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In my last blog, I suggested that readers interested in remaking themselves — or simply making small improvements — begin by giving more compliments.
Silly as this advice may seem, compliments are important gifts we give to friends, lovers, children, and others. They help brighten the lives of others — even complete strangers. They help build self-esteem in the people who are part of our lives and they help strengthen relationships.
In giving, however, we also receive.
Giving compliments is no exception.
By deliberately looking for the good in others and pointing it out, we learn to focus on the positive in others. We may also to begin to focus on all that is good in our lives. That shift in focus alone is life changing. It will create a much better — and happier — you.
This week, I want to offer another idea that has helped me live a much happier life. Let me begin by asking you a question: How often do the people who populate your world complain about things that are trivial in nature?
Probably quite a lot.
What’s your reaction?
If you are like me, you probably cringe. You want to say something like, “Oh, come on! That’s hardly worth the emotion you are investing in it!”
My guess, however, is that you probably do the same thing. I know, I’ve been a complainer for much of my life. The central theme of my complaining was that I had a rough life. Give me some pity!
Over the years, I’ve learned that one of the most important assets of those who live a happy life is a realistic perspective. Distilled down to its essence, this means sorting out trivial from nontrivial concerns. In other words, understanding what matters and what doesn’t. For many of us, it means understanding how well we actually have it and not focusing on what’s not working. (You may want to read this paragraph again.)
Our parents tried to drive home how well we have it at the dinner table when they admonished us that “There are kids starving in China.”
Most of us don’t understand the hidden meaning of that gem of wisdom, until we became parents and find our children refusing to eat the dinner we’ve labored over. The message that we grasp when we are on the giving end, is quite simple: Stop fussing, you brat. You are lucky to have food on your plate and, to be truthful, live such a privileged life.
As adults, many of us forget how well we have it.
We anguish over problems and complain about being put out by things that aren’t even on the radar of people in less developed nations. For example, we get upset when the mailman is fifteen minutes late or a store doesn’t carry the bed sheets that don’t exactly match paint on our bedroom walls. We get upset because the grocery store doesn't carry the brand of whipped cream we like.
I travel quite a lot throughout the United States giving speeches and workshops; in the summer, flight delays are quite common as a result of severe weather. It’s then that I see fellow passengers come unglued. They complain, for instance, that the plane is going to take off 30 minutes late because of violent thunderstorms in the area, not grasping the fundamental lunacy of trying to take off under such conditions.
It’s easy to detect such ridiculous aggravations of others; a lot more difficult to catch ourselves anguishing over what are clearly First World problems. (A person in the Third World would laugh heartily at us in such instances.)
To create joy, contentment, and peace in your life, look carefully at problems. Ask yourself is this a First World or Third World problem? Be honest. Most of what you fret over, I suspect will fall into the category of First World troubles, that can be translated, in most cases, as trivial.
Recognizing that you are fretting over nothing — "sweating the small stuff," to borrow a phrase from a popular book series — will help you think differently about your life. It will help you gain perspective, put your supposed troubles into perspective, and learn to sort what maters from what doesn’t. It will help you rise above trivial irritations, live in contentment and peace, and will save you a ton of energy that you can devote to loving yourself and others, doing good work, and being a good person.
Contributing editor Dan Chiras is a renewable energy and green homes expert who has spent a lifetime learning life’s lessons, which he shares in his popular blog, Dan Chiras on Loving Life. He’s the founder and director of The Evergreen Institute and president of Sustainable Systems Design. Contact him by visiting his website.