Archives for July, 2012


I’ll Never Be Buff (But I Can Be Happy)

You’re only one workout away from a good mood.

The trouble with working out, a friend grumbled, is the lack of immediate gratification.

I understand that. But that also depends on what you’re going for.

If you exercise to look good, then yeah. No immediate gratification there. In fact, depending on how hard you work, you may or may not ever be gratified. You have to put some real work into your workout to change your appearance.

Sometimes I put real work into my workout for a few weeks and see small physical changes. (Is that a bicep muscle or just a shadow?) Sometimes I don’t feel like working that hard and ratchet back to low-maintenance workouts.

But even sissy little workouts provide immediate gratification that has hooked me on exercise: I feel so damn good when I’m done. Guaranteed. And that’s enough to get me going on low-motivation days. (Usually. Not always. I’m only human.)

Thinking about long-range gratification is kind of useless. There’s so much we can’t control each and every day, how can we hope to control results in the distant future? That’s crazy talk.
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Happiness Is Dull

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. – Leo Tolstoy

What do you think…true or false?

Believe me, I am not out to dis Tolstoy. Anna Karenina is one of my all-time favorite books and I reread it every few years.

But this famous quote…I don’t know. I’m not sure I buy it. To say that all happy families are alike is to say that all families are alike and goodness knows that’s not true.

Today, of course, “family” varies widely: two-parent families, single-parent families, same-sex couple families, families created from the detritus of broken families. But even in Tolstoy’s day all families weren’t alike. Some families were wealthy, some were dirt poor. Some included one child, some included 12. Some families were happy despite hardship, some were happy in luxury.

I guess what bums me out about this quote is the way it seems to trivialize happiness. Happy, shmappy—only unhappy is really interesting.
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Dr. Phil Makes Sense Sometimes, She Conceded Grudgingly

How's that working for you? -- Dr. Phil McGraw

I’m no fan of Dr. Phil, the TV psychologist that Oprah unleashed on the world. I kinda liked him at one point. Then I wrote a book about him and learned too much. Now I think he’s a blowhard with squishy ethics. And most of the people I talked to made him sound like a pretty unpleasant guy.

But even the people who loathe Dr. Phil conceded one thing: He’s smart. Really, really smart. And to my mind, his trademark sentence—“How’s that workin’ for you?”—is the smartest thing he says.

This is sort of a corollary quote to the famous saying (often attributed to Albert Einstein but nobody is sure), “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”
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Want to Accomplish Nothing? Wait For Inspiration

You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club. -- Jack London

Violent imagery, perhaps, but consider the source. Still, it’s the kind of kick in the pants that anyone who aspires to creativity needs.

Not that you want to drag your inspiration in bruised and bleeding. A fine mess that would make when you try to turn it into something of beauty. Trying to pound a half-baked idea into something substantive rarely works.

One thing I tell people who think they want to write a book: You better be damn sure that you are genuinely interested in the idea, because you will be spending a lot of time with it. If you have an idea that interests you only insofar as you think it will make you money, there’s a mighty good chance you’ll run out of steam at the long, grueling stretch in the middle.

Inspiration can’t be forced, but it sometimes does need to be chased and tamed—maybe not with a club but perhaps with a Nerf bat.

But first, you need to figure out where your best inspiration hunting is.
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In Defense of Denial

Live by the harmless untruths that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy. -- Kurt Vonnegut.
Ah yes, the little white lie. I'm all for it. You're haircut looks great! The party was a blast! No, I don't mind doing you a favor at all!

Life is indeed nicer with harmless untruths like those.

But this quote also makes an argument for what I think of as benign denial.

I grew up in a family mired in unhealthy denial, which convinced me that denial must be avoided at all costs. Denial can be a terrible problem. It keeps people in unhealthy relationships, reassures them that lung cancer only happens to other people, causes financial ruin, and all kinds of other bad things.

But  there are other kinds of denial that are no big deal.
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Pithy Quotes Smackdown: Carl Jung vs. Hermann Hesse

Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves. -- Carl Jung

If you hate a person, you hate something in him that is part of yourself. What isn’t part of ourselves doesn’t disturb us. -- Hermann Hesse

So. Here are two variations on a theme. They might seem to be saying the same thing, but are they? Not quite.

Hesse is saying that which you hate is part of what you are. If you hate someone for being lacking in compassion, it is because you lack compassion yourself.

Hmmm. Ya think?
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You Can’t Control Life, All You Can Do Is Hang On For The Ride

Ride the life ride.

I googled this and didn’t find it anywhere, so I am taking credit because I think it often and say it sometimes. Ride the life ride—sometimes that’s all you can do.

Being introspective tends to make me think that as long as I understand something, I have the power to change it. Or that if I think hard enough, I’ll be able to see the future. Or bend it to my will. Or even see what the right course to take is.

Yeah, if only.

Life is awfully complicated and it involves a million unknowns and other people and curveballs and screwballs and windfalls and tragedies and unpredictable matters of the heart and all sorts of messy, uncontrollable things.

Sometimes life gets so complicated, even thinking until smoke comes out your ears can’t sort it out.

That’s when it’s time to just ride the life ride.

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Taking Comfort Wherever You Find It

As long as you derive inner help and comfort from anything, keep it.

--Mahatma Gandhi

The good life is just the process of figuring out what brings you inner help and comfort, and living your life around those things, places, people, activities, etc.

Research finds that people get happier as we get older. Very likely this is because over time, we figure out what brings us inner help and comfort and stick with those things.

Seems like a no-brainer, don't it? It's the basis of socioemotional selectivity theory, one of my favorite theories. I've written about it here and here.

But while the quote and the concept are simple and straightforward, the process isn’t always. Sometimes even when we know what we need, we don't always make sure we have it.
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That’s Your Problem

“The best years of life are the ones where you decide your problems are your own.” -- Albert Ellis

Oh yeah. I love it when the problem is mine.

Sure, it can be lots of fun to point fingers and heap blame on other people.

It’s nice to imagine that we are perfect and that the only thing standing between us and whatever it is we want are all those other annoying people. Or our parents. Or the government. Or society. Or The Man. Or whatever other scapegoat we have chosen to keep ourselves from success.

But there’s one big problem with that approach: You can’t change anyone else no matter how much you whine or rant or rage. The only thing that each of us has the power to change is ourselves.
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