How to Cultivate Gratitude

I am happy and blessed with my life, though it is not always free of challenges and trials.  As I have shared before, I have struggled with depression since I was a little girl.  Though this was not the cause of all of my depression, I found that when I realized what I actually had rather than focusing on what I lacked; I found that I was able to cultivate more joy and gratitude into my life.  Yes, cultivating gratitude can sometimes be a challenge, especially when you are facing something tough and personal. However, it still can be done. Gratitude should be cultivated even more during times of prosperity and peace.  Here is what I am learning and have learned about how to cultivate a grateful attitude:

  1. Focus on what you do have, rather than what you don’t have: I believe that the number one barrier to being grateful is our focus. When we focus on all the things that we lack, we tend to develop an attitude of self-pity, which often leads to complaining and bitterness. When we focus on the things we do have, we realize just how much we are blessed. For instance, when I get frustrated at myself because I don’t know how to do something right, my focus is wrongly on the talents that I don’t have instead of my strengths. However, if I shift my focus on something I am better at—such as writing– I find that I can be much more encouraged and less upset at the thing in which I am struggling.  Many people who struggle with being grateful for what they have also struggle with envy because their focus is on getting (or wishing they had) something that someone else possesses, instead of what they have already been given.  For instance, I used to envy people who were happily married and had children, because, as a single, I did not have those for myself. However, when I instead focused on the relative freedom and time I had to help others, I realized the blessing that I had being single that these married people no longer had.
  2. Know that we are often given more than we deserve: Many people, including myself, at times, struggle with the fact that we get more than we deserve, because of our sense of entitlement. However, even though we have all hurt others, though maybe not all intentionally, most of us still have people that love and care for us, and we have some semblance of joy in our lives.  The fact that others still give us mercy even though we may have hurt them before should cause us to rejoice and be thankful!  If you drive, have you not gotten a ticket even though you were speeding through traffic? That is evidence of mercy!   Or you made a serious error at work, and your boss does not fire you? That, too, is evidence of grace and mercy!  Bring to mind the moments when you should have had to bear the consequences of your bad actions, but in God’s and others’ mercy, you didn’t have to.  Moreover, think of the times when you did something careless, but you were saved from disaster.
  3. Consider others who are in worse situations than you: Finally, a great way to cultivate gratitude is not to look at others who are doing better than you, but see the people around you who are in more difficult situations than you. For instance, some people I know have either a loved one struggling with a serious medical issue or are struggling themselves. This helps me to be grateful that my family and I are in good health, even though I may come home from work tired sometimes. Recently, at work, we had a celebration for the bonus that my co-workers and I were able to get on our last paycheck.   They served pizza. Though the pizza became cold after being out for several hours, I was grateful work provided pizza for us because of what I heard about the struggle of people in other countries to get any food at all. In particular, I was thinking about the people of Venezuela. I heard that since they have had an electrical shortage, meat cannot be adequately cooled in freezers, so eventually it becomes spoiled, but the stores sell them anyway because people need food. So, the people actually buy the spoiled meat, season it with some spices, and eat it!  Their dire situation helps me be grateful that we have so much food, electricity, and working cooling systems (freezers and refrigerators) in the U.S and that we can eat delicious, edible food that is not spoiled.

By focusing on all that God has blessed me with, by knowing that I am often being given more than I ultimately deserve and by considering people in worse situations than me, I am able to cultivate an attitude of gratitude for my life. When I do this, I find that I am not only able to be more thankful for what I have, but I am also to have more joy, even in the tough times. Even though we may face many challenges and struggles, we still can cherish and appreciate what we do have before it is too late.

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Dangers of Apathy

I have heard countless stories on the news about parents who abused and then killed their children, about terrorists beheading their victims, and countless other reports of violent atrocities committed against humanity and  animals.  The perpetrators of these acts have often ceased caring about their victims and much of all humanity, as well, except themselves.  Some of them probably think they can a.) Get away with their crimes or b.) Don’t care about what will happen to them in this life, or sadly, the next.  My pastor has warned our congregation repeatedly about the consequences of apathy in life and about other people.

Here are some of the dangers that we can put ourselves and others in when we get apathetic:

When we are apathetic towards our lives in general, this is generally a sign of major depression.  I have experienced this somewhat in my life during the depths of my depressive episodes.   Not only did I have few, if any, close friends, but I also became bored with almost any activity that I tried to do.  I was just “surviving,” so to speak. There really wasn’t any joy or purpose in my life at the time. When people get to the point in their lives where they “just don’t’ care about anything,” they need a serious mental health intervention.  Even though most people do care about their lives with their loved ones, I know of many people that hate their jobs so much, they just do the bare minimum, with no passion or joy in what they are doing whatsoever, and they wonder why they feel so miserable. When people are apathetic of an important aspect of their lives, or even all of their lives, their performance in that area often suffers greatly. They no longer feel motivated to do their best or come up with new ideas. Sometimes it is because they do not receive the needed encouragement to get motivated, as is in many cases, with people hating their jobs. Another reason they may fall into apathy is that feel that nothing they do is good enough, so they stop trying. Since apathy can be a symptom of depression, if one gets apathetic for too long, he or she can quickly become suicidal and/or self-destructive in other ways.

When we are apathetic towards our loved ones and/or most of humanity in general, this leads to destruction. In fact, as I have heard and witnessed myself, when a person stops caring about others, he or she becomes a monster.  I don’t mean the cartoonish ones on television, but the evil, angry menace that is embodied in all true monsters.  Apathy towards humanity not only devalues them, but also leads to destruction. In fact, most, if not all, murderers have some degree of apathy towards their victims. Apathy towards humanity and/or our loved ones not only destroys others’ lives, but also our own.  When one realizes the destruction their apathy has caused, it is often to relate to rectify their actions.   Apathy comes from a heart of selfishness and narcissism.  Apathy towards humanity isolates people because it cuts off our ability to have compassion towards another’s pain or misfortune, and this leads to them not wanting to relate to us anymore.

So, how do we avoid being apathetic about life or about other people? How do we avoid this destruction in our lives?  Reversing apathy takes hard work, but it is well worth the cost.  One thing we can do if we struggle with apathy is to learn how to love others again.  One way to do that is to learn how to have compassion for others. We can volunteer in our community or help out where needed at our jobs, not just for our benefit, but for others’ benefit as well.  We can also learn about the trials and the struggles our loved ones are facing and know how that will affect our own lives, as it should.  Then, we should actively try to encourage and support them in any way we can.  Intentionally invest in other people’s lives and try to influence their lives for the better, not the worse.  Another way to love others is to be willing to make any necessary sacrifices for them and/or be willing to give of our time, talents, and resources to help them. Learning how to be generous and sacrificial of ourselves is not only a great way to combat apathy, but also a wonderful way to have joy and be grateful for what we already have!

Even if it seems that many people in society are becoming increasingly apathetic about life and/or other people, we can upset the applecart, so to speak, by having a motivation to better the lives of others and our own as well.  Apathy is a slippery, steep slope to destruction of all kinds.  Apathy can take a while to recover from, but with hard work, renewed passion, and perseverance, it can be done.   Let’s live our lives with passion today, because as my pastor has often said, “Time is life.”

Don’t Waste Your Life- a poem

poem written on:  9/4/2018

Don’t waste your life

On the trivial

Don’t waste your life

On bitterness

Don’t waste your life

On not trying

Don’t waste your life

On the fleeting

 

Embrace each day

As the last one

Know you have done

The best you could

Forgive others

And show mercy

Be kind always

And most of all

Be a bright light

And show the love

From up above

5 Convictions I Strive To Live By Everyday

On this Labor Day (a holiday celebrating resting from work in the U.S, though, ironically I’m working that day!) Weekend, I have been thinking a lot about what my future may be, what I’m doing with my life now, and how I can improve myself and help others. What I keep coming back to, in pondering all this, are these following convictions on which I base my life.  These convictions have developed both by my growing relationship with God, and all the things that I have been learning from those that God has put in my life.  Here are these convictions, how I plan to continue to implement them into my life, and some of the people who inspire me to live these:

  1. Be authentic.—There is little else that angers me more than someone who lives to lie and deceive others, or who claim to have a life of truth and love, but their actions tell others, otherwise. On the other hand, I appreciate those who are able to be honest and vulnerable, even at the risk of their own reputations. I aim to be someone who appreciates, encourages, and lives authenticity.  I want people to be able to be real with me. I do not appreciate when people lie because they are too afraid to tell the truth. When people share their hearts with me without hesitation and with all honesty, I always strive to value that. One person that I believe had an authentic soul was Rachel Joy Scott, one of my faith heroes, who was murdered in a school shooting, almost 20 years ago.  She didn’t hesitate to write about and discuss her struggles with her faith, and she lived her faith in Christ well–loving others as she had been loved by God and others through caring about the new people in her school, the disabled, and the hurting.
  2. Do your best.—My dad always encourages me to do my best, even when doing so, may not always produce desirable results. My dad does not expect perfection of my brother and me, but he does expect our very best.  However, I did not fully heed this practice until an incident in fourth or fifth grade, when I refused to read a book about the Gold Rush because it bored me to death. However, when I had to do a presentation about it, I had to read (or at least, skim) the book in order to do well on it. I ended up passing this portion by the skin of my teeth. Since then, I have almost always strived to do my best with what I could. This has led me to try my best to achieve what I can in many areas of my life, including my job and my relationships with others.
  3. Never stop caring about other people.—I wrote once, as my Facebook status, that we become monsters when we stop caring about others. I have seen that monstrous part come out in even myself when I stop caring about other people. Too many times, I have seen or heard about it coming out in others who stopped caring, even if only for a moment, too.  Thus, I aim to never stop caring about others, as much as possible.  Yes, sometimes constantly caring about those around me can be exhausting and even overwhelming, but I think it is still worth it.  When you genuinely care about others, you can change lives for the better.  When I try to encourage those who need it, I find that they are more joyful and have at least some of the needed boost to their day.  We care about others mainly by assigning value to them.  One way you can do this today is to write a heartfelt note to someone who has made a positive difference in your life or by verbally and sincerely thanking them.  Sometimes we all need the encouragement that our good deeds and efforts matter in this life, and that someone cares about us.  My favorite aunt has always striven to care about others.  I have written in a previous post, that when she offered to host us during our trip to see her and the rest of our relatives, she became very ill. Despite this, she continued doing what she could to care for and accommodate us.  I aim to be like her in caring about the people in my life.
  4. Live with passion.—For many years, I have lived with little passion. Sure, I had, what I would call, “bursts of passion,” but they never lasted more than a couple of weeks. However, since getting my current job and being part of my current church, I have had renewed passion for life. I aim to be passionate about everything I do.  For instance, at my job, I do not just want to do enough to “get by,” but I want to do my very best, with a positive and energetic attitude. Yes, sometimes I will fail at this, but this is my goal every single day.  I do not want to delve into a depressed or passionless life anymore, but I want to do everything with meaning, purpose, and/or joy.  My friend Veronica* (*=not her real name) lives with passion.  Not only does she aim to care about those around her, but she aims to live with passion and joy in everything she does.  Her smile and her infectiously joyful spirit are the attitudes I want to possess also for myself.
  5. Look for the best in people always.—With all the negativity in the world and in social media, I want to “upset the apple cart,” so to speak, by looking for the best in humanity, rather than dwelling on the worst in humanity. I aim to watch more positive videos, both on YouTube and elsewhere, about people doing kind and uplifting things for others. I aim to try to remove myself from conversations where people are speaking negatively and gossiping about someone else.  In my aim to encourage people, I want to be able to look to the best in the people who I surround myself, and help the light in them shine and grow.

These are the five convictions I strive to live by, not only to be successful in my own life, but, more importantly, to share the love I found in God and others, with those in my life.  We should always be authentic, so we can give others the chance to love us for who we really are, not just an image we project to outsiders.  We should always do our best so we can be satisfied that we did all we could in life, and have no regrets about what we did or didn’t do.  We should care about others, so that we can make a positive difference in this world and bring love to others.  We should live with passion, so that we always have hope and purpose in our lives.  Finally, when we look for the best in others, we can help the sunshine in them grow and thrive.

A Beautiful Life

Poem written on : 8/8/2018

Through many trials

Through some regrets

I came to see

A beautiful life

 

Had it not been for surgeons

Had it not been for pastors

Had it not been for doctors

Had it not been for teachers

 

Had it not been for my family

Had it not been for friends

Had it not been for managers

Had it not been for you

 

Who knows where I’d be

What gifts I wouldn’t see

What love I would miss

What joy be absent

 

What a beautiful life I lead

Though I may miss some worldly success

Had it not been for all of you

I may not have ever succeeded

On Loss and Love: Lessons Learned 

-in memory of all my loved ones and friends who have passed away

This past week, for me, has been a week of both contemplation and mourning.  The day when I was to attend a memorial service for my friend’s sister, I found out that a dear congregant of my church, who I was just starting to know, had just passed away.  Meanwhile, I heard on the T.V broadcast, more sobering news about the problems of violence in Chicago. Also, I heard on the broadcast that white nationalists and anti-racist protestors where planning marches all across the country. The last time this happened (i.e  last year), there was widespread violence—especially in Charlottesville.  While I have heard that both my friend’s sister and the dear congregant valued people and life, sadly much of society is turning the other way.  I believe that one of the roots of most of society’s ills is the fact that they don’t really value people.

In fact, one lesson that I learned on loss and love is not to take others for granted.  Unfortunately, all of us (including me, of course), have been guilty of taking for granted someone’s presence, at one time or another.  For instance, for many years, I had not taken much of an effort to really help or get to know my aunt. Yes, I appreciated all that she had done for my family and me, but it didn’t register in my head just how much she had done, until she got very sick when I saw her about a month ago.  Fortunately, I still can get to know her now. Also, I was very fortunate that I was able to visit my dear congregant before she passed away and realize what a beautiful and joyous soul she was, even in the midst of her pain and suffering!   Had I not realized how much my aunt had done for me now, and had I not taken the time to see and get to know my dear congregant friend before she had passed away, I would have been filled with regret and deep sadness about missing opportunities to see such beautiful souls.  One practical way not to take others for granted is to thank the people in your life who have had a positive impact on you.  Don’t just assume that they will be with you forever, because even tomorrow is not guaranteed for us—or them either.  Don’t assume they will be able to provide their help or impact you in the way you want them to, because sickness or death may take them.

Another lesson that I have learned on loss and love is to value the time that I have on this earth. Strive not to waste time. I know waiting in line or in traffic may seem like “time-wasters,” but I don’t mean those. The more dangerous time-wasters in our life, I believe, are being jealous of someone, chasing material wealth, and obsessing over our outer appearance.  I am beginning to learn more and more that being jealous of someone (for more on jealousy, or envy, please see this post.)  is so much a waste of time, primarily because it does not work to improve oneself, only to destroy another person.  Also, thinking in your head ways to destroy a person ultimately not only hardens your heart, but also ultimately destroys you, if this envy is left unchecked.  Chasing material wealth is a waste of time because it does not last forever. When you die, you cannot take your wealth or even your car with you.  Being generous and leaving a positive mark on this world will last longer than trying to hold on to something that ultimately will be destroyed or lost.  Obsessing over outer beauty is also a waste of time because ultimately it won’t last. We get older, and eventually our body decomposes after we die.   Yes, we should strive to look and smell decent whenever we can, since this is a gesture of politeness. However, we should not have to spend hours looking good every day just to impress others.  So, how do we save time? I would attest that the best uses of our time are to spend it joyfully with those you love and/or care about, by serving others in need, and by doing what you can to benefit others.

Thirdly, another lesson that I learned in love and loss is to forgive, forgive, and forgive.  Even when a family member hurt my friend and her sister, they still took care of and loved this person when they became sick.  Had they had still held on to their bitterness and resentment, things would have probably turned out much differently.  When we die, knowing we forgave those who had hurt us, I believe we will leave this earth much more joyfully and at peace than if we hold on to bitterness and anger against someone else.  This is one reason that I am glad that I was able to forgive some of the people that I worked with that had hurt me emotionally.   I know I have forgiven one of them, because now I feel closer to them and actually care about them more deeply than I have ever had before.

Finally, but not least, another important lesson in loss and love I learned is to strive to enjoy life.  My dear congregant friend, even though she could barely get out of bed and was in immense pain, still was able to greet my other friend and me with a joyous demeanor when we saw her.  From her, I learned that one is still able to have joy even in the midst of life’s trials. I can have confidence that either or both God and my loved ones will always be with me in the midst of my pain, and in that I can rejoice.  I can look to the positive aspects of my life that are still intact, and focus on those, instead of my pain. I am still struggling to apply this to my life, but I do see some improvements.  My congregant friend, even though she is no longer with us, still inspires me with her infectious smile that was present even in the midst of her illness and suffering.  I also have learned to enjoy every moment of my life.  Even in waiting in line to pay for groceries, for example, one still can enjoy it by striking up conversation with the other people waiting in line for you. This can be an opportunity to see the beauty in the souls with you.   Learn to enjoy life even in the mundane tasks that you may have to do at work or at school.  I see too many people just going through the motions, and then wondering why life is so hard and depressing.  Find joy in the people you are with. Don’t assume that everyone you are going to meet is a jerk. Yes, some of them are, but there are also others who may be very considerate and loving of you.  Try not to focus on the tasks and the people that make us miserable, but on those that help you get through the day.

Both my friend’s sister and my dear congregant friend embraced life and others in a way that allowed them to both enjoy life and value others.  This is the legacy they will leave to me, and this is the same way I strive to live my life. Sometimes, death makes us ponder what our purpose in life is and where we are going.  This pondering is vital so that we can fulfill our life’s purpose and be more focused on what’s most important in our lives. We have only a limited time on this earth. Let’s make it count!

On Narcissism

Have you ever wondered what some of the root causes of your broken or failed relationships are? I have, and I think it is useful to know because if we know what is ultimately causing destruction in most of the broken relationships we find ourselves entangled in, we could begin the process of repairing and restoring at least some of them.  I have found that most of the broken relationships that I have been in, or have witnessed, have been caused, at least in part, due to one or both parties’ selfishness.  Selfishness is the very nucleus of narcissistic behaviors, which then cause the other parties’ needs not to even be considered or met.  Narcissism is a big problem in much of the world. Some may even submit that the president of my country has problems with narcissistic behaviors and attitudes.  However, I think narcissism not only affects leaders of countries, but even ordinary people as well. Also, the majority of humanity has some issues at some times with narcissistic attitudes or behaviors as well.

In order to understand why narcissism is so bad and how to combat it, we must first understand what it even is.  According to the Cambridge English dictionary, narcissism can be defined by, “too much interest in and admiration for your own physical appearance and/or your own abilities.”   1)  According to the Mayo Clinic and the DSM V criteria, some of the symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (i.e  an illness characterized by excessive interest in self) are: a.) Having an exaggerated sense of self-importance b.) Having a constant need for admiration and entitlement.  c) Having an arrogant, boastful, and pretentious way of behaving. d ) an unwillingness or inability to look to the needs and desires of others.  (2). All in all, narcissistic people worship themselves. They think they are gods, and most important in the whole universe.  Because all of us are humans, we all sin (do wrong morally) at least on occasion and thus have struggles with some aspects of narcissism, though probably not enough to have the illness! Though it may seem that narcissistic people have too much self-confidence, I have read and heard that most of them, in fact, have little or no confidence in themselves whatsoever. When something really breaks their spirit, they most likely will have a complete mental breakdown.  However, in order to protect themselves from this, they cover themselves by presenting in an arrogant and often, belittling, attitude towards others. Though not many people are diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, or even meet all the necessary criteria for it, the narcissistic mindset is becoming more and more prevalent in our worldly culture, and it is destroying relationships all around us.

When we have even a little of a narcissistic mindset, this attitude produces callousness in our heart. When we think of ourselves, to the exclusion of any other people, we eventually stop caring about the needs around us.  I have found this mindset prevalent when people talk about the poor around us.  They say, “ I would love to donate money to those in need, but I need to take care of myself and my family first.” To them, I would say, “Why can’t you do both?”  Of course, providing for one’s family is essential and probably more important than caring for those you may not know, however, we are also called to donate money to those who need it.  This self-centered mindset can also present itself at work with our co-workers.  For instance, we want to take a break and catch up with a co-worker and friend who we haven’t seen in a week. However, there is another co-worker who feels overwhelmed in her work.  A self-centered mindset would ignore the co-worker feeling overwhelmed for our own desire to talk to our friend.  However, a selfless, caring mindset would sacrifice our desires in order to help a stressed-out co-worker in need.  Also, a narcissistic mindset ultimately hurts others, especially those who are suffering or in need, because it is apathetic to them.  Your own needs trumps others’ needs, creating a relationship where your needs are full, while the others’ are lacking. This creates both friction and an abandoning both of the relationship and that person’s value to you. If we become clinically narcissistic (i.e  having the disorder/illness), this mindset will ultimately hurt and destroy ourselves because it will break off our connections with others.  People will not want to be with us willingly in relationships, and you will fail to see the value and depth in a person.  Narcissism ultimately results in deep loneliness and rejection.

Because of the harms of a narcissistic mindset, we must learn how to combat it in ourselves. One of the most effective ways I have found in combating a narcissistic mindset is to practice gratitude.  For me, when I write or say my prayers, I include at least three things that I am thankful for that day. Other people I know have created a gratitude jar, of all the things that they are most thankful for. Even writing thank-you notes to those people who have most positively affected our lives can be helpful in cultivating an appreciative attitude towards others.  Another effective way to combat narcissism is to live to serve others. Always ask yourself, “How can I serve today?” For instance, if you are married with children, ask yourself, “How can I help my spouse feel loved and appreciated by me? How can I help my spouse be a better husband/wife? How can I help my children to be loved and a better person? How can I cultivate a grateful and joy-filled attitude towards the world around them?”  This servant mindset demands we look at others’ needs as more important than our own. Yes, there is a time for self-care when things get too overwhelming and stressful for us.  Sometimes, we do need to fill ourselves so that we have more to give to others. However, as a general rule, we should look to serve and help others without expectation of return.  Some people may be afraid to serve others because they think they may be taken advantage of by some. While that does happen, when we trust that our good will be rewarded, even if not this side of eternity, and that we are doing the right thing for some higher cause, we will not hesitate to reach out to help others.  Because people like Ghandi and Mother Teresa thought of others before themselves, they changed the world for the better. They created, at least, awareness that each human being should be treasured or loved, regardless of their social status or income, or any other human identifier.
Thus, a narcissistic mindset is excessive admiration and thought for oneself to the point of self-worship. This attitude can harm others because it devalues and discounts them and their needs. This attitude also harms the person with this mindset because it produces a spirit of callousness and apathy within their heart for others, especially many of those who have suffered because of their self-centered behaviors, and  this mindset ultimately ruins all their relationships.  However, when we are vigilant to combat narcissism  in ourselves and become selfless instead, we are then free to love and serve others with joy and contentment, both for ourselves and for others.

 

 

 

 

Sources:  1) English Cambridge Dictionary. Accessed August 5, 2018. https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/narcissism

2) Mayo Clinic Staff. (November 18, 2017). Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Retrieved from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/narcissistic-personality-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20366662