When I turned 59 this past September I received a precious handmade birthday card from Lily, my six-year-old granddaughter. With fledgling penmanship skills, she didn’t quite close the tops of either of the letters “a” in the word “Grampa”, causing my mind to initially read, “I LovE you gRumPy”!
I really don’t think Lily thinks I am a “grumpy grampa” (at least I hope not)! But I have to admit that I have had this nagging feeling through much of 2021 that I have been succumbing to “Grumpy Old Man Syndrome”!
Apparently, “Grumpy Old Man Syndrome” may be real. Check this out if you’re experiencing some grumpiness: https://www.webmd.com/men/features/irritable-male-syndrome-high-on-stress
And if you, like me, have noticed yourself leaning in the direction of greater grumpiness (and responsibly choose not to use what is happening in the world around us as an excuse), this might be a helpful article:
Some psychologists believe that humans have a “negativity bias”, defined as the human tendency to pay attention to and be influenced more by negative experiences than neutral or positive ones. In an interesting TED Talk, Alison Ledgerwood, Associate Professor at the University of California, Davis offers evidence that “Our view of the world has a fundamental tendency to tilt to the negative.”
This tendency to focus on the negatives may have served us well earlier in our evolutionary process to keep us aware of danger and out of harm’s way. And yet, in my granddaughter’s face and actions, I see what appears to be a very natural state of happiness and wonder and a pure joy for simply being alive!
Whether due to “Grumpy Old Man Syndrome”, a “negativity bias”, or simply having a natural state of happiness that has been battered by life’s challenges (including but not limited to COVID), it just seems as though I am having more negative thoughts than usual. And the risk of my sweet granddaughter considering me a “grumpy grampa” has caught my attention!
Ledgerwood counsels, “Our minds may be built to look for negative information and to hold on to it, but we can also retrain our minds if we put some effort into it and start to see that the glass may be a little more full than we initially thought.”
I once read that 40% of everyday life is shaped by habits. I’m not sure how they arrived at that determination, but as a self-confessed “creature of habit” who is not particularly enthusiastic about change (other than, of course, the pennies in my pocket – as many of you know, I’ve been a penny collector since my childhood) I might suggest that habits might play an even greater role than that.
“Your beliefs become your thoughts. Your thoughts become your words. Your words become your actions. Your actions become your habits. Your habits become your values. Your values become your destiny.” This quote (or some version of it) has been attributed to many including Lao Tzu, Buddha, Gandhi, Emerson and others. Regardless of its origin, it seems an eloquently true expression.
Using an attributable quote, William James, in The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study of Human Nature, writes, “All our life, so far as it has definite form, is but a mass of habits - practical, emotional, and intellectual - systematically organized for our weal or woe, and bearing us irresistibly toward our destiny, whatever the latter may be.”
Both suggest the profound importance of those simple, everyday habits, which can lead to our greatest successes and our most dismal failures.
If the pandemic (or any current or recent life experience, such as a cancer diagnosis) has disrupted your usual routine or habits, now may be a good time to consider those habits in your life that are beneficial and those that are not. It may be a good time to fortify good habits and consider new habits that may lead to improved physical health, a better attitude, greater happiness, and a profound sense of purpose while eliminating those that may contradict those desired outcomes.
Of course, changing habits is not easy. The American Psychological Association, in its definition of the word habit, points to its challenging nature: “it is performed with little or no conscious intent.” How do we change something we don’t even realize we are doing (or not doing)? The first step might simply be increasing our awareness of the habits we have (knowingly or unknowingly) constructed while also considering those habits that have been shown to be healthy and beneficial.
I don’t know what 2022 will bring. And I realize that much of what will happen over these next twelve months is beyond my control. But I do pledge to do all I can so I don’t become a “grumpy old man” or, even worse, a “grumpy grampa” in my granddaughter’s eyes!
Because I find myself examining not only the habits in my personal life but in my work life as well (that have also been significantly impacted by the pandemic), I thought I’d try what I hope may become a “healthy habit” for some in the Local Cancer Community.
New on the calendar this month is something I am calling “Qi and Chat”. We will begin each of these sessions (that will include both in-person and virtual options) with a short (about 20-minutes) Qigong practice (guided by a video) and follow it up with a casual chat session to discuss how to live a more fulfilling life.
I am relatively new to qigong and certainly not an expert (which is why we will utilize videos from experienced qigong instructors). I have come to enjoy the slow, gentle movement of Qigong. Moreso, I have come to appreciate the state of relaxation that I often experience during and after practicing qigong. I often experience a peaceful and calm state of mind that seems to me would be conducive for exploring and better understanding the joy, happiness, peace, and fulfillment we seek in life.
Starting in February, the “Chat” portion of these “Qi & Chat” sessions will include the discussion of segments of How to Build a Happy Life! I came across this podcast in late 2021 and found it filled with useful and helpful information, ideas and strategies. Hosted by Arthur Brooks of The Atlantic, it delves into the research and offers tools to help you live more joyfully and includes conversations with psychologists and experts.
If you want to get a head start on “How to Build a Happy Life” feel free to listen to any of the episodes and maybe take some notes, implement some of the strategies, and share your experiences with us in February and beyond.
The “How to Live a Happy Life” podcast can be found here: www.theatlantic.com/happy
In the meantime, join us for any of the “Qi & Chat” sessions this month (virtually or in-person). If you’ve never done qigong, this is a great time to give it a try (and perhaps start a new healthy habit) or feel free to simply observe (and see what it’s all about). Otherwise, join us 15-20 minutes AFTER the start of the “Qi and Chat” session for the casual chat portion. Together, we will discuss and explore ways to make 2022 the best year ever - regardless of what is going on around us while, hopefully, positively impacting what is going on both within us and around us!
See the January calendar for dates and times!