Friday, December 19, 2014

Family Matters

My sister-in-law is always trying to better herself. She has two masters’ degrees, a plethora of initials after her hyphenated name, and is always taking new classes or learning new things. She once took opera singing lessons, just because. She is currently running marathons – for fun. So when she recommended what I consider to be a self-help book, I wasn’t surprised. My brother-in-law is the same way. (Good thing they are married, eh?) He also recommended a self-help book. This week, I read them both.

#2 – The Happiness Project – Gretchen Rubin
Recommended by: CRR

The author spent a year trying to become happier even though the basics were already covers, i.e., she was already happily married, doing a job she loved, in a city she loved, with two kids who were both healthy. I believe starting from a general sense of happiness is more realistic. A new job, a baby, a romance – all are considered easy paths to happiness. But what does happen if you already have those things? Can you be happier? What makes you happy?

The book tells you to figure out what makes you happy, what makes you sad, or frustrated, where you want to grow as a person, and what do you want to change. From those answers, you can start to create a list of resolutions that will help make you happier. What I found to be the most useful is starting small – say one resolution in January, and gradually increasing to 12 resolutions in December and then breaking down those resolutions into pieces. (Resolutions, not goals, because resolutions are daily reminders and goals, once hit, are forgotten.) For example, come January, everyone wants to lose weight. But by breaking that goal down, it can be easier to manage. Maybe in January, only focus on exercising every other day. Identify ways that you can rearrange your life and schedule to get to the gym, or arrange your workouts to better suit your moods or your time constraints. Perhaps don’t go to the gym at all, find other activities, or different places. Then in February, start a food log. Maybe in March, eliminate certain foods and so on until December, when you have incorporated 12 different approaches to healthy diet and exercise that have changed your life and make you happier. Or focus on something different every month, as the author did. One month she focused on money. A different month, she focused on parenting. The point is not to do what others do, the point is to determine what you want to do and what you can do to make yourself happier.

I would go nuts trying to fill in a Resolution star chart every day, or spending so much time navel gazing, but I think the concept is sound. I do plan on making a short list of resolutions that will grow monthly to test out the theory. What do I have to lose from trying to make myself happy? I’ll let you know how it goes. If any of you are trying to change your life this upcoming year, even in a small way, this wouldn’t be a bad book to read before you start.

#3 – Verbal Judo – George Thompson
Recommended by: MR

I can see how this book appealed to my beloved brother-in-law. (I’m lucky, I have three BILs and I adore all of them. In this case, I’m referring to the Eldest.) This book explains how to be a better communicator in easy to understand ways, using a plethora of examples, mostly from the authors’ years in law enforcement. It’s like it was written for Eldest! I found it to be a bit of information overload, but a few simple things stood out – always treat others with respect, always come from a place of empathy, always use first names, and always personalize your encounter with someone. Obviously, there is a lot more to the book, including mnemonic reminders, lists, and lots and lots of ways in which to put those concepts into practice. I was surprised, however, by how many of these concepts Eldest already practiced. When my daughter was born, she was put into NICU very suddenly. (She was fine, we panicked.) All I heard for 24 hours was “How’s the baby?” Eldest was the only person who asked, “How is Insert Name Here?” I have never forgotten that. It made her real. It made me less scared. She wasn’t just a general baby, she was my little girl, his niece, and by God she was going to be all right. I was really struck by how such a simple switch from baby to name made such a huge different and this book is filled to the brim with examples of how to make other, just as simple changes to your communication habits.

So, if you know someone who communicates only through yelling, or intimidation, or doesn’t listen to a word you say, slip this book into his or her stocking this Christmas. Or better yet, buy yourself a copy and teach them through example. Just like trying to make yourself happier, you can’t go wrong by trying to become a better speaker and a better listener.

Programming Note: I will be reading all books in the order in which they were given to me. If you are reading along at home, the list is on the blog. 

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