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Aspects of travel, changing where you live, filling your days, doing routine volunteering, managing your money, etc.

Balance….noun or verb?

Balance….noun or verb?

This article was originally posted Jan 24, 2012. It’s worth taking a look at again.

Is balance something you possess or that you pursue? Are you assuming someone else decides whether you have it?  Or do you see it more as an ongoing effort on your part?

Back in graduate school, I was delighted to discover work by Martin Seligman that talked about “learned helplessness.”  The term was used to describe the mindset of individuals who assume that they’re at the mercy of “powerful others”–God, the Establishment, whatever–who decide what happens in their lives.  Their assumption that someone else holds all the winning cards keeps them from even seeing what they can do to help themselves.

Life balance is vulnerable to that kind of thinking, even if you don’t go in that direction on everything else.  It’s really easy to assume that your life is out of balance because of  the load at work, the phase your child is going through or a favor for a friend that’s gotten far more complicated than you expected.  Life should just flow smoothly and balance should be a given, right?

Nope. Assuming that is just one more way to be a “victim.”

Seeing balance as an ongoing process rather than entitlement to Nirvana keeps you in the game.  And brings you closer to it even when you can’t get the “full meal deal.” Why?  Because seeing balance as an on-going process puts you in control. You can do things to move toward that version of emotional symmetry you prefer.

The good life isn’t about always being in balance.  It’s about getting good at recovering that balance when it goes away, which it will.  Often.

Some things to consider as you work at it:

Not all efforts to achieve balance work.  If getting up an extra half hour in the morning to exercise makes you cranky for the rest of the day, forget it.  Look for a another way.

Not all options are total improvements.  Okay, you want more time with your kids.  That doesn’t mean they want to shovel snow with you.  But when they are part of getting the work done, you feel less like poorly paid hired help, right?  So find a way to have FUN shoveling snow.

Sometimes your balance is on a different dimension than you planned.  So that snow shoveling wasn’t the fun “quality time” you were hoping for with whoever  you drafted to help.  You still had more time to get everything else done, right?

Balance isn’t always intentional.  Perhaps you got the surprise of your life when you insisted on help in cleaning up that snow.  Sometimes working together really is, fun.  Yes!  A nudge from a different direction.

Balance is as much about assumptions as it is about reality.  Quite often, what’s out of balance is what you are telling yourself about what should be happening.  A classic definition of stress is “the difference between what’s happening and what you think should be happening.”  Getting a solid handle on what’s reasonable under the circumstances can take you a lot closer to balance than a major overhaul.  Accept reality.  Then change as it changes.

Balance changes moment to moment.  Even if you do get into perfect balance, you’re not going to stay there.  At least not if you’re human.  The key is whether you elect to stay out of balance or put effort into moving back toward equilibrium.   As life changes, make your own changes.

A good life is balanced but it’s up to you.  It will aways require awareness and effort on your part.  And that’s all just fine.

Holiday Stress — Is It Stalking You?

Holiday Stress — Is It Stalking You?

This was originally posted on Dec. 19, 2010. It’s still relevant, so here it is again. (Happy Holidays!)

This time of year, stress is everybody’s “best friend.” No matter how hard you try to “keep things under control” the holiday season seems to devolve at some point into a meltdown, a blow up, or both.

Why?

Probably 80% of why things go wrong is because we are pushing so hard to make them go right. “I have to get my cards out in the next two days.” “Little Jennie is going to be so disappointed if I can’t find that baby doll that cries real tears.” “It’s the holidays, I need to bring something more interesting to the office potluck than veggies and dip.”

The overload comes with the best of intentions. And the worst of consequences. When things go very wrong at this time of year, it feels a thousand times worse. Not only have I not done that thing that everyone was counting on me to do, I have now come unglued in front of God and everybody during “the holidays.”

You don’t even see it coming, most of the time. Suddenly, someone does something minor, and you react in a major way. A few days ago this became very clear to me when a guy in a pick-up half a football field behind me when I changed lanes pulled up behind me at the next stop light honking and waving his middle finger. Did he really think he had exclusive rights to the lane? Or was some “holiday thing” getting the best of him.

I have discovered that, left to automatic responses, I tend to find fault more at this time of year. (How’s that for “Happy Holidays?!” )  Maybe you’re doing that, too, and don’t realize it.

At a minimum, let’s all do each other a favor and throttle back on all the huge elaborate plans. We don’t need to have prime rib and lobster for Christmas dinner. Expecially not with Yorkshire pudding and drawn butter and seven different sides. We don’t need a huge tree, seventeen gifts for each family member, and four family events within the same 24 hours.

Whatever holiday you are actually celebrating, it didn’t start because of a need to outdo the next guy with yard displays and open house spreads. So instead of rushing around trying to get every elaborate idea you’ve come up with accomplished,  stand back, take some deep breaths, and think “Goodwill” or “Peace” or “Bless us one and all.”  Or maybe “What, of all this, am I enjoying?”

The twelve-foot tall wooden solder to greet your party guests on the porch really isn’t worth it. That Grinch, Mr. Stress, is waiting behind it, and you don’t need him.

Beginnings are messy…

Beginnings are messy…

This was originally posted on Dec. 19, 2011. It deserves another read.

The farther you move through life, the more tempting it is to want to have everything under control.  Bad plan.  That strategy is a nice straight road to boredom.  Being a beginner until the day you die is an important piece of creating a good life.  And beginnings are not controlled situations.  Beginnings are messy.

Sunrise 1.28.19 M. Lloyd

When you move, things are total chaos for a while.  When you start an art project, everything you might need gets hauled out of drawers and closets.  To renovate your yard, you usually create a mud bog at some point in the process.

To make something better, most often, you need to make a total mess of what you already have.

And that’s okay.

In fact, it may be an essential piece of appreciating what you have once you’ve completed the change.  My mom’s yearly version of this process was the family camping trip.  Dad was great about getting everything needed by a family of nine packed in–and on–the car, getting us there, getting the tent set up, etc.  He was really good at making order of the inevitable chaos.

Mom, however, was better at appreciating the chaos.  “Going camping” was our vacation and that meant new adventures for us kids and the chance to break from the routine for our parents.  But “going camping” also made us all appreciate that routine when we got home and had everything put away.

The disruption and confusion of going in a new direction can be unnerving–and almost always is when you change anything significant.  But that doesn’t mean you don’t do it.  It’s just wise to realize what you’re getting into.

Beginnings involve going in the wrong direction.  When  you start something new, even if you have a full set of instructions (which most things in life don’t have), you make mistakes because the whole idea is new and a challenge to grasp.  Mistakes are every bit as much a part of getting things to go the way you want as the things you get right the first time.  Wrong turns help define the context of what you’re doing and help make it work well.  They’re most valuable if you use them–figure out what they’ve taught you and then move past them.  But if you can’t get that far about what went wrong, at least relax about the fact that they happen.  When you start something new, there are going to be mistakes.  Sometimes lots of them.

Beginnings usually involve a few restarts.  Thinking that it’s going to be smooth sailing from the get-go just invites frustration.  Redirects are inevitable. Sometimes, you don’t even know where you are trying to go when you start out.   And when you need to change course, you often need to just plain stop before you do so.  So if the project doesn’t keep going at a steady pace, don’t be surprised.  And for heaven’s sake don’t get all torqued about it.  Starting something new takes courage.  Finishing something new takes patience and tolerance–for clutter, confusion, and starting again….and sometimes again and again.

Beginnings often don’t look like beginnings.  Starting in a new direction is often disguised as something old ending.  This probably makes the messiness of a beginning even harder to endure.  When what you had worked for  you and was not something you wanted to change, it’s very hard to get on with the messiness of starting over.  That old reliable version of life was…well…yours, whether it was with a mate who died–or left, a job you lost, or health you took for granted. Pining for what was makes getting on with what’s next a lot more difficult.  Letting go of what you don’t have any more and stepping into the chaos of a new start is the only way to get on with your life.

Know that the disruption is essential and temporary. It’s easy to begin to feel like the turmoil is never going to go away, but that’s not what’s going on.  Psychologically, being able to predict what’s going to happen is as calming as being able to control it.   Reminding yourself that there’s an end point to the chaos gives you that predictability.

Beginnings are essential.   Beginnings can be intimidating simply because of the disorder and confusion they engender.  Begin anyway.  Having a good life is not a matter of having everything under control.  You need to keep your world expanding and to do that, you have to begin something new.  Again and again and again.

Psst….the World is not flat. Pass it on.

Psst….the World is not flat. Pass it on.

We’ve known for centuries that those who thought the Earth ended with an abrupt edge had it wrong. Some day, our descendants will shake their heads in every bit as much disbelief that we could be so naive and clueless in how older members of society were perceived in the 21st century.

photo by Jacquie Webster-Patton

Getting older is not the catastrophe it’s assumed to be. We are not illness waiting to manifest. We are not a burden. We are not useless. It’s really stupid to expect us to just go away so that younger members of society can get on with making the world a better place. We’re still here and ready to help. Why is it so hard to find ways to do include all ages in our problem solving? And in the solutions themselves?

Older people need to be part of making the world better every bit as much as the teenagers who will eventually take their place. Why? Because they are an amazing resource. It’s absolutely insane that as a culture we’re assuming there is no value in being older. That youth is all.

Think about it.

  • We’ve had many more years of learning about life than those who are younger. A lot of what we now know is critical to solving some of today’s biggest problems–how to get along with others, how to fight for what you believe in with integrity, how to nurture without coddling, how to confront a bully, how to not spend money you don’t have. We’ve learned a lot by living this long.
  • We had the chance to try stuff before everything became “too dangerous” to be allowed to do it. So there’s a good chance, that absent all the baloney about keeping us “safe” because we are old, we’re ready to take risks. Some of the risks we took when younger were stupid. (You cannot fly by jumping off the garage roof. Ever.) But a lot of it was both educational and confidence building. A lot of it was stuff that transferred to other endeavors and situations. The dilemma in this is that our innate tendency to take risks has been squelched by this goofy notion that we must be taken care of and kept safe above all…because we are “old” and thus un-able. The oldest among us could be such a resource as mentors for risk taking.
  • We are far more likely to have acquired wisdom than younger people. Wisdom is currently in pathetically short supply. Wisdom will get us a lot farther as a culture than this idiotic bravado and “I am the greatest and my answer is the only answer” that’s so popular right now. Authentically old people can see the folly of what seems to be “the only solution.” We don’t get as worked up about things. We have the chops and the time in grade to be more patient. And we are willing to share all of it for the greater good. For any one person’s good if they seek it.

Not using an outstanding resource isn’t even the worst of this unenlightened thinking. No, the really BIG downside to current cultural expectations is that they encourage all the bad stuff we envisions as “old”–numerous health problems…which then need expensive medical procedures (or are at least assumed to). Eventually people who could still be highly productive, caring, independent members of society require huge amounts of support just to live a semi-life in some assisted living facility where they are “safe”–and bored to death, literally. The cultural mindset plays out: If there’s nothing else to do and everyone is expecting it, then, well, “maybe I’m supposed to be sick when I’ve had this many birthdays.”

There are a lot of older adults who would be just fine until their last breath if they had a legitimate role to play.

We need to mobilize this segment of the population–to help communities, to help kids, to help each other. We need to let them shine. If you assume THAT is what is expected to happen, there will be a whole lot more of it happening.

We all cheer when we see the video of the 90-year old woman doing a sexy tango in competitive ballroom dancing. We watch the centenarian who’s still teaching yoga with awe. I remember being in absolute bliss after reading about a 100-year old woman who was still the fulltime proofreader for the local newspaper. We want that continued engagement for ourselves.

Then we go right back to assuming that “people that age can’t do those things.” This is just so inane. Let older people do all they can. Everyone will benefit if we use every single morsel of talent, skill, and passion the best we can. The world is not flat!

Why are you going?

Why are you going?

I just got back from “the trip of a lifetime.” Another one. This time, it was an ocean cruise calling on ports in the Mediterranean for eleven days in a row from Rome to Barcelona. If you’re prone to drooling with envy, let me tell you how it went, first. I have done over 100 days on ocean liners. Sometimes, I am an incredibly slow learner.

At the Vatican

This was an “amazing deal,” offered by a travel agency that gets clients via pitches to the mailing lists of college alumni associations. I jumped on it because it offered two-for-one fares (and a dear friend and fellow alum was interested). Other goodies were free airfare, and six free shore excursions. Those ARE nice enticements. But I forgot to be sure I understood why I wanted to go at all. Turns out this was not the best way to do what I was I thought I wanted to do. And it turns out also, that what I thought I wanted to do wasn’t really what works for me at all.

I have done a lot of world travel, but little of it has been in Europe. That was always “for later–when we need to do the easy things.” That was naive. If you want a travel contact sport, try touring famous sites in Europe. The situation in the Sistine chapel has zero room for awe as the Vatican police bark “Keep moving. Keep moving!” from the second you walk in. (I actually got a better feel for the art from a traveling digital version that had been mounted on the walls and ceiling of our local former armory last year.) The truth is rude on this. Going to see this stuff in person is NOT going to be a highlight unless you are good with doing it in the middle of a crowd and without the chance to stop and LOOK. My experience was the same at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem 20 years ago. Like I said, I am sometimes a slow learner.

The “romance” of a Mediterranean cruise has stuck with me over time, even though I am no longer married to the man who so loves to be on the water. This ship appealed because it is small (684 passengers, which is about 20% of what you experience on the newest and best of the ocean liners). I liked the idea that it had a port of call every day, something I enjoyed river cruising last year.

I just plain had it all wrong. Ocean cruising is best when both sea days and port days are part of it. The whole notion of being on a floating luxury hotel has to be part of how you see it. And you need to like the idea of being in the middle of a crowd. Pretty much all the time, unless you take the time to do a formal meal instead of the buffets.

Wherever we toured, there were a LOT of people trying to see the same things. That’s just how it goes when several cruise ships are in port the same day and they bring thousands of tourists with them.

I finally got to experience the kind of travel I enjoy on the 10th day of a 13-day trip. I booked a tour that went to somewhere out of the way: Carcassone, a walled city in the south of France. The tour guide knew his stuff and spoke English well enough that I wasn’t doing an ongoing translation in my head to figure out what had just been said. And it was about a very different topic–military architecture. (I didn’t even start to process how problematic seeing the extravagance of all the Catholic churches was for me until after I got home.)

We had free time in the little town after the tour. I sat down in a cafe for some lunch and promptly made friends with a couple from Wales at the next table. It was then that it hit me: I had pretty much missed the fun I typically have on travel adventures because I’d been in the middle of a herd. My best travel memories are times in cafes, watching the locals, sipping a glass of local wine, sampling their version of food, and being open to what’s happening right there, right then.

So…what I thought I needed was to see some of the most important sights along the Mediterranean. I chose the wrong method for that. (Some friends on a Rick Steves tour of Italy in the same time frame had a much more successful experience: much smaller groups; more intense focus on an area instead of just “the big deal site”; tour guides who spoke the tour clients’ language well.)

But that’s not what I enjoy about traveling. I need to just experience the place. No famous churches, fountains or plazas required.

All is not lost, of course. Now I know I can wisely delete ocean cruising from my future. I suck at sunbathing, can only do so many buffets, and do not enjoy herds–except maybe buffalo in Yellowstone or Custer State Park, South Dakota.

I also learned this time around, that if I want to learn about these sites, a good documentary will do a much better job. They film when there aren’t a gazillion people trying to see the same thing. They get the shots that let you really SEE it. To “be there” is not the romance it seemed to be. This is very good to know.

Of course, if all you’re after is to say you went to those famous sites and to brag about being on a Mediterranean cruise, then a 2-for-1, free airfare, 6-free-shore-excursions ocean cruise might be just the ticket.

It’s About Time…

It’s About Time…

This is a repost from 2014. Still relevant…

I’m in a bar fight with Time right now. I’m not even sure who started it. At the moment, I’m in a big transition—moving to new space in a new area to a house that’s needed significant TLC before I moved in.

So I’ve been painting, cleaning, and  organizing storage areas, plus trying to corral all the stuff I’ve managed to accumulate in the two years I’ve been living where I am now.  All that takes time.  And I want Time to cooperate and give me enough to get it all done–to give me the sense that I have it under control. Time is not hearing a word of that. I am not in control. Nope. Not at all.

Time is not flying; it is evaporating, like needed rain that never gets all the way to the parched desert floor. There “should” be enough time. This move is certainly doable. I have good support from family and friends. I have good resources to call for paid help as needed. But still, I am in this absurd wrestling match with Time.

On the surface, it looks like it’s my own silly fault. This cleaning that I’ve been doing….I’ve gone through three toothbrushes at it…plus a bunch of bamboo skewers…untold numbers of Q-tips…a few toothpicks. I’ve been manic about getting that last bit of gunk out of whatever it is that I’m sprucing up.

There is so much to get done.  And yet I’ve been piddling around with a toothpick trying to get the dirt out of the ridges of a light switch. I’ve painted almost every wall and most of the ceilings of the new place. I’ve replaced the carpeting and refinished the hardwood floors. I’ve been absolutely anal about how I set up the kitchen.

Have I gone over the edge—to where cleanliness is no longer next to godliness but instead has moved into the marginally functional wing of a looney bin? How can I possibly get all the work done if I putz at little things? Why am I fighting with Time like this?

But as I admit this and look more closely, it’s starting to make sense. There is a lot to get done with this move. And I do like to start with things as clean as possible. (Dirt is okay but only if it’s mine.) But this move is one of a kind and involves more than getting my stuff from here to there. When I move, someone I love will remain behind—by choice, but still…. Much of what I take with me will have to be replaced if he wants to be able to cook, clean, eat off a plate, etc. (He’s a guy; he may not….) So this preoccupation with getting things clean was probably a good way to end up with the right pacing.

Is there anything in this insight that’s useful for life in general?

Yeah, I think so.  I’ve always been an exceptionally well-organized person. I have not been like that on this move. Instead of making list after list, I’ve been blindly doing whatever seems to need to get done next. It turns out I have been letting my heart lead instead of my General-Manager-of-the-Universe mind.

Sometimes a list is not the answer. Sometimes, you just have to trust it’s going to work out and keep trudging along, even if what you’re working on seems to be getting a higher priority than it deserves. Sometimes, your hands have a better sense of what must be done than your mind does.

And that’s a good thing to realize at the start of a new year. “Because I’ve always done it this way” is a weak reason not to grow. By now I would be a raving lunatic if I’d have tried to manage this move the way I’ve done them in the past. I would also probably be heartsick and depressed. There are too many layers, too many extenuating circumstances, too much room to cause emotional hurt–to myself or someone else–by steamrollering through this move. What a blessing that I had the chance to piddle around with a toothbrush cleaning up someone else’s microscopic messes.

I haven’t been wrestling with Time after all. We were dancing, and I just didn’t know it.

Ahem…about your “stuff”…

Ahem…about your “stuff”…

This is a repost from 2014. It’s still really relevant.

It’s time to admit something important. At some point, someone is going to have to deal with your “stuff”. We don’t seem to be aware of this as we keep adding belongings.  Clutter is just a fact of life, right?

We keep stuff for all kinds of reasons–  “I might need it…”  “It was Grandma’s…” “I might decide to go back into that…”  But the ongoing accumulation of “things” is a slow motion disaster.  A few weeks ago, a woman in Connecticut was killed when the floor of her house collapsed—because of the weight of the stuff she had on it.  They didn’t find her until two days later; the volume was so massive that it looked like the floor was still there when the police checked initially.

That’s an extreme case, but we’re all affected by “stuff.” If you haven’t had to deal with someone else’s after they’ve died, count yourself lucky. If you have, you know what I’m talking about. But here’s the deal. If you can’t face dealing with it, how can someone else—who knows a whole lot less about it–manage to do it after you’re gone?

My family just went through this. Six siblings plus a dear and unflinching sister-in-law hauled load after load out of my youngest brother’s 900-square-foot home for five full days. We got rid of over 100 cubic yards of “stuff.” Don’t naively assume it was just a case of walking it to the dumpster again and again either. Landfills have rules these days. You must dispose of electronics, assorted batteries, fluorescent light bulbs, oil-based paint, other hazardous materials, etc. in very specific ways—or face a fine. There’s a whole different routine for latex paint. Plus, if those doing the disposing have half a conscience about environmental stewardship, there will be trips to the local food bank, Goodwill or a similar second-hand store, and perhaps the local Habitat for Humanity ReStore to donate appropriate “stuff.” And there will be lots of trips to the recycle center.

Accumulated “stuff” is not the benign, minor flaw we want to believe it is. Letting stuff you don’t need, don’t use, and don’t care about pile up leaves less space, resources, and time for what could bring you joy now. Holding onto too many things from the past means you don’t have faith in the present–or the future. It’s also a waste of money if you’re insuring, maintaining, paying for space to keep, and otherwise lavishing resources on all that “stuff.”

My loved one didn’t set out to leave a huge mess for the rest of us to clean up. He felt he needed everything he acquired. That’s how we usually amass stuff…a teeny bit at a time, time after time. But “stuff” doesn’t go away on its own. Somebody is going to have to deal with it eventually.

All six of us siblings came home vowing “I’m not going to do that to anybody!”  So I’ve been thinking a lot about what I can do make getting rid of my “stuff” less of a burden when I depart. Everyone’s list will be unique, but here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

  • Clean out the file drawers! Going through files is huge time sink for next of kin, and I can find most of what I’m keeping online if I do need it.
  • Make sure my kids really want what I’m keeping for them.
  • Whenever I learn someone needs what I’ve discovered I have (and don’t need), give it to them.
  • Mark the contents of boxes I do keep. Include a “Get rid of after ___” date to avoid going through boxes again myself when I can.
  • Donate to the food bank from my pantry. (This gets food I bought for a unique reason and then didn’t use onto someone’s plate rather than sitting on my pantry shelf until it expires.)
  • Dispose of the old paint immediately when I repaint. (But do keep the new paint for repairs.)
  • Be honest with stuff I get as gifts. If I’m not going to use it, return it, donate it, or regift it.
  • Remove anything I haven’t worn in the last year from my closet. Donate what I’m willing to part with. Put the rest in a separate stack. If I don’t wear it in another 12 months, donate it then.
  • Go through my bookshelves quarterly. Pass on anything I don’t expect to read again.
  • Leave notes for my loved ones about what’s what and how to get rid of it.

I want to do this right. From what I’ve seen lately, it’s a really good way to say “I love you.”

Livin’ in Fast Times

Livin’ in Fast Times

So much of what we do in our lives now is “fast.” Fast food, of course. We don’t have to buy the ingredients, make the dish, put it on the table, or sit down to eat it like our grandparents did. We just order it without ever getting out of the car and eat it as we drive out of the parking lot. Done.

author in 1981

Last week, I watched a news article about “fast fashion.” We can buy so much for so little–because of cheap labor in China and other developing countries–that we no longer focus on those “few good pieces” like we used to. Forget the classic blazer and the “great pair of jeans.” We buy and buy and buy–ten pair of jeans and that cute little jacket that will be out of date by next spring–because our money goes far enough to do that with what the world economy offers.

We’re also ingesting way too many “fast facts.” We get our information via quick paragraphs and video snippets posted on the internet and consumed in less that a minute. The “facts” are not in context. The validity of the source is rarely questioned. And the selection is curated “just for you” via the artificial intelligence used by Google and others to guess at what you want to see. “Just bits of the facts, m’am. Nothing but the bits.” Most of us could not knit a comprehensive statement of what’s going on in the world together to save our lives (which it could….).

What is said about fast food is true of all this other fast stuff. It’s JUNK. Our big, uber-sophisticated society is trying to live on junk, junk, and more junk. Usually, consumers vote with their wallets. They decide not to buy junk so it stops getting offered. But we’ve become anesthetized. Like zombies, we just keep buying–food, clothes, facts–that simply aren’t worth being consumed.

It’s time to give some thought to why we buy all this “fast” stuff. We all know that eating real food gives you a much better nutritional bang. But what about the rest? What do we gain by owning ten pair of jeans? What do we get from slurping up the garbage that’s presented as “news” rather than seeking out a longer, more thoughtful presentation of what’s going on so we can truly understand the situation?

A counterfeit sense of having nourished ourselves? A bulging closet that confirms our ability to buy things? A false sense that we know what’s going on?

We need to slow down. On all of this stuff. This fast-paced world is not doing us any favors. Going too fast can get you killed–from a traffic accident, a heart attack, or a stressed out coworker (or the collapse of your closet because you had too much in it!).

As the older members of society, we could be the ones to lead the way on this. We are wise enough to know that getting there first usually means you wait longer for whatever is going to happen. Getting there with nine pair of jeans in your suitcase just means it’s heavier to carry. Eating something from a drive thru that you gulped in four bites will leave you feeling like you haven’t eaten. Those strategies don’t serve us–or the world

“Fast” is good in racing. In saving a life. In stepping up to a priceless opportunity. But in day to day decision-making, perhaps not so much.

Time for an Annual Check-up?

Time for an Annual Check-up?

We get a lot of advice about doing a financial “check-up” once a year. And we tend to be aware of the value of making the effort to have an annual health check-up. But there’s another check-up that we need just as much. How are you doing on learning?

There’s more and more research coming out that confirms the importance of continuing to learn as we age. The more we put effort into developing new skills and enhancing our knowledge, the better our brains will continue to work.

But there’s even more to it than that. Learning also keeps us healthy physically. Plus the emotional benefits of staying engaged, of being an active part of the social fabric outweigh the benefits of all the preventative medicine a person can find to practice.

Learning = growing. Growing = thriving.

What are you learning these days? How are you giving your mind good solid exercise? Travel is good–if you do more than sit on the beach or hang out in the casino. Your grandkids are good–if you are listening to them instead of thumbing your phone on the days you agreed to watch them.

Crossword puzzles and Sudoku are better than nothing. But those are solitary pursuits using a limited range of mental gymnastics. Taking a class or joining a discussion group will stretch you more. And be more fun. (Kind of like the difference between hiking in a beautiful place with good friends on a gorgeous day and walking the treadmill while you watch the news alone at home.)

Actually making a commitment to take a class or learn a certain body of knowledge and then following through has additional benefits, too. Completing something enhances your sense of worth. And if the others in your class aren’t people you already knew, you get the chance to make new friends.

The blend of learning opportunities that works best for you is unique, just like your health and finance efforts. But to be sure you have what you need going, you need to take a look at what you have going for learning every once in a while. What better time than the start of the school year?

To Age Well, Be Kind

To Age Well, Be Kind

photo by Guy Basabose on Unsplash

We have an epidemic of nastiness going in the country that’s going to kill us. Not just because politics have become so ugly. No just because Thanksgiving dinner has become a minefield. Because all this nastiness is literally bad for our health–individually and collectively.

Three bits of information that I chanced upon today draw the picture well.

A friend forwarded me a post from a blog he subscribes to and asked what I thought of it. It was a rant about “the Bolsheviks” (liberal Americans) and how awful it was that they were happy David Koch had died. I agree that jubilation over anyone’s death is wrong. But I also disagree with the label the blogger was repeatedly applying. We are never going to get anywhere by belittling other people’s point of view. (Turns out we will get somewhere –the hospital after a heart attack–but more on that later.)

The second snippet was off the internet and was about two second grade boys on their first day of school. The one noticed the other was in distress, walked over and took his hand, and walked into school with him. The boy who helped was black. The boy in distress was white and autistic. None of that made any difference to the kids. Kindness was what was called for and kindness was what was given. (Who do you think is the more mature male, the blogger or the black kid in second grade?)

The third bit of information came from the PBS News Hour this evening (my chosen source of news when I can stand hearing about it at all). They interviewed Dr.Kelli Hansen, an MD whose book, The Rabbit Effect: Live Longer, Happier, and Healthier with the Groundbreaking Science of Kindness, came out today. Her premise is that the most important resources for maintaining our biomedical health come from our social environment not the healthcare system. Yep. Kindness keeps you healthy. I haven’t had the chance to read her book yet, but I’ve read enough other research on the subject to know she’s on target.

To age well, you need to be kind and to put yourself in situations where you are treated with kindness.

Is this not cool? Instead of worrying about how many reps you did at the gym, you get to play with your kids or your sister’s kids. Or run to the store for milk for your sick neighbor. Instead of worrying about whether you are eating the exact right things to avoid a heart attack, you get to do the things you like to do that someone else needs done. There are a gazillion ways to be kind. They are never boring. They don’t “all taste the same after a while.” Kindness is always a kick.

Perhaps we needed this massive dose of the bitter medicine of conflict to help us embrace the better way. I don’t really think so, but it’s where we are and what we need to start with. When someone is calling names or making fun of people, turn away. When someone wants to fan the “we/they” flames, ignore it. This is simple stuff, but it’s crucial. BE KIND AND HANG AROUND WITH PEOPLE WHO ARE KIND. Not just for the greater good. For your own health.

And for heaven’s sake don’t think you can wait until you are “old” to make the change! Heart attacks don’t wait for you to get old.