How do we maintain a joyful, positive momentum in life?
I think we’ve all experienced the loss of momentum—whether it’s feeling “stuck in second gear” (as in the theme song from the Friends TV show), or feeling like we’re stuck in the middle of the ocean with no wind, like the sailors in Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Coleridge:
Day after day, day after day, we stuck, nor breath nor motion,
As idle as a painted ship upon a painted ocean.
Water, water everywhere and all the boards did shrink;
Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink.
It’s the drag of routine and repetition, the feeling that we’re just repeating ourselves again and again.
But I like what Ralph Waldo Emerson says about how to keep some momentum going in the midst of the routine:
We’re all entitled to be valued by our best moments. Let your best moments break through the clouds of routine and shine every day, for these moments are momentous and they provide the momentum to keep your life moving ahead.
Let your best moments shine every day. Of course, that raises an interesting question: Today, what will your best moment be?
Will it be a moment when everyone was amazed at how calm you were in a mini-crisis? Or how gracious and generous you were with someone who was being difficult? Or how you overcame tension with humor? Or how encouraging you were?
(Don’t you like the way this question turns an ordinary day into an adventure?)
Even Olympic champions are primarily remembered for their best moments. So why not you and me?
In the self-help section of any bookstore you can find millions of words on how to fulfill yourself, be your best self, live your best life, find happiness, etc.
It’s exhausting, isn’t it?
It’s as if in our culture—which is so much about “getting”—we’ve decided we’ll just “get” happiness and fulfillment too. Just check off those boxes.
Does it work that way? I wonder.
Robert Louis Stevenson suggests that once in a while we might want to think about replacing “getting” with “forgetting”. He put it like this:
In every part and corner of life, to forget yourself is to be happy, to lose yourself is to be a gainer.
I love this thought; I feel my body relax a bit just thinking about it.
And I think we’ve all experienced some of this.
…“Losing yourself” in a task so completely that you hardly notice time passing.
…Giving or serving freely, expecting nothing in return.
…Choosing to overlook a slight or “turn loose” of some hurt or judgment or resentment.
…Resigning as boss of the universe.
But Stevenson takes this a step further—suggesting that “losing ourselves” could bring benefits to “every part and corner of life”.
We could think of this as the practice of getting over ourselves and getting out of our own way…so that we can be free to just live and love.
Not saying it’s always easy, but it’s an idea worth playing with. You might end up giving yourself permission to turn loose of a few things.
You might even end up…more at peace.
As Stevenson said, there’s a lot to be gained by just…turning…loose. And here’s the paradoxical key: we turn loose for the sake of a larger life.
Guest post by Landon Saunders
How we approach this thing called our life—our thoughts and emotions and attitudes—makes all the difference in the world.
I was learning to drive. My Dad was in the passenger seat. We were on an unpaved road in West Virginia, and it had rained the night before which left some new ruts and potholes. I had hit two of the potholes, and my Dad said, “Do you think you might hit all of those potholes?” A touch of humor was in his voice, so I knew it wasn’t a reprimand—it was more like a comment of grace.
We’re in mud season here in Vermont, so our roads are mushy. When I hit a new pothole, I still hear my Dad’s voice. Not reprimanding, just a touch of grace.
Most of us know when we’ve made a mistake, made a wrong choice. And there’s obviously a place for reprimand, at times. But, most of the time, we would do better with a hint of humor and a touch of grace. It’s a better approach to this thing we call our life.
I remember with fondness my Dad’s approach. The question for me is, do I extend a hint of humor and a touch of grace when those around me, including those I love most, make mistakes?
How we approach our lives makes all the difference in the world—in ourselves as well as those around us.
With a better approach maybe we will hit fewer potholes
This week the words of playwright William Saroyan caught my attention:
In the time of your life, live—so that in that good time there shall be no ugliness or death for yourself or for any life your life touches. Seek goodness everywhere, and when it is found, bring it out of its hiding place and let it be free and unashamed.
Two things jumped out at me.
First: “In the time of your life, live.” It feels like life calling to us, doesn’t it?
Circumstances will never be perfect. LIVE anyway!
You will sometimes be disappointed. LIVE anyway!
You will have failure. Everyone does. LIVE anyway!
You may be wildly successful. LIVE anyway!
There will be pain and maybe even tragedy. LIVE anyway!
In other words, there is no reason why you can’t say Yes to life. But how do we do that…and keep doing it?
This is the second point: Saroyan suggests that one thing we can do to say Yes to life is to “seek goodness everywhere.”
What an incredible way to look at people. To not merely see differences, or outward appearances. But to see each person as one who has something good, something precious hidden inside. And to practice the art of gently encouraging that.
My wife and I recently had dinner with a young woman who talked about her job. We were so impressed with how she negotiated the different challenges, problems and personalities—and, of course, I told her so.
Socrates, whose mother was a mid-wife, claimed that, in a way, he too was a midwife. He was always trying to help “give birth” to something good in others.
Saroyan is telling us: “You really want to live? Strive to be the kind of person who brings out the good in others.”
Guest post by Landon Saunders
Cars, heating systems, health—all of these get “check-ups.” The “check-up” identifies any problems, makes any needed corrections, and heads off potential problems that can disturb our well-being.
Periodically, I think it’s a good idea to ask of our life: “Is this going the way I want it to go?” We should ask this joyfully and not judgmentally!
What’s interesting to me is that this question often involves very little of the “big chunks” of our lives—where we live, how we make a living; more often, it goes to the attitudes, emotions, and priorities we bring to life.
If I listed the attitudes, emotions, and priorities I would most like to characterize my life, does the way I’m putting in my days reflect those? I’ve noticed that sometimes the most important things get buried beneath the routines—without my even being aware. Asking this question helps ensure I won’t wake up one day and say “Oops!” After all, this isn’t about knocking over your bowl of Cheerios—it’s your life, your well-being, your joy.
So yeah, I frequently need a life check-up. I just have one life, and it’s speeding along, so let me pause for a moment, course correct as necessary, and whisper, “Hallelujah!”
“What is my spirit?”
That might seem like a vague, theoretical or spooky question for a Monday morning. But I think it’s actually very practical.
Consider Sammy Basso. Sammy is just under four-and-a-half feet tall, weighs 44 pounds, and is all skin and bones. He looks 100 years old.
But Sammy is 26. He suffers from Progeria, a rare disease that causes children to age prematurely. It brings all kinds of health problems and is often fatal by the mid-teens.
And yet, Sammy’s buoyant spirit has made him a global spokesman for the Progeria Research Foundation. He got a college degree (between surgeries). He does scientific research. He’s Catholic. He’s in a theater group. He’s the inspiration for Sammy’s Runners Club. He made a Ted Talk. And he loves to go to the pub with friends.
When doctors told Sammy that red wine was good for his heart, he replied, “Oh, I will live forever!” Sammy’s mother explained, “He was a happy child and remarkably resistant to self-pity.”
Think about that for a minute. “He was a happy child.”
Thinking of other kids with Progeria, Sammy says, “The thing I would like them to learn by my experience is that their life is important. They can be helpful for the world.”
Jacob K. Javits, the former senator from New York, might have been speaking about Sammy, but he was actually speaking to all of us when he said:
There is no greater satisfaction than standing up to your own humanity and giving confidence and courage to those who love you and will even love you more if you show a flaming, indomitable human spirit.
Long ago, the apostle Paul urged his readers to not let their bodies dominate their lives but to follow the spirit instead. What would that look like? He explained:
The fruits of the spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control. Against such, there is no law.
Think about that. This thing called spirit (Lincoln called it “the better angels of our nature”) is greater than law. It’s greater than our aging bodies, greater than our circumstances, greater than our failures and successes. It gives us a way to stand up to our own humanity—to stand up for the best of our humanity.
Which brings us back to the question: “What is my spirit?”