There are two ways to read this quote.
Lincoln might be telling us to “accentuate the positive.” That managing our emotions and deciding to be happy will make us feel happy. In which case, this quote is kind of ironic, given that poor Abe struggled with depression. Seems like there’s a little self-loathing mixed into the words.
Here is the gift-giving credo that has given a pass to all manner of disappointing gifts, from “what were they thinking?” garments to “oh good, something to dust” tsotskes.
Our smiles might freeze on our faces as we rip the wrapping from a package, but whatever is within, we think, “It’s the thought that counts,” because that’s the nice thing to do when someone is nice enough to give us a gift, no matter how ill-conceived—or, frankly, how little thought appears to have actually been put into a gift.
For me, “it’s the thought that counts” has another meaning as well, which traps me in gift-giving OCD. “It’s the thought that counts,” so you have to put a lot of thought into every gift, strive for some sort of gifting nirvana. You have to peer into the souls of friends and loved ones and find the gift that will, if not complete them, at least set them on a path to happiness.
Politically incorrect as it might be to object to this cheery little rallying cry, it has a dark side. I hear “family first!” and think, “everyone else, distant second.”
The problem is that some of us suffer (or enjoy, depending on how you look at it) a dearth of family, or of nearby family. For us, “family first” can feel a little exclusionary. And sometimes it is, actually, exclusionary.
I have friends who travel to visit family in my hometown, but don’t make time to see me. I’ve had a friend decline to help me in a time of need because family might need her for something.
I hate when friends without family are left to fend for themselves on holidays. At least I have my lovely husband and weird dog. Some of our friends don’t even have that. (And yes, we try to include those friends in our holidays. And yes, every few years we travel to distant family for holidays.)
I’ve always given friends with kids lots of space because I know kids need their parents more than I do. I figured everything would change once the kids were grown. But now the kids are grown and there are grandkids so—family first!
“Family first” is an honorable sentiment. I get it. It’s a matter of setting priorities, of making sure your nearest and dearest get the best of you. But “family first” can also make people myopic. So while you’re family firsting this holiday season, don’t forget those people who stand by you even without the obligation implied by shared bloodlines.
And that “family first” doesn’t (or perhaps shouldn’t) mean “family only.”
Photo of happy family is available at Shutterstock.
A fine credo to live by. Noble, even. And win-win. You get your fine life, and you don’t debase yourself with some sort of tawdry act of revenge. And the other guy doesn’t have vengeance rain down on him.
I am not by nature a vengeful person. Which is not to say that I don’t hold grudges and fantasize about vengeance. But I don’t do anything about it. Instead, I say, “Living well is the best revenge,” and stay honest. And smug. I’m taking the high road. I’m keepin’ it healthy.
But “living well is the best revenge” is like fruit for dessert. It’s tasty and it’s good for you, but it’s not chocolate. Chocolate is desert. Fruit is a mere stand-in. Unless it has chocolate on it. Then, it’s sweet revenge.
This is a lyric from a ditty by Jenny Lewis, and it has has taken my brain hostage. This little quote, the song’s hook, is on a tape loop in my head.
Lewis is singing about a stuck, mutually exploitive relationship, but I keep finding different shades of nuance in this quote.
You are what you love, and not what loves you back.
In a way, it’s a torch song. I’ll love him forever even if he never loves back, because he is part of my soul. It gives a little nobility to unrequited love.
You are what you love, and not what loves you back.
What attracts you? Who do you fall for when you fall in love? That person is mirror of your needs and self image, whether or not the love is reciprocated.
As Oprah used to say, frequently, raising kids is the hardest job in the world. And I don’t argue with that. (I wouldn’t dare.)
But choosing not to have kids has challenges of a different kind–not the least of which is censure from a segment of society that assumes you must be selfish, self-centered, or in arrested development.
My husband and I are childless by choice and have some very good reasons for this, which are none of your beeswax. Fortunately, I am past the age where people want to debate our decision with me, but you can’t imagine how tiresome that was. Here’s a hint, people: Asking someone who has chosen not to have kids if she fears regretting the decision someday is uncool. Duh. It’s not like we haven’t considered that. Would you ask a woman who does have kids if she fears regretting that decision?
Not having children is challenging in that your life is not mapped out for you according to the needs of your children. You have to take full responsibility for your own life trajectory, which can be oddly daunting. And you have nothing to distract you from complicated adult relationships. I know a lot of marriages crack under the pressure of parenting, but a lot of other relationships probably last because of the needs and distractions of children.
But I really like the quote from Carolyn Hax, part of a response to someone wondering how to decide about having children, because she acknowledges that some of us are better off contributing something other than our DNA to the world.
I’ve never read Jonathan Livingston Seagull, and probably even mocked it back in the day, when it came out. It just sounded so silly. But here is a very wise quote from its author. Of course. Doesn’t everyone know the feeling of being lonely in a crowd? (Does everyone? Or is this more of an introvert thing?) You needn’t be alone to be lonely.
Intimacy is the opposite of loneliness, I get that. But that takes me only halfway to enlightenment. The trouble is, I can’t put my finger on what intimacy is. It’s one of those words that I understand on a cellular level, but struggle to define.
Sometimes the heart sees what is invisible to the eye. — H. Jackson Brown, Jr.*
Certainly what makes us love is often invisible to the eyes of others. How often have you said, “I don’t know what she sees in him.” (Or vice versa, of course.) No, you don’t. You can’t. Love is intensely personal.
And sometimes even the lovers themselves can’t see the why behind the emotion.
Is this true? I need to know.
I’ve always believed that talking things out is the right thing to do, but I am doubting, doubting, doubting these days. And here’s this dame (a novelist and travel writer) telling me my belief is delusional.
But I need explanations. Is nothing made better by talking, or are some things made better and some worse? And which are made worse and which better? And are we talking about talking between affected parties, or talking to someone else?
Research is finding that, contrary to popular assumption, insisting people talk about trauma immediately after it occurs actually increases the risk of PTSD.
But what about run-of-the-mill problems? Fights with friends? Marital difficulties? Problems at work? Sometimes it seems like venting to friends just makes a problem feel worse and worse. Like talking after a trauma, venting sometimes makes the problem calcify in my brain, as I build arguments and build arguments and build arguments and justify and justify and justify until I have walled myself into the problem with what feels like no way out.
Talking about things feels good to me. It lets a breath of fresh air into my rumination, and sometimes I can talk my way to insight. Sometimes the person I’m talking to has useful things to say. Sometimes just venting releases enough pressure to allow a problem to dissipate.
But other times, my feels-good talking is the other person’s feels-bad talking, and what started as my problem then turns into the other person’s problem. Or the talking itself creates its own new problem. And then I don’t know if I should talk about that problem, the talking problem, or just shut up for once.
You see my problem. What’s the answer? Can we talk about it?
Photo of man with tape over mouth available from Shutterstock.
It’s not who you are that holds you back, it’s who you think you’re not. — Denis Waitley
This one twangs me in all the right ways.
One of the hurdles to becoming a writer is identifying yourself as a writer.
“I’m a writer.”
It sounds so pretentious.
But until you can identify yourself as a writer, you’re just a hobbyist. A dabbler. A person with a day job who writes for fun. (Or frustration. Or both. That’s the writing life.)
But the moment you own your ambition and say, “I’m a writer,” you become a writer with a day job. And the moment you take yourself seriously enough to call yourself a writer, you are going to take the writing more seriously in order to live up to the title. And when you start taking the work seriously, rewards are more likely to follow.