Better Living Through Pithy Quotes Live better through pithy quotes. 2016-04-24T21:22:04Z Sophia Dembling <![CDATA[10 Tough Questions To Ask Yourself, In Cliche Form]]> 2013-01-03T16:43:40Z 2013-01-03T16:43:40Z Who are you when the rubber hits the road?

Do you put your money where your mouth is?

Or are you all talk and no action?

All hat and no cattle?

Do you mean what you say and say what you mean?

Or are you just giving lip service?

Do you step up to the plate?

Come through in a pinch?

Do you know thyself?

Or are you selling yourself a bill of goods?

Talk is cheap, you know.

Photograph of double image of a man is available from Shutterstock.

Sophia Dembling <![CDATA[Staying Off The Road To Regret]]> 2013-01-01T18:17:15Z 2013-01-01T18:17:15Z A year from now you may wish you had started today.—Karen Lamb

This quote turned up on my Facebook page. A google search for Karen Lamb mostly turned up this quote, so I don’t know a lot about her, but as far as I can tell she wrote a self-published book called I Felt My Wings, about her spiritual awakening—a possibly wonderful book that does not interest me in the least. If you’ve read it, you can tell me about it.

But leaving Lamb’s path and considering only our own, this quote is a clear pointer towards the road to regret.

If you really want to do something, then you will want to do it as much on January 1, 2014 as you do today. And if you let another year slip by without doing it, what will you arrive at but regret?

People who write to Dear Abby fretting about something like going back to school often say something like, “It will take five years and I will be [insert age here] by the time I’m done.” To which Abby used to respond, “How old will you be in five years if you don’t do it?”

It’s going to be next year whether you do what you want to or not. 

Both taking action and not taking action risk regret, so no snappy slogan can guarantee you won’t look back and say, “I wish I’d done differently.” Deciding whether action or inaction is the right course can be difficult.

But you know when you know what you need to do. And then it’s time to apply one of my other favorite quotes, this one from oh-so-pithy Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu:

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

(Or, as Dear Abby also says:

Just for today…)

Start now and you will be that much closer to your goal by January 1, 2014. Don’t start now and you might just be a year closer to regret.

Happy New Year, friends. Let’s get this party started.

Regret road sign photograph is available from Shutterstock.

Sophia Dembling <![CDATA[Smile Through The Tears – Or Not]]> 2012-12-26T00:53:54Z 2012-12-24T19:34:55Z People are just as happy as they make up their minds to be. ― Abraham Lincoln

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.

I’m pretty ambivalent about the whole “decide to be happy” philosophy, which is popular these days. It’s a good thought and something to strive for. Choosing to see the best in life is a good strategy. Finding fault in stuff all the time is choosing not to be happy.

On the other hand, “choosing happiness” can also be an obstruction when it’s used to talk yourself out of your feelings. You stay in the job that sucks the life out of you, but at least it’s a job. And the relationship that’s more pain than pleasure, but not all bad. There’s no such thing as a perfect job/relationship, we tell ourselves, hanging in there, choosing to be cheerful. We smile with gritted teeth and wrestle tentacles of discontent and unhappiness into submission.

I like spinning this quote another way.

Perhaps Lincoln wasn’t talking about making the best of things, but about pursuing that which brings you happiness. Perhaps he’s saying that if you are in a place that is unhappy for you, it is your responsibility to identify what will make you happy and make the changes in your life that will get you there. Maybe Abe didn’t believe in stumbling upon happiness, and was spurring us into action.

This time of year tends to bring all kinds of emotions to the surface, making it a good time to pause and take stock of life, examine our happiness and figure out what is genuine and what is smiling through gritted teeth (or tears). 

And then, in the new year, make up our minds what to do about that. (Yeah, that’s the hard part.)

Sophia Dembling <![CDATA[Grief And Fear And Grief]]> 2012-12-18T21:52:08Z 2012-12-18T21:52:08Z No one ever told me that grief felt so much like fear. – C.S. Lewis

When I was a little girl, I sometimes tried to imagine what it would feel like to lose somebody I loved.

I could imagine only the sketchiest approximation, though. I knew I would be very sad, but had no weight or measure of that sadness and couldn’t imagine its nuances. All I knew is that it was likely to be a grief so enormous, I might not survive it.

A lot of years have passed since then, and I’ve lost a brother, several close friends, and my parents. And in a way, I’ve been granted one of the secrets of the universe: the knowledge that as terrifying as grief is, we almost always survive it.  

We fear grief as much as we feel it, which only makes our burden heavier. But grief cannot kill us (without our cooperation) so we don’t have to add to our pain with fear.

What we might fear when we feel grief:

  • That we will never emerge from it.
  • That the pain will always be as intense as fresh grief.
  • That the feelings are irrevocably changing us.
  •  That we will never feel safe again.
  •  That we will be haunted by regrets.
  •  That the new void in our life will never be filled.

The reality of grief is:

  •  With time we can emerge from the other side of it.
  •  The pain usually eases from a hot poker to the heart to a dull ache and finally to just occasional wistful melancholy.
  •  Our life may be irrevocably changed, but we remain who we are.
  •  The world is no more or less safe than it ever was and we will forget to be afraid.
  • We might be haunted by regrets. It happens. All we can do is use them for positive growth.
  • While no void can be perfectly filled, other things will come along to fill the space nicely when we are open to them.

The holidays are difficult if you’re facing a fresh loss, and in light of our national grief over the tragedy in Newtown. But we can’t hide from grief and don’t have to.

Sometimes we have to just force ourselves to succumb to grief rather than try to flee  it,  trusting that our fears will not come to pass, and that we will feel joy again.

Sophia Dembling <![CDATA[Gift-Giving OCD]]> 2012-12-13T23:43:34Z 2012-12-13T23:43:34Z It’s the thought that counts.

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.

This can be fun, when the right gift is a no-brainer. But when nothing springs to mind, it’s just time consuming and expensive. I bet a lot of holiday overspending is gift second-guessing, when people like me buy one gift, then start doubting its relevance, and end up buying something else. This happens a lot if I try to shop for people through the year. What seems like a perfect gift in June might not seem just right in December.

I wish I were one of those people who just buys neat stuff all year and gives it away willy nilly, without a second thought as to whether it’s the exact gift this person needs at this moment in time. But I am not one of those people. I have a bag full of things I’ve bought to give as gifts and never have because when the time came, I had a better idea for a gift.

What’s more, I make many gifts, and I have been known to change my mind about something I’ve made, and start over. Double the cost, double the time. And even as I am shopping and crafting the second gift, I’m thinking, “This is silly. The other was fine.” But something got into my head that it wasn’t fine, and so there I am.

I can’t claim that all my gifts are successful. I have no idea because, of course, nobody has ever complained. They all know it’s the thought that counts—no matter how much or little thought it was.

So if the end result is the same, why can’t I just relax?

Sophia Dembling <![CDATA[You’re An Earworm Away From Happiness]]> 2016-04-24T21:22:04Z 2012-12-10T19:25:36Z Don’t get trouble in your mind.

“Don’t get trouble in your mind” is the cheery refrain of a bluegrass chestnut, performed in the video below by the Carolina Chocolate Drops.

I’d never heard the song until a friend posted this video on Facebook the other day, and it just hit me in a sweet spot. Since then, it’s been an earworm.

But unlike most earworms, this one could prove useful.

Don’t get trouble in your mind.

Gosh, don’t we though?

Don’t we get trouble in our minds, inventing and then worrying about bad-news scenarios that may or may not happen in the future? Don’t we do that? And don’t we have fights with people in our heads, and imagine our own failures, and ruminate on things we’ve done that may or may not have been as heinous as we remember?

That’s all just trouble in your mind.

Such a waste of energy and we should cut it out. But it’s not that easy to stop. For some of us, falling into rumination is like falling asleep. You can fight it for a while, but eventually it’s easier to just slip into it. You give up the struggle.

But stop yourself. Tell yourself, “don’t get trouble in your mind.”

And that should do it. Because at that point, the song will take over. It will burrow into your brain and crowd out the worries with its carefree wisdom.

You might be able to fight it for a while, but eventually will give up the struggle.

Don’t get trouble in your mind.

Don’t get trouble in your mind.

Don’t get trouble in your mind.

Don’t get trouble in your mind.

Sometimes all your mind wants is something to obsess about. Might as well give it a song.

By the way, my book, The Introvert’s Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World, was released to the world last week. Please take a look, consider getting it for yourself or an introvert you love.

Photo of a banjo is available at Shutterstock.

Sophia Dembling <![CDATA[Your Family Is A Bummer]]> 2012-12-04T19:43:09Z 2012-12-04T19:43:09Z Family first!

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.

Sophia Dembling <![CDATA[Optimism For Pessimists]]> 2012-11-30T17:27:22Z 2012-11-30T15:43:36Z Stranger things have happened.

This is one of my favorite things to say.

It’s hopeful, but not giddy. Cautiously optimistic. Optimism for pessimists.

It’s a shrug of the shoulders, a little bit superstitious. You don’t want to be too confident but, you know…it could happen. Stranger things have.

And almost no matter what you’re talking about, it’s true. All kinds of strange stuff happens every day, so unless you’re talking about the Rapture, there’s a good chance that something stranger than whatever is under discussion has happened at some point in time.

It’s a version of “anything can happen,” but with shadowy images of all kinds of stranger things that have actually happened. You might pause a moment, to try to think of things that would be stranger than whatever event is under discussion. It’s also a version of “miracles happen,” but a lot darker.  It’s not talking miraculous. It’s talking strange.

“Stranger things have happened” is full of possibilities. Might I make a million dollars on my new book? Stranger things have happened. Might Jon Stewart invite me to be on the Daily Show? Stranger things have happened. Or maybe it will be Stephen Colbert. Stranger things have happened. This, for example.

“Stranger things can happen” is like the Magic 8 Ball. Or newspaper horoscopes. It’s vague and nonspecific, so it’s deliciously all purpose and gives you something to dream on without making any promises.

Maybe you’ll run out and buy my new book when it hits stores on Tuesday. You never know. Stranger things have happened.

Sophia Dembling <![CDATA[The Devil In Decisions]]> 2012-12-02T03:53:34Z 2012-11-28T18:03:46Z Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.

Yeah, sure, I get it.

Change is risky. You could go from the frying pan to the fire. From bad to worse.

But still—the devil? If you know you’re dealing with Lucifer himself, isn’t it wise to at least toy with idea of getting the hell out of there?

“Better the devil you know” seems an argument for stasis. It suggests that since there are no guarantees, you might as well just suck it up and stay stuck with the devil.

Isn’t that setting the bar a little low?

OK, if you take some of the hyperbole out of it—“better the annoyances you know than the possibly more annoying annoyances you don’t,” then I can roll with it. Change for the sake of change isn’t always a good idea. (Sometimes it is. Depends.)

But why assume that there’s a devil on the other side of change? Maybe there’s an angel or puppies or cupcakes.

How about “Better the angel you might find than the devil you know.”

I suppose these pithy words are supposed to provide some sort of certainty when you are feeling in flux. You know what you know and that’s good information.

But it works both ways. We what if you know your situation is the devil?


What if  a situation really truly is bad and you are genuinely unhappy or abused or in the wrong place or any number of things that can feel like hell?

Doesn’t it make sense to act on that solid knowledge rather than out of fear of the unknown?

After all, when a door closes, a window opens.

Devil illustration is available from Shutterstock.

Sophia Dembling <![CDATA[The Stress Of Possessions]]> 2012-11-25T19:26:59Z 2012-11-24T16:08:34Z

Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants. – Epictetus

I bought a new car yesterday.

This is a BFD because I drive my cars until they crumble around me.

I’ve been driving a 1994 Accord since 1997.
(Those babies go forever.) By the end of our relationship, the bumper was held on with tape and it was in the throes of a two-year death rattle. Most of my friends had experienced some sort of breakdown adventure with me.

But I drove my jalopy with pride. It was my badge of anti-consumerism. (Plus, no car payment. I loved that.)

OK, I was a little embarrassed valet parking it at the Ritz-Carlton the other day, where I went for a business lunch, but at least when they brought it to me, the side with the taped-on bumper was facing away from the crowd.

But otherwise, I don’t need no fancypants car.

I’m not a particularly high-wants person when it comes to possessions. I’m greedy about experiences, but ho-hum about stuff.

Actually, the only time I really want is while shopping. Shopping malls are vortexes of desire, filled with lovely things that would change my life not at all, but that I can hardly imagine life without, at the moment.

And in moments of weakness I leaf through the catalogs that pile up on the kitchen counter this time of year and pick out things I want, seriously considering buying each and every one before (usually) coming to my senses.

At those times, I feel terribly, horribly deprived. Poor and scruffy. I can’t possible afford all the things I want and will never earn enough—because of course, once you start wanting stuff, it’s hard to stop.

I feel so much better about life when I don’t want anything, when I avoid malls, when catalogs go straight from the mailbox to the recycle bin.

But sometimes, you just gotta nut up and do what you gotta do. And I gotta have a car that starts every time I turn the key. I decided to buy a new car because as long as I’m going to drive my cars into the ground, I might as well get them when they’re young. (I’m50coughcough years old and this will be my first new car.)

So last night, I skulked off the dealership lot with a shiny, spankin’-new car.

I’m going to chalk this one up to “need” rather than “want” because I live in a driving city.

Even so, I’m going to feel less wealthy with my brand-new car. (Several hundred dollars a month less wealthy, plus collision insurance.) I’ll worry about it getting its first ding or scratch. People might want to steal it or break into it–something I never worried about with my old car.

And I have to readjust my self perception from someone who drives a beater (smugly) to someone who drives a shiny new car (sheepishly).

This new car will be fun, and it will feel like a burden. (Yeah, yeah. First-world problem.)

For me, the wealth of having few possessions is much less stressful than the wealth of having many.