“Low Expectations Are the Secret to Success”

A friend of mine said that to me recently. It was a joke. Of course it was a joke. But in every good joke lies a kernel of truth.

Yeah, if you set the bar low enough, you’re bound to be able to get over it. If all you want from life is a hovel with a mattress, a travel radius of less than 50 miles, a minimum wage job that doesn’t challenge you, and a spouse that challenges you even less, then the odds are quite good that you’ll succeed.

And that is a form of success, I suppose, if you are happy. If you are content and have no regrets, then you are right up there at the summit of humanity. Congratulations.

But maybe we should stop focusing so much on succeeding. Humans seem to be obsessed with the concept. No one wants to be a loser.

I think, though, that epic fails are highly indicative of people who are trying the hardest. People who take risks are usually the ones who care the most. Sticking your neck out means you have a much better view of an expanded horizon. It also means you’ve learned. Oh, how you’ve learned.

I’m not suggesting that you should set the bar so high that you’ll never have a chance. We can’t all be king of the world. But stretch yourself. Dream bigger than you think you can or should. Take chances. Have adventures. Live.

mountain climbing

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The Holiday Spirit

I hate it when I’m required to act jolly. I mean, it’s not like you can just flip a switch and be all “deck the halls” and “fa la la” just because it’s expected of you. That added pressure during the holiday season is exactly why suicide rates spike. I mean, if you’re already feeling like a freak or a lonely outcast, then being constantly reminded you’re also not in the right mood must be too much to bear.

There have been entire years where “Bah, humbug” was my default position. I didn’t want to be bothered. I avoided malls and parties and gift exchanges. I couldn’t work up the strength to decorate. I just wanted to make it through to January, so I’d have time to brace myself for the assault on single people everywhere that is more commonly known as Valentine’s Day.

What is this thing called the Christmas spirit? It sometimes eludes me. Other times it waits until the last possible moment, and then it smacks me upside the head with joy to the world. In those years, that smack comes as a huge relief, because I have to admit that the stress of not being part of the mainstream does get to me. It’s so much easier to go with the flow when you feel like you’re part of that flow.

Last year, I was kind of in “fake it ‘til you make it” mode. I did a lot of holiday things. And I did have fun. But I still felt kind of detached. (Check out that blog post here.)

But this year, I’m thrilled to say, I am already rejoicing! I’ve happily participated in a lot of holiday events with my husband, and we’ve decorated the whole house with lights, a tree, candles, etc. Our decorations won’t draw crowds, but it’s certainly more than I’ve ever done in my entire life. I get a warm fuzzy feeling whenever I’m there. I’m just happy to be happy, and happy to have someone special to share that with. I never thought I’d ever have it this good.

So, here I am, on the other side. I don’t want to make others feel bad for not being in the holiday spirit, but I also don’t want to feel bad for being in it myself. How about we make a deal: let’s just not put any expectations of any kind on ourselves or others this holiday season. Sound good? It sure does to me.

(And no, this photo is not of my house!)

Christmas Spirit

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Don’t Give Away Your Keys

Oh, this was going to be good! I was going to surprise someone. She was going to be happy. She was going to be ecstatic and excited. That, in turn, was going to make me happy.

Only, that’s not how it went down. My big surprise was met with awkward silence. Things were not going as I planned. Not at all. And instead of being happy, I cried myself to sleep. Two nights in a row. But not three. No, not three. And never again.

The mistake I made was assuming I could accurately predict the behavior, priorities, and thought processes of another human being. I had imagined myself in that person’s place, and I assumed that she would react in the exact same way that I would. I was genuinely shocked and hurt when she did not.

It actually has me reevaluating my entire world view. What can I count on? Whom can I rely on? How much of my conclusions are drawn on pure assumption, therefore rendering them invalid?

It is going to take me a long time to digest all of this. It will be uncomfortable, learning to lower my expectations. But I know, on some level, I had been giving away the keys to my happiness to someone else. How absolutely silly of me to build my joy on such unpredictable foundations! Everyone has different priorities and different criteria for their behavior. And guess what? That is each person’s right.

Here are the only things I know for sure: I can rely on myself. I can count on my own behavior. That’s my bedrock.

From now on, the only one who gets to hold the key to my happiness is me. No one can “make” me happy. My happiness lies within me. I can certainly share it, and I delight in doing so, but I can’t leech it off of someone else as if I’m some sort of happiness vampire.

Bottom line: It’s my key. You don’t get to have it. Go get your own.

Key

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Drunken Karaoke

I don’t drink, myself. And I’ve written about the havoc alcoholics can wreak. It’s actually one of my most popular posts.

But I don’t begrudge you your right to partake. Unless you get mean when you overdo it. There’s nothing worse than a mean drunk. If drinking lowers your inhibitions, and that was the only thing standing between you and being violent or destructive or cruel, then there’s something fundamentally wrong with you. I have zero tolerance for that.

People frequently use drinking as an excuse. “I was drunk. I’d never do that, normally.”

Well, I don’t think alcohol invades your body and turns you into someone else. I think it strips you down to your bare essence. Drinking lowers your mask. It’s kind of sad when what’s underneath isn’t pretty. (That, and nobody held your nose and poured the vodka down your throat. You chose to drink, so you need to take responsibility for your actions.)

I must admit that I do find happy drunks kind of amusing, within reason. I know some who like to have a party once a week in which everyone gets drunk and sings karaoke. They don’t drive. They don’t mean anybody any harm. They appear to be relatively functional the rest of the week. It’s funny, unless you live next door and are trying to sleep.

I know others who get all romantic when those inhibitions take a hike. Not that they can follow through, but at least it’s positive energy. That counts for something.

But when all is said and done, you need to make very sure your behavior isn’t negatively impacting others before you indulge. If you aren’t capable of doing that, then you should take a good, hard look at your life. Because it’s not only about how much fun you have, it’s about the legacy you leave behind.

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The Ingredients of Happiness

It always comes as quite a shock when someone famous commits suicide. Hearing on the radio that Anthony Bourdain chose to take his own life nearly caused me to swerve off the road. This is someone I’ve envied. He got to travel. He had crazy experiences and met fascinating people. He won countless awards. No doubt he also made a boatload of money.

This was someone who was successful, rich, and had an exciting life. Three things many of us strive for, and yet, now he’s gone. On the surface, you’d think that his was a life worth living. But to make this permanent choice, he must have been in a great deal of emotional pain. He must have been suffering. Surrounded by all of us, who admired him, he must have been all alone. Of course, this is pure speculation on my part. I doubt any of us will ever know the full story.

The only thing I can know for sure is that I am happier than Anthony Bourdain was. I would never have guessed this a week ago. But there’s incontrovertible evidence of this now. I’m still here.

So, what constitutes happiness? One thing is for sure: it isn’t money. I know that’s a cliché, but clichés become clichés for a reason.

I know someone who is a millionaire, but he’s also a divorced, estranged father and a raging alcoholic. He’s one of the most miserable people I have ever met. Money does nothing to solve your problems when all is said and done. Most of us know this, and yet so many of us still seem obsessed with filthy lucre. It’s such a waste of time.

As far as I can tell, the two things you need to be happy are connections and purpose. Humans are social animals. They need community. The more you surround yourself with people you love who love you back, the happier you will be. And having a purpose, such as a job you love, or a goal to strive for, or even a hobby, makes life worthwhile. If you have none of those things, I encourage you to become a volunteer. Helping others is the noblest of purposes.

Don’t get me wrong. None of us can be happy all the time. People who are happy all the time are mentally ill. It’s how we cope with the rough patches that truly defines us. But there’s a lot that you can do to make your life satisfying overall.

If you are contemplating suicide or know someone who is, I strongly encourage you to seek help. Here in the US, a great resource is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Their number is 1-800-273-8255. Please, just do that one last thing before taking any steps that, once done, can never be undone. Surely you owe yourself that much.

Anthony Bourdain, I hope you have found the peace you apparently could not find in this life. I wish you had made a different choice.

Anthony Bourdain

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Moving Moments

My friend Jim told me the other day that when he saw the Grand Canyon for the first time, he was moved to tears. I totally get that. Sometimes you are just struck by the pure, intense beauty of the moment.

Since, for me, these moments are rare, they seem all the more precious. Because of that, they reside firmly in my memory. I would posit that when you are moved to tears, you are never more firmly in the moment, the now. You are there, man. Totally there, and completely grateful to be alive. It’s the best feeling on earth.

I love both experiencing that and also witnessing it in others. When someone cries while saying their wedding vows, it completely does me in. (And I don’t even like weddings, usually.)

I remember when I took this picture. I had finally gotten my first bridgetending job, after a lifetime of jobs that I absolutely hated. I was standing on the balcony, watching the sunrise, and thinking how lucky I was to be able to witness this miracle, and to be getting paid for something I love to do. I’m glad the camera had automatic focus, because it was hard to see through my tears.

Wishing you moments of absolute and utter joy, dear reader.

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Please Don’t Flaunt Your Flowers

So, tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. Hurray for love! I hope you appreciate it every day of the year. Love really is all that matters in this world, and the romantic kind is beyond compare.

Having said that, I hope you will be a bit sensitive to those of us who don’t have it in our lives. Some of us look to Valentine’s Day with a certain level of dread and resignation. It’s particularly painful for those of us who have lost loved ones. And it can be downright depressing for those of us who have given up all hope of finding someone to love. (I know you’ll be tempted to say, “You’ll find someone!” in the comments section. But the odds are equally good that I won’t. Please allow me to reside in the real world.)

For those of us in the lonely hearts’ club, your big bouquet of flowers, delivered to the office with a great deal of fanfare, is disheartening. Your chocolate makes us lose our appetite. We are happy for you, yes, but it would be nice to be able to be happy for ourselves.

And please understand that for the lovelorn, the day after Valentines is viewed simply as a great opportunity to buy chocolate on sale. We don’t rush to work in eager anticipation of hearing about your romantic dinner at the fancy restaurant, or your bed strewn with rose petals. We’re just happy to have survived the day once again.

So please, enjoy your flowers. But could you take them home now? Thanks.

flowers

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