By Lisa Kogan
In the past ten years I have survived an asymmetrical bob, a high-risk pregnancy, a malignant melanoma, a sneak preview of Shutter Island, and diabetes. I've watched someone I love die of AIDS and someone I most definitely do not love sit in the White House. I have become acutely aware of the fact that bad guys often win and nice guys sometimes finish last and the karmic wheel takes its sweet time to spin around and set things right. My rent has been raised, my enthusiasm has been curbed, my kid has been bullied, and I can't find a pair of silver sandals to save my soul.
But here's what I've figured out about putting one unsandaled foot in front of the other and trying to move forward in the midst of sorrow and chaos:
1. People have vast reservoirs of tenacity and resilience. All those days and nights that I was so sure I couldn't get through have come and gone. I'm still here and so, my friend, are you! It turns out we can only eat chicken potpie in our underwear and watch an endless loop of Law & Order reruns for about a week before a better angel urges us to say goodbye to Sam Waterston, shave our legs, and get back out there.
2. Find yourself a friend, a shrink, a stranger at a bus shelter: It doesn't matter who, as long as it's a person who doesn't have an agenda. We all need that one someone in our lives who doesn't hear what we have to say filtered through the prism of his or her own needs. Think Switzerland. Okay, that's a bad example because Switzerland only pretends to be neutral while hiding the money of war criminals and forcing jet-lagged tourists to eat fondue...but you get the idea.
3. Do something—anything—for somebody else. I promise, it'll help you feel a little bit better.
4. Do something—anything—for yourself. I promise, that helps, too.
5. If you're going to rent a movie, shoot for something frothy. A screwball comedy that revolves around a plucky, maribou-wearing, Champagne-sipping heroine who ends up with Cary Grant will do a whole lot more for your sense of well-being than Lars von Trier ever could.
6. Step away from the lasagna, ma'am. It is your God-given right to splurge from time to time (see aforementioned potpie), but if you've lost your health insurance, your home, your one true love, you do not want to also lose the ability to tuck in your shirt.
7. Never underestimate the power of a perfect comeback. Sometimes words aren't even necessary. I've spent years perfecting a simple smile that says, "Please know that I plan to systematically destroy you when you least expect it."
8. Let's face it, if you don't have anything in your life worth crying over, you probably don't have much of a life. So crying is definitely allowed, but (and lord knows, this is easier said than done) see if you can't keep the whining to a minimum.
9. Dwell in possibility. Only the limits of your own imagination (and a restraining order) can keep you from deciding that Benicio Del Toro is your destiny.
10. Forget about what you can't do. The other day I overheard a snippet of conversation my 6-year-old was having with her pal. "Wait," she asked, "what are my superpowers supposed to be again?" We all have superpowers (I myself happen to look very nice in navy), and we all forget them from time to time. Meet an old friend for lunch and have her make you a good, long list of yours.
10 Life Lessons You Should Unlearn:
by Martha Beck
In the past 10 years, I've realized that our culture is rife with ideas that actually inhibit joy. Here are some of the things I'm most grateful to have unlearned:
1. Problems are bad. You spent your school years solving arbitrary problems imposed by boring authority figures. You learned that problems—comment se dit?—suck. But people without real problems go mad and invent things like base jumping and wedding planning. Real problems are wonderful, each carrying the seeds of its own solution. Job burnout? It's steering you toward your perfect career. An awful relationship? It's teaching you what love means. Confusing tax forms? They're suggesting you hire an accountant, so you can focus on more interesting tasks, such as flossing. Finding the solution to each problem is what gives life its gusto.
2. It's important to stay happy. Solving a knotty problem can help us be happy, but we don't have to be happy to feel good. If that sounds crazy, try this: Focus on something that makes you miserable. Then think, "I must stay happy!" Stressful, isn't it? Now say, "It's okay to be as sad as I need to be." This kind of permission to feel as we feel—not continuous happiness—is the foundation of well-being.
3. I'm irreparably damaged by my past. Painful events leave scars, true, but it turns out they're largely erasable. Jill Bolte Taylor, the neuroanatomist who had a stroke that obliterated her memory, described the event as losing "37 years of emotional baggage." Taylor rebuilt her own brain, minus the drama. Now it appears we can all effect a similar shift, without having to endure a brain hemorrhage. The very thing you're doing at this moment—questioning habitual thoughts—is enough to begin off-loading old patterns. For example, take an issue that's been worrying you ("I've got to work harder!") and think of three reasons that belief may be wrong. Your brain will begin to let it go. Taylor found this thought-loss euphoric. You will, too.
4. Working hard leads to success. Baby mammals, including humans, learn by playing, which is why "the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton." Boys who'd spent years strategizing for fun gained instinctive skills to handle real-world situations. So play as you did in childhood, with all-out absorption. Watch for ways your childhood playing skills can solve a problem (see #1). Play, not work, is the key to success. While we're on the subject...
5. Success is the opposite of failure. Fact: From quitting smoking to skiing, we succeed to the degree we try, fail, and learn. Studies show that people who worry about mistakes shut down, but those who are relaxed about doing badly soon learn to do well. Success is built on failure.
"If all my wishes came true, right now, life would be perfect"
6. It matters what people think of me. "But if I fail," you may protest, "people will think badly of me!" This dreaded fate causes despair, suicide, homicide. I realized this when I read blatant lies about myself on the Internet. When I bewailed this to a friend, she said, "Wow, you have some painful fantasies about other people's fantasies about you." Yup, my anguish came from my hypothesis that other people's hypothetical hypotheses about me mattered. Ridiculous! Right now, imagine what you'd do if it absolutely didn't matter what people thought of you. Got it? Good. Never go back.
7. We should think rationally about our decisions. Your rational capacities are far newer and more error-prone than your deeper, "animal" brain. Often complex problems are best solved by thinking like an animal. Consider a choice you have to make—anything from which movie to see to which house to buy. Instead of weighing pros and cons intellectually, notice your physical response to each option. Pay attention to when your body tenses or relaxes. And speaking of bodies...
8. The pretty girls get all the good stuff. Oh, God. So not true. I unlearned this after years of coaching beautiful clients. Yes, these lovelies get preferential treatment in most life scenarios, but there's a catch: While everyone's looking at them, virtually no one sees them. Almost every gorgeous client had a husband who'd married her breasts and jawline without ever noticing her soul.
9. If all my wishes came true right now, life would be perfect. Check it out: People who have what you want are all over rehab clinics, divorce courts, and jails. That's because good fortune has side effects, just like medications advertised on TV. Basically, any external thing we depend on to make us feel good has the power to make us feel bad. Weirdly, when you've stopped depending on tangible rewards, they often materialize. To attract something you want, become as joyful as you think that thing would make you. The joy, not the thing, is the point.
10. Loss is terrible. Ten years ago I still feared loss enough to abandon myself in order to keep things stable. I'd smile when I was sad, pretend to like people who appalled me. What I now know is that losses aren't cataclysmic if they teach the heart and soul their natural cycle of breaking and healing. A real tragedy? That's the loss of the heart and soul themselves. If you've abandoned yourself in the effort to keep anyone or anything else, unlearn that pattern. Live your truth, losses be damned. Just like that, your heart and soul will return home.