Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Gratitude Attitude...But I Want To Complain!

Several months ago, I accepted a challenge to stop complaining for 7 days. The deal was to embrace the hokey idea that less complaining leads to a happier life. If you've read my posts, you know that I have floundered, fumbled, failed and pretty much effed it up. I've even tried to defend my whining ways.

Yeah. I may be going about this all wrong. I might need an attitude adjustment before I begin to wholeheartedly embrace the joy of woe. 

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you and give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude." 

Was Emerson right? Can all things be good things? While I may question that tenet, I am willing to try this on: What if the problem isn't the circumstances, but my perception? 

Have you ever noticed that what begins as an excuse to complain, sometimes ends up as a reason to be grateful? Sometimes it's the little things.

Little Dogs and Starry Nights

Not long ago after an exhausting day, my little dog Coco woke me up out of deep sleep at 3 o'clock in the morning, to let me know she needed to make a business trip to the yard. I wasn't thrilled. 

Coco's a smart, sweet and timid mutt. She's part Australian Shepard and because she strains the leash to avoid most people and all dogs, I suspect she is also part chicken. She is a creature of comfort who hates rain and wet grass and she loves to snuggle with me in a warm bed. I am very fond of her and want her to live forever. 

Tonight, however she was being a pain in the tookus.  When I became fully awake and turned on the light, I looked at her and asked, "Seriously?" She returned my glare with big brown eyes and scratched the door. I grabbed my robe and her leash with a huff of exasperation and I stomped, while she pranced out the door and into the night. It's times like this that I'm glad she can't talk and out me on my childish behavior.

We have no street lights in our neighborhood, so when the stars are out, they are out! That night the sky was brilliantly alive with stars that they seemed close enough to touch. A a celestial feast!  I was so mesmerized that I planted my feet in the grass, tilted my head back and basked in their beauty. Seconds later, with an unexpected flash, a shooting star streaked across the sky and left a trail of light for just a moment. It happened so fast that my mind took a minute to catch up with the experience. 

While shooting stars may not be rare, they are for me and I knew this one was a gift. When we went back inside, I hugged my little dog for getting me out of bed and urging me out into that starry, starry night.

Stormy Moods and Rivers
Not all gifts appear in the middle of the night. Sometimes they materialize in the midst of a morning storm.Several weeks ago I was to crew in a race at my sailing club. Once a month we have the Big Boys Race for boats 20 feet or larger. I love being out on the river in the hot Florida sun and rigging the boat, hoisting sails and manning the jib. It's also an opportunity to learn from the experienced sailors.  

Prior to the race, during the skipper's meeting, it began to rain and the commodore canceled the race. My mood became almost as foul as the weather and as dark as the looming clouds. But we have a friendly group at the club and a few of us sat under the pavilion, talking and watching the river and the rain.  As I enjoyed myself just being with the other sailors, I began to forget about the fact that I was dry-docked for the day. 

When my mood brightened, so did the weather and one of the best sailors at our club asked another gal and me if we'd like to go for a sail. We enthusiastically accepted and the three of us spent the rest of the afternoon sailing under beautiful skies and generous winds on 25 ft sailboat. If the race had gone off without a hitch, I would have been crewing and yes, it would have been great. But it's rare for a skipper to hand over the tiller during a race. Seconds count and tacks have to be perfect. But that day, for the better part of our sail, the skipper assigned me to the helm. It was a thrilling, wonderful day I will never forget. Another gift.

Mama-Baby Doctors
Sometimes it's bigger than inconvenience or disappointment.When I was pregnant with Olivia, I was not crazy about my OB/GYN She had a cavalier attitude about my pregnancy and often became impatient when I peppered her with questions about Lamaze, Le Leche League and labor. I'm pretty sure I caught her in an eye-roll during one of my interrogations. 

Okay, I admit that I may have been a little intense, but I was new at this and I wanted to get it right. When she frightened me with a false diagnosis of Gestational diabetes, I lost confidence.

During my 8th month, an insurance hiccup resulted in the need for me to switch doctors and as much as I disliked my current doc, I panicked. This was not what hormone-infested-mother-to-be-me wanted to deal with. Change was the last thing I wanted at a time when my body and my life were doing nothing but. 

Hadn't I had already relinquished control over my appetite, my figure and my good nature? It wasn't fair that I had to break in a new doctor so late in the game! I wavered between bouts of hormonal, hysterical tears and self-indulgent whining until I accepted my fate and drove to my first appointment. The cry-baby-mama was about to meet the new mama-baby doctor.

He was simply perfect. Full of empathy and answers, he was not only kind, he was the best OB/GYN in the county. He was also a life-saver! A couple of weeks before my due date he scheduled me for an in-office sonogram. Sixteen years ago, few doctors had these expensive machines in their offices. During the test, he discovered that I was dangerously low on amniotic fluid. That meant, I was either need of an oil change or a delivery room. Dr Lifesaver and I agreed on the latter. 

It didn't escape me that Dr. Cavalier would have never known that I was a few quarts low. And although I went into early labor that evening, it could have been 20 hours before she ordered me to the hospital.

Early the next morning I checked into the labor ward where they immediately started an IV drip of Pitocin to augment my labor. I'll be kind and spare you the details of how a nurse broke my water with a knitting needle. Okay, it looked like a knitting needle. And won't share the particulars of hard labor and epidurals, both of which are not pretty. 

What matters is this; they were monitoring my baby's pulse, along with my contractions when they discovered her heartbeat was becoming faint. My doctor wasted no time in performing an emergency C-section. When he pulled her from my belly, he found the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck. This is not an uncommon occurrence, but in Olivia's case the cord was stretched and compressed enough to not only prevent her from moving down the birth canal; it was cutting off her blood supply.  I came very close to losing her. That day, I thanked God for my healthy baby girl, Dr. Lifesaver and insurance glitches. It was and will always be my best gift.

A Gratitude Attitude
A wise friend told me, "You will rarely find something if you aren't looking for it." So, what if I look for the gift? And what if I had enough faith to expect the gift? It may not always be a shooting star, or a chance at the helm on a sailboat, or a life-saving doctor. Maybe my next gift will be a lesson or a pot of gold or a song. 

What if embrace Emerson and try to find the good in all situations? Okay, I may be carried away. Perhaps I can aim for all, try for most and settle for some. Maybe I can stop complaining if I don't take myself so seriously and merely be grateful. What if I adopt an attitude of gratitude? If I look for reasons to be grateful, I can find them. I have my children, family and friends who love me and make me laugh, my health, and a car that runs most of the time. 

There is an old German proverb that says, “Instead of complaining that the rosebush is full of thorns, be happy that the thorn bush has roses.”

So, while I will not buy a pair of rose-colored glasses, I will make a point of looking for the roses. If I still want to complain. I can always find a reason. Half a dozen come to mind right now, like the economy and the fact that I have too much month at the end of my money and congressman who get paid too much for doing too little and traffic and taxes and aging. 

I can always miss the roses and focus on the thorns. But isn't that just too easy?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Squeaky Wheel

So here's the latest on my progress:  So far, my personal and pitiful best is somewhere around 7 hoursUgh. 

I will not give up on my 7 day challenge of no complaining, but at this rate, I'm afraid it could take months. 
I know. Clearly, I suck at this. But give me a break. I have a very good reason! (excuse)

It's the 'squeaky wheel' theory! My complaints have begotten oodles of grease in the form of refunds, better seats, better tables, freebies and much more. 
Besides, it's not easy to break a lifelong habit.

              Aren't we born complaining?

I know I was. I must have hated the idea of eviction from the dark warm comfort of my mother's womb, because I refused to leave. When the doctor yanked me out with forceps, I can only imagine how PO'd I was. Legend has it that I entered the delivery room with such earsplitting screams; I nearly woke my mother.  

(Those were the good old days when expectant mothers were treated to horse tranquilizers to take the edge off. After which they languished in week-long respites in hospital rooms where ashtrays were more common than televisions.)

Think about it. If all healthy babies shriek their way into the world, then maybe complaining is just hard-wired into our DNA. Like a survival instinct.  Granted, those of us who are fortunate to be born to loving parents get plenty of affection and attention. Yet, the average baby cries a dozen times a day. Besides turning a household on its ear, this serves a purpose. They get the undivided attention of an exhausted mother who rescues them from sickness, hunger or a loaded diaper.  

Yes, it is not lost on me that I am giving the mothers most of the credit. To the hands-on fathers out there who have embraced diaper duty; I salute you. I'm not saying my ex never changed a toxic diaper, but most times the proverbial ball (of you-know-what) was in my court. If he happened to notice her unfortunate situation before I did, he would mumble something poignant, yet subtle like: "The baby smells like she wants to be alone."

The point is, from the moment we are born, no matter who is taking care of us; complaining gets our needs met.

If our instinct was to grin and bear it
 would we be better off? Not in my experience. I screamed nonstop for the first two weeks of my life because my mother's breast milk lacked nutrients.  My infantile complaints prompted a trip to the pediatrician that resulted in a new diet of formula and cow's milk that quite literally kept me from starving. I doubt the lesson in that escaped me. Babies learn.

As a new mother, I was warned against picking up my baby when she cried at bedtime, lest she never learn how to get to sleep on her own. Sixteen years later my 'baby' falls asleep most nights with the TV on, so you can guess how well I managed that directive. Yeah, I was a wimp who could not bear to hear her cry.  

As we mature our complaining skills evolve. And it's a good thing they do. When was that last time you saw a couple out on the town burst into tears and stomp their feet when the hostess seated them at a table near the kitchen? Or a receiver throw himself down on the field, kicking and screaming because he missed a pass. (Okay. Maybe you have seen that one.)

As our needs become more complex, we get better at articulating them.

The baby's cry becomes the toddler's tantrum.  "I don't want to take a nap!"

The toddler's tantrum becomes the child's whine. "Mommy! You gave her a bigger piece!" 

The child's whine becomes the tween's groan. "Mom! You never let me do anything."

The tween's groan becomes the teenager's accusation. "You're ruining my life. You're the worst mother in the world! " This is when we hit our stride.

The teenager's accusation becomes the mother's gripe. "You don't appreciate anything I do for you. When I was your age.....blah blah blah..." And we've come full circle.

Clearly, complaining is not always just about survival. We also complain to stand up for ourselves. But where do we draw the line? Is it sometimes better not to make noise? 

I ask you: If the squeaky wheel gets oiled, does the squealing child get spoiled?

Friday, November 16, 2012

Justifiable Complaining

According to Merrium-Webster, there are two definitions of the word complain: 

1. : to express grief, pain, or discontent 

2. :  to make a formal accusation or charge

So Wednesday, after deciding to accept the 'no complaining challenge' I was feeling good about myself. Okay, maybe even a little smug.  My euphoria lasted about an hour.
It disappeared when I crossed paths with a dip-sh*t in a pickup who mistook the Walmart parking lot for the Daytona Speedway.  As I made a right turn into the lot 'Ricky Bobby' blew through the stop sign at about 40 MPH, hung a left on 2 wheels and came so close to me he nearly took my front bumper with him. 

Of course, I reacted with all of the serenity befitting a gal on a journey for peace of mind and self-improvement. I'm pretty sure I was still standing on my brakes, when I leaned on my horn and shouted "A**hole!" 

And I wondered, "Was that a complaint?" Because I'd like to think it was more of an observation.  

You can't really call it a complaint unless I had whined about it to someone. Right?  Still, I was 'expressing discontent'. But my heart was pounding in my ears, so wasn't my reaction was justified? 

Ugh. I may have to avoid driving for these 7 days, even if it might be unfair to the other drivers who need my horn-blowing and constructive critiques.

I have noticed that my complaining style is not so much premeditated tirades, as it is  knee-jerk reactions,  and avoiding them takes more of a conscious effort. 

But what about justifiable complaining? Does that count? Because sometimes I have a lot to complain about. Like war, famine, politicians and not being able to find the end of a roll of tape and reality TV stars and when I can't open a jar of mustard and when I have a conversation with my mother and I have to say everything twice. 

Okay. Maybe I'm missing the point.  We all have some reason to complain, but I guess it's a slippery slope. One minute you're complaining about your boss, whom admittedly  probably is an overpaid buffoon and moments later you've worked yourself up to a full blown rage over a broken shoelace or a bad call by a referee. 

But to be honest, I'm not even sure if I get the point. Isn't venting good for you? No doubt, its better for the vent-er than the vent-ee. It's never fun to be on the receiving end of someone's emotional dump. Especially if it's angry and often. 

So is the idea for me to become a nicer person? Someone who's easier to be around? 

I guess the only thing to do is soldier on. Chin up and mouth shut.  And when I'm behind the wheel, I'll try to keep the horn-blowing and the 'observations' to a minimum. 

I wonder. Do hand-gestures count? 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Embracing Hokey

Have you ever been to a business meeting or a seminar and listened to a hokey motivational speaker who was so full of sunshine and positive energy, that you just wanted to hurl? 

Tuesday evening I observed one of hokiest, happiest,  energetic speakers I have ever heard. He even made us jump out of our chairs every five minutes and declare how awesome we were. Then we had to high-five the stranger next to us and tell them how awesome they were.   

But what may surprise you, is that during this entire event, not one person looked like they wanted to hurl. There was not even so much as an eye-roll.  In fact, I heard more 'Amens'  from that audience than at a Baptist revival. They were completely and utterly enthralled.  

And so was I.

Because here's the thing: I'm a fan of happy and energetic people.  I kind of like hokey.  I might even embrace hokey and I don't really mind sitting in front of a gifted speaker who can wake me up and shake me out of my comfort zone.  

And that's exactly what he did. But, what impacted me most was a challenge he gave us.  "Want to change your life for the better?" Mr. Energy asked. "Go 7 days without complaining."

I was still feeling the effects of the previous night's influx of motivation when I awoke Wednesday morning. And though I consider myself a very positive person, I could not stop thinking about his challenge.  

So, despite the fact that I'm pretty sure that Mr. Energy  laid down the gauntlet for the whiners in the group and not an optimist like me, I decided to accept the challenge: 

No complaining for 7 days. 

This was going to be a breeze! I could improve my life a little and at the same time, set an  example for others not blessed with my sunny disposition. 

Other than a minor road rage incident (more about that next time) yesterday morning, I was doing great. Until I began to write this post.

I had some problems with the new 'Blogger' interface that the geeks at Google decided to change from a perfectly good, user-friendly one into a hot-complicated-mess! (Do rants count?)

I eventually figured it out, but not without some whining and okay, there may have even been some colorful language involved. 

Crap. I may be off to a bad start. Have you ever noticed that humble pie tastes nothing like pumpkin?