Monday, January 17, 2011


I love to complain.  I really do.  I’m good at it.  It’s one of the few talents I have.  I can rant and rave, whine, mutter, grumble, and rage with the best of them.  I’ve been trained well by my movies, TV programs, and songs.   I watch the news, and it seems only the bad things ever get our attention.  I watch stand-up comedians, who teach us to laugh at their grumblings over life’s little inconsistencies and letdowns.  Commercials teach us to be discontent with our lives to the degree that we buy whatever solutions they peddle.  All around us, resentments abound.

So when you start talking about gratitude, it usually gets relegated to Thanksgiving.  I like Thanksgiving because it forces us to quit our incessant whining.  We have one day where it’s just not cool to complain.  But carrying that attitude past the point of turkey leftovers is a challenge.

Recently I was stuck in traffic.  In L.A. this is no rare thing.  Traffic was backed up for what seemed like miles.  And like most of us, I had somewhere to be.  So there I sat, pondering the injustice of it all, and basically thinking what everyone else was thinking: “why does this happen to me?”  Eventually, the traffic crawled along to the point where we could see what the problem was: a terrible traffic accident.  On the shoulder of the road, crews were doing their best to handle two crumpled cars.  No sign of crumpled bodies, but you just knew that whoever had been in those cars was having a worse day than me by now.  As I passed by in my non-crumpled car, enjoying the climate-controlled air and free to go about my business, I was humbled.  Here I had been whining this whole time about “why do bad things happen to me”.  I had myself convinced that I was the victim.  But would I trade my car for theirs?  Would I trade my physical condition for theirs?  Would I trade my eventual insurance rates for theirs?  Would I trade the rest of my day for the rest of theirs?  In a word, no.  Chastened, I sped along to my appointment and on with my life.

Based on this, I had an epiphany: anything you can complain about, you can find a reason to be grateful for, too.  It’s all a matter of perspective.  Now, this is a challenge, and it takes some practice.  Let me give you some examples:
  • “I have to work today” or “I hate my job” becomes “I have a job, and others are not so lucky”.
  • “I’m fat” becomes “I live in a country where food is abundant”.
  • “My car sucks” becomes “I have a car”.
  • “My parents/kids/spouse/in-laws/family are jerks” becomes “I have a family”.
And so on.  The common thread here is that it could be worse, and you need to see that. 

I learned something else that was nice: whenever you’re feeling cranky, irritable, or put upon buy life’s little injustices, a good exercise is to start making a list of things you have to be grateful for.  And I’m not talking about the big, platitude-sounding stuff, like “I live in a free country” or “God loves me”.  If you are willing to sift through the details, you can probably come up with a few things at any given moment.

Here’s mine:
  • Today, I got to work on time, or close enough that no one complained.
  • The weather today is gorgeous.  Here it is, mid-January, and I’m wearing a short sleeved short outside with no jacket.
  • I just finished a week-long cleanse diet with almost no cheating, and I think I dropped a few pounds without suffering.
  • During my diet, I developed a taste for tea without sugar.  This is a good thing.
  • As this week-long diet is over, I can have a nice lunch.
  • My work day is halfway through, and I have no plans after work.
Thinking about what doesn’t suck in my life helps me to take what does suck and see it in perspective.  It helps me see that when I choose to dwell on the constant stream of negativity in my life, I’ll never take the time to see what is good, what is working, and what could be worse.

I’m just saying, it could be worse.  My challenge is to see it, recognize it, and live as though I understood it.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

New Year's Resolutions

Like most of us, I'm not big on New Year's resolutions.  I mean, I get the reasoning behind it: New Year's falls just a few days after Christmas.  At Christmas time, we all pretend to be a little bit more decent to one another, and we get all optimistic.  Then we got our presents and think about all the stuff we should have asked for instead.  The end of a year has many of us looking back with regrets over missed opportunities and "what might have been", which inevitably leads us to resolutions to correct whatever mistakes we've made in the last twelve months.  "This year", we tell ourselves "things are going to be different".

We promise ourselves we're going to lose weight, start exercising, quit eating junk food, watch less TV, quit smoking, you name it.  And based on the statistics related to America's growing epidemic of obesity, I'd say we're having a hard time following through on those resolutions, no matter how well-intended or medically necessary they may be.

But I have to say, my 2010 hasn't left me with too many feelings of remorse.  Could I have done things better?  Probably.  Could I have tried harder?  Certainly.  But would I trade my 2010 for some of my previous years, or for anyone else's 2010?  Probably not.

I am still married, and happily so.  I moved into a bigger, nicer place.  I got a good job this year that I like doing, with co-workers I don't feel like punching.  I'm still pretty healthy, albeit a little fat.  I have good friends.  My life does not suck as badly as many others, and nowhere near as bad as it used to.  Believe me when I tell you, these are huge gains for me. 

It has been suggested that happiness is not necessarily having what you want in life, but rather wanting what you already have.  With that in mind, I hereby resolve for 2011:
  • Not to screw it all up too badly, if I can help it.
  • To tell my wife I love her every day, even when I'm grumpy.
  • To let my friends know that they're important to me.
  • To not do anything too terribly self-destructive.
  • To appreciate what I've got, while I've still got it.
  • To try to be more aware of the fact that I've got it pretty good.
  • To try to take care of what I have.  It was not earned easily.
  • To take criticisms with grace and humility, and to criticize other less.
  • To distance myself from anything ugly, pointless, or draining.
  • To make efforts to fix the things in my life that are broken, or at least not make them any worse.
That's my list.  I'll probably stay fat, so why make promises to the contrary?  I'll still yell at the jerks on the freeway to whom merging is a foreign concept.  I'll still put off things that I really should have done yesterday.  I'm not proud of these things, but then again I'm not going to make a list of promises that I have no intention of keeping, to myself or anyone else.  That's just bad karma.

I hope to end 2011 as I ended 2010: not completely smug and satisfied, but not prostrate with regret and guilt either.  I did the best I could (usually), and the results speak for themselves.  Here's hoping your 2011 doesn't suck either.