I watched a program on PBS the other night about a man who spent the last 30 years of his life in the Alaskan wilderness. He didn’t consider himself a hermit, but his friendships were limited to occasional summer visitors and the animals who became accustomed to his presence, as though he was one of them.
Few of us would choose such a lifestyle. True happiness is found in having happy meaningful relationships with others. This axiom seems simple enough. So why is it that many find themselves struggling through unhappy relationships that bring very little joy to their lives?
There are many ways to answer this question, and I make no assumptions that the thoughts I share are the end-all answer, but they have worked for me.
Along the way I’ve learned that I cannot have happy healthy relationships with others if I do not have a happy healthy relationship with myself. Sometimes, as was true for me, the circumstances of early childhood can make it difficult to discover personal happiness. Without going to preaching, I believe the key is in coming to understand God’s unconditional agape love for each of us. Some describe this experience in the context of a Higher Power, and who am I to judge? As a good friend once said to me, “What matters to me is not so much what you believe, as how what you believe affects the way you treat other people” (and I would add, “Yourself”.)
Another way of looking at it is this – the way we treat others is a reflection of how we treat ourselves. Can we really love our neighbor if we do not truly care about ourselves? Not in an egotistical way, but by having an abiding sense of self-worth, of being truly happy and comfortable with who we are.
Here are 10 “life principles” that have helped me become more comfortable and happy with who I am, and that have helped make my relationships with others more enjoyable. I’m sure you have some of your own you could add to the list.
• I am responsible for creating my own happiness, and if I don’t do so I won’t have any to share.
• If I don’t control my feelings, my feelings will control me.
• I cannot control the words or behavior of others, but I can control my own.
• I can blame my Mom (or Dad) for who I am, but I am responsible for who I will become.
• Think twice – no, make that three times – before I speak.
• Are the words I am about to say beneficial to the person I am speaking with or about?
• Sometimes the best words are those left unspoken (it’s called gossip).
• Never grab a mad dog by the ears (Proverbs 26:17).
• Forgiveness is as much for my own healing as it is for the person I’ve forgiven.
• Wisdom does not always come with age, sometimes age just comes along on its own.
• And the one I try most to live by: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.
George Brown is a freelance writer. He lives in Jackson Township.