"I Don’t Like To Complain"

Photo credit: nzks

I read a lot about positivity, and training your mind to see the brighter aspect of any situation. But when I get down, I do not have a lot of experience with realistic evaluation of experiences. I tend to see any experience as either good or bad, as my fault if it is negative, and in spite of me if it is positive. I absorbed a futilistic mind set from childhood, without my family’s or my realization it was happening. So when I do finally give up and embrace the depressing side of a problem, I go overboard. I throw out any good things as I focus on the bad–no one called me today, I lost income, I made a mistake, something bad is happening to someone I love and I can’t help it, there are good things I want to do, but x, y, or z stands in the way. It’s all hopeless, and I should just eat worms and die.


When I keep my pain locked away in myself, a stray negative thought can blossom into a full depression hurricane, where I denigrate my accomplishments, ignore happy things around me, and sacrifice my energy and health in bouts of crying, anger, and blaming those around me for perceived slights. Why don’t I reach out to someone else in these bad times? “I don’t like to complain.” “I don’t want to be negative.” “If other people knew I had this problem, I would be lessened in their eyes.”


Recently I tried to encourage a friend who was down. In a feat of tremendous hyprocrisy, I urged him to confide his problems in others, to “get the pain out.” And he used my line. “I don’t like to complain.” As often happens, being of the receiving end of my words opened my eyes to a new viewpoint.


Why is it helpful to share our burdens with each other? If I am sad, and I tell you I am sad and why, won’t I just make you sad, too? Sometimes, yes. I have heard conversations where two people get together and focus on all the bad in themselves and in the world. The conversation often becomes cruel, cyncial, and cutting. I get depressed hearing it second-hand, and the people involved do not seem uplifted at all while they are together. But I don’t usually have such conversations. When I share a problem with a friend, my friends react differently. I have been blessed with proactive friends who help me turn problems around.


How do these wonderful people help me? They are first caring, then try to help me see the problem realistically, and then we try to solve it together.

  • Caring. Letting someone know your dark places or failures is scary stuff. In a society built on projecting a positive, successful, happy persona, admitting that you ate a box of cookies and spent the day hiding from people because conversation was too taxing is an exercise in vulnerability–and is not something you find recommended in a Tony Robbins seminar. But everyone has down times. Grief and sadness are natural stages in life. They can come on from events big or small, from events such as death or illness bringing loss into our lives, or when our current situation is not where we want to be, or we hit one too many red lights on the way to work on a rainy day. The brooding nature of sadness can, when expressed and used correctly, give us time to look at problems, see what we want or need to change, and move toward a happier future. But most of us need someone to accept us at our saddest in order to properly process our emotions and reach that proactive stage. Being a friend who can say “I am so sorry you are dealing with this problem! Tell me about it,” gives the troubled person room to feel their emotions and begin the job of working through to a better state.

  • See the Problem Realistically. For me, this is the stage I need a trusted friend to accomplish. When I face a problem, it is all I can see. Only the bad sides of the equation. I don’t see opportunities, I don’t see my skills I bring to solving it, I don’t see any of my past successes or the support networks I have all around me. I see a problem–big and scary and proof, in my eyes, of my utter incompetence and lack of worth. My husband and my friends are lifesavers in these moments. I trust them to honestly assess a problem with me, and help me put it in perspective in the larger mosaic of my life. They are the ones to remind me of past successes, of the power of faith, of the good things that can come from the current challenge, and that even if I do fail to solve this problem, I am still loved and worthwhile. This help is the hardest to be without, and the step I close off the most severely when I refuse to share my burden with someone I can trust.

  • Solving the Problem. This step, which seems so crucial when I am bewailing my predicament, is actually the least important. Most problems get solved. Mostly by doing things I already know how to do. For the rare times I need help–either in the form of practical help or simply expert advice, my support group of friends, family, and experts I trust will usually get me on track quickly. I am still surprised at how simple solutions can be, especially after I’ve spent weeks obsessing over a situation. Often one conversation, or mentioning one need that is overwhelming to me, will result in just the right advice, or someone having a spare whatsit that they want to be rid of that is exactly what I need. Problem solving, while crucial to life, is much less difficult than letting someone care and help you put your problem into perspective.

So why do we constantly hoard our problems when sharing them helps us and allows our friends to see into our lives in ways that strengthen our relationships? Why must pride and a desire to appear invincible rather than vulnerable make us suffer alone? Think about how good it feels to help someone else, and especially how good it feels to be trusted with someone’s tender, scary places. Why not give that gift to the friend you value the most? Chances are good he or she will help you solve your problem, you’ll feel better, and your friend will feel valued and useful. Share a problem today!

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The Dirty Little Secret. . .

photo credit SheCat

Life is messy. It rarely works right, and most things you try will go wrong the first time. Learning something new is frustrating, and skills take time to develop. People will disappoint you–repeatedly. Sadness is a part of existence, and happy times will not last forever.

Ok, go out and enjoy life!

No? Ok, then let’s say a little more. I am a self-help junkie. I have been about self-improvement since I was little. Somehow, I missed the memo that says people don’t start out perfect at anything. I got discouraged and quit when I did not show instant talent for music, sports, and the world of fashion. I avoided things that I didn’t immediately master, and missed out on a lot of fun and useful skills and experiences. 

The books I read were very linear. Their format: 

  • This is how horrible my life used to be.
  • I tried XYZ Strategy.
  • After a short amount of work, things got better.
  • Now I’m a millionaire/in amazing health/smarter than you, etc.

I read these books as completely factual accounts of the author’s struggles. It never occurred to me that no one falls once, gets up, and walks on with nary another problem. So I would try XYZ Strategy, and when it didn’t work, I felt that I had failed.

As I grow (relentlessly) older, I have hit snags. I believe marriage is for life, so when I hit walls in my relationship with my husband, I had to roll up my sleeves and learn to get along with another human being. When my health would not improve with my quick-fix changes, I had to begin a slow process of changing everything–how I thought, what I ate, my activities, and my expectations. 

Finally, I realized the truth that some people are blessed to see in their youth: life is hard, but well worth it. All those points in that first paragraph are true. There are a lot of things that will hurt you, disappoint you, and make you cry in the average life. 

But there are also daily miracles of shining suns, arching rainbows, babies’ cries, and making slow but steady progress on your own goals. People will disappoint you, but they will also surprise you, touch you, and humble you with their love, devotion, and kindness. A soothing touch, a small gift, a small but heroic deed. 

You may not succeed at everything, but the things you struggle with will yield a sweet sense of accomplishment when you do conquer them, and will build resilience when you do not.

Accept that most things in life take work. In an interview with Mary Elizabeth Williams at Salon.comBrene Brown, author of Daring Greatly, talks about the importance of struggle in becoming a hopeful person:
 
Yes. I’ve seen again and again that hope is a function of struggle. People of high levels of hopefulness are very often people with deep experiences of adversity. Yet we see people doing things we admire and think, “I could never do that.” But most of us haven’t seen all the falls and scrapes and bruises it takes to get there.”

No one told me how the bitter times in life make us who we are, and give us the ability to appreciate the sweet things. Never despair in your struggles–they may just open your mind and heart to something wonderful!

Smiling Really Can Make You Happy!

Photo Credit: Anissat

One of my favorite new books is Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking (affiliate link). It describes the many ways that our brains process information unconsciously, and how we make decisions based on those processes. One of the sources of this subconscious information is the arsenal of microexpressions we translate from other’s faces. In the book, Malcolm Gladwell highlights the work of Paul Eckman and Wallace Friesen, two researchers who have mapped out The Facial Action Coding System, a system to codify microexpressions by describing the muscle movements that accompany each emotional expression. To create these “maps,” they practiced making the faces for joy, exhilaration  anger, sadness, etc., in front of mirrors and in front of each other. To their surprise, they found their emotional state was affected by what faces they spent the day making. On days they worked on anger or other less pleasant emotions, they felt angry, depressed, or other unpleasant feelings. On happier expression days, they felt uplifted.

So what’s our takeaway? Even if you feel rotten, smile. Laugh, even if nothing is particularly funny (but don’t laugh maniacally in front of others–no sense taking an unnecessary trip to the psychiatric hospital!). Your body responds to the physical movements of emotion much as it responds to the conscious emotion itself. Happiness has definite positive chemical effects on the body–why not take advantage of them? 
I’m not advising avoiding unpleasant emotion at all costs. You need to process anger, grief, and hurt. Pretending not to feel these major emotions will cause them to build up in you and you’ll find yourself irritable or depressed. The emotion will come out somehow. But everyone has days that are just “blah.” When you are bored, or cranky, or tired. On those days, making the conscious decision to smile anyway will make a rough day more pleasant, for you and those around you.

Do you have any tricks to improve your mood on glum days? Please share in the comments!