Friday, July 25, 2014

How to Put More HAPPY in Your Life

Casual observations by an ordinary girl. This was originally published as a series of Facebook posts.

How to Put More HAPPY in Your Life, Part 1: VOLUNTEER. That's right--work somewhere for free. Think of a cause that really matters to you, maybe it's animals--visit your local Humane Society and see what you can do to help. Pet the kitties, walk the dogs, become a pet foster family or rescue home for your favorite breed. Are you fond of elderly people? Check with your local Senior Center or Veteran's Home. Maybe you can spend a few hours a week playing chess with a lonely person, help write a letter, read a book. Do you love babies? Every single church in town would jump for joy if you volunteered for the nursery once a month. Do you have a special skill or hobby that you could share with children? Talk to someone with Community Ed and see if you can teach a class, or volunteer in an elementary class and read to/listen to budding readers. Volunteers are needed to weed city flower beds, help out at the hospital, take meals to shut-ins. Check with the library or nursing homes about reading to the blind. Sign up to teach Sunday school or lead a cub scout troop. Help make birdhouses or pull invasive weeds at Prairie Wetlands. Make plans to go on your church's next short-term missions trip instead of merely writing a check. Every single one of us has gifts and talents that we can share with others. And we all have far more to give than we realize. I am totally convinced that our personal levels of happiness are directly proportionate to how much we do for and consider others. Think about it--what do you have to give? Verse for the day is Philippians 2:3-4: "Don't act out of selfish ambition or be conceited. Instead, humbly think of others as being better than yourselves. Don't be concerned only about your own interests, but also be concerned about the interests of others."

How to Put More HAPPY in Your Life, Part 2: Love your job. Okay, more realistically find the parts you can love and love em' hard. It's important to consider a few key points before you dismiss what I'm saying. You're right, I don't know your boss, I don't know your situation. But I am happy to announce that the days of slavery in this country are over. Whatever excuses you may make, you don't have to stay in a job that is making you miserable. So first, let us establish that you're in your job because you CHOOSE to be. This is huge. The ability to work is a gift. Don't spend 40+ hours of your week waiting for it to be over. Second, most jobs involve some type of service whether you are bagging groceries or prosecuting criminals, or healing the sick. Take a real look at the people you are helping. You have the power to brighten their day and make their load a little bit lighter. How about your coworkers--do you realize you have the ability to make your workplace better? Bake some brownies or pick up donuts for the workroom. Use words to encourage and praise the people you work with. Do a little EXTRA, more than you are asked, of whatever you are required, Third, know that all work has dignity and worth. You could be changing diapers and wiping running noses, or you could be climbing ladders to repair wind towers. Know that you are contributing to parts of a whole and you are divinely positioned to touch lives no one else will. Finally, remember who your real Boss is: "Work with enthusiasm, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people." Ephesians 6:7

How to Put More HAPPY in Your Life, Part 3: Commit random acts of kindness. I promise this is an instant day brightener both to YOU and the person to whom you show kindness. I have seen friends who are so creative with this. One friend made a double meal once a week. Her family ate one meal and the other was given away--not necessarily to someone who was ill or had just had a baby--but to any friend she thought could just use the treat of not having to make dinner. I've seen people who pay restaurant bills for strangers, or pay for the person behind them at coffee shop windows. I have another friend who has a good deed she does once a year: She takes a day off work and sits in a parking lot with a twenty dollar bill until she sees a person she feels prompted to give it to. Sometimes this ritual is over in minutes, sometimes she waits hours. But every single time, she's gone away excited about being able to be good to someone. Just yesterday, I read about a friend whose little boy saw a homeless man out the window of a restaurant. He wrapped up his entire untouched meal and brought it out to the man and gave it to him and prayed for him. Random acts of kindness are contagious. Kindness begets kindness. Will you join me today in looking around for people to bless? Verse for the day: Proverbs 3:27, "Do not withhold good from those who need it, when you have the ability to help. :

How to Put More HAPPY in Your Life, Part 4: Slow Down. I am sad that society has taught us that to relax is bad. It is not enough that we get a To Do List and do tasks, we are applauded when we MULTI-task. WITH a cell phone in our hands, WHILE real humans are talking to us and/or hanging off our legs. Does anyone else see the insanity here? Our children are learning from us: It is never okay to be still. To wait in a grocery line is unthinkable. Traffic is to be cursed. People who text us are the most important people in the world and must be answered immediately--even if we are driving. Why are we so harried? Why have we forgotten how to relax? We overbook and double book ourselves on our calendars and smart phones. There is a "plan" from the minute we get up in the morning until we fall into bed at night. There is no room for play, no room for interruptions, no room to think and BE. Let's be honest and admit--this is the treadmill we run on. Yet Jesus praises Mary for choosing the best thing. He implores us to consider the flowers and the birds that God cares for and reminds us how much more valuable we are than they! It isn't possible for every day to be a weekend or a vacation. There may be things you can cross off your To Do List, but often such restfulness and peace must begin in our heads. Slow down your thoughts. Breathe. Notice. BE. Verse for the day: Psalm 46:10, "Be still and know that I am God..."

How to Put More HAPPY in Your Life, Part 5: SIMPLIFY. This applies to each and every aspect of our lives. We need to cut back, pare down, and reduce excess. We all just have too much STUFF, too many things that weigh us down. We are bursting at the seams with possessions and slaves to our own schedules. Who can stop this madness? Who can save me from myself?! I learned something valuable in my early twenties as Ron and I spent several months living in a 24 ft camper in Florida with two little girls. We had very little and what we did had to be organized and fit into small, limited spaces. But I discovered it was surprisingly easy to keep our "home" clean because we had to! I have also noticed another phenomenon each time we have moved to a new house: (And these moves have been plentiful.) Before we would move, we purged our possessions mercilessly to cut down on having to lug so much around. I'd set up the new place with the basics as quickly as possible and oh, how I loved the lack of clutter those first couple weeks! Then I would remember the garage/basement/storage spaces where the REST of our belongings waited to be unpacked and I would lament, "WHY do we have all that STUFF when we are living right now with ALL WE NEED!" I am a far cry from an episode of "Hoarders" but I still have closets and drawers, cabinets and bins FULL of stuff I never use. Now let's talk about our messy lives. This one is harder. If there is one thing that I struggle with (and there are many) the worst is moderation. But why is that? When is enough enough: Enough sleep, enough to eat, enough "me" time, enough computer/TV time, enough shopping? What am I really saying with all these gluttonies? That I don't know how to tell myself "no?" That I don't trust God to provide the things I really need? Think about how this might apply to you and what you can you do to streamline your life. Think about your house, your vehicles, your busyness, your kids' activities. Let's take a good look at our lives and simplify as an act of faith! Verses for the day: "“So I tell you to stop worrying about what you will eat, drink, or wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds. They don’t plant, harvest, or gather the harvest into barns. Yet, your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth more than they? Can any of you add a single hour to your life by worrying? And why worry about clothes? Notice how the flowers grow in the field. They never work or spin yarn for clothes. But I say that not even Solomon in all his majesty was dressed like one of these flowers. That’s the way God clothes the grass in the field. Today it’s alive, and tomorrow it’s thrown into an incinerator. So how much more will he clothe you people who have so little faith?" Matthew 6:25-30

How to Put More HAPPY in Your Life, Part 6: KEEP IT POSITIVE! In my life I have known people who thought they had the Ministry of Correction and/or the Gift of Criticism. I have avoided these people like the plague and vowed to root out these weeds in my own life whenever they popped up. It does not take genius to find fault. Sarcasm is the cheapest kind of humor. Don't be the person who gets laughs at the expense of someone else. It is lower nature to point out flaws. Train yourself to look for the positive. Start small. Tell yourself, "It is good to wait in traffic so I can finish this radio program I'm listening to." Later you can work up to bigger things like, "At least the tree fell on the car and not the house!" It's not about having a Doris Day, "Que Sera, Sera" attitude. It's about REFRAMING your situation. It can pretty much always be worse. Look for the silver lining. You be the patient, cheerful person in a roomful of grumps. Learn to use humor when you face challenges. Do you think God gets all worked up when things seem crazy? Is he ever worried or fearful or intimidated? I love the story of David's confidence before the giant Goliath, how he RUNS toward his enemy armed with just a sling and stone as the rest of the army shakes in their armor. And of Caleb who silences the Israelites saying, "We are well able to conquer the land," when everyone around him was trembling in fear. We serve a BIG GOD who has made us more than conquerors. Why would we shrink back and wallow in insecurity? Verse for the day: Ephesians 3:20 "Glory belongs to God, whose power is at work in us. By this power he can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine." Partnered with God? We got this!

How to Put More HAPPY in Your Life, Part 7: COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS. One parenting tool we used when a couple of our kids were younger and feeling especially ungrateful was to assign them the task of going to their rooms and staying there until they could come out with a long list of things they were thankful for. I wished we had used that exercise more often, and not just as a punishment. Thankfulness does not come naturally wired into our little hearts. It is the first phrase we teach our children and remind them to use it for at least a decade or two. "Say THANK YOU...: we prompt, hoping the child eventually learns to say it on their own. The best way to teach thankfulness is to model it, so friends---sharpen those pencils and make your list. If you're having a hard time starting, write "I am thankful I have breath" and work from there. Thankful people are HAPPY people. And the good news is thankfulness is a skill we can learn because, as I said, we are not born full of gratitude. We all have to learn. Saying THANK YOU is, by nature, an act of humility. We are acknowledging that we don't have all we need in ourselves--that we depend on others to provide for us what we can't provide for ourselves. So sometimes, it is hard to say. But being thankful and giving thanks is probably the greatest key to happiness. What do you have to be thankful for today? Verse, 1 Thessalonians 5:18: "Whatever happens, give thanks, because it is God's will in Christ Jesus that you do this."

How to Put More HAPPY in Your Life, Part 8: LIGHTEN UP. That's right, LAUGH. No one else takes you as seriously as you do. I remember a day when my kids were small. I left the oldest, who around 12, in charge of siblings who were 3 and 5 while I walked two blocks in our small town to get the mail. Before I left, I loaded the dishwasher and added a free sample of dish soap that someone had given me and pushed start. When I came home a half hour later, it was to the sight of two children sliding through soap bubbles six inches deep on the kitchen floor. Foam was still oozing out the sides of the dishwasher and they were bubbling over with laughter. I had not realized there was a difference between dishwasher soap and dish soap and all I could see was a huge mess. I am quite certain there was a good deal of shouting and anger that day, though I laugh now and wish I had reacted differently--joined them in a suds-fight and taken pictures. What's happening in your life today that you might laugh about in ten years? Why not laugh now? Remember what I said the other day about "re-framing?" Listen to what you tell yourself when things do not go as planned. Be careful not to awful-ize everything. Learn to laugh at yourself. Others already are. Join them. Be quick to point out the silliness of your own thinking, the humor in the unexpected. Very few things are really as big of a deal as you think. Verse for the day, Proverbs 17:22: "A joyful heart is good medicine, but depression drains one's strength."

How to Put More HAPPY in Your Life, Part 9: Forgive your parents. I wish that God gave children to mature, confident people who have their lives together, but he doesn't. Children come to young people with issues. These young people may or may not be finished with school and undecided about their futures. They may be struggling to find a career path, barely living from paycheck to paycheck. There might be tension in their marriage, arguing about the budget and spending, about in-laws, friends. They may be battling chronic illness or addictions. Maybe they never observed good parenting modeled as children and don't have a clue what to do with that role themselves. To small children, parents are all-knowing, all-powerful deities. But as kids get older, their parents' feet of clay are revealed. Here is where comparisons/judgments begin. The parents, now much older, may look nothing like the baby-faced, fledglings they once were and they become easy targets for enlightened offspring. Adulthood is the time to apply grace. If your parents let you down, if they weren't all that you needed them to be, get over it. Let go of the hurts and disappointments of the past and learn to see your parents through new eyes. You are a Big Girl/Boy now. Take responsibility for your own life and parenting experience without blaming generations before you. Then cross your fingers and hope that your children will one day extend the same grace they see you showing now. Verses for the day, Ephesians 6:2-3. “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise—“so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”

How to Put More HAPPY in Your Life, Part 10: CREATE FUN. Dig deep and find the child within--invite her out to play more often. If you have forgotten how to play, spend some time with children and they will remind you. A few days ago, my teenage daughter texted me to see if I had any ideas for what to do on a dreary, rainy day with the two little girls she was babysitting. I noted that there was no thunder or lightning and suggested, "Put them in their swimsuits and rain boots and take them out to play in puddles." She did, and the girls declared it "the best day EVER." Fun can be had anywhere, if you just use a little imagination. Waiting can be awful, or it can be a game. A dear friend of mine has two boys with chronic health issues that necessitate frequent long days of medical testing and procedures. But she never ceases to find JOY in those days with her sons. They wear fun hats, stay at hotels, play games, take pictures as though they are on vacation. If someone can make being SICK look like fun, what is your excuse? Another friend likes to use any event as a reason to celebrate--first day back at school, last day of school, lost tooth, found library books--you get the idea. You can bring out the good dishes and candles for a passing grade in algebra, a new driving permit, a whole week of no nail-biting. Make chores a game--a contest with silly prizes--and watch the eyes of your littles light up. Life does not have to be a drudgery. Look for ways to PLAY and watch your Happy Meter rise! Verse for the day, Psalm 100:2. "Serve the Lord cheerfully. Come into his presence with a joyful song."

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