“What oxygen is to the lungs, such is hope to the meaning of life.”
Emil Brunner (1889-1966) theologian
It’s downright scary in the world … with economies in trouble … with companies crumbling … with terrorists vowing to kill … and with relationships falling apart. It’s downright scary. And if you’re not concerned, then you’re not informed.
To make matters worse, many of us were taught if we could only climb the corporate ladder, we would be immune from the tough times. We would be rewarded with success and be given the confidence that transcended the tough times other people experienced.
Not so. Dr. Jan Halper dispelled that myth in her book, “Quiet Desperation: The Truth about Successful Men.” After speaking with 4,126 men and following the careers of 43 executives, Halper concluded that many men sacrificed their personal lives and personal values for their careers and companies, but it did not bring self-esteem, confidence, and a freedom from the tough times.
Indeed, Halper writes, “By sacrificing their values for status, placing more importance on appearances than happiness, and spending more time in empty or false relationships, these men found themselves saying, “I feel empty. I’m an impostor!”
You may be concerned … or even scared and frightened … about the world right now, the economy, your company, your job, or your relationships. So who you gonna call? Ghost Busters won’t cut it. But Stress Busters will!
But let me give you a few Stress Busters to get you started.
=> 1. Ignore the small stuff.
You’ve only got so much energy. So spend it wisely.
And some things just aren’t worth your time and energy. Maybe your coworker refuses to greet you in the morning. Maybe a customer uses a sharp tone of voice. Or maybe your spouse occasionally forgets to carry out an errand. Well, so what? Is it worth stewing about, talking about, and getting overly upset about?
Get smart. Don’t spend $10.00 worth of energy on a 10 cent problem. Learn to spend 10 cents worth of energy on a 10 cent problem and $10.00 worth of energy on a $10.00 problem.
Author Grenville Kleiser wrote, “Do not let trifles disturb your tranquility of mind … life is too precious to be sacrificed for the nonessential and transient … ignore the inconsequential.”
=> 2. Find humor in your daily life.
Laughter is one of the surest ways to diminish the stress in your life. Even medical doctors are talking about the stress-killing, endorphin-lifting effect of laughter.
So I urge you to be a humor detective. Look for funny things every day and laugh. I know I do, and it works.
For example, when I got a little stressed about the economy, I read Dr. Ann Week’s perspective. She made the following points.
“Gas prices are so high that when I pulled into a station and asked for a dollar’s worth, the attendant dabbed some behind my ears.”
“I have enough money to last me the rest of my life, unless I buy something.”
“The best things in life may be free, but the optional accessories really run up the bill.”
“One nice thing about my salary, no one will ever hold me for ransom.”
“It’s called ‘take-home pay’ because you can’t afford to go anywhere else with it!”
“The best things in life are free, but never fear. Two thousand tax experts are working overtime on the problem.”
Yes, looking for humor in your daily life may seem silly and so “unprofessional.” But don’t pooh-pooh the power of humor. Norman Cousins documented the healing power of laughter in his book, “The Anatomy of An Illness,” when he was struck by life-threatening illnesses. It literally added years to his life.
And if you’re saying you just can’t find funny things in your daily life, buy a few joke books. Spend five minutes a day reading a few comedic lines from the great comedians. I do.
For example, I’ve always enjoyed the quips made by Groucho Marx … short, sharp, and funny. Groucho was known for such lines as…
“From the moment I picked up your book until I laid it down, I was convulsed with laughter. Some day I intend on reading it.”
“I sent the club a wire stating, PLEASE ACCEPT MY RESIGNATION. I DON’T WANT TO BELONG TO ANY CLUB THAT WILL ACCEPT ME AS A MEMBER.”
“I never forget a face, but in your case I’ll be glad to make an exception.”
“Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them… well, I have others.”
“Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.”
“I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn’t it.”
Hopefully you’re catching my theme. To get through the tough times, ignore the small stuff. Now, find humor in your daily life, and then…
=> 3. Use it now.
I’m amazed at all the people who work hard to get some nice things … things that would make their life more pleasant … and then don’t use those things. There’s no better time to use those nice things than when times are tough … because they’ll lift your spirits.
Ann Wells wrote about that in the “Los Angeles Times.” She wrote, “My brother-in-law opened the bottom drawer of my sister’s bureau and lifted out a tissue-wrapped package. ‘This’ he said, ‘is not a slip. This is lingerie.’ He discarded the tissue and handed me the slip. It was exquisite: silk, handmade and trimmed with a cobweb of lace. The price tag with an astronomical figure on it was still attached.
Her brother-in-law continued, “Jan bought this the first time we went to New York, at least 8 or 9 years ago. She never wore it. She was saving it for a special occasion. Well I guess this is the occasion.” He took the slip from me and put it on the bed with the other clothes we were taking to the mortician. His hands lingered on the soft material for a moment, and then he slammed the drawer shut and turned to me.
“Don’t ever save anything for a special occasion. Every day you’re alive is a special occasion.”
What about you? Are you using the special things in your life now? After that experience, Ann Wells is.
She wrote, “I’m not ‘saving’ anything; we use our good china and crystal for every special event — such as losing a pound, getting the sink unstopped, the first camellia blossom. I wear my good blazer to the market if I like it. My theory is if I look prosperous, I can shell out $28.49 for one small bag of groceries without wincing. I’m not saving my good perfume for special parties; clerks in hardware stores and tellers in banks have noses that function as well as my party-going friends. ‘Someday’ and ‘one of these days’ are losing their grip on my vocabulary. If it’s worth seeing or hearing or doing, I want to see and hear and do it now.”
I learned this lesson from my Grandpa John. On several occasions when we went to visit, he would pull out a special bottle of wine to share with us. Grandma Em would chide him and say, “John, we were saving that bottle for a special occasion.” But Grandpa would remind her, “Em, what could be more special than spending time with our family?”
Finally, to help you through the tough times now and in the future…
=> 4. Prevent regrets now.
You see… so many people are tortured by the “If only’s.” “If only I had done such and such … or … if only I hadn’t said … or … if only I had taken the time to …” It’s a lousy way to live. It makes your tough times all that more difficult.
Fortunately, most regrets are preventable … if you look forward. For example, my friend Nick Hoty changed my life when he said, “Alan, we’re given this much time to live (holding his hands about two feet apart). We’ve only got this much time left (holding his hands about six inches apart). Use it wisely.”
Now I know I don’t have time to be with everybody, so I carefully choose with whom I’ll spend my free time. I don’t have time to see everything I want to see in the world, so I’ve listed the top 12 trips I want to take. And I don’t have time to learn everything I want to learn, so I only read the best books. All of this prevents regrets.
So yes, most regrets are preventable if you look forward.
But they’re also preventable if you look backward. In other words pretend that you’re old and looking back on your life. What would you choose to do differently? Think about it … really think about it … and then resolve to do those things NOW that you wished you would have done.
Don’t wait until you’re old to look back and have a life filled with regret. Don’t wait until you’re terminal before you decide to live. That’s what the great author Erma Bombeck discovered … after she found out she was dying from cancer. Right before her death she wrote:
IF I HAD MY LIFE TO LIVE OVER
I would have gone to bed when I was sick instead of pretending the earth would go into a holding pattern if I weren’t there for a day.
I would have burned the pink candle sculpted like a rose before it melted in storage.
I would have talked less and listened more.
I would have invited friends over to dinner even if the carpet was stained or the sofa faded.
I would have eaten the popcorn in the ‘good’ living room and worried much less about the dirt when someone wanted to light a fire in the fireplace.
I would have taken the time to listen to my grandfather ramble about his youth.
I would have shared more of the responsibility carried by my husband.
I would never have insisted the car windows be rolled up on a summer day because my hair had just been teased and sprayed.
I would have sat on the lawn with my grass stains.
I would have cried and laughed less while watching television and more while watching life.
I would never have bought anything just because it was practical, wouldn’t show soil, or was guaranteed to last a lifetime.
Instead of wishing away nine months of pregnancy, I’d have cherished every moment and realized that the wonderment growing inside me was the only chance in life anyone ever gets to assist God in a miracle.
When my kids kissed me impetuously, I would never have said, “Later. Now go get washed up for dinner.”
There would have been more “I love you’s.” More “I’m sorry’s.”
But mostly given another shot at life, I would seize every minute … look at it and really see it … live it, and never give it back. Stop sweating the small stuff.
Don’t worry about who doesn’t like you, who has more, or who’s doing what.
Instead, let’s cherish the relationships we have with those who do love us.
Let’s think about what God HAS blessed us with. And what we are doing each day to promote ourselves mentally, physically, emotionally, as well.
We have one shot at this and then it’s gone. I hope you all have a blessed day.
We must all take our best shot.
Or as my friend Mike McKinley says, “Don’t wait until you’re dead before you decide to live.” It’s good advice for all of us.
Action: List 10 things you are doing to prevent regrets.