Break the habit

I photographed these flowers almost exactly ten years ago today. They continue to bring me joy.  Paris, December 2005

I photographed these flowers almost exactly ten years ago today.
They continue to bring me joy. Paris, December 2005

“Talking about our problems is our greatest addiction.  Break the habit.  Talk about your joys.”Rita Schiano

Right now I could sit here and go on for hours about the cares that I am facing– which include deep sorrows, minor annoyances, and the entire spectrum of trials that lie in between. I’m almost certain you could too.  I know some people are deemed more fortunate than others, and some in this world are suffering atrocities that go beyond our comprehension. Yet, even among those of us who are blessed to be free of dangerous turmoil, I doubt that anyone is without cares and challenges.

The good news is that no life need be bereft of joys, either.  They lie all around us, quickened by awareness and illuminated by our focused attention.  For me, there is hardly anything more fun than noticing and sharing the beauty and humor and color and whimsy of life.  A flower, a song, a funny joke, a good book, a cup of tea or coffee, a nice hot meal in a cozy kitchen…on and on the list could go.

There’s a place, of course, for sharing our sorrows with those who have earned our trust.  We all need to vent at times, and to explore aloud the difficulties that can vex and overwhelm us to the point of paralysis.  I thank God for those friends who are willing to walk with us through the uncertainty of pain and suffering.

But it’s just as important– and maybe even more so– to have friends who shine into our somber moods with a lightness of spirit that lifts our hearts.  These folks don’t minimize or ignore their own problems, or anyone else’s, but they have a knack for spotting the rainbows lurking within the storms.  If you know people with such a gift, stay close to them and learn from them. Prepare yourself to be, as Maya Angelou has said, “the rainbow in someone else’s cloud.

It seems we are surrounded by talk about our problems.  It’s a significant part of almost every television show, and is the underlying message of many commercials.  It takes up much of our conversations wherever we go.  What a waste of happiness, to live our short lives surrounded by gloom!

I hope you will join me in breaking the habit of allowing our talk to focus on our problems.  It’s true that we cannot avoid dealing with our challenges, but talking about them often makes them seem worse than they are, and too often, talk does not bring solutions.  I invite you to spend a few minutes focusing on something worth smiling about.  Feel free to scatter some of the sunbeams you gather, by sharing about them in the comments today!

23 Comments

  1. Good morning, Julia!
    Here, here!
    I know that you love flowers. I love sunrises. But when I stop and take a picture of a flower, I think of you. Your light shining into that subject flower is like a rainbow, almost magical, not tactile, and something that I could have easily missed or overlooked if it weren’t for the light you’ve scattered on this topic. Bless you, and may you have a “rosy”day! 😀

    • Susan, I too love sunrises, but normally not enough to get up and out as early as it takes to be able to enjoy them! However, when I do wake early with insomnia, I relish walking outside just as the day begins. As for flowers, that’s a lifelong fascination. As far back as I can remember, I doodled flowers in the margins of my school papers. Once in a department store, when I was in my late 40’s, the young clerk was ringing up my purchases and remarked “I see you like flowers.” I had not noticed it, but everything I bought that day had some sort of flower motif! 😀 I am so happy you enjoy my floral fixation. A bouquet of good wishes to you!

  2. What a wonderful post, Julia! I love this. We forget so easily how blessed we are. I tell myself daily that what I focus on, grows. and where intention goes, energy flows. It makes a quick turn around in thinking. I choose not to focus on what’s wrong with the world, more on what’s right with it. Then I see more of that. People behaving kindly. There are more of them, they just don’t make the news. Why is that? Thanks for the reminder today.

    • Marlene, there really are a lot of kind people out there. Since they tend to focus on others and do not try to hog the spotlight, it’s easy to miss them, but with time we can learn to spot them if we are looking. “Seek and ye shall find.” I’m reading an interesting book about habits, and how we tend to think intention alone is enough to form a desired habit (or eliminate an unwanted habit) — but in many cases, so this psychologist says, intentions alone are not enough. I think negative thinking just fosters more negative thinking, and the whole thing spirals downward until our automatic behaviors override what we say we want to do. Thanks for being among those who choose to break that cycle — and for encouraging me to keep trying.

      • Sounds like an interesting book you are reading. I’ve popped over to the psychologist’s blog and will check it out further. Habits require action behind intention and you need a new habit to replace the old one that you want to discard. We are all encouraging each other. A team effort makes life so much easier. Have a wonderful weekend ahead. Giant hugs.

        • Thank you Marlene, giant hugs back to you! 😀 ❤

  3. blseibel

    I love it “What a waste of happiness, to live our short lives surrounded by gloom!”. I do try but sometimes the boom leaks in. I have joys abounding – my wonderful daughter who lives with me, my 92 year old dad lives nearby, I have a warm, nice home to live in, I have a great family who walk with me through this tough time and a church family who lifts me up and I could go on and on. Thanks be to the Lord for all these things and his love.

    • You had me at “92 year old dad.” 😀 I feel so lucky to have had our Daddy with us until he was 87. 92 is rare indeed for a man of your father’s generation. I hope you will have his company for many more years to come. Yes, it’s so easy to let the many, very real difficulties we face sneak in and steal our joy, but as long as we recognize the battle, it’s already half won. We too have always depended on having a church family to surround us with encouragement and love. And I am always so thankful to return to our cozy (if rather messy) home, whether I’ve been away for an hour or a week or more. I join you in thanking God for these and many other blessings.

  4. Sheila

    Julia,this post is so beautiful. Yesterday had a special happening that I wanted to share. We went to Help4Kids/BackpackBuddies to drop off some items. This is a 100% volunteer organization that functions on donations. Stephanie and I were asked to come into the back area to see the weekend backpacks. We were overwhelmed! There were thousands of white bags with food items inside, stacked neatly in crates, to be delivered to the area schools today, to the children that might otherwise be hungry this weekend. Monday, this will start anew for the upcoming Friday. Seeing this love, kindness, and generosity made me take another look at myself, my blessings and the need to do more for others. I close my eyes and see those little white bags and the happiness they’ll provide to thousands. Thank you for being a sunbeam in my life! ☀️ Love, Sheila 💛

    • Sheila, this is such happy news. Just imagine all the excitement for those receiving AND for those giving! Today the sunbeams are coming from you, shining brightly! Love, Julia

  5. Julia,
    Your post is quite true. Too often we allow our negative attitudes toward our troubles to become habitual. We then react in a knee-jerk fashion toward even the slightest inconvenience.
    Balance, as always must be the goal. Counter trials with the trivial. For if one’s frown is given reason to transform to a smile, then when the muscles are relaxed the mouth takes the shape of the contented.
    -Alan

  6. I found it really interesting this week to go to my VA Clinic and speak with a psychologist about my life. This happens every couple of years as I change primary care physicians. You see in the “meet & greet” portion of breaking in a new doctor they all become alarmed when I share my mental health issues with them right along with my present physical health.

    This go around I had just the one meeting with a shrink who agreed after talking with me for an hour that I didn’t need further sessions. I have learned to deal with my roller coaster ride with bouts of depression and occasional thoughts of suicide. I don’t know what’s “normal” for anyone else but for me I simply have learned to give it 24 hours before acting on negative thoughts. Whatever trauma caused that low dip clear within the next 24 hours.

    I’ve never been on any form of medication for depression so the good doctor asked me my secret in dealing with life’s curve balls. I then had the opportunity to testify about my Christian walk. She was amazed to hear how I gave of a serious drinking problem the day I accepted Jesus into my life. That was basically the end of my “meet & greet” session for the future until I get another new primary care physician who thinks I need help. 🙂

    • Bob, I appreciate your sharing the encouragement of your successful outcomes with the sorts of challenges that I believe almost all of us face in some form, at some time in our lives. I agree that when it comes to mental health, as with so many other things, there is no magic bullet or one-size-fits-all approach, as much as some professionals might want to believe there is.

      We are, not unreasonably, programmed to worry a lot about everyone’s mental health these days. Our world is a crazy-making place. But as your story exemplifies, the solutions in some cases can be simpler than they are in others — of course, bearing in mind that “simple” is not the same thing as “easy.” Having myself been out on the ledge, figuratively speaking, more times than I care to remember, I too know that faith has kept me sane, to whatever degree I can be viewed as sane, that is 😀 .

      That’s not to say that it always works that way. We have all had the misfortune to know people whose faith (or what they thought of as faith) has caused them to do things that were very harmful to themselves or others. I suppose that is why some professionals tend to be at least a bit afraid of religion when it is mixed with psychological crisis. But I’d venture to guess that those who warp or misinterpret religious tenets to violent or malicious ends would have found other reasons to justify their misbehavior. It’s a shame for faith to become the scapegoat for evil, which so often disguises itself as good. (II Corinthians 11: 13-15)

      Those of us who seek consolation in our faith often find that almost everything the psychologists tell us about mental health was said (or at least implied) in sacred scriptures thousands of years ago. I am so happy to know that you have access to this source of life!

      • Thank you. I’m a simple person who just wants to live in solitude and peace & quiet. Don’t hassle me and nobody is in harm’s way.

        • Bob, that reminds me of a couple of Ashleigh‘s quotes that my Daddy always loved: “Be a good neighbor and leave me alone.” and “No man is an island, but some of us are long peninsulas.” 😀

  7. HarryS

    My soul rests with you, my Anamchara.

    I am so distressed about the injustice and unrighteousness wreaked upon innocent people that I have a feeling of, “I just don’t know what we’re going to be able to do about this”. This is a perfect setup for prayer and I mean ardent and very sincere desire that we somehow reach and teach our terroristic perpetrators and furthermore somehow bring about a total change in thought and therefore motivation for these dastardly deeds.
    I must say that their community of people of like faith seems to be doing what they can to distance themselves but this is not the solution. The solution comes in persons admitting they are wrong in perpetrating injustice mostly due to misinformational indoctrination disseminated and received even from early childhood.
    My understanding of Jihad is the teaching is intended for Muslims to be a manifestation of personal spiritual warfare very similar to our own fearless and searching moral inventories and not for its perverted manifestations in terroristic actions of unrighteousness and injustice.

    Perhaps the “Jihadist” should engage in a personal Jihad.

    So must this central teaching from the Quran be totally overhauled in the context of loving our neighbors as ourselves?
    I’m reasonably sure this teaching is also there in the Quran.

    My prayers are for the health, wealth and happiness of all people.

    • Harry, thank you for this heartfelt lament about the tragedy all around us. There are so many of us who grieve with you over the hatred and violence in the world. It’s easy to feel helpless in the face of these acts perpetrated by a relatively small percentage of people, which nonetheless have such a devastating effect on so many. As for myself, I find some small consolation in my positive interactions with my neighbors (including many who are Muslim, if the head covering and/or dress can be taken as an indication) that tell me again and again that there are far more of us who want and desire peace and good will. I also avoid watching the news. If this makes me naive, so be it. But I take my solace from knowing that God is both just and merciful, and also from knowing there are millions who could sincerely echo your words of longing for the health, wealth and happiness of all people. Thanks again for sharing your heart with us here.

  8. LB

    Julia, you’ve been much on my mind since reading your comments on our FB thread. I’ve not responded yet, but your words have been ever present in my mind. How you manage to find focus on the positive is impressive and shows an inner strength. In reading through the comments, I am so glad that you have love and friends around you.

    • Thank you LB! I feel you guys sending me strength and support across the miles, and it really does make a difference. ❤

  9. Yeah, why do we do that? Sometimes I feel we enjoy talking about our problems though that only makes us feel worse. May be we are self inflicting pain to drive out another pain. (As fire drives out fire, so pity pity – Shakespeare)

    • Bindu, I think we often try to mask pain in one area by dwelling on (even exaggerating) less intense problems. When people are unhappy, I often find myself thinking “this is not really about what it seems to be about” and I know that’s probably true of me as well. It took me a long time to figure out that just talking about an unhappy situation magnifies its power to upset me. I do realize there is a place for therapeutic venting, but it’s beneficial far less often than we are tempted to engage in it. I had never heard that quote from Shakespeare, but it’s so true! Thanks for joining us today. Hope you are doing well.

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