Sunday, February 21, 2016

Hold On Loosely

Back in 1981 I was working full time at a local hardware store and playing in a wedding band on the weekends. I had graduated from college, but had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up -- an issue with which I still seem to struggle from time to time!

In May of that year the southern rock band .38 Special had a top 40 hit with the song Hold On Loosely. Remember the chorus?
Just hold on loosely, but don't let go.
If you cling too tightly you're gonna lose control. 

The band scored another success the following year with Caught Up in You, and continued to tour well into the 2000s. But their signature hits go back to the early 80s -- some 35 years ago -- which makes me feel really old!

I heard the song Hold On Loosely recently and the lyrics got me thinking about how in our relationships the harder we push -- the more resistance we meet. In other words, the more control we try to exert, the less successful the results.

Now far be it from me to extract useful guidance from a rock and roll song that rose only as high as #27 on the pop charts, but I'll go out on a limb here: a lot of problems in our interpersonal relationships arise out of our need to control. Shocking I know, but it's true!

The fact is, more often than not, it's out of fear that we ramp up our need to control -- fear that things will spin wildly out of control if we don't tighten our grip. The reality is that when we recognize that fear and relinquish our need to control, then, and only then, is our stress reduced and our anxiety lessened.

Easier said than done, I know. And there are, indeed, times to step up to the plate and take charge. But they are the exception to the rule. So, in the meantime, take some advice from .38 Special and hold on loosely, but don't let go.

Can you say more about that?

Thursday, March 27, 2014

What, Me Worry?

When I was a kid I loved Mad Magazine. Every month my brothers and I would wait excitedly for the new issue to hit the newsstand so we could dive headfirst into our favorite features like Spy vs. Spy, The Lighter Side of..., and the Mad Fold-In. The front of the magazine, of course, featured freckled-faced coverboy Alfred E. Neuman and his trademark catchphrase, "What, Me Worry?"

The expression aptly describes the care-free and clueless persona of someone without a care in the world who lets life's troubles just roll off his shoulders -- an attitude toward life mirrored years later by singer Bobby McFerrin in his 1988 chart topper Don't Worry, Be Happy, and by Pharrell in the more recent hit Happy, from the movie Despicable Me 2.

Last Thursday, March 20, was the International Day of Happiness. "Never heard of it," you say? Well, I hadn't, either, but it's a day of global celebration established by the United Nations General Assembly in 2012, which, in its resolution establishing the day, states that the pursuit of happiness is a fundamental human goal, and encourages the happiness and the well-being of all peoples. Can't argue with that!

In a recent post on The Positivity Blog entitled, "How to Stop Worrying: 9 Simple Habits," Henrik Edberg offers helpful and practical guidance on how to decrease worry and reach a higher level of happiness and well-being by utilizing, among other strategies, the disciplines of mindfulness and good, basic self-care. It's worth checking out.

Many of us, I  guess, would like to worry less. I know I'd like to! But the reality is it's not always as easy as repeating a McFerrinism like, "Don't worry, be happy," or as simple as adopting a clueless and naive, ignorance-is-bliss attitude as a coping mechanism for maneuvering our way through the obstacles of life. Rather, it requires being honest regarding those things about which we worry -- naming them for what they are, and recognizing when it's realistically within our control to do something about them -- and when it's not.

Say more about that...

Thursday, March 20, 2014

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood!

Today is Fred Rogers birthday! It's also the first day of Spring. And it's a beautiful day in the neighborhood!

I feel a connection with Mr. Rogers because 1) he was a Presbyterian minister, as am I; 2) he was a musician, as am I; and 3) he liked to wear cardigan sweaters and sneakers. Okay, well, two out of three ain't bad!

And even though I was 11 years old (and practically an adult!) in 1968 when the television show Mr. Rogers Neighborhood first aired, I still have fond memories of Mr. McFeely, Queen Sara, and the opening theme song Won't You be My Neighbor. I also remember well Eddie Murphy's parody of the show on Saturday Night Live in the early 80s, which Rogers himself allegedly described as "amusing and affectionate." Murphy's parody was funny stuff, I think, albeit a bit edgy!

In recognition of Rogers birthday, PBS Parents posted the following quote from Mr. Rogers regarding his philosophy about children and sense of self: "You rarely have time for everything you want in this life, so you need to make choices. And hopefully your choices can come from a deep sense of who you are."

As a therapist and counselor, I often work with clients who struggle with low self esteem -- a less-than-positive sense of self based on the perception that who they are as individuals is just not very good. Often these perceptions are the result of past experiences that have left them feeling like they're pretty much worthless and don't have much to offer the world. Conversely, when children are taught to feel good about themselves -- that they have value and deserve to be valued -- they tend to make better choices in life. And so, it follows that if we teach our children to have positive self regard, that goes a long way toward helping them make healthy, positive choices in life. I think Rogers understood that. It was surely reflected in his work.

Rogers made the world special. And you know how? By just being himself.

Can you say more about that? I knew you could...

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Believe in Music

Believe it or not, I owned this record album! That's right. No lie. I really did! The album is Believe in Music from the fine folks at K-Tel. And contrary to what I had heard on television warning me that this album would not be available in stores, I did, indeed, purchase it at a record shop in the local mall.

The title track on this excellent 1973 compilation -- and I'm using the term "excellent" fairly loosely here! -- was I Believe in Music by Mac Davis. The album also included classics like Brandy (You're a Fine Girl) by the Looking Glass, Climax's Precious and Few, and Robert John's version of  The Lion Sleeps Tonight. And come on, you have to admit: it doesn't get much better than that! (Click the link above for a YouTube sampler of the album.)

Mac Davis's song, I Believe in Music, contains the following lyrics:
Music is love, and love is music, if you know what I mean.
People who believe in music are the happiest people I've ever seen.
So clap your hands and stomp your feet and shake your tambourine,
And lift your voices to the sky; tell me what you see.
And okay, so it's not the greatest song ever written (or even close for that matter!), but it does capture well the idea that music can make us feel happy and good -- good enough, in fact, that we want to to clap, and stomp, and shake a tambourine. I can work with that!

A recent article in Science Daily entitled, Trying to Be Happier Works When Listening to Upbeat Music, cites research by Yuna Ferguson, who says, "Our work provides support for what many people already do -- listen to music to improve their moods," In two studies by Ferguson, who performed the study while she was an doctoral student in psychological science, participants who listened to music successfully improved their moods in the short term and boosted their overall happiness over a two week period.

In other words, music can lift our moods. And while I've known that for pretty much all of my life, it's nice to have science back it up, as this study, and countless studies before it, does.

Is music a cure-all for folks who suffer from serious depression? Absolutely not. But for many of us, who find ourselves feeling a little bit down from time to time, a strong dose of some feel-good, up-tempo music is often just what the doctor ordered.

What do you think? Say more about that...

Friday, May 10, 2013

People Talking Without Listening

I was 13 years old  in 1970, the year Simon and Garfunkel released the song Sounds of Silence. I remember sitting down with my friends in our church youth group and having heavy duty "rap" sessions about the symbolism found in the song, dissecting the lyrics line by line in a way that would've made even Paul Simon puke!

It was one of those songs I worked hard to learn so I could play it on the guitar and impress my friends (translation: girls) -- repeatedly practicing the finger-picked minor chord introduction until I had it down just right. (A side note: My mother actually encouraged me to take piano lessons as a boy so, she told me, I would "be popular at parties." Her words, not mine! Of course, she also had me suffer through four years of ballroom dance lessons -- no doubt with a similar goal in mind.)

Anyway, of all the lyrics in the song, the line that particularly stood out to me was "People talking without listening." Even back then as an awkward teenager -- not that all teenagers are awkward, or that I am no longer so! -- I understood that statement to be true. People don't listen well. They didn't back in the 70s, and they still don't now, some 40 years later. We talk a lot, but we don't really listen well at all! Most of the time, while others are talking, we're really just waiting for them to take a break so we can put in our own two cents! Take note of a conversation or two and I think you'll find this to be true.

I've written before about how important listening is to the communication process, and how it's the one component that, unfortunately, gets the least amount of our attention. The bottom line is: we don't listen well. Period. And while that's all well and good if we're just having a casual conversation with friends over dinner, it often spells disaster when we're wanting to have a significant conversation with our partners. Many of the couples I work with cite communication as a "growth area" for their relationship, and I spend a fair amount of time working with couples hoping to improve their communication skills. Suffice it to say, it often takes a significant amount of time and effort.

Why is it that we can hardly wait until the other person stops talking so we can jump in with our own thoughts?  Is it human nature? Self-centeredness? Arrogance? All of the above? Say more about that...

Monday, February 25, 2013

Can Money Buy Happiness?

The Beatles' song Can't Buy Me Love was released in 1964, and at the time I didn't know much about money or love, since I was a just a second grader! And while I'd like to think I've learned a lot about both during the intervening years -- frankly, I'm pretty sure I still don't know much about either one.

Back in 1964, Can't Buy Me Love's meaning was the subject of much debate, with various interpretations being offered, none of which requires the use of too much imagination. But when Paul McCartney was asked what the song was really about, alluding to his new-found fame he allegedly said, "The idea behind [the lyrics] is that all these material possessions are all very well, but they won't buy me what I really want."

So okay, I get it: money can't buy love. But can it buy happiness? Now that's a different question. 

In a recent blog post entitled How Does Your Income Determine Your Well-Being?, therapist Christy Matta says, "As much as income and well-being may be connected, it's important not to give that link too much weight. How you live your life, the values you live by, the pleasures you take in the small moments of your life, your connections to the people important to you and your general outlook all have as much and likely more of an impact on your individual happiness."

In working with clients, I almost always review with them current sources of stress in their lives. Worries about money and finances often come up toward the top of the list, and without a doubt can be a contributing factor to one's overall sense of unhappiness. However, I agree with Matta -- finances are only a part of a much bigger picture, which also includes factors like self-esteem, general positivity, good health, and healthy relationships.

It's been said, "Money can't buy happiness -- but it can make you awfully comfortable while you're being miserable!" What do you think? Say more about that...

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Life Is Good -- Mostly!

Recently I received a “Life Is Good” wheel cover as a gift. And while it looks great on my car, it wasn't long before I realized the responsibility that comes with driving around town making such a public declaration. I mean, really, if you’re driving around telling the world life is good, then you better darn well act like you believe it!

The truth is, like a lot of folks I’m not always in the best of moods while I’m out driving around. I might be running late for work, which I find annoying and frustrating. I may not be feeling well physically, which also has a tendency to dampen my mood. Or (and this is the one that can really get the best of me) maybe some other driver is acting like a total jerk – cutting me off or tailgating me – causing me to shift immediately into road rage mode.

During those times I’m not exactly a poster child for the “Life Is Good” society, no doubt exhibiting a blatant incongruency between my negative mood and the pithy slogan emblazoned across the rear of my car. (Sort of like Christians who drive around with the Ichthys fish stuck to their bumpers, all the while driving like idiots and displaying what some might consider less-than-Christian behavior.) The bottom line is that the wheel cover makes me feel like I need to be happy and positive all the time – at least while I’m driving – and anything less is a failure on my part. 

But, as I often remind my clients, having a positive view of life in general doesn't mean one is always in a good mood or that nothing ever bothers us. Feelings are feelings, and there are often valid and understandable reasons why we feel the way we do. And, the fact of the matter is that it’s okay to get annoyed and frustrated from time to time. It’s okay to feel down from time to time. It’s even okay to lose patience with other drivers from time to time. It’s how we respond to, and cope with, those feelings when they occur that’s important.

I’ll keep the “Life Is Good” wheel cover on my car for now and accept the responsibility that comes with it. And, if you cut me off in traffic, rest assured that the hand gesture I make in return is nothing more than a friendly wave, wishing you a happy and pleasant day.

Thoughts? Say more about that…