Happiness is Caring for Yourself

Loving YourselfFor the past ten days, I’ve been sharing some of the ways that our best friends teach us how to treat ourselves.  Today, I want to wrap up this little series by talking about the last two points in the list—that  best friends listen to us and really hear what we’re saying, and that best friends care.

It’s the caring part that counts the most.  We all need to feel that we matter, that our lives mean something to someone, that someone loves us, someone cares.   To be your own best friend means, in essence, that you learn to care about you.

Genuine self-love isn’t egotism.  It doesn’t mean you think you’re better than anyone else or everyone else.  It means you value and respect yourself, and that even if you have no idea why your being is significant, you trust that there is a larger meaning to your existence.  Loving yourself is honoring life.

The wisdom teachings say that the highest commandment is to love our God, whatever we conceive God to be, with all our hearts and minds, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.   Only when we allow ourselves to open to loving ourselves as valuable and worthwhile beings can we love, honor and respect our neighbors in the ways that will bring true joy, harmony and peace to our world.

One of the keys to practicing love toward ourselves is to develop the habit of listening to ourselves and really hearing what’s going on with us.

On a physical level, that means paying attention to our body’s needs.  It means feeding ourselves wholesome foods in appropriate amounts and eating mindfully.  It means allowing ourselves to sleep a sufficient number of hours each night and to cultivate relaxation and meditation techniques that can help us deal with the stresses we confront in the course of living.

On the emotional level, self-caring means learning mood-management techniques, such as positive self-talk and releasing skills.  It means cultivating our inner observer and listening to the kinds of stories we’re telling ourselves so we can make needed corrections and change tracks.  It means educating ourselves about the way the mind works and practicing the skills of positive psychology.

Spiritually, self-care means taking time to connect with the Source of our being, with our higher selves.  It means we find time to meditate, contemplate, worship, pray, commune with nature, immerse ourselves in inspiration from whatever sources provide us a sense of truth, beauty, goodness and higher meaning.

The essence of self-care is to ask yourself what brings you genuine joy, vitality and satisfaction, and then to do more of that.  Learn to be happy.  Follow your bliss.  That’s the way you show that you care.  That’s the call, and the response, of love.

Happiness is Believing in Yourself

Believe in YourselfOur best friends believe in us.  “Sure you can!”  they say.  “You can do it.  You can make it.  You’ll get there.”    If they have to guess whether we’ll come through for them or not, they put their bets on us.  They trust us.  They know they can count us to do our best, to be reliable, to hold up our end of our bargains, to go the extra mile.  They know that we keep our word, that we have integrity.

And they know that when we slip up, it’s a temporary glitch, an out-of-the-ordinary happening, and not a character flaw, not who we are.  And they’ll say so, and forgive us, and assure us that next time we’ll be better.

That’s the way a best friend sees us.  And if we’re going to be our own best friends, it’s the way we need to see ourselves.  We need to believe in us, to know that we’re reliable, that our word has meaning, that we’re consistent and dependable in who we are.

If we don’t succeed at something we have our hearts set on, we need to remind ourselves that we did the best we could and that it’s just a matter of time until we can give it another try.  If we slip up, we need to pinpoint why so we can go on in our intended direction.  We need to know that we live by our core values, that we’re rooted in them.  And while we have no illusions about perfecting ourselves, and can forgive ourselves for our shortcomings, we need to know that we’re always striving towards increased excellence, always raising the bar for ourselves, always finding joy in growth and refinement and expansion of our talents, skills and strengths.

When we know these things about ourselves, when we’re good enough friends to ourselves to see them, we see them in others as well.  And that makes the whole world a more trustworthy place.

Happiness is Seeing Your Goodness

Seeing Your GoodnessMy friend was telling me about his new clients and all the new work that was coming his way.  Given that he lives in one of the regions of the country hardest hit by the current economic downturn, his tale was a story of remarkable success.  As he shared how his business was unfolding, I began to notice a theme running through everything he said.  And that thread is the secret behind his success.

He talked, you see, about each client’s special strengths and talents.  He saw what was unique and good in each and he was thrilled at having the opportunity to help all of them showcase what they did best.

It’s this positive viewpoint of his that draws clients to him.  He sees the best in them, and they, in turn, see him the same way.  Seeing the best in them motivates him to serve them well.  The good service they receive motivates them to see him as the top notch performer he is and to spread the word.  It’s a beautiful feedback loop of positive regard.

For me, my friend’s conversation was a perfect illustration of the seventh lesson we can learn from our best friends about how to treat ourselves.  True friends—and this man quickly becomes a genuine friend to his clients—speak well of us to others.  They broadcast the positive things about us; they see what’s good and beautiful in us, and enjoying it, they share it with others.

If you’re going to be your own best friend, learning to sing your own praises to yourself is a definite requirement.  You owe it to yourself to pat yourself on the back for the things you do well, to congratulate yourself for your achievements, to recognize and acknowledge where you are succeeding, where you are growing, where you are following your higher impulses and intuitions and moving toward your goals.

Not only does it feel good, but it reinforces all the behaviors you most enjoy and that keep you thriving and bring you joy.  People who succeed in life, and who pull from it the greatest measure of happiness, take stock of their positive achievements on a regular basis.  They appreciate themselves and thank and reward themselves.  Speak well of yourself to you.  It’s another way of being your own best friend.

Happiness is a Stand Up Friend

Stand Up Friends“I got your back,” he says when he sees trouble coming.  He’s there to defend you against attack, no questions asked.  He doesn’t even need to know where it came from.  He’s on your side.  That’s a stand up friend.

They come in the feminine gender, too, like mother lions on full alert.

It’s the ferocious side of friendship, ready to battle for your integrity and honor against anything that would tear you down.  It knows your worth.  It values your being.  It’s proud to stand at your side.

Internalized, this is the friend who disputes the derogatory things you say to yourself.  It raises its sword against Worthless and No Good.  It hauls out the fire hose and blasts at the mud you would hurl at yourself.  Its mane stands up when it hears Always and Never, knowing how false and ruinous they can be.  It hates Can’t and What’s the Use. It refuses to hear from Shame.

Be as ferocious in your love for this side of yourself as it is for you.  Treat it to feasts when it pulls you from the pits.  Give it high fives when the sun shines.

If you haven’t heard the voice of this friend in awhile, it doesn’t mean he’s not there.  It means you have tuned him out, preferring the sound of your pain.  He’s always there.  Always. Call yourself a name and look around.  You’ll see him glaring in the corner.  He’ll grin when he sees you have spotted him.  Buy him a root beer.  Welcome him back.

Happiness is an Encouraging Friend

Wanted: An Encouraging FriendWhen the situations of the day beat you up, dash your hopes, and stomp all over your finest expectations, here comes your friend, grin in hand, to dust you off and set you on your feet again.  Don’t you just love it?

One of the most beautiful things that best friends do for us is to encourage us when we’re down.  They meet us with their bag of tricks and keep pulling them out until they find the one that does the magic.

They sit and commiserate; they empathize and sympathize and cajole and rail.  They get right down there in the emotional stew with us and let us know we’re not alone and that yeah, we’re right to feel exactly what we feel.  They say, “Hey, we’re just humans, you know?  We’re the ones with the whole shebang inside us—the glory and the crap, remember?  And sometimes the crap plays top dog.”

And then, when we’re all comforted by being seen and heard and knowing we’re not alone, they start sneaking in their little pieces of uplift, building on our glimmers that we’re still okay, regardless.  They start pumping up our resilience.  They blow in some fresh wind, clear the skies.  They point at the stars and get us dreaming about reaching for them again and remind us that, yeah, we’re big enough to stretch that far.  They talk about keepin’ on keepin’ on.

They distract us and then, if we start sliding back into the muck, they haul out their dispute tools and get us to question our doubts.  Gosh, they’re good.

If you have a friend who lifts you when you’re down, next time, watch him or her at work.  Copy the technique.  If you don’t have one, make one up.  Keep him in your pocket.  Pull him out and set him on the chair beside you when you need him.  There’s nothing like it.

Happiness is an Honest Friend

An Honest FriendBest friends tell us the truth about ourselves.  Whether it’s as simple as saying that the blue looks better on us than the gold or as tough as confronting us with the news that we’re wallowing in stinking thinking, best friends level with us.  They hold up mirrors for us so we can see ourselves more accurately and make better decisions in our lives.  They provide us with reality checks.

Sometimes their honesty shines on our strengths, beaming its appreciation for our accomplishments, applauding the things we do well.  It keeps us from taking our gifts for granted and helps us stay on the best tracks.

Sometimes their honesty is a light-hearted jab.  “Put on a few extra pounds there, didn’t you?  Want to go for a run?”

And when we really need it, they can deliver the kind of tough-love truths that shock us right into reality, instantly wiping away all the phony stories we were telling ourselves about being helpless victims or poor powerless saps.

What they bring to the table is unconditional love.  They don’t judge our worth; that’s already beyond question.  They just look and tell us what they see, trusting that we will do with the information whatever we think is in our best interest.

If we want to be our own best truth-telling friends, that’s the perfect viewpoint to adopt.  Grounded in the assurance of our essential worth, we need to be loving and observant and then honestly report to ourselves what we see.

Where are we feeling tension, or stress, or pain?  What stories are we running from the dead past, and how are they coloring our perceptions?  What desires and possibilities are calling us that we have been ignoring?  What needs have we been neglecting?  What obstacles have we allowed to block our forward motion?  Where are we in harmony and at ease?  What’s providing us with joy and satisfaction?

When we look honestly at our lives, as if through the eyes of a truly loving friend, we give ourselves the gifts of broader, more informed choices, and of enhanced awareness of our own multi-dimensionality.  And our lives take on renewed richness, depth and joy.

Happiness is an Understanding Friend

When I say that a best friend truly understands you, what do you suppose I really mean?  Does understanding mean that your friend will sympathize with your hurts?  Comfort and console you when you are disappointed?  Stand on your side when you have been unjustly judged?  Absolutely.

But it goes farther than that.  It also means your friend understands that you don’t need to wallow in your hurt and disappointment or to carry a grudge. A true friend will remind you of your healing capacity, of the temporary nature of a wound, of your essential dignity and your ability to transcend misfortune, to reestablish your boundaries, to champion own your rights.

Do you need a meal?  Some exercise?  A change of scenery?  A nap?  A true friend sees your real needs and shows them to you.

A true friend helps you rediscover your perspective when you lose your balance.  Maybe you need a reminder that you’re not a loser just because you make mistakes, that errors are for learning, not for self-blame.  Maybe you need to see that the good in your life is far more abundant than today’s misfortune.  Maybe you didn’t see that someone’s remark or action wasn’t intended as an attack but was no more an indication of his or her mood.

Best friends can do this because they pay attention to you.  They notice what’s going on with you, and when you need it they address your needs with respect, belief in you, and positive regard.  And that’s exactly the vantage point that helps the most, and the one from which we can most benefit as we practice being our own best friends.

Happiness is Loving the Image in the Mirror

A second lesson we can learn from best friends is that we’re likable just as we are.  (See yesterday’s post for the first one.) Are you the kind of friend to yourself who genuinely likes you?

What kinds of things do you say to yourself about you?  “Gee, you’re fun!”  or “You dumb klutz!”  Do you appreciate the image that reflects from your mirror, or find fault with it?

Without stopping to think for over 30 seconds, can you name five things that you like about you?

And here’s the clincher question:  If you answered negatively to any of the questions above, did you feel badly about yourself?  Or could you laugh at your discoveries and see that you were over due for giving yourself a pat on the back or a good, loving hug?

Listen, we live in a culture that bombards us with messages that we’re not good enough.  We’re not thin enough, or young enough, or wealthy enough, or healthy enough.  If you discover that you have bought into some of those kinds of messages, all it means is that it’s time for a little reassessment.  It’s time for a little heart-to-heart talk with yourself, from your best friend.

It’s time to remind yourself that you are a beautiful, one-of-a-kind human being, who obviously is meant to be here, because, look!  Here you are!  “You are here,” says Eckhart Tolle, in The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment, “to enable the divine purpose of the universe to unfold.  That’s how important you are.”

No standard can measure you.  You are unique in all of time and space, and you’re growing at exactly the right pace, just as everyone else is.  No one else will ever have the experiences you have had.  No one else will ever know what it’s like to look at the world through your eyes.  No one else will ever have the same sets of choices to make, the same gifts to give, the same talents and skills to express.  No one else will ever laugh quite like you do, or love quite the same way.  You are the only one who can ever be you.  Ever.  So be you fully, and radiantly, with gusto and zest.

Wink at that person in the mirror, say “You’re a diamond! Rock on, baby!  You’re a star!  Let it shine.”

Happiness is Seeing the Best in Yourself

So, if you look at yesterday’s list of ten things our best friends can teach us about how to treat ourselves, how good are you at being a friend to yourself?  Just take the first point: Our truest friends see the best in us.  How much of the best in yourself do you see?

Do you know what your best strengths are?  Your best traits, talents, skills and abilities?

Martin Seligman, founder of the positive psychology movement, and author of Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment, says, “The good life consists in deriving happiness by using our signature strengths every day in the main realms of living.”   In other words, we find joy by doing the kinds of things we’re best at doing in as many parts of our lives as we can.   How cool is that!

And that’s why you’re being a good friend to yourself when you let yourself see the best in you.  One clue about how to identify your basic strengths is simply to ask yourself what kinds of things give you feelings of satisfaction and pleasure.  Or you can buzz on over to the Authentic Happiness site (see the blogroll over to the right for a link) and take their free strengths survey.

Once you get some clarity about your best strengths, take a look at your life and see how often you’re giving yourself a chance to exercise them.  How are you using them in your home life?  On the job?  In your relationships?  In your social life and in recreation?  Play with noticing them when you’re allowing them to surface in your everyday experience.  Notice the way they make you feel and appreciate them for the joy and satisfaction they bring you.

That’s one way to be your own best friend.  It will contribute to your awareness of the happiness in your life and give you a deeper sense of living well.

Happiness is Being Your Own Best Friend

10 Things Best Friends Can Teach Us about How to Treat Ourselves

  1. Best friends see the best in us.
  2. They like us just as we are.
  3. Best friends are understanding.
  4. Best friends tell us the truth.
  5. Best friends encourage us when we’re down.
  6. Best friends stand up for us;
  7. They speak well of us to others.
  8. Best friends believe in us.
  9. They listen to us and hear what we’re really saying.
  10. Best friends care.