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Stop, Look, and Listen
For years people have talked about, written about, discussed the "inner child." After studying it in psychology classes and listening to other people's ideas on the subject, I came to the conclusion the inner child is who we really are.
What happens to us that makes us push who we really are down so deep, sometimes we lose ourselves? To my mind, it comes down to labels and expectations. It begins when we're born: "It's a girl" or "It's a boy" is clearly written on the announcement, on cigars, on balloons. And so it begins, the different expectations for boys and girls, even to the point of colors. We think pink for girls and blue for boys. But I'm a girl, and I hate pink.
As we grow, the labels continue until they nearly suffocate us. And with each new label, there is an implied, if not spoken, expectation: He's smart. She's not too bright, but she's pretty. She's plain, but a hard worker. He's a troublemaker.
Those thoughtless words have a great deal of impact on how we see ourselves. But the truth is that just because "they" say it, whoever "they" are, doesn't mean it's true. I can't help but think that's why so many people are walking around with their insides not matching their outsides. When that happens, it makes for a confused, frustrated, unhappy individual.
Is there a simple answer to this problem? For me, it is to stop doing what we don't want to do, stop impressing people we don't care to impress, stop gaining things we may not even want. Let that imprisoned inner child out.
When I'm faced with a decision about what to say, I think to myself, What is the worst thing that can happen if I just tell the truth, what I really think? My husband says, "You open your mouth, and I never know what's coming out." I'm not sure that's such a bad thing. At least people never wonder what I'm thinking. They know that if they ask me a direct question, I'll tell them what I believe to be true.
You know, it doesn't matter if you're seventeen or seventy—you can rip those old labels off, cast aside the expectations of others, and start over. Each day is a new beginning, and you can choose to begin again at any time. It is never too late, and you're never too old.
New labels may come your way. If you're younger, they might use words like "weird"; if you're older, "eccentric." Dodge those labels. They mean nothing unless you allow them to stick, unless you accept them as a part of who you are.
To discover who you really are, listen to yourself, observe yourself, make a mental note of the things you're doing to please others, to get someplace society says you should be but you aren't thrilled about. Yes, society tells us what "success" is in so many ways. Trendsetters tell us how we "should" act, what we "should" strive for, what we "should" want if we are to be successful. My mind screams, "Who are these people, and what right do they have to tell me who to be, what to want, how to set goals for my life?"
Which brings me to God. It doesn't matter what you call your God; what matters is that you believe there is a higher power, and the higher power has a plan for you. If you believe there is a reason for even one thing in your life, then you must believe there is a reason for all things. What if his plan for us is different than what society has set forth? We will be faced with a choice of which way to go.
Because I've chosen a God of my understanding to guide my life, the choice was simple. I had to ask myself, Do I go with temporary answers set forth by those who believe they know the truth, or do I go with the one who will guide me through eternity, who can see much farther down the road, who knows me from the inside out and loves me? It wasn't a hard decision.
However, once the decision is made, once you act on it, your life will be forever changed. Afraid? When I'm afraid, I remind myself that if I truly believe in the soul, that who I am will live on, then nothing and no one in this life can truly hurt me. Others can take our possessions, even harm or destroy our bodies, but if we believe the essence of who we are endures, there is nothing to fear. The only way to lose your soul is to give it up willingly. And isn't that what we do when we live against ourselves, against our God—little by little, we give up bits of our soul? That's when the feelings of helplessness and hopelessness set in.
Are we afraid of dying, or afraid of living? When we stop taking risks in life, when we live a fear-based life, we are just existing. We can be as careful as we want—carry a gun, not get on airplanes, even hire bodyguards—but it won't keep us from death. We can spend our days worrying about when and how that day will come, but it will come, and we will have given up those wonderful moments we could have spent truly living.
To live in the moment, to embrace life, to dare to love and be loved—to accept life on life's terms and understand that we are only here for a little while, so we'd better make the best of it— that's what people feel who have a passion for life. This is not a dress rehearsal. It's the real thing, and what we do with it is important.
I understand that as adults we have responsibilities; we must make a living, feed our children, live in a society created by humans. At the same time, we are children of the universe, and incorporating the two shouldn't cause conflict. In fact, each should enhance the other.
Like snowflakes, each of us is unique. And in our uniqueness, we are all the same. If we believe we are a product of God, if we believe there is a reason and a season for all things, if we believe that God graces us all with unique talents and passions, then why wouldn't we bring them into our life? For instance, if you are working as a cook in a restaurant to make a living, but your passion is sculpting, why can't you do both? And with your sculptor's eye, you could arrange the plates and food in such a pleasing way that all would want to enjoy it. And with the money you make from cooking, you could buy sculpting supplies to further your passion. Perhaps one day you might become a famous sculptor— or maybe not, but does it really matter, if it's what you love to do?
The simple truth about happiness lies in letting your inner child out. Be true to yourself; be yourself, and let the chips fall where they may. Not everyone will like you exactly the way you are, but that's okay. If you have to act like someone else to please certain people, they don't like you anyway. When you've developed a relationship with a God of your understanding, and a set of beliefs that work for you, don't compromise. If you're working in a position that demands that you compromise, perhaps it's time for a change. All the money in the world will not give you the peace of mind you get from self-respect. Just stop giving up those pieces of yourself that are so essential for you to be who you are.
One exercise on the road to simple happiness is like a train crossing: stop, look, and listen. Stop and take a hard look at your life. Look at what has become important to you, what you're willing to give up, what you're willing to compromise. Listen to the words that leave your mouth. Are they consistent with the thoughts in your mind? Do you walk your talk?
The next step is to start eliminating. If there are people who are dragging you down, keeping your life in chaos, if there are situations out of your control, places you don't want to be, you can remove yourself from all of them. Jump out, and into life. Come on out. Take those risks. Make new friends. Find a new job. Give God those things you can't handle, and know they will be resolved the way they are supposed to be. Above all, know that God didn't put us here to beat us down but to pull us up, that we might be a light in the darkness, and that we might shine that light on all we encounter.
You'll know you've found true happiness when you smile for no reason at all and no one is there to see it. It's simply a matter of being answerable to yourself and your God, to the truth of who you are, and allowing others the same privilege. Choose to be passionate about life no matter what your situation. Grab it like a child grabs candy, and savor every bite. I don't know about you, but I believe God wants us to be happy, joyous, and free.
Don't kid yourself. We know when we are right with ourselves, with God. We are simply happy— rich or poor, ditch digger or CEO, fancy car or basic bicycle—because we live the truth. We've stepped off the stage, away from the audience, and into the warmth of God's love.
Other people can be one of our greatest frustrations in life. We think that if they would just do what we ask, the way we want it done, when we think they should do it, we would be much happier. But what of them? Their happiness? Their right to be who they are? I'm reminded of a parable.
One icy January morning, a man dressed in his heaviest winter coat stepped out the door for a walk. Grass crunched under his boots like broken glass as he moved quickly toward a grove of trees. Suddenly, he stopped. A snake lay at his feet, coiled into a circle and frozen. He picked the snake up and slipped it under his coat. In a short time, the snake thawed out and came back to life. It bit him. He pulled the snake out of his coat, held it by the neck, and said, "Why? I picked you up, warmed you, saved your life, and you bit me!"
The snake said, "You knew what I was when you picked me up."
People will ultimately be who they are, having been brought to that point by their life experiences. That's not to say people can't change, but that we can't change them. As much as we might want to change that snake into a purring kitten, it's not going to happen.
Even our children, as they grow up and learn to think for themselves, will ultimately make their own decisions, no matter what we think is best. As parents, our job is to teach them to think, not to tell them what to think. The best life lesson we can share with them is the ability to live life as best we can. The best way to do that is to show them, by example, that happiness is not contingent on what other people think, say, and do. To show them, in the way we live on a daily basis, that the responsibility for our happiness, or unhappiness, is ours alone. Our lives are about the choices we make.
Each of us will choose our own life path. We don't have to like what others choose, don't have to agree with it, but we must respect and accept their right to choose. Imagine what it would be like if we could force them down our path. For us, it would be a long, unhappy journey dragging someone behind us, someone who didn't want to go. It would be like trying to drag a reluctant alligator out of the swamp.
And also, when we consider the people who make up the inner circle of our lives, we must ask ourselves one thing. If we were to take an honest look at them, just the way they are, and know they would be no better and no worse than they are at this moment, would we want to keep them in our lives? If the answer is yes, then we must accept them totally, warts and all. If the answer is no, if we are hanging in there, attempting to change them, bring them up to the standard we believe they need to reach, perhaps it's time to reevaluate the relationship and let them go.
Easier said than done, you might be thinking. It doesn't have to be. I've never understood why people, when they are doing something good for themselves, feel the need to beat themselves up for it. If a relationship has run its course, if another person constantly drags us down, if we can't accept them as they are, doesn't it make sense to move on? And to move on knowing we did the right thing not only for ourselves but for the other person as well. How good could the relationship have been for the other person if we are constantly judging, sniping, beating a dead horse?
The same concept applies to relatives. There is a simple method for dealing with the truth about how you feel about a relative. Again, take an honest assessment, then ask yourself, "If this was my friend's relative, would I want to be around them?" If the answer is no—well, you get the idea.
With a true friend, related or not, acceptance is the key. But what if you see your friends doing something you know is bad for them? How do you know it's bad? Perhaps it is a part of their life journey, even an essential part. In your attempt to change, control, or alter what they're doing, you may rob them of a life experience that is necessary for their personal growth. Do you think God might have a plan for them that you don't know about, that you can't understand?
Many people will come and go in our lives. Some will stay a short while; others for our lifetime. I believe there is a reason for each relationship, no matter how brief. It may be to pass on a smile, to make an acknowledgment, to let another know he is worthy of our time, our effort. And whatever we give to another—whether it's simply a smile and a hello, or whether we give more time, money, or effort—if we have an agenda, if we expect something back, it's worse than not acknowledging them at all.
It took me many years to figure out what it takes to have a successful love relationship, how to live with someone on a daily basis and still like them. Oh, it's easy to fall in love, but to like someone you live with—that's an art.
The words, "company's coming" can elicit a flurry of activity. We jump in the shower, comb our hair, spiff up the old homestead a bit. When our guests arrive, we're courteous and respectful. We listen when they talk. We don't make demands on them or use foul language. We're happy to bring them a drink, maybe a snack, glad to do it. Why is it that we treat total strangers with more courtesy and respect than those we profess to love?
Before we can have a love relationship with another, we must have a love relationship with ourselves. If we do not believe we are loveable, then we won't believe anyone can love us. No matter what they say, how well they treat us, it won't be enough. Realistically, if you take two people with emotional baggage and put them together, you'll have twice the baggage, twice the problems. Personal problems need to be worked out before the relationship. If we are not happy alone, doubling up won't do it.
"Make me happy" is a big burden to put on another person. It would be like being locked in a room with an upset child and being told we had to keep him happy all day And that's just for one day. Now, imagine doing that for a long period of time.
Once in a relationship, what will carry us through is mutual courtesy and respect. After all, when a waitress brings our food, we say, "Thank you." We throw the word please around in public when we want something. If a guest spilled a drink on the floor, we wouldn't yell and call him "stupid" or "clumsy." When we step in front of someone at the movies, we would excuse ourselves. Believe it or not, those little things can make all the difference in a relationship too.
Respect means treating each other as equals. We all have our own needs, hopes, desires, and goals, and we have the right to pursue them. Others don't have to understand. We shouldn't have to explain constantly why we want to do whatever it is, why we feel the way we do. We simply do, and that should be enough, unless we want to offer more. Wouldn't it be wonderful if, when we didn't want to do something, we could just say no without feeling the need to make excuses or explain ourselves? We can, of course. But can we do it without feeling guilty? If not, we must ask ourselves, Is it better to do something we don't want to do and harbor a resentment that can be compounded each time we do it, or is it better to take a stand and let others take responsibility for their feelings?
Relationships don't have to be complicated. If we want others to accept us the way we are, we should accept them the way they are. If we want others to be considerate, courteous, respectful, that should be our treatment of them as well. We cannot expect anything of another that we are not willing to give ourselves. It's really very simple. Be what you want the other person to be in the relationship. If the other person involved is unable or unwilling to do the same, it may be time to move on. The relationship may have run its course.
From experience, I can tell you that once you discover this simple method, this road to a happy, stress-free relationship, you'll never settle for less again. And when the relationship is honest, and the time comes to part, there will be a knowing that it is time. Sometimes our path hits a fork in the road and we have to go our own way. There may be other people down the road whose lives we need to touch, who need to touch ours, to take us to our destiny. Some can come with us for the entire journey, others for just a little part, and still others for just a brief stop along the way, but when we are truly in touch with ourselves, our God, our destiny, we are able to understand and accept partings.
Excerpted from Simply Happy Every Day by Barb Rogers. Copyright © 2005 Barb Rogers. 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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1 Stop, Look, and Listen
5 Magic Paper
6 On the Road of Life
7 What If?
8 Living Boldly
9 Simply Happy
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