Monday, February 25, 2019

Self-Love Isn't Selfish

Are you constantly trying to improve yourself?

Courtesy of National Geographic Kids

Do most of your thoughts revolve around how you can become the ideal person you long to be?
  • You want to be thinner, more fit, more healthy.
  • You want to be prettier, with better skin, better hair, better nails, better boobs.
  • You want your clothes to not only fit and flatter, but also tell the world how stylish you are.
  • You want to be more successful in your career, respected and better paid.
  • At home, you want to be a great cook, a talented decorator, a fun hostess, perfectly organized.
  • You want a better relationship with your partner, full of intimate communication, great sex, and complete equality when it comes to money and chores.
  • You want to be the wisest, most loved and trusted parent, and you want your children to be smart, confident, kind, and successful in every way.

I could go on, but I think you're already nodding in agreement.  In every facet of your life, you want to improve, do more, have more, achieve more.

A desire for self-improvement is both a blessing and a curse.  Many people accomplish great things because of their desire to be better, to be more.  It is a natural human desire to grow, evolve, and thrive.

But this quest can also make you very unhappy.

The desire to be all you can be also fuels discontent.  I know you've felt it, when everything you've already done or acquired isn't enough.  You're always trying to improve yourself, your wardrobe, your job, your home, your marriage, but either you don't succeed or it's never enough.  Even if you achieve one goal, there's always another, larger one to strive for.  And as long as you feel dissatisfied, you can never be happy.

In your head you know perfection isn't possible, but in your heart you measure yourself against an impossible ideal.

Perfection will make you compare yourself unfavorably with others, and keep you searching for things or experiences to compensate for your perceived inadequacies.  You can try to gain significance through
  • clothes
  • jewelry
  • liposuction
  • a new car
  • a remodeled kitchen
  • a diploma from an elite college
  • a promotion and a prestigious title
  • exotic travel

But every one of those items will eventually become background noise, things you don't really notice or appreciate any more, part of what you have to clean, store, insure, repair, work at, or continue to pay for.  Then you'll need something new to bring back that "wow factor."

The quest for perfection will keep you exhausted and stressed as if you are running a never-ending race.  It can make you second-guess every decision and kill your self-esteem, as you continually tell yourself you haven't yet measured up and you probably never will.  You may even decide you don't have much value, so you don't deserve love and respect.

This belief is deadly.

You need to change your self-talk.  It might be difficult to stop criticizing yourself, because you've done it for a long time.  Your habitual thoughts might include "I'm so hopeless...."  I tend to think "I'm too old...too fat...stuck in bad habits...."  Things I wouldn't say aloud to a stranger, let alone someone I cared about.

Stop yourself.  Rephrase.  Self-love isn't selfish, it's motivating and inspiring.

Instead of all-or-nothing perfectionism, say "I'll start small.  It's an experiment.  Just begin.  A mistake can teach me something.  Every step moves me in the right direction.  I'll learn by doing."

Don't worry that by behaving kindly toward yourself you'll somehow become a lump that never accomplishes anything.  Think about the teacher who always pointed out what you had done well, who showed you your potential and praised you for your effort and your abilities.  This person probably acknowledged your mistakes, but forgave you and lovingly steered you in the right direction.  Did that make you more or less inclined to do your best or attempt something new?

When you treat yourself with compassion, you don't need comfort food.  You don't need retail therapy.  You don't need to be a critical snob to feel self respect.  You don't need to be a complaining martyr to get sympathy.  You don't need to run yourself ragged to feel important and necessary.

You are enough.  You do enough.  You have enough.

You don't have to be caught in an unrewarding quest for perfection.  Minimalism can reduce the background noise of clutter in your home and schedule so you can gain clarity about your true wishes.  It can help you focus on the achievements and experiences that are most important to you, while enabling you to let go of things that add clutter and stress and steal your time, money, and attention.

Minimalism is a tool you can use to eliminate the unimportant and maximize what matters.  A minimalist life can help you find lasting satisfaction.

P. S.  Please subscribe to receive Maximum Gratitude Minimal Stuff in your email inbox!  Additionally, use the Contact Form at the bottom of this page, and I'll be happy to send you "100 Items to Declutter for a Simpler Home," bonus content I've created just for subscribers.

Monday, February 18, 2019

One Simple Piece of Relationship Advice

I met my husband 36 years ago this week, and we've been married for nearly 35 years.

Courtesy of Dane Wilson

People are so funny when I share that information.  Sometimes they say, "You don't look old enough to have been married 35 years!"  Haha.  What a very kind lie.  Other times they say, "Wow!  How do you do it?"  I guess they believe we've been perfectly fulfilled and blissful for all of that time.

Here's the marriage is perfectly fulfilling and blissful all of the time.  Every marriage has rough patches, and some of those patches are pretty big.

In fact, for the last few years, my husband and I have had a pretty intense "no go" area in the middle of our relationship.  This is an important issue we just haven't been able to resolve.  The best we've been able to do is to call a truce and accept our strongly held differences.  I believe that our commitment to each other is strong enough to allow this basic dissonance to persist.

In spite of that, my husband remains the most important person in my life.  I adore my children, but I couldn't imagine life without their father.  He is my rock, and I hope he feels the same about me.  We know each other and trust each other more than anyone else.

One thing makes a big difference in the quality of our day-to-day life together.  When I make the effort to treat him the way I did when we were first in love, he quickly responds by treating me with more love and thoughtfulness.

Sometimes we expect so much from our partners that they can never please us.  I'm guilty of that.  But I don't have those expectations of other people!  I know that no one is perfect, and I usually have patience with that.  But I admit that my good humor doesn't always extend to my significant other.

Why is it that we so often show more kindness and forbearance with people outside of our marriage (for example:  being patient when your boss is being wordy, or readily forgiving the person who makes a mistake and says "sorry" rather than holding a grudge)?  Is it because we take the love of our spouse for granted, and realize that we have to earn the respect and esteem of others?

It's true that we should be able to relax with our loved ones, confident that they care for us.  But when we take that for granted, we belittle them and act as if their presence in our life has no value.

Yes, both partners in a relationship have an equal responsibility to make that relationship work.  In a perfect world, there would be a balance of give and take, and we would all feel that our needs were being met all of the time.

But this is the real world!  And keeping score will always make us feel slighted.  Then we pout or fuss or otherwise withhold love.  This insures that no one is happy.

Marriage is not a 50-50 proposition.  It's a 100% proposition for both people.

Each person must give his or her best.  It's so easy to say, "Why should I bother?  He's just going to do that same thing to annoy me again!"  It's so easy to feel self righteous and say "He's not doing his part; why should I do mine?"

It comes down to the Golden Rule, and it's just sad that we might apply that more consistently to other people than we do to our spouses.

So maybe my complaining has become his background noise.  How can I really get his attention?  I can blow his socks off by showing a cheerful, loving attitude with no hint of a whine.  Even if I don't particularly feel like it, I can act as if I'm happy and blessed to be with him.  And guess what?  His positive response is going to reinforce my good attitude, making it stronger and more genuine.

A better marriage starts with you.

Isn't that empowering?  You hold the answer, and it starts with your attitude.  If you allow stress, anger, and self-pity to build up, you're not taking good care of yourself.  So do this for you.  When you set an example of love, he will notice, and it will set the tone for your entire relationship.

P. S.  Please subscribe to receive Maximum Gratitude Minimal Stuff in your email inbox!  Additionally, use the Contact Form at the bottom of this page, and I'll be happy to send you "100 Items to Declutter for a Simpler Home," bonus content I've created just for subscribers.


Monday, February 11, 2019

Love Every Day

Photo by Jesse Goll on Unsplash

How many diamond ads have you seen in the last few weeks?  How about perfume ads?  Flowers?  Chocolate?  Ads for special couples' deals at restaurants and boutique hotels?

Valentine's Day is the third largest shopping occasion of the year.  This amounts to nearly $20 billion in spending for the holiday, including gifts for pets, which account for almost $700 million.  Valentine's Day is too huge for marketers to ignore -- it's like Black Friday for florists, chocolatiers, and jewelers.

Valentine's Day is meant to be a time to connect with family and friends in a way that shows love and commitment.  Never mind that we should really be trying to show our loved ones that they are loved every day of the year.  Our culture has made Valentine's Day the heavy hitter, the one day we dare not fail to impress.

I am not saying we shouldn't give gifts to our loved ones.  A thoughtfully chosen gift is one way to show you care about someone.  But it's only one possible way to express love.  If we subscribe to the theory that there are five Love Languages, then we might consider that a focus on gift-giving causes us to undervalue the other four.  In fact, maybe we shop more and amass too much stuff because we're trying (unsuccessfully) to fill that gap.

But actions speak louder than words, and they speak louder than gifts, too.

This Valentine's Day, why don't we spend some time and energy on the other possibilities for showing love?

  1. Acts of service (doing chores for another, noticing a need and meeting it without being asked, dropping a grudge and making the first move toward resolving a dispute, etc.)
  2. Words of affirmation (sincere compliments, saying "I love you" and "Thank you," giving encouragement, speaking positively instead of complaining, etc.)
  3. Quality time (focused and uninterrupted attention, listening without thinking about something else, shared activities, etc.)
  4. Physical touch (hugs, kisses, hand holding, pats, fist bumps, neck rubs, etc.)

I enjoy receiving a few chocolate hearts, or a beautiful greeting card, or one perfect rose.  But I adore having my husband's undivided attention or some help with household chores, some acupressure from my massage therapist son, a long phone call from my daughter, and smiles and hugs from my grandson.  Those are gifts for any day, not just a specially designated holiday.

May you love and be loved, today and every day.

Monday, February 4, 2019

The Limits of Friendship

Genuine Relationships Always Make You Happier.

The 21st century is an amazing era of communication.  I remember my grandmother's party line, and having to wait for someone else to finish their phone conversation before you could make your call.  I remember when my boyfriend and I ran up a bill of over $200 one month calling each other long distance (this was more than 35 years ago, when $200 paid my car payment AND gas for the month).  I remember lots of snail mail letters, which were nice to receive then and are practically miraculous today.

Now we can call anywhere, anytime, for a fairly reasonable monthly fee.  We can email or text or post pictures and comments on social media and get nearly instant responses.  Communication is easier, faster, and cheaper than ever.  But what if we're actually becoming more disconnected by connecting with hundreds, even thousands of others?

I realize I'm giving away my age.

I remember the days before the World Wide Web.  For a while when we were first married, my husband and I lived without a telephone (we didn't have the installation fee).  In our free time, we hung out with real people.  We would physically get together with friends and have dinner, play board games, sing in a choir, and go on hikes and other adventures in the mountains west of Denver.

How many people are you truly connected to?  I'm not talking about friends and followers on social media.  I'm talking about true emotional connections.

If you do a little research about friendships and emotional connections, you'll discover that while human beings might have between 100 and 200 casual friends or acquaintances, they'll have about fifteen friends they turn to for sympathy or help, and only about five people (usually close family members and spouses) they will trust with anything and everything.

You might have 283 Facebook friends, but they're really acquaintances, many of whom you wouldn't recognize on the street.  You might have over 1000 Twitter followers, but they're almost all emotionally disconnected strangers.

Turns out that trust requires touch.

In the same way a baby bonds with the mother who feeds and cares for him, even a pat on the shoulder creates warmth and connection between two people.  Shared experiences also deepen connection.  This isn't the same as sharing or liking the same cat video.  It requires proximity:  watching the same movie in the same room, for example, laughing and crying together.  Think about it.  This is how you made your best friends in high school and college, by going to classes, studying, dancing, eating, playing sports, even complaining about teachers together.

Humans aren't born with full social awareness.  As we grow up and spend time with people, we have to learn how to interact, how to compromise, how to negotiate, how to understand someone else's point of view.  It takes years to acquire those skills, and if we (and our kids) do most social interacting online, we may just pull the plug when we disagree with someone.  This will definitely make finding true intimacy much harder.

Additionally, too much time spent on social media might steal time away from family and friends that you used to connect with more intimately.  If you're too busy liking and commenting and otherwise interacting with an online network, you have less time and energy to enhance emotional bonds with those closest to you.

You might actually be stunting true friendship.

Can minimalism help?

As always, less is more.  If you want to feel closer to your friends, spend less time on social media.  Less time sharing and liking means more time for real intimacy and connection.

Rather than trying to increase the number of your online friends, do what you did in school:  spend time communicating face to face.
  • Connect with your family at the dinner table, go for a bike ride, play in the snow, or watch a movie together.  
  • Go on a date with your spouse, and turn off text and email alerts (your babysitter can still call if there's an actual emergency).  
  • Meet a friend for coffee or yoga.  Spend time with friends in a choir or at church, go to a concert together, or volunteer together at the local animal shelter or food pantry.
  • If you have a friend who lives far from you, make time for personal communication via Skype, phone calls, email, or snail mail.  Don't just like their stuff on Facebook if you want to maintain your connection.

Make a promise to yourself to focus on physical and emotional connections instead of numbers on a computer program.  Genuine relationships will always make you happier.

Friday, February 1, 2019

A New Love

Introducing my newest grandson, Damien!

Courtesy of Elizabeth H.

Babies epitomize maximum gratitude and minimal stuff.  They come to us with nothing but themselves, yet we are thrilled to welcome them.

My daughter is well, despite some last minute complications.  My son-in-law continues to be a kind and supportive husband and father, and my favorite little boy, my grandson Elliot, is excited to be Damien's big brother.  Love seems to fill all our hearts and overflow with thanksgiving for the new member of our family.

And Damien himself is satisfied with so little.  Mama's milk, a clean diaper, a warm blanket, enfolding arms.

Along with his car seat, a cradle, onesies, swaddling cloths, booties, a cap for his head, and maybe a baby tub and some diaper cream, his basic needs will be met for the first few months.  Just add smiling faces, quiet words and songs, cuddling and kisses, and you've covered the essentials!