Tag Archives: improving life

USING YOUR CHOICE

Last week we had local elections, and the turn-out was low – many people just didn’t bother. I find it disappointing that people don’t vote when they can – it’s one of our chances to choose who represents our interests in a democracy. And it may be a flawed system, but it is a lot better than having no choice at all.

It made me think about how we choose in our lives: whether we make passive or active choices.

A passive choice is when we ‘let it happen’. This can be at any level, from not voting, to ignoring the deterioration in a close relationship, to just taking the substitution in our on-line grocery shop!

It’s not that it is wrong, per se, but it is a loss of control over our lives and how they work, and it leaves us a victim of circumstance.

On the other hand, we can make active choices. This means that we decide what will work best for us, and act accordingly. We say a clear yes or no, based on our values and preferences.

In this case, we are consciously making the best choice for ourselves that we can in the circumstances, and we accept the outcomes because we know we did what was within our control. There are, of course, things we can’t control, but we do always have a choice about how we react to them.

I don’t claim to always get it right, but the more often I make active choices, the more it becomes a habit. Even if it is just saying no to that substitution in your groceries, it’s another small step in running your own life, and not being a victim.

IT’S ALL WRONG – WHAT CAN I DO?

Everywhere we look at the moment, things are going wrong: the war in Ukraine; climate change; the continuing spread of Covid; the problems with the NHS and many other institutions; the supply chains; the mess called our government; the rising cost of living – not to mention all those other things we all have to deal with in our everyday lives, whether it be illness in our families or failing to get hold of someone on the phone, etc, etc.

Distress, upset, delays, frustrations, doom-laden predictions – they seem to have become part of everyone’s life. It can leave us feeling powerless and miserable. And that doesn’t help.

So what can I do?

Well, it’s the actions of people that change the world, for better or worse, so I have decided to do something each day that makes a small positive difference, hoping that they all add up to something that helps.

At the macro-level, I can write to my MP, I can donate to a charity that is helping those who are suffering most. I can make my voice heard in protest against wrong – as Amnesty International say: one extra may be what tips the balance.

At the micro-level, I can continue to wear a mask in crowded places, I can ensure that I recycle as much as possible, use less plastic, waste less food. I can live my life as ethically, ecologically and caringly as I can.

At an interpersonal level, I can listen to and sympathise with other people’s issues and frustrations, without judgement or interruption, allowing them to express their frustrations so they don’t just go round and round in their heads.

At a personal level, I can tackle one of those frustrations at a time: keep making that phone call until I get a result or whatever it is. And I can take care of my own physical and mental health, and use things that bring me joy to lift my mood. I’m not doing all of this all of the time – that’s too much and would just send me into despair again! But if each day I do something, then at least I’m doing my bit to right all this wrong. And if we all did…

A GLIMMER OF HOPE

I’m finding it hard to be positive or optimistic at the moment – there’s so much wrong in the world.

So I’m actively looking for the glimmers of hope, to lift my mood. And when you look for those glimmers, you find them.

In the current awful situation in Ukraine, amidst the destruction and heartbreak, there are the amazing acts of kindness, generosity, and care: ordinary people responding from the heart to other ordinary people in distress.

And the level of worldwide condemnation of Putin for his behaviour is enormous, whilst remembering that it is not the Russian people who are behind all this. It is good to see that we haven’t turned them all into the ‘red under the bed’ of the past.

This is also making many governments look more seriously at the potential for developing their own renewable energy sources, to make it possible to be self-sufficient – that will help with climate change more than any agreement or promise will.

At the same time, Volodymyr Zelensky is setting an example of true leadership. He hasn’t run away – anything but – and he is proactive in asking for help and encouraging his people. (Wish we had someone like him!)

And at a simpler level, I see all the spring flowers in my garden, and the new shoots and buds on the perennials, and I am reminded that nature goes on doing its cycle, no matter what we are doing, and that it is natural for things to restart, to flourish again.

Good things are going on, big questions are being asked – our job is to support both these things, help keep them going when this particular crisis is resolved. A crisis means a crossroads, a choice point, so let’s grow the glimmers of hope, and believe that the world can be a better place. We can take the right road at this crossroads.

THE POWER OF ‘KINDNECTION’

Okay, I’ve stolen this word from David Hamilton. He made it up to express the importance of connections of kindness. I love it because it covers so much.

And right now, we are witnessing many acts of kindness on the news, in the midst of the horror of the war in Ukraine. People are doing everything they can and more to help those who are suffering because of the war.

The connections of kindness are both the connections made between humans through kindness, and the connection of kindness to other parts of us. Every kind act, gesture, or even expression has a health benefit for both the giver and the receiver. Kindness calms stress, boosts our immune system, ups our mood, and generally makes us feel better.

And it doesn’t have to be a grand gesture. It can just be being friendly, smiling, listening to someone’s woes. We don’t have to do a lot, and we benefit from doing it – seems obvious, doesn’t it!

I often think that people who are being mean-spirited, unpleasant, unfriendly, must be very unhappy, unhealthy people. After all, if kindness benefits our physical and mental health, surely unkindness does the opposite!

Wouldn’t it be great if the research on this topic were built into our health system and published in the media in different forms, so people took it seriously and actually practised being kind more often!

In the meantime, let’s all remember that small acts of kindness make a big difference to all of us, and keep doing them, even with those mean-spirited people. Maybe they’ll get infected with it.

WILL WE EVER LEARN?

Like most people, I am horrified by what is happening in Ukraine. There is so much historical evidence that wars do not solve problems or end well, yet politics continues to cause wars. And the result is human suffering.

It makes me despair sometimes that we just don’t seem to learn from past mistakes. So what can we do?

Well, we can protest against war, we can do what we can to help those who are the hapless victims of the war, but then what?

We can notice the kindness of people in an emergency: people driving miles to pick up refugees and take them to a safe place, people providing shelter and provisions for those refugees.

We can notice that the president of Ukraine – not a career politician – has not run away and hidden, saved himself. He has stood up for his people, and called out the wrongness of the situation on all sides. So maybe we can have leaders who actually care about something other than their own egos.

And we can notice that large numbers of Russians are prepared to risk imprisonment in order to protest about what their ‘leader’ is doing. They are not the enemy.

It also seems to me that one thing we can do is to make sure we don’t replicate the mistakes of our ‘leaders’ – that we consciously make an effort to learn from our own mistakes, our own miscalculations, our own lack of understanding of other people’s view of the world.

When we know we’ve got it wrong – and we all do know – let’s stop and look at what happened. This is not an exercise in beating yourself up. It is to consider what else we could have done, how we might have approached the situation differently, in order to create a better, more positive outcome. By thinking this through, we make it more likely that, next time we come across a similar situation, we put into practice our revised version of action and show to ourselves that we have learnt from our own history.

It is sad that events like this can happen in our world – pray God, this time there may be some learning from it!

MORE THAN JUST MUSIC

I love live music. It has given me joy since I was very young. Going to a good concert has always transported me, made my heart sing.

Articulating what it is that has such a profound effect on me has been difficult, until I read a statement by Bruce Springsteen about his performing:

‘I come out there at night and I believe that I can inspire you through hard work, the deep development of a philosophy, and the incorporation of spirituality. And that I can inspire you to develop those things within yourself.. That is what I consider my job – as well as making you dance!!’

Well, he does it for me! And I think that, whether they are conscious of it or not, it’s what all great performers do: they remind us in some visceral way of the fundamental values and emotions that human beings have.

When someone offers out their best gifts to others, it touches a chord inside all of us that is way beyond the surface performance or act. It isn’t only in music performances: we have it in films, theatre, paintings – all the arts.

And we can also emulate this in simple everyday ways. Every time we act from our hearts with others, we evoke their heartfelt reaction. Every time we are fully present with others, we give them a gift. Every time someone displays joy, they remind others of joy.

And we need more of this in the world. So let’s play our part, as well as appreciating every time someone offers ‘more than juts their music’ to us.

DO YOU FEEL LUCKY?

I’ve rarely ever won a raffle prize or a lottery – but then I don’t buy tickets for them very often either! Yet I consider myself to be lucky. Do you?

I have met some amazing people who have helped me to live my life better, and given me new perspectives on things. I have some lovely friends who liven up my life. I’ve had homes I love, with great neighbours. The jobs I’ve had have mostly been enjoyable and fulfilling. The list of the reasons I feel lucky go on and on.

Of course, there have been some periods in my life where things didn’t feel great, but as I look back, I can see how they led to life improving in some way.

I was prompted to write about this by re-reading ‘The Luck Factor’ by Richard Wiseman. He is a psychologist who did research on people who considered themselves exceptionally lucky or unlucky. His conclusion was that it mostly depends on your attitude, unsurprisingly.

The ‘lucky’ people actively followed up on possible opportunities, and used their intuition to make decisions. They also believed things would work out, so approached them in a positive way, and they were proactive in moving out of bad situations and turning them round. And, guess what, ‘unlucky’ people had the opposite approach to life – passive victims of circumstance.

So the question heading this piece is the right one – it’s all about how we feel. And feeling lucky is so much better as a way to live our lives.

So look at your life, and count all the ways in which you are lucky. Do you feel lucky now?

DON’T LET AGE DEFINE YOU

It is easy to get caught by the story that getting older means that you slow down, are bound to have things physically wrong with you, and you lose your ‘bounce’.

There may be elements of truth in this story, but it is far from a necessary reality. Of course, it is unlikely that we will become great athletes in our 60’s and 70’s, but that is true of most of us in our 20’s and 30’s!

However, there are many areas where we can excel, and use our experience of life to help us to be creative, active, interested and interesting. I read a great line the other day: “ You can age or you can decay’.

Ageing means adapting to the part of the cycle of life you are in, and making the most of it, as opposed to bemoaning the fact that you have moved on from previous stages.

There are grand advantages in getting older, in my experience. I worry less; I am able to do what I want instead of being driven by the need to earn a living and look after my family; I have a clearer perspective on things; I can experiment with finding things I enjoy doing, rather than just a list of what I should or must do; and I care less about what others think of me.

All these advantages give us the scope to develop and shape our everyday lives to suit us better. We can bring out the best in ourselves and be the role model for ageing in a different way. It is a time in our lives when we can truly be the best of ourselves.

So don’t let age define you, don’t ‘act your age’. Be who you really are, and love this part of the cycle of life.

MAKE IT RELATIVE NOT ABSOLUTE

It’s a new year and that time when we review the last year and think about how we want this year to be. The trouble with New Year resolutions is that they tend to be absolute, i.e. they tend to be goals that we attain or, more often, fail to attain.

I don’t know about you, but, in the past, mine have tended to be pretty repetitive – same old goals, same old failing to reach them! And I’ve learnt to do it differently, in a way that makes me feel I’m making progress instead of failing. My New Year resolutions are relative.

What that means in practice is that I look at where I’m up to in how I want to be, and then ask myself:

‘What would I prefer to do more of, or less of, or the same as, last year?’

‘Is there anything I’m ready to leave behind, or add into my life, to make it how I want it to be?’

It’s a kinder approach because I’m working on progressing to how I want to be, not how I should be, and I don’t specify how much, just some progress. It also allows for where I am now, so it isn’t a pressure to make radical change, it’s a refinement to make my life a bit better, in ways I’m ready for.

So this year, set some resolutions that are about some more of this, and less of that; ones that add in a bit of new, and leave behind a bit of old that is no longer right for you. Make them something you look forward to, rather than fail at.

Happy New Year!

WE ARE UNIQUE BUT NOT SEPARATE

I marvel at the myriad ways in which human beings express themselves. Each of us is a unique, wonderful creature, with a combination of talents and characteristics which distinguish us from each other. But this does not make us separate from other humans or from the world in which we live.

We are all part of a larger whole and depend on the health of the whole if we are to thrive. Our world is a complex and dynamic living organism, and we all need to play our part in it, if we are to maintain its wonder.

Yet our philosophy seems to be based on as level of self-centredness that is leading to more and more crises. There are the crises in climate change: extreme weather, desertification, flooding. There are the crises in biodiversity: species dying out deforestation. There are the crises in population movement: refugees from war, poverty, and lack of safety. And of course, the crises arising from the pandemic.

Yet those of us who are presently relatively protected from the negative effects of these crises often act as if it’s not our problem: ‘I’m alright, Jack’.

It’s nearly Christmas. Whether you believe the story of the birth of Jesus or not, it’s a powerful parable. His family were forced to leave their home and go to another town – twice! They met with rejection: ‘no room at the inn’. And then someone offered them the stable, so they at least had shelter.

We are still repeating the story: shutting refugees out, ignoring the homeless, keeping our vaccines for ourselves and letting others die, consuming like mad, and stripping our natural world in the process.

I know I can’t effect the change I want to see, where we all recognise that if some part of this living organism is not able to function well, it affects us all. But I can do my bit, by recognising my own inter-connectedness with everything and everyone.

This means standing up against the narrow self-centred approach taken by our ‘leaders’. It means showing care for other human beings in whatever way I can – those I know personally and those I don’t know. And it means consuming less, and caring for my little piece of the planet.

I would love to be a healthy part of a healthy living organism – our world. Let’s all wish for that this Christmas, and do our bit to help to make it happen – a true peace on earth and goodwill to all mankind.