The Critical Ingredient to Success in Your Career, Relationships, and Your Life

By Linda & Charlie Bloom

Creative Commons License Jackie Martinez (#31103)mark sebastian via CompfightMy friend Tony had always wanted to be police officer.  Even as a child Tony’s dream was to wear the uniform, and proudly serve the community.  The only usual thing about Tony’s dream is that Tony is a girl, or more precisely, at this point, a thirty-three year old woman.  Her dream wasn’t typical of the girls who she grew up with, most of whom had more conventional desires, like becoming rock stars, models, actresses or mothers.  But Tony can’t remember a time in her life when she didn’t want to be a cop.

When she met Ray, the man who would become her husband, she told him about her career goal and Ray thought that was a pretty cool thing, and his response was “that’s great!  I think it’s a terrific idea.  You’d be great at that.”

But as we all know, talk can be cheap, and while it’s one thing to encourage someone to pursue their dream, it’s another thing altogether to actively support in fulfilling their vision particularly when it means making sacrifices yourself.

But Ray’s support didn’t waver, even after Tony completed the very demanding application process and was accepted into the police academy.  Even while and after her life was completely consumed with the demands of the training during the nine months of the program.  Even after having to hold down the fort and pick up a lot of the slack at home with their two kids while Tony was struggling to manage circumstances that were more challenging than any she had ever encountered before.

In a program with fifty cadets, there were seven women.  Only three of them would eventually graduate.  Tony was one of them. Tony told me that the four women who left the program were all strong, capable and intelligent, but the changes that they went through and the demands upon them destabilized their relationships to the point where something had to give.  In their cases, it was the job.  Tony thought that the partners of these women felt threatened by their growing strength and found it difficult to support them in their commitment.  Without that crucial support, successful completion was impossible.  What separated Tony from these women was the presence of a network of loving, committed support.

Ray wasn’t her only cheerleader.  Tony lived in a big house, inhabited not only by her, Ray and their two pre-school daughters, but both of Ray’s parents as well.  Not only that, but Ray’s aunt, his mother’s sister and her husband Jim lived nearby.  Close enough so that they too, could be active members of the support team.  And they were.

While it would have been easy for any or all of these people to complain about Tony’s absence and the stress that it put on the rest of the family, none of them seemed to mind the extra work that her time away was requiring of them. The all pitched in to allow things on the home front to run smoothly and to help Tony to fulfill her dream. They cheered her up when she got discouraged.  They continually reminded her of how much they loved and believed in her.  They did the dishes, took out the trash and helped manage the household and family responsibilities.  They created a seamless network that allowed Tony to focus completely on her commitment to successfully complete the training program.

While in the training, Tony left home at 5:30 in the morning and often didn’t return until after midnight.  It was a grueling experience, but she took enormous comfort in knowing that the kids were in good hands and that everyone in the family was helping out, not simply to do her a favor, but out of love for her and from the awareness that everyone would ultimately benefit from Tony’s success. It was an exercise in “enlightened self-interest”; the ultimate win/win game.

Dozens of Tony’s friends and family attended her graduation celebration.  They all knew that it wasn’t just Tony, but the whole team, the whole family, that had earned this achievement.  It was an especially moving moment for Tony and her family when her Uncle Jim, who himself had been a law enforcement officer, stepped forward to pin Tony’s badge on the lapel of her uniform at the ceremony.

Tony is currently employed as a fulltime police officer and she loves her work, which she characterizes as “being in service.”  Her supporters have completely recovered from any hardships or sacrifices that they experienced during her training period and they all are thriving.  Tony’s sense of self-respect and pride has grown enormously out of this experience, and continues to grow as she takes on new challenges in her personal life and career.

If you have a big dream and have been holding back from going after it, it might be that you have not yet created the platform of support that is necessary to fulfill that desire.  It’s easy to feel discouraged or fault ourselves when we fail to fully commit to the fulfillment of a cherished vision, but sometimes what is lacking has less to do with our own capability, than it does with degree to which our life includes the believing eyes and supportive words and actions of those who affirm our possibilities.

When we are possessed by a passion for something and we fail to honor it, the consequences are a diminishment of our self-trust, and a sense of dispiritedness, that leaves us feeling remorseful and incomplete. The presence of a strong network of support is an essential aspect of the fulfillment of any dream, and no one has ever been successful in fulfilling their dreams without it.

If we wait until we are clear about our vision before we create or join a community of mutually-supportive partners, it will be too late. The time to begin to build this kind of a network is always NOW. And the key word in making that happen is “mutual”. It’s not just about getting support, and neither is it just about giving support. It’s about exchanging support; being reciprocal partners in a process that involves a mutual commitment to each other’s greatest good. It’s about being  committed to each other’s success and well-being in ways that are manifested in our words, our actions, and our willingness to make our partners in that commitment a high priority.

Practicing this kind of generosity of spirit will not only promote the creation of this network of shared support, but it will help to shape our own character in ways that predispose us towards success regardless of our chosen intention. This practice may be the single most important factor in the process of meeting the challenges that are always inherent in the road to success, in whatever area of life we’ve defined it.

Like Tony, we can do things that my seem beyond our reach if we have people who believe in us, cheer us on, remind us that we can do it and are there for us in  meaningful and sometimes very practical ways.  By being the kind of person that we wish to have on our own team, we will attract into our lives kindred spirits. While it’s possible, or even likely that not everyone who is the beneficiary of our generosity of spirit will reciprocate, many will. Those who are most highly motivated and appreciative of this kind of relationship  will stand out in the crowd and be easily recognizable. And it’s important to remember that it’s not so much about the quantity of players that we have on our team, but rather about the quality of engagement that we have with each other. Two solid friends are much more valuable than two dozen half-hearted ones.        

While you may meet some new friends in the process of building your support community, many of the people who are qualified to be a part of it are already in your life. Think about who they might be, and then take the first step to let them know how much you value your connection with them and how much you want to deepen it, not just for your sake but because you want it to be at least as meaningful and valuable for them as well. Let them know what you have that you want to give them and why, and what it is that you see about them that makes you want to have more of them in your life, and why.  And then see how they respond.

What have you got to lose?



Getting Grit

By Linda & Charlie Bloom

amesjumpThis is the second installment of our two part series on “Grit”, defined by Webster as “indomitable spirit; resourceful courage and daring in the face of difficulty.”

In case you’re wondering about what in the world would be sufficiently challenging to require such great strength of will and intention, the answer, which probably won’t surprise you, is “Relationships”. Specifically, primary relationships and committed partnerships. If you don’t have to ask “Why?”, then you’ve probably had enough experience in that territory to know the answer to that question. Intimate relationships tend to test, challenge, and stretch us in ways that nothing else in life can. In addition to grit, they also require compassion, understanding, perseverance, a good sense of humor, responsibility, and a couple of dozen other character strengths to optimize their potential. To assist you in accepting the challenge of bringing greater grit into your life, we’re offering eight guidelines that you might want to think about, or better yet, embody! 
  1. Hang in there.
    The temptation to quit can be particularly strong when the going gets tough in relationships, and when we set our sights high, there are always going to be times when our commitment is tested. When he was asked what the secret of life was, the philosopher and spiritual teacher Ken Keyes said, “Just don’t quit”. Wise words.
  2. Manage your attitude.
    Viktor Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning, stated that “The one thing that cannot be taken from a man [or woman] is the power to determine his attitude in any given situation.” We all possess the power to choose the perspective from which we view things in our life. We can look through lenses of pessimism or optimism, hopefulness or despair, purposefulness or purposelessness, gratitude or grievance, possibility or resignation, goals or obstacles. It really is a choice.
  3. Strive for excellence rather than perfection.
    Perfection requires adherence to what is usually an arbitrary and external criterion and in most cases impossible to attain. Excellence has to do with the trust that we have given the best that we have to our chosen project. Perfection is about adhering to a program or set of expectations that we have internalized from someone else. Excellence is about acting with with impeccability.
  4. Recognize competing commitments.
    For every intention we have there are always counter or competing commitments. The desire to be free competes with our desire for connection. The desire to lose weight competes with our desire to experience the pleasure and other benefits we receive from indulging our appetite. The desire for a great relationship competes with our desire to be in control, to maximize freedom, be right or dozens of other desires. The first step in this process has to do with honestly identifying the competition and then coming to terms with the situation in a way that honors both sides of the equation.
  5. Cultivate a taste for playing the edge
    Many of us have done our best to try to minimize and even eliminate risk in our lives. While indiscriminate risk-taking can be hazardous to your health and well-being, the cultivation of grit requires the willingness to engage in practices that may be outside of our comfort zone or that are unfamiliar. Conscious and responsible risk-taking is an essential aspect this process. The tried and true practices that got us to this point in our lives are not likely to get us any further. Playing the edge is an acquired taste and if done skillfully mean the difference between success and failure.
  6. Create a support community.
    None of the people featured in Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers got to where they are on their own. They each cultivated communities of support along the way. The presence of support is one of the things that enables us to be more willing to take risks as it provides us with a sense that even when we experience loss or failure in the process our commitment continues because it is shared with others.  Feeling “the wind beneath our wings”, also allows us to more fully trust that we can recover from the inevitable pitfalls along the way because we are not alone.
  7. Read stories and biographies of people who inspire you.
    You’ll not only learn how they did it but you’ll see that they all had their personal challenges and obstacles to contend with.
  8. Keep your primary focus on your goal or objective rather than the barriers that get in the way.
    Obstacles inevitably arise in the taking on of any project worth its salt. Don’t take them personally or interpret them as evidence that your vision isn’t realizable. Remind yourself of other times in your life that you felt discouraged or believed that you were incapable of achieving your goal only to discover that you were wrong! Remember the words of Goethe who reminds us that:

“The moment that one definitely commits oneself then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never have otherwise have occurred. Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!



Got Grit?

By Linda & Charlie Bloom
Flickr: Alan Levine

Flickr: Alan Levine

In case you haven’t noticed, relationships can be trying. They can try our patience, our strength, our commitment and the limits of our capacity for understanding. They can also challenge our belief that when people really love each other, differences are easily and effortlessly dissolved or resolved. Many people believe that “all you need is love”, and if you have enough of it, you’re pretty much assured that “everything’s gonna be all right.”

Well, sometimes, maybe, but not necessarily. It is a great theory, supported by lots of movies, fairy tales, TV commercials, and cultural myths. The problem is that the theory doesn’t always translate so well into reality. And it doesn’t take one important factor into account: Loving another person doesn’t just bring out the best in us, but it can also expose the worst, like those shadowy aspects of our personality (and yes, we all have at least some of them), like being possessive, obsessive, critical, overly-analytical, judgmental, sentimental, feeling superior or inferior, or a compulsive, impulsive tendency to rhyme, to name just a few. Phew!

Of course, we usually try to conceal what we consider our less than ideal characteristics when we’re in the throes of new romance, but over time, they have tendency to reveal themselves. When we’ve past through the early stages of infatuation and have begun to see the rest of what we are each bringing to the relationship, things can get really interesting, and that’s where the need for grit comes in.

It’s easy and delightful to be in love with someone when our vision is clouded by infatuation, but it’s when the veils are lifted from our eyes that the real work begins.

Much of that work has to do with dealing with differences. Not just the differences that inevitably occur between people who are attracted to each other, but the differences between who we each thought we were getting and who that person actually is.

Not that the whole rest of the picture isn’t pretty; some undiscovered parts (hopefully) are, but then there are the “surprises”. And it’s the way that we deal with those surprises that will determine whether or not we will make it to the higher levels of love that are available in long-term partnerships.

If we fail to effectively meet these inevitable differences when they eventually arise, they can become ordeals or even deal-breakers. Dealing with personality differences, spending habits, child-rearing philosophies, household responsibilities, sexual issues, or any of the many concerns that couples routinely find themselves addressing can challenge even the most dedicated lovers.

The presence of challenges in relationships can deplete our energies or can invigorate us, depending upon how we respond to them. If we view them as opportunities to learn, grow, and deepen our connection, the result will be one of invigoration. If we view them as punitive ordeals that we have been forced to undergo, the outcome will likely be one of resentment and even misery.

Relationships are not for the faint of heart. They often require us to cultivate a wide range of traits and qualities that we may otherwise may not have been sufficiently motivated to develop, not the least of which is “grit”. Webster defines “grit” as: “indomitable spirit; resourceful courage and daring in the face of difficulty.”

Most of those who have chosen the path of committed partnership can relate to the need courage and daring in relationship. It takes an experience as powerful as love, to motivate us to mobilize the drive to pursue the quest for indomitable spirit.

According to Martin Seligman, a leading expert in the field of Positive Psychology, grit is “the combination of high persistence and high passion towards the fulfillment of an objective.” Malcolm Gladwell, the best-selling author of the groundbreaking book, Outliers speaks about this quality in his commentaries of highly accomplished individuals who have demonstrated true grit in their commitment to the fulfillment of their vision. He asserts in the book that the achievement of an exceptionally high level of excellence in one’s chosen field requires at a minimum, 10,000 hours of practice, or about 20 hours a week for ten years. This applies to artists, athletes, musicians, inventors, businesspersons, chess players, astronomers, mathematicians, or anyone who is possessed by a thirst for mastery in any arena. Grit doesn’t guarantee that you will achieve greatness, but it does make it possible. Without it, the chances are slim to none.

Another field that grit applies to is that of relationships. Those who are committed to creating a blue ribbon partnership might not be “working on their relationship” 20 hours a week, but they will be spending a lot of time and energy embodying practices that enhance and promote self-development and life-long learning. In so doing they will increase the likelihood of bringing an already healed, fulfilled, mature, and grateful self into all of the domains of their lives.

Of course, relationships are not Olympic events, and successful relationships don’t need to be of world-class caliber. There’s nothing wrong with having a “good” partnership. Lots of couples would consider it a great blessing to be able to simply not argue too much and to get along well with each other. But for those of us who are possessed by a hunger to experience a profound and sustaining love, the bar is necessarily higher.

If you are one of those people who has a burning desire to create and experience a truly optimal relationship, you’ll want to check out our next blog. In it, we offer eight essential steps that promote the development of true grit.

In the meantime, put some detail into your picture of what that relationship would look and feel like and put it in writing. Get specific. Then identify the personal qualities, such as courage, vulnerability, compassion, patience, perseverance, and acceptance, for example, that you are committed to strengthening to support your commitment. Getting clear about your vision is an important first step. For the remaining steps, stay tuned!

 



Ten Steps to Overcoming FOMO

By Linda & Charlie Bloom
Flickr: John M. P. Knox

Flickr: John M. P. Knox

In our previous blog we addressed the concept of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) and the dangers of being possessed by this insidious condition. In this posting we are offering ten valuable practices that are guaranteed to help to free you from the grip of FOMO and to enhance the quality of your relationships as well as the overall quality of well-being in your life.

  1. Slow down. Most of us move at a faster velocity in our lives than is necessary or beneficial to best interests. Practice taking your time when eating, driving, talking, making love, and in engaging in engaging in the tasks of everyday living. It can be helpful to post reminders of this intention in prominent places in order to support yourself in fulfilling this intention. We used to have a sign in our kitchen that simply read, “Slow down.” It worked. Enlisting the support of others, particularly those with whom you live or with whom you have close relationships can also be very helpful.
  2. Practice discernment in regard to distinguishing what is truly important and necessary from what is merely desirable, and choose to eliminate some of the things that don’t contribute to the deepening of the quality of your life experience. Be willing to say “no” to more things. This will provide you with more time to give to those experiences that are more deeply rewarding. Remember that more isn’t necessarily better. Focus on the kinds of things that enhance the quality not the quantity of your experiences.
  3. Go for the experience, not the symbol . There are always going to be people who we admire and perhaps envy. It’s “the grass is greener on the other side” syndrome. Envy can easily become resentment if we fail to recognize the opportunities that are available to us in our own lives to create experiences that are life-enhancing. Focusing on the experience (a feeling of accomplishment, adventure, connection, fun, self-respect, freedom, etc) that underlies the object or symbol (such as wealth, marriage, a sports car, a luxurious home, etc) helps us to distinguish what is truly fulfilling from that which can only provide a temporary feeling of pleasure. Pleasure is a wonderful thing, but an obsessive preoccupation with it can diminish our ability to experience the deeper fulfillment that can come from nourishing our soul.
  4. Be willing to not have it all. Needs are limited. Desires are endless. Accepting the essential futility trying to fulfill every desire we have is a much wiser policy than indulging all of our impulses for gratification. Prioritizing certain activities enables us to let go of others. Decide what your highest priorities are and focus on them. The word “decide” comes from the Latin decidere, which means “to cut off”. Deciding what to prioritize requires us to cut off other options, but makes it possible to give greater and clearer attention to those have heart and meaning for us.
  5. One thing at a time. Even though those around us are multitasking, we don’t have to. Since the 1990s, psychologists have been conducting experiments on the limits of multitasking, and the studies are conclusive. Subjects in these experiments exhibited severe interference when asked to perform even very simple tasks simultaneously. They have found that the human brain can only respond to one action request at a time. Psychiatrist Edward M. Hallowell describes multitasking as a “mythical activity in which people believe they can perform two or more tasks simultaneously as effectively as one.” When people attempt to apply themselves to too many tasks at a time, they are usually not successful. When they are focused on a single task, and give their full attention to it, not only are they more likely to be successful in producing a high quality result, but their level of satisfaction while performing the task is much higher.
  6. Practice Mindfulness. Rather than chasing after that which may be just an illusion of happiness, we can gently strive for the deep satisfaction that comes with the cultivation of mindfulness. Mindfulness is the practice of being present in our lives and giving non-judging awareness to our moment to moment experience.Rather than desperately seeking rock star recognition, cultivate the art of mastery of enjoying mundane pleasures. Sylvia Boorstein’s book, Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There, provides lots of insights into how you can integrate this practice into your life. There are lots of other books and CD’s that can help you to integrate this powerful practice into your life.
  7. Prioritize relationships over acquisitions. In terms of our level of well-being in life, quality relationships trump quantity of possessions and experiences every time.  Investing time and energy in relationships and cultivating the skills that great relationships require may be one of the best things that we can do to bring higher levels of fulfillment into our lives, which is a wonderful antidote to the compulsive activity that characterizes FOMO.
  8. Savor the moment. Take time to linger over pleasurable experiences rather than rushing through them in quest of the next thrill. Really smell the coffee (and the roses and the other delightful scents that you encounter).  Take the time to thoroughly take pleasure in the sensory delights that enter into your field of awareness and cultivate the fine art of savoring the tastes, sights and other sensations that you encounter in your daily life.
  9. Cultivate an attitude of gratitude. Instead of chasing fantasies that we believe will fulfill us, we can cultivate gratitude. This practice allows us to more deeply appreciate what we have rather than focusing on what we lack or desire. FOMO is fear about not having something that is necessary for our well being. Gratitude allows us to count the blessings that are in our life right now, in this moment, where life is going on.
  10. Enjoy the process. Integrating these practices into your life can be a labor of love and can be experienced as a blessing and an opportunity, rather than a series of obligations. Let yourself take pleasure in the the heightened level of relaxation and ease that comes into your life as you gift yourself with these experiences. It’s not just you, but it’s everyone in your life that benefits from losing FOMO!

 



Beware the Dangers of FOMO

By Linda & Charlie Bloom
Flickr: Bark

Flickr: Bark

I’ve known my friend David (not his real name) for over twenty years and we’ve always gotten along well. That’s probably, at least in part due to the fact that we share a lot of common interests and values.

Lately though, David has developed a habit that has been driving me slightly crazy. Whenever I suggest that we do something together or offer him an invitation of any kind, his response almost always is to tell me that he’ll let me know later whether or not this will work for him.

Well,“later” almost always turned out to be the day before the deadline, and even then, it almost always seemed that I was the one who had to initiate contact to remind him that I was still waiting to hear from him. Inevitably, David would apologize and provide explanations as to why he hadn’t contacted me sooner. He would usually tell me that he would love to accept my invitation but “something came up and I won’t be able to join you”.

After a series of situations like this, I noticed that this was becoming a pattern, and the pattern was becoming a problem for me; not just because David was inconveniencing me by not informing me sooner of his plans, but also because I felt disrespected with what felt like inconsiderate treatment when despite his profuse apologies, his behavior didn’t change.

After expressing my feelings to David we had a good talk in which he told me that I’m not the first person to have had this problem with his desire to avoid making commitments and agreements in order to “keep my options open in case something better shows up.”

While I appreciated David’s honesty, I felt some resentment about being held as just another ‘option’ on David’s dance card. After all, we’ve been friends for a long time and I thought I deserved a to have a higher place on his list of priorities.

In the course of our conversation it became clear to me that David didn’t just want to keep his options open, he felt that he needed to; and that if he didn’t, he might risk losing out on an important, potentially life-changing experience.

As I had feared, David had a severe case of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). FOMO is an increasingly common condition plaguing a growing portion of the population numbers of people, who either overcommit and fail to fulfill many of their commitments, or choose to avoid agreements and commitments as much as possible.

In most cases the basis for their actions (or inactions) is motivated by a fear that in making an agreement they are losing the chance to engage in other experiences that could potentially result in greater personal gratification or satisfaction. A commonly-felt sentiment of many people who have FOMO is, “I like to keep my options open.”

Those with a great fear of missing out can be very discerning in regard to the circumstances and situations in which they tend to break agreements. They are often less willing to break them with someone who holds a position of authority in their lives, such as a supervisor or superior at work, or someone representing the legal or criminal justice system, than to an acquaintance or subordinate at work. They often attempt to justify or excuse their behavior by explaining it as being driven by forces beyond their control, when it is often the case that they actually had priorities that they held as being more import than the commitment that they failed to keep.

FOMO frequently provokes feelings of anxiety and restlessness, often generated by competitive thoughts that others are experiencing more pleasure, success, or fulfillment in their lives than they are. It can also be a response to a conscious or unconscious fear of aging and/or dying. Unless the underlying concerns that drive this desire to compulsively accumulate as many experiences as possible is identified and addressed, FOMO behavior will continue to prevail and diminish the overall quality of well-being, and fulfillment in one’s relationships and life in general.

There is a saying that you can’t ever get enough of what you really don’t need. Accumulating experiences and being possessed by the feelings stress and tension that are amplified by the pursuit of more and the need to avoid missing out cannot relieve the existential anxiety that drives FOMO behavior. Checking electronic devices for text messages, voice mails and emails continually throughout the day creates a obsessive preoccupation that doesn’t quench the thirst for the need for more, it amplifies it. Kind of like pouring gasoline on fire to put it out. Doesn’t work so well.

Perhaps the biggest problem with FOMO is that a relentless preoccupation with activity and novelty makes it impossible for us to be to be fully present and deeply engaged in our relationships and our life in general. And true fulfillment requires both presence and engagement. Like the sign in the casino says: “You must be present to win!”

So if rushing from pillar to post trying to fill your life up with activities and novelty not only doesn’t enhance the quality of life, but rather diminishes it, what’s the alternative? Good question.

Our next blog will answer that question and offer ten steps that you can take that can free you from that corrosive effects of FOMO once and for all.

Stay tuned.



A Little Good News for a Change

By Linda & Charlie Bloom

holding-handsLast Thursday was one of those “Maybe-I just-need-to-stop-reading-the-newspaper-for-a-while days. There wasn’t a lot of uplifting news in the world, at least, not that I was hearing about from my usual sources. But then I came upon this piece on-line and my faith in humanity and in the power and possibility of committed partnerships was almost instantly restored.

The story is about a British couple, Maurice and Helen Kaye who have been married for a while. On August 27, they celebrated their 80th anniversary with their two children, seven grandchildren, and six great grandchildren, in Bournemouth, England. Maurice is 102 and Helen is 101.

They met in 1929 when Maurice, age 16 and employed as a traveling salesman for women’s clothing, stopped by the dress shop owned by Helen’s mother to try to interest her in purchasing some clothing. He ended up staying in the store for three hours, prompting his future mother-in-law to ask Helen, “Who’s going to throw him out, you or me?”

Although Maurice did, reluctantly, leave the shop, he never left Helen’s life, and he’s been an integral part of it for the past 85 years. They courted for four years because Helen’s mother wanted her older sister to be married first. Maurice went on to manage his father’s factory and two shops in London before joining the army in 1939, leaving Helen to run the business.

Although the couple has unquestionably created an exemplary relationship, their time together has not been without its ordeals. Like all couples, they have experienced their share of challenges over the years. When London was attacked by Germany during World War II, the couple lost their home, factory, and shops, all of which were totally destroyed by German bombs. While they were able to eventually rebuild their life together, they had to undergo the loss of two of their children; Anthony, who died of a burst appendix at age four, and daughter, Leslie, who succumbed to a brain tumor in 1991, leaving three young children. While these losses caused profound pain to both Helen and Maurice, it was the depth of their love for each other enabled them to prevail despite horrific grief.

In reflecting over their many years together, Helen stated that “It’s been a wonderful marriage, and even though it’s been hard work and not without its tragedy, we’ve had so many good moments together.” She added that the ability to laugh together has really assisted them along the way, affirming that a good sense of humor (which their on-line video clearly demonstrates they both possess) has been a helpful ingredient to their many years of shared happiness.

Amazingly vital for a centenarian, Maurice celebrated his 90th birthday by taking a flying lesson and continued to drive until he reached 100. Both he and Helen continue to enjoy good health and still live independently in an apartment in England. They are both avid bridge players and enjoy frequent visits with their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren, with whom they continue to have close relationships. When asked to name one of their secrets of success, Maurice offers, “It’s simple. I just agree with everything that she says”, to which Helen laughed, “You do not!”  proving him wrong!

 

Helen and Maurice exemplify many of the traits and characteristics embodied by the couples that we interviewed for our second book, Secrets of Great Marriages. Many studies have shown that couples who enjoy long-term, fulfilling relationships, also tend to experience enhanced self-esteem, clarity of life purpose, a tendency to view things optimistically, and generally, better health. They also tend to be less susceptible to illness and experience greater longevity. Recent findings in the research about the physiology of long-term happy couples refer to the “love cocktail.” Eve Shehilo, M.D. says, “Love sets off a set of physiological events in the body: peptides and hormones are released, including endorphins, oxytocin, dopamine, vasopressin and nitric oxide. These lower anxiety, prompt relaxation, and create a positive physiology.”

In our own research we have discovered that happy couples are committed to taking care of their bodies by exercising, eating well, and getting sufficient rest, all of which promote higher levels of well-being and enhanced physical and emotional health. In addition to these commonly accepted health practices, they also place a premium on bringing lots of laughter, play, fun, pleasure and enjoyment into their lives through a seemingly limitless variety of experiences. Perhaps more importantly, these couples bring an attitude of curiosity, wonder, and delight to their lives, that permeates nearly everything they experience.

Like Helen and Maurice, most of the couples we’ve interviewed over the years have gone through their own “dark nights of the soul”. Yet even in the most trying of times, the connection and support that they experienced in their relationship has been the biggest factor in their ability to endure and grow from their ordeals and challenges.

While Helen and Maurice admitted that luck, good fortune, and fate played a part in them “hitting the jackpot” when it came to marriage, as an afterthought, they added that three other factors played a pretty big part as well: tolerance, kindness, and love. There’s not much that we can do about the first three, but we all do possess the power to determine the presence and extent to which the second group of three influence our relationships. My take on it is that the more tolerance, kindness and love we bring to our relationships, the luckier we’ll feel!



Don’t Worry, Be Happy!

By Linda & Charlie Bloom
Flickr- Danumurthi Mahendra

Flickr- Danumurthi Mahendra

It’s not just for your sake.

Happiness depends more on the inner disposition of mind than on outward circumstances” – Benjamin Franklin

In case you hadn’t noticed, there’s been a wealth of information recently in the form of books, TV shows, CDs, DVDs, magazine articles, and even movies on a subject that is near and dear to everyone’s heart. The subject is happiness. I’m not sure why it is that there seems to be more interest in happiness these days than there has been in the past. I don’t believe that it’s a reflection of a trend toward greater narcissism and self-centeredness in our culture, nor that it is simply a temporary fad that will pass when people find something else to concern themselves with. And that’s a good thing, because a world with more happy people enhances the quality of life for us all.

Although happiness has been an essential aspect of the American consciousness since the inception of our nation when we were first informed that it’s pursuit was a fundamental right of all US citizens, it has never seemed quite proper or respectable to acknowledge how much we desire, even crave this experience. Perhaps it’s out of a fear of appearing overly self- absorbed or unenlightened. Perhaps it’s because in acknowledging that we deeply desire happiness we implicitly admit that we don’t have as much of it as we want, and that may feel shameful or embarrassing. Or perhaps it’s because we’ve grown up believing that good people shouldn’t care too much about their own happiness but rather should be more concerned about the well-being of others.

Religious doctrines aside, there’s a fair amount of evidence that we humans are predisposed to favor pleasurable experiences be they mental, physical, or emotional, over those that are unpleasant. This predisposition seems to be hardwired into us. Feelings of happiness not only enhance our sense of well-being but as scientists have proven, promote changes on a physiological level in our bodies. Chemicals and endorphins flood our bodies when we experience well-being and fulfillment. Happiness gives our cells the message that life is good and reaffirms our commitment to being alive in ways that can enrich not only our quality of life, but our actual physical health, and even affect our longevity. His Holiness the Dalai Lama himself has been quoted as saying “The purpose of life is to be happy.”

So, I think it’s great that our longing for happiness is not a reflection of selfishness, but rather an expression of our humanness, and that it is finally coming out of the closet, and that increasing numbers of us are unabashedly acknowledging this desire and committing ourselves to becoming more fulfilled and joyful in our own lives.

In our book, 101 Things I Wish I Knew When I Got Married, number 4 is “The greatest gift that you can give your own partner is your own happiness.” While some people might see this statement as being grandiose, I think it is rather modest and that a more accurate phrasing of it would be that the greatest gift that you can give the WORLD is your own happiness. What the world doesn’t need is more sacrificing martyrs who forgo their happiness in order to fulfill a vision of nobility or righteousness, but inwardly feel resentful and unfulfilled.

Not only are personal happiness and generosity towards others not mutually excusive, they are inextricably linked. The happier one is, the more inclined he or she is to share their inner and outer resources with others. Happy people naturally contribute to the overall well-being of those around them, not just by what they do, but by who they are. Those who are uncomfortable around happy people or who resent them often do so because they are, for whatever reasons, denying themselves the feelings of well-being that these people are expressing and that may be activating feelings of envy or anger.

When we stop denying ourselves the experiences that promote happiness and the feelings that go along with them, we stop resenting those that are happy, and feel enhanced and enriched by them. The Buddhists have a term for this phenomenon. They call it “sympathetic joy” and it has to do with taking pleasure in others’ happiness. The opposite of this is known as Schadenfreude, which has to do with taking pleasure in others’ pain or misfortune. When we don’t honor our innate drive for happiness, we secretly wish for others to suffer or fail. Since this tendency feels shameful, we do our best to conceal it. We pretend that we want the best for everyone, even when we may secretly harbor an entirely different intent. The best cure for Schadenfreude is a commitment to our own happiness and well-being which will inevitably lead to a dedication to the well-being of others, not just those closest to us, but to all beings.

When we live in this mindset, we don’t see the world in terms of allies and adversaries, heroes and zeroes, or friends and enemies, but rather as a place in which we are all connected by common needs, desires, concerns, and feelings, with each of us doing what we believe will bring about greater fulfillment and less suffering in our own life.

Sylvia Boorstein, whose best-selling book, Happiness is an Inside Job, agrees with Ben Franklin’s assertion that external circumstances are less relevant to our quality of well being than our inner state of mind or mental attitude. Not that either of these two wise elders claims that we should or even can be continually joyful.

While as Ben Franklin says, external circumstances are less relevant to our level of happiness, there is little if any possibility that any of us can experience a life that is completely and permanently free of any and all unhappiness. Life for all of us inevitably contains some suffering and some circumstances are powerful enough to derail even our clearest intentions to be happy. Life sometimes hands us situations that, despite our best efforts, feel overwhelming or completely unmanageable. At these times, surrendering resistance and control may be the wisest thing that we can do. If we can do this, at the very least we won’t unnecessarily prolong or aggravate an already difficult situation which will in time, inevitably pass.

Managing our thoughts and choosing our attitude doesn’t guarantee happiness, but it does enable us to be less affected by outside forces and to have more influence over the moods that possess us. The best medicine for happiness is a balanced and unconfused mind that neutralizes much of suffering by promoting feelings of benevolence and compassion within ourselves and others.

In our busy daily lives, finding even a few moments of inner quiet and peace can be a daunting challenge, but the good news is that even a few minutes can be enough to cool our hyperactive thinking and bring about greater clarity and understanding. It’s possible, even in the most hectic of schedules to take a brief break, pause, and check into our inner experience and actually feel our feelings, acknowledge and sense our physical sensations, and become mindful of our thoughts. Such reflection interrupts and weakens habituated thought patterns that may create anxiety and confusion. This may not always be enough to put you into a mood of ecstatic bliss, but it will at least put a little more breathing room into your life. And that sure beats the alternative!



Myth: When It Comes To Relationships, Security is Always Better

By Linda & Charlie Bloom
Flickr- Mo Riza

Flickr- Mo Riza

The notion that great marriages are not about comfort and security isn’t news to those of us who have been married for a while or anyone who has ever been in a stagnant relationship. While the idea that formalizing a commitment to a shred partnership may be news to those who haven’t experienced the reality of long term matrimony, if you are in that group of veterans who have learned that this isn’t necessarily the case you might be raising your eyebrows right about now or shaking your head. Still you might want to continue reading. You might learn something new.

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Do You Engage in Conscious Combat or Are You Just Fighting?

By Linda & Charlie Bloom

Angry Man WomanConflict, especially in relationships, has gotten a pretty bad rap over the years and for good reason. Unresolved differences are the source of an awful lot of physical, mental and emotional distress. Many couples have concluded that arguing and fighting is painful that it’s better to avoid acknowledging differences at all, and have co-created agreements (sometimes unspoken or even unconscious) to ignore or deny the presence of differences that could potentially activate hard or hurt feelings.

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Love Is NOT All You Need

By Linda & Charlie Bloom
Flickr - Vladimir Pustovit

Flickr – Vladimir Pustovit

The Beatles were on the money with almost all of their songs, but on this one, I’m afraid that they got it wrong. Unfortunately millions of Beatle fans that took their word as the holy truth found themselves deeply disappointed when they found out that love was not, in fact all that they needed. Nor despite the reassurance that “It’s eeeeasy” that also didn’t prove to be the case. I realize that there may still be many diehard Beatles fans out there that still believe that love is easy and that it’s all you need. From my experience, however, neither of those claims is true.

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Linda & Charlie Bloom are authors of 101 Things I Wish I Knew When I Got Married & Secrets of Great Marriages.
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