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April 28, 2006

Measuring your quality of life, and improving it instantly. People often make the mistake of assuming that one’s situation has more to do with their quality of life than their attitude. I have made some major changes in my life’s situation to pursue my dreams and improve the quality of my life. However, after succeeding in my quest of having my family together full time, of becoming the athlete I have always wanted to be, to being in the driver’s seat in my professional career, and traveling the world as a kayaker, paddling nearly daily with my own boats, with my kids, and with friends just about anywhere I go, the quality of my life is still held in balance by one thing; my attitude. How do I know that? I only need to have one bad day to realize that everything I have built for myself and family to be able to live the dream is less important than deciding to have a good day first and create an attitude that no external forces can shake.

I don’t have a bad day often, and they are never because bad things happen. I am fortunate in that I didn’t come by my current situation easily. I have lived what most average middle income families would consider a “living hell”, which is poverty and debt from 1985-1991. Luckily I got married and my wife Kristine got a baby sitting job at age 18, which added to my Armand’s Pizza waiting job brought us into a more stable environment. It became a challenge of mine to never let hunger or any bad news put a dent in my attitude. A good part of that was because I was training to make the USA Team and felt I had a shot of doing it. I also knew that my coach, Bill Endicott, would say that you can’t paddle well with personal stress in your life. I couldn’t seem to improve the things that were classically known to create stress, like where the food or rent money was going to come from, so I decided to simply eliminate the negative thoughts that came with it. I also had a set of tapes called the “Psychology of Winning” in which one line was for every time something went bad, you should say, “that’s good!”, and then set about to find what is good about that situation. In finding the good in the situation, you are simply digging beyond the obvious negative in the situation and instead of dwelling upon that, you can actually take action on what is good, our could be good in the situation, which offers new opportunities. Examples are, getting fired from Armand’s Pizza for being late too many days in a row, “that’s good”, what was good about that? I decided to go to training camps that I wouldn’t have done otherwise, made the USA Team, and after 5 years of failing to make the USA team, I was now practically a permanent addition to it. Today, the types of “bad news” are quite different, but the effect is identical. I can be just as unhappy today I was before I had a pot to pee in. In fact, when you appear to have so much going for you, you simply get lazy and often forget that happiness requires effort and attention to what kind of thoughts you allow yourself. When your situation is less than ideal, or you are struggling with things that seem to be in between you and the life you want, you recognize that you will have to create your own “happy place” in order to have a good day and peace of mind. This is why the idea that “life’s a journey, not a destination” is found in writing, songs, and psychology books everywhere. This is why retiring is a sure way to depression and early death. When you are focused on achieving something in your life, you have a purpose and any progress towards that goal allows most people to have a feeling of happiness until they focus on something different. That could be for a moment, for an hour, day, or a week. Since I have essentially created what I defined for myself years ago as the “dream life” and am realizing much of it today, I am at risk of experiencing “retirement syndrome” which comes from wanting to sit down, look around and simply enjoy what I have already, as if I am somewhere worth stopping at. It is much harder to mentally deal with negative experiences under that kind of situation and not have it affect your mood because you expect things to be rosy and don’t want to have to tolerate anything negative. Does that make sense to you? Don’t worry, however, I am good at looking at the bright side of where I am in my life for a pick me upper, like a strong cup of coffee in the morning, and then looking at the “needs improvement” and the “unfulfilled goals and dreams” areas of my life to make me want to roll up my sleeves and put in an honest days work.

Here is how you can make more hours of each day ones that you will want to remember in the future. If you want to know what moments, hours, days, etc. of your life so far were worthy of your living by your own standards, simply think back over time and write down the things that stick out in your mind, good or bad. Especially think about your happiest moments. Many were trying times that you overcame, some where achieving a major goal, like graduating, and many were little moments that you simply were kicking back and enjoying the moment. It is different for each person, but you can easily come up with your own formula for living the rest of your life under the happy banner, instead of the “just another average day” or worse, “another bad day”. For most people the happy moments they remember had little to do with the exact situation, but simply that they forget themselves and the struggles in their lives long enough to just enjoy themselves. Here is a list of things you can do to improve your life immediately:

  1. Connect with your friends and family each day in a more intimate way: Give them a hug, look them in the eye, pay them a compliment, and smile. Remember that a smile is the candle your window that says there is a caring, friendly individual inside. Most negative interpersonal relationships can be avoided or improve upon with a smile.
  2. Set a least 15 minutes of each day aside for yourself. Use this time to “step away from the canvass of your life” and take a birds eye view of who you are, what you are doing. It is always easier to be happy when “what you think, how you act, and how you feel” about something are consistent with each other. This is the time to celebrate what you do have and recommit to where you are going.
  3. Decide to either enjoy you current situation, or change it. You may not like everything about your current situation, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it and make the best of it, and be happy in it. If you decide that you can’t be happy in it, then the choice is clear, change it. Contrary to popular belief, most people are more apt to look for greener pastures than to fertilize their own pasture. Changing your situation to improve your happiness is a cop out much of the time. New wife, new job, new home, new car, new whatever. It is only a short amount of time until they aren’t new and you are in the same situation only worse. So start where you are already and be happy. Then change what makes the most sense for your long term goals.
  4. Finally: “It takes just as much energy and effort to live a bad life, as it does a good one.” Dennis Whately I hear all of the time, people say to me, I don’t have the kind of energy you have. I watch those people expending tons of energy worrying about things, dealing with problems that come from not being proactive, etc., etc. It clearly is not easier to try to coast through life in neutral. You just have to decide what kind of life you want to live and your drive will surprise you. Lack of energy, being tired, and feeling like you can’t take on any more comes from the empty feeling you get from not having a target to shoot for that is attainable. A worthy purpose in your life is the key to having a natural magnet that pulls your brain towards happiness, and your life towards “success”.

I wrote this as much for my own good as for yours. It is always good for me to verbalize my goals in a way that I can remember. Today will be a great day.

🙂 EJ