostalgic appreciation. Whether it's Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell, the Four Tops and Aretha, Elton John and Iggy Pop, Frank Sinatra, or Elvis Presley, it can be comforting to relive your childhood through music.
The other day I saw a mother and her maybe six-year-old daughter on the subway, each with one earpiece, jamming out and dancing so hard to the music they were both hearing that the little girl's earpiece would fall out from time to time. They'd laugh hysterically until she got it back in, and then they would go back to their boogie.
To indulge, or not to indulge? Chocolate is one of life's great treasures, and that's just the tip of the iceberg-sized sundae. Plus, you never know what's coming next. As Erma Bombeck once said, "Seize the moment. Remember all those women on the Titanic who waved off the dessert cart."
Through a Child's Eyes
Kids are really good at making the best of what they've got, discovering hidden joys, and imagining whole new worlds. We can take a few cues from them.
Curiosity about What Things Mean and How They Work. Why do we have to move on from the "why?" phase of life? Sure, it can get annoying when the response to every single thing you say is "Why? Why? Why?" But we could all stand to ask "Why?" a little more often.
A Quasi-Maniacal Love of Trains, Dogs, Ponies, and/or Princesses. "A dog! A dog! A dog! A dog!" my son yells until I acknowledge that yes, there is a dog coming down the sidewalk toward us. What makes you so excited you want to shout about it in public?
Playing Dress-up. When's the last time you put on your best costume jewelry and threw a tea party?
Sharing. It's tough to share sometimes, but the results are be rewarding in unexpected ways.
Attention to Detail. Every mud puddle deserves a thorough investigation.
Doing Things Just for the Sake of Doing Them. Jumping jacks, silly faces, knock-knock jokes, holding hands, sticking peanuts up your nose. Okay, scratch that last one or you might end up in the emergency room on the pointy end of a pair of pliers.
Take in your horizons by lifting your eyes off of the ground in front of you and put your focus far out in front of you. Of course you can't keep your eyes fixed off in the distance— you're going to look at other things, make eye contact with a passerby, notice something shiny on the path ahead of you. But make the horizon your default position, and you will interact with the world in a different way. Open yourself up to seeing outside of the little bubble of sensation that surrounds you.
I sometimes catch myself thinking I practically need a note from home to really enjoy things. Maybe I feel I don't deserve it, or I'm always thinking about what I should be doing instead, but I think it's time to write a permission slip for a lot of things: eating a special treat, going for a long walk, having fun even when I've got a huge to-do list.
Happy, Healthy, Having a Blast
I'm looking for the fountain of youth. Is it eating less of this, more of that? Is it family? Nature? Nurture? Stress levels? I can feel my stress level rising as I try to parse out exactly what is good or bad for me by the measure of the most recent scientific reports. Agh—forget it! I'm just going to go back to the basics and assume I'm adding years to my life by eating wonderful food, laughing hysterically, staying close to friends and family, and keeping busy in mind and body. And if I'm not, then at least I'm enjoying the heck out of whatever youth I've got left.
Laughter Is the Best Medicine
Diagnosed with a rare disease and given only months to live, scientist Norman Cousins checked himself into a hotel room and took massive doses of vitamin C and watched funny movies and television shows all day long. And it worked. For every ten minutes of belly laughs, he got two hours pain free. He lived far beyond anyone's expectations and ignited more serious study of laughter as medicine.
Did You Know?
Laughter can boost blood flow as much as light exercise or drugs that lower cholesterol.
Guess What Else?
There's some good evidence that laughter can boost the immune system, as well as clean toxins out of the lungs and blood stream.
Uniting the Brain
In order to get a joke, we need to use both sides of our brain: the left hemisphere understands the verbal content of a joke and the right figures out whether it's funny or not. So laughing keeps our brains young and fit.
Laughter releases endorphins that are more potent than equivalent amounts of morphine. What's more, you don't need to go to rehab to quit laughing if you get hooked.
A strong, healthy family provides the foundation for a wonderful life. An insane, dysfunctional family forms the basis of a best-selling novel.
It's fun to have something you always do on your birthday, whether it's drinking a toast in your honor, eating angel food cake, or getting spanked once for each year you've been kicking around this planet.
Pink Lemonade Pie
My friend Julie's family has a favorite guilty pleasure pick-meup, invented by her grandmother Betty Loftesness:
Pink Lemonade Pie
1 (6 oz.) can pink lemonade
1 can condensed milk
1 small Cool Whip or 1/2 pint cream, whipped
1 graham cracker pie crust
Mix together lemonade and milk. Fold in the whipped topping. Pour into graham cracker crust. Freeze for 2 to 3 hours.
Down to the Seeds
My father used to eat an apple all the way down to the seeds and the stem. He would finish off every edible piece, even the core. That's the way to live, it seems to me.
Don't forget that you have the map that will lead you to more happiness than you can ever imagine, and you've had it forever—it's your birthright. Happiness doesn't care how much money you have or the circumstances you were born into. Your treasure map goes where you go; it's printed on your face and in your fingerprints, waiting for you to unlock its potential.
Have fun on your search for the sunny side, and don't forget to enjoy the journey. Life is sweet—yes, your life—if you just look at what's in front of your face.
More and more scientific studies are confirming the benefits of the relaxed mindfulness of meditation. However you choose to do it, through prayer, yoga, mantras, or just sitting quietly, you're probably altering your body and brain for the better.
The Fountain of Youth?
If you want to keep a spring in your step and a twinkle in your eye, change your routine. Drive a different route to work, switch your right and left hands for everyday activities, eat dessert first, and wear your pajamas to work. Wait, no, that last one might get you in more trouble than it's worth.
Get the cranial juices flowing by practicing your Spanish verbs, or reciting the one sonnet you remember from high school, or even just thinking of ten words that rhyme with train. Anything to mix up your routine and send your brain a signal that it had better pick up the pace and get with the program.
Drink a Glass of Water
Looking for another way to see that the glass is half full? Did you know that 50 to 65 percent of your body weight is water? So you yourself are literally half full, plus some. Only problem is, you're always losing it—sweating, breathing, etc. Getting dehydrated can cause all kinds of problems, starting with being cranky and ending with keeling over. So hoist a full glass of the clear stuff whenever you can.
Get thee to the chiropractor and come out feeling like a million bucks.
Get Upside Down
Reverse the effects of gravity for a moment. Hang on the monkey bars, do a headstand, ride a rollercoaster, or just try to touch your nose to your knees by bending down from a standing position. Hang there for a while and let the blood rush to your head.
When you have a long and difficult task, reward yourself at every step. Not with a shopping spree or a new car, but with an apple, or a walk, or a piece of dark chocolate.
Whether your family is two people or thirty, it's wonderful to honor the tradition of getting everybody together for dinner once a week. Play the game of "Thorns and Roses," where everyone takes a turn telling a thorny thing and a rosy thing that happened in their day or week.
How often do you go out walking after dinner? City, country, or small town, there's something magical about walking every night after the sun goes down. Walking off the heaviness in your stomach, listening to the din of courting insects, looking in on scenes from the lives of your neighbors through their bright picture windows.
Get Some Sunlight
Get out there and boost your vitamin D. My husband's grandmother swears by sitting in her lawn chair for twenty minutes every day.
Excerpted from lemons to lemonade by Addie Johnson. Copyright © 2010 Addie Johnson. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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