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Author: M.K. Jones (page 1 of 7)

Love and Gratitude

Acceptance of Love is Love

Love is a universal force more powerful than any of us can fully comprehend. Love is light. Love is energy. It’s the natural state of being. But for us to understand love we need to accept its inherent paradox. We can’t experience light without darkness. We’re unable to appreciate energy without stillness.  And while the expression of love can be complete without the response of gratitude, it’s unfulfilled. Writer and spiritualist Henri Nouwen said, “The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy.”

Can you think of any instance in your life when love has been anything less than a gift? If we’re required to pay for something, it’s not a gift and it certainly isn’t love.

Real love is given freely with no expectations or strings attached. In its ideal sense it’s unconditional. Perhaps we find it in its purest form in nature: the sun that gives us light and warmth is a pure form of energy—in other words, love—whether we are thankful or indifferent to its power.

Our bodies are composed of chemicals transformed into energy. We are each a source of power. We use our capacity to generate energy in connecting with others. Our highest, purest and most natural form of energy is love. But although we’re all connected by this vital source, there’s a duality to our beings: we each have a darker side that could be described as a lack of love or an emptiness. We hold within us the same paradox that we can observe throughout the universe: that of light and darkness.

Though we are created equal, not all of us have received the same gift of love. Those of us who haven’t experienced affection, support and love—perhaps since our infancy—find love extremely difficult to recognize and even harder to accept from another human being. So how do we move beyond a state of hopeless isolation to join other caring people? How do we begin to believe that another person can love us and how do we learn to love him or her?

The answer is twofold. We need to take small steps in allowing ourselves to be vulnerable. Deep inside we’re afraid to be abandoned and yet over and over we unwittingly impel others to leave us because we don’t feel worthy of love. We desperately need to accept love, but to break this toxic cycle we must realize that human beings share a duality of love and fear. In healthy relationships love conquers fear. But if we have never experienced an abundance of love, if our emotional lives are impoverished, or if our hearts have been broken, it takes courage to risk our shaky but predictable solitude to allow ourselves to trust.

While we can reach out for help from caring people, this is only half the answer. The other half entails the day-to-day work of being honest with ourselves about our own shortcomings. Once we accept and forgive our flaws, we can work on becoming authentic, in other words, our real selves. A primary aspect of this transformation is to become trustworthy in order to earn the trust we want to extend.

In practicing compassion for others, we can love and forgive them their flaws just as we recognize our own. We can begin to experience our oneness with them, and then we’ll be able to distinguish real love from manipulation by anyone who wants to take advantage of our weaknesses. We can start to set self-respecting boundaries, and learn that respect is returned by those who care. When we first experience love and respect, it’s worth each pain, every mistake, and all the patience and persistence we endured to arrive at this enlightened state of consciousness, in which light and warmth replace our former experience of emptiness.

Remarkably, we’ll feel more gratitude than we had ever imagined to receive each caring gesture, each smile, and each outstretched hand, because each act of acceptance and intimacy is truly a gift of love that another person chooses to extend to us. In truth, they’re drawn to our loving energy. Our gratitude is our acceptance of one’s love. It’s also love’s expression and fulfillment. Like other manifestations of love, gratitude only has meaning when it’s authentic. And just as significant, all love binds us in our dignity and humanity.

Failure: Foundation of Success

Virtually all women who work for a living want to succeed. This desire isn’t necessarily ego-based, especially if you’re supporting yourself—perhaps you’re a single mom. Jobs are sometimes available that will barely pay the rent—let alone allow you to live in comfort, but you may be pressured to accept any position that’s offered. 

Whether of not you’re in survival mode, you’re entitled to strive for more independence—economic and emotional. Once you’re working, you can look for a better job, or learn a new trade or profession. This takes time and effort, but nothing worthwhile comes easily and if you really want something, it’s worth the effort to get it. You were born to grow and evolve. Put more simply, life can get pretty boring when you’re not challenged.

At best, we’re happiest when we enjoy our occupation. If it holds our fascination, we feel compelled to master it. When we love our work, it’s actually fun: when we don’t, it’s stressful. Work that motivates us demands that we explore our creativity or ability to seek solutions to problems. 

An inherent element of success is failure. I’d venture to say every successful person alive who has achieved something worthwhile has met with failure along the way. Failure can be a frightening fate and one to be avoided if we insist on playing it safe. But it’s only when we set our sights a little higher than our current view that we learn, expand, and advance to a bigger, braver world.

Still, failure is a tough sell. It’s a difficult concept to understand and even harder to accept. It can devastate our self-esteem. But it’s only when we conquer our vain need to always appear to be right, to be best, and to be validated by others that we begin to go beyond our navel gazing and look outward toward a universe of endless intrigue.

When we find the courage to risk failure we begin to open our thoughts and actions to adventure and creativity. We limit ourselves if we don’t risk going as far as our imaginations will take us. We grow in our ability to create ideas of value and live self-sufficient lives largely through trial and error. Learning to believe in our strength and resilience in a world of uncertainty makes life more meaningful, exciting and ultimately worth living.

How to Plan Your Best Year Ever

We all start with a blank page

When I look at 2019 looming ahead like a wilderness landscape with the horizon far in the distance, I can feel a little daunted. Just thinking of all the projects to complete, the commitments I need to keep, and countless shoulds nagging at my conscience, I want to take a nap. It’s comforting to believe I’m not alone. In fact, I expect that most busy women with responsibilities feel much the same way I do.  

Besides, when I consider all the tasks, errands and self-designated duties that I don’t get around to month after month, I blame myself for procrastinating—and burden myself with guilt. Again, I don’t think I’m the only one feeling unworthy for putting off all those shoulds that are dragging me down.

I’ve come up with a solution—at least a suggestion—to make the painful process of scheduling more effective and humane: Let’s eliminate the concept of procrastinating and replace it with an emphasis on prioritizing. Further, let’s accede prioritizing is meaningless unless it’s based on our values.

 Here’s a brief generic list of my three highest values that anyone can personalize:

SELF-CARE                 

Self-care is not a luxury but a necessity. We can’t care for others or perform at our best unless we invest some time in our own mental and physical health. We need to take time to get enough rest, nourish our bodies and souls with good food, a good book, exercise, or doing anything that gives us pleasure, expands our consciousness, and refreshes our spirits. 

CARING FOR FAMILY AND LOVED ONES

Caring for loved ones means consciously sharing our time, love and effort to let them know their importance to us.  This includes listening to them and supporting their emotional growth in both happy and troubled times.

SERVING A PURPOSE GREATER THAN OURSELVES

This doesn’t need to be as grandiose as it may sound. If we work for a living, presumably we help provide a product or service that adds value to others’ lives. Beyond this, anything we can do to make the world a better place belongs in this category.  Serving our community can be a real pleasure, since giving our time and talent is gratifying. This includes doing volunteer work that has meaning for us, connecting with a friend or anyone in need; writing, painting, or doing any creative act to inspire others or founding a nonprofit to help the underserved. 

Planning our days according to our values comes in handy in relegating cleaning the basement to the end of our list. Still, even with noble intentions we can become anxious when we think too far ahead. Flexibility is key: we can often shift our priorities at will. Plus, I’ve discovered I can alleviate needless worry if I focus on the moment. When I do my best today to hold to my values, almost every moment feels both enjoyable and worthwhile.  And each day keeps getting better. 

Mary Kathryn Jones

Women and Gratitude

As I write, Thanksgiving Day was yesterday. For anyone reading this who’s not from the U.S., it’s a holiday we celebrate every November to celebrate the bounty of our lives in this country we call home. We’re not alone in designating a special day to give thanks. Many countries follow this practice at various times of the year.

I’m writing this after Thanksgiving is because I’ve realized that this is an ideal time to write about thankfulness and gratitude—attitudes we need to cultivate and practice not just once a year, but all 365 days. For some of us, the heartwarming feelings of sharing a feast with loved ones on this annual holiday is still fresh on our minds.  At the same time, many of us spent Thanksgiving alone as shut-ins, or far away from loved ones, or without family or friends in our lives. Even if we’re fortunate enough to have someone we love for companionship on this day of observance, we may not have the means to put a traditional turkey with all the trimmings on the table. Yet most of us—wealthy or underserved—participate in giving thanks!

Gratitude has little to do with how many material things we own and everything to do with our humbleness and appreciation for what we have, which is better measured by intangible blessings. It might surprise some of us to know that deep gratitude is often felt more strongly among those who appear to have little in terms of money rather than those privileged to have many luxuries and few worries about basic things like safety, shelter, food and warmth.

Those of us who have more than enough without struggle can take our advantages for granted. We begin to feel entitled to everything, according to our birthright. At the opposite end of the spectrum, many may find it a constant challenge to provide for our basic needs, but gratitude helps us transcend our sense of scarcity.

When we practice gratitude in our daily lives, we actually begin to feel better. Melodie Beattle said it with eloquence: ”Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.” In expressing our gratitude to others—including loved ones, friends, and virtual strangers—for making the effort to make our lives at least more tolerable and often more pleasant, we transform their acts of generosity, which would otherwise go unnoticed, into the sharing of joy.

Without exception—whether we’re rich, poor, or somewhere in between as defined by our accumulation of possessions— it’s gratitude that determines our humanity and raises us above our baser inclinations of doing whatever will serve our vanity and greed, regardless of whether our actions hurt, even destroy, others in our way.

As women, we are equal to men. At the same time, on a global level millions of us are trying to advance in achieving financial independence—demanding equal pay for equal work in this process. We may question the effectiveness of gratitude in gaining our autonomy. We feel we have the right to succeed on our own merit, but at the same time we owe a debt of gratitude to anyone—including the men in our lives—who provide for wellbeing as sponsors, mentors, fathers, husbands and friends. We might be conflicted about our appropriate roles in their lives and theirs in ours. We don’t want to be doormats—submissive and subservient.

Raw feelings of entitlement can carry resentment toward those we perceive as holding us back. We become angry whenever our needs aren’t met. This is seldom justifiable in accomplishing our objectives. We’re damaging our relationships with the people who care about us. Plus, they have the capacity to help us. In other words, we’re antagonizing those with influence—usually men. Any progress that we may seem to make is an illusion, when it doesn’t include acknowledgement of our dependence on those who largely control our fate. Real advancement is contingent on the expression of our gratitude for what we have, not our aversion for that which we don’t have in our personal and business lives.

The forum where we can best express our entitlement to human rights is politics. In fact, it’s our responsibility to express to our government what we believe is unfair. Through campaigning, voting, and accepting leadership positions, we stand the greatest chance to gain the liberties we deserve. It’s a tough fight, but we’re proving that we’re up to it.

Historically, women have earned some respect for our compassion. Although there are some who consider this a weakness, it’s our greatest strength. Our consistent demonstration of love, which includes the expression of gratitude, distinguishes our characters. We would be misguided to ignore or compromise our remarkable gift.

 

Mary Kathryn Jones, Writer

How To Get Your Shine On

 

In the song Get Your Shine On by the country rock group Florida-Georgia Line, one passage in the lyrics is “Summer sky dripped in rhinestones. Turn your party lights on. Baby get your shine on, shine on!” With an upbeat style that goes down nice and easy, this breezy song inspires women to shine bright.

In everyday life, letting our inner light beam is of vital significance in all our relationships. Our attitudes determine the impressions we make on others—often before we say a word. With surprising accuracy, almost anyone can pick up on our energy level, enthusiasm, and desire to connect through our facial expressions and body language.

When we learn to develop a prevailing attitude that shines, we uncover vast new opportunities for the realization of our desires, needs and objectives. Our can do confidence signals our availability, openness and connectedness to the universe. Whether it’s intentional or not, an important aspect of our personalities as revealed by our attitudes is our self-esteem. Author Isrealmore Avivor said, “Self-esteem is the switch in the circuit of your life that dims or brightens your future. Bring it low and you don’t shine your light; raise it up and you brighten the corner where you are.”  To transmit our high voltage, we need to shine.

And yet many women and men have experienced some sort of sabotage to damage their self-concept. We aren’t all born into perfect families. Even loving parents may undermine our self-image with unrealistic expectations, comparisons to siblings, and lack of understanding and attention. In school, bullying is a universal issue. And when we graduate with hopes of conquering the world, our well-meaning dreams can be shattered—at least on first try.  We need strength to pull together and try again to achieve any amount of success on our own terms. This can require a little lightening up—instead of stressful overthinking—in order to radiate our ability to overcome challenges.

The simplest and most effective action we can adopt in reaching out is a smile. Some may think that’s too easy, or it’s manipulative. I’ve heard women claiming that they resent it when others—in particular men—tell them to smile. While none of us like to be told what to do or how to present ourselves, we also seem to have an aversion to smiling, because we don’t want to appear submissive or seem like we’re trying to win men’s approval. This is understandable, but it harkens back to our history of discrimination—including the days when we were told to promise to “love, honor and obey” our husbands.

Let’s fast forward to today as we assume our equal status with men. A smile can signify our comfort within our own skin. It can be inviting, startling, and blindingly beautiful on a woman’s countenance. It makes us shine, especially when it’s authentic and comes deep from within. Granted, when we first practice smiling as a way of communicating to others that we’re self-assured, it may not feel natural. But it becomes more genuine as we notice others smiling back at us. When a relationship starts with a mutual smile, it has a real chance of leading into a conversation that’s enjoyable and productive for both parties.

Instead of resisting any mannerisms that we think might make us appear vulnerable, we can practice buffing our shine to a warm and steady glow. The paradox is that when we let ourselves be real and acknowledge our humanity with an acquiescent smile, we actually grow in strength. Love requires more courage than withdrawal.

It’s helpful to practice smiling on a consistent basis, because our current needs to be strong enough to withstand any efforts to dim our light. Remember what philosopher Rumi observed: If you are irritated by every rub, how will your mirror be polished?” You don’t need to be a believer at first. You can test my theories any time and in any circumstance. All you need to do is smile. If the person receiving your glowing warmth remains grim-faced, don’t take it personally. Just repeat the word next in your mind and move on. The smiles you receive in return for yours will far outshine any  petty rejections.

Besides, despite the outcome, getting your shine on will make you feel fantastic from within.

Mary Kathryn “M.K.” Jones

 

The True Grit of Success in a Man’s World

 

As girls grow into women, we need to feel confident that we’re capable of self-reliance and that we have choices to be anything we wish to be as adults, if we’re willing to do what it takes to achieve our goals. While we’ve advanced toward this end in recent decades, our circumstances are usually less than ideal as we reach adulthood. Self-doubt can emerge when a girl sees her brothers or the boys in school being encouraged to excel in sports, while for her competitive pursuits are viewed  as unimportant or unfeminine. Peer pressure can arise when other girls seem more concerned about competing over a boy by looking her most attractive, rather than preparing for a career. Parental expectations take their toll if her mother coaches her to find a man to marry while she’s still in school, so she can raise a family.

Some progressive thinking mothers urge and even inspire their daughters to follow their career ambitions, in spite of the fact that the playing field may be shaky—like the seismic waves of an earthquake. Perhaps mom has a career, or else she’s never worked outside the home and her best hopes are be based in an illusory concept of getting ahead in the workforce. Dad may be able to help. But only experience will teach the fine points of working in an environment where the cards are stacked against women on the brink of entering a career.

Even if we’re privileged enough to enjoy every advantage in attending the right schools and having the best connections, the tasks we set for ourselves in establishing financial independence can be monumental. Globally, most of the wealth has been controlled by a small percentage of the world population. And historically men have controlled a far greater percentage of wealth than women. While the numbers are changing, men still hold the vast majority of leadership roles and high-paying jobs in the US.

Clearly, young women need enough confidence to defy the odds against them, plus the skills required for negotiating—not to mention those abilities unique to our chosen profession—in order to land positions equal to or above men. The Catch 22 is that to compete with men, we need to learn these skills largely from the men with whom we’re competing—those who are  in control of most of the money and resources. It’s no small feat to enlist the help of the presumed rival.  It requires diplomacy. Plus we need to convince men that we’re a good investment—not just to make the world a better place, but to increase the bottom line; that is, to make a profit, because this is the hard core motivation for competition. For centuries, men have depended on money to support themselves and their families. They’re not going to risk losing it if they can avoid it.

Let’s say a particular woman has outstanding qualifications on her resumé. In a perfect world in which everyone is ethical, she may be given a chance to hold a leadership role in a sector of business, law or medicine. She may be hired simply based on merit. On the other hand, in the real world, some individuals will do just about anything—whether or not it’s honest and just—to gain money and power. And if unscrupulous men—or women—already have it, they will likely do what it takes to keep it, no matter whether it hurts another’s career and earning potential.

Every woman who’s considering entry into today’s job market should be prepared for the competition and possibly sabotage she will need to withstand when she attempts to move forward. She will need to be equipped with relevant training, not just a textbook education on the basics of her chosen field. A woman with courage and ambition can advance in the workplace; but only with her eyes wide open—and perhaps the skin of a rhino—will she find a real opportunity to triumph. And as if this isn’t enough, she needs the wisdom to elicit others’ support instead of making enemies if she’s to have a chance to prevail.

Women who work deserve our commendation, congratulations and even our awe for their efforts toward financial independence. In fact, however high a woman climbs on the ladder in her chosen endeavor, she deserves our respect for her fortitude and persistence.

I implore both men and women to be generous in reaching out to women who want to be self-sufficient in creating wealth that benefits the economy as a whole. A prerequisite for economic survival today requires 100% participation of any population—a team of both men and women—to contribute the very best of our talent, skill, and integrity.

Mary Kathryn Jones

 

How to Be a Creative Force

In our experience as women, there’s never a shortage of advice and direction about how we should behave. Beyond this, the recommended behaviors center on presumed goals that we’re expected to prioritize based on appropriate or acceptable standards. These imposed values may be regarding lifestyles, marriage, or whether or not to have children and/or careers. Or on a smaller and more petty level, they can invade our personal preferences concerning how we look, what we eat, what we wear…the list is endless. It can be daunting and downright exhausting trying to adhere to current norms in order to be  considered worthy of approval.

The questions become 1) whose consent are we appealing to and 2) why are we placing more importance on another’s approval than our own autonomy and self-esteem? There’s not a single valid reason to place someone else’s values and objectives above our own, if we are self-sufficient adults. In fact, perhaps the most exquisite and enjoyable aspect of our personal freedom is our right to live a life that we create for ourselves, based on our unique desires.

The operative word is create. Even Albert Einstein—one of the most brilliant individuals who ever walked the planet—said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” Once we discover the joy of creating the life we want on every level, our awareness of all the possibilities open to us expands. Further, it can never shrink back to that helpless feeling that we don’t have choices. It’s been observed that the most dangerous phrase in the world is, “We’ve always done it that way,” which leaves no room for creativity, including the growth and learning that occur when we use its limitless power.

The sister to creativity is curiosity. A delightful  aspect of doing things creatively is that the results are at least in part a surprise. But a creative approach to life requires the spirit of adventure and this can demand courage, too. It’s been said that, “Courage is like a muscle, the more we flex it, the stronger it gets.” It helps to look at it as all part of the fun.

Lailah Gifty Akila, a scientist and philosopher who wrote Think Great, Be Great observed, “Imagination is a powerful magnet. The power of imagination is attraction of desires.” We create a momentum when we consistently practice using our imagination, which can increase in power exponentially over time. Our creative actions—combined with courage, positivity and love—actually create vibes that attract other like vibrations, as opposed to lower tremors of negativity and fear.  Whether or not you believe in the Law of Attraction, it’s a fact that energy begets more energy. So as activist Bradley Whitford said, “Infuse your life with action. Don’t wait for it to happen.” And by all means, don’t wait to find out what the crowd is doing.  Create you own path. Therein lies adventure and excitement.

There’s nothing wrong with being a rebel, especially when you’re rebelling against something that doesn’t feel right to you. Besides, doing things that others don’t expect of you can have its own rewards. I love this quote by writer G.K. Chesterton: “I owe my success to having listened respectfully to the very best advice, and then going away and doing the exact opposite.” While I’m not advising you to do things out of spite, I am suggesting that you have enough self-regard to  listen to your conscience and follow your own instincts—every time.

When you live a life brimming with creativity, you’ll never be bored. If you do become restless or fatigued, you’ll know how to change things up—a little or a lot. This can mean anything from creating a new recipe for dinner or painting an abstract for that empty wall space to something as consequential as moving to a new city or launching a new business. Creative people are experimental and have a high tolerance for trial and error, which means they’re usually not judgmental or smug. Instead they welcome open-mindedness, constructive ideas and progress. If this sounds like the person you are or the person you’d like to be, creativity is bottled up inside you that needs full expression.

Time is precious and you don’t need anyone’s permission to do what’s right for YOU. Go out there and create the life you want. Set your own objectives and be 100% accountable for meeting them. Then notice your capacity for pleasure and self-esteem rise off those limiting charts that others devise to measure your success. In the words of Anthony Hicks: “To stand on a mountain top, you must first create the mountain.” You don’t need to hesitate a moment to begin.

Mary Kathryn “ M.K.” Jones, Writer

 

 

 

 

Raising Consciousness to an Art Form

 

In answering the question Does art imitate life or does life imitate art? I venture to say the relationship between art and human life is synergetic. In other words, art and life each nourish the other and at best transcend their literal union to reach a higher level of awareness, joy, and spirituality than either might attain without joining forces. But more essential, the best in humanity outdistances even the most valuable art—every single time.

For example, when an individual reads a good book, she or he is transported to another world that offers new awareness, enlightenment, and often inspiration. We might conclude the better the book, the more it touches the reader. If so, it follows that great literature—reading considered art by presumed expertshas superior capability to move its readers to higher levels of appreciation and consciousness. To some extent, this is true. However, appreciating a book and reaching a more meaningful understanding of life from reading it are very subjective matters. People have widely varying tastes in regard to what constitutes good reading.

It’s much the same with any other art form, including painting and all forms of visual art, as well as music, and even film, which is a burgeoning form of artistic self-expression. While some works attract more attention than others, the most obscure painting, musical composition, or independent film may be extraordinary in its beauty to the eyes, ears, and emotions of its more receptive beholders, or even one person perceiving it who finds transcendence to a loftier state of awareness.

This power of art to uplift human consciousness also applies to its creators—probably even more than to those who read it, view it, hear it, or otherwise consume it. Artists, composers, writers, and film directors may spend hours—quite possibly years—investing thoughts and feelings in their works of art. To refine and improve the quality of their self-expression, they often sacrifice what others would consider a normal life—including family life, material comforts, and leisure time someone else might take for granted.

The question is: What is the source of inspiration for those who create art, music, books and film—anything considered a work of art? While part of the source is likely other works of art, musical compositions, books, etc, which most aesthetics  study in relation to their craft, there needs to be something more—something that makes that individual’s creation unique. It needs to be a statement that only he or she can share with the universe. It comes from deep within the creator’s consciousness, emotions, senses, even his or her soul, if you will. It must have integrity; that is, it must be honest, according to that person’s perceptions of reality and responses to life. All of this comes from his or her life experience, and conceivably the experience of his or her ancestors through genetic inheritance.

I believe the most powerful feeling is love, expressed as a noun but also a verb. When we express love, offering it as a gift to others, we are acting on our highest level of consciousness. We don’t need to create a tangible work of art to accomplish this. Our value as individual human beings is greater than any painting, book, song, or whatever art form we may create, especially when we consciously develop our capacity to give our love—ideally to every human being and especially those close to us. We can develop our ability to love to the level of an art form though our daily communication. With the practice of sharing our love our human potential is infinite; in a vital way, we can say it achieves immortality.

Our emotions, especially feelings of love, need to be honest and authentic before they can hold any worthwhile meaning. Although it’s often best to try to turn a negative situation into something more positive, our expression of love can’t always be cheerful, happy-go-lucky, or jovial. Just like the best works of art express an array of complex emotions—a painting displays light tones against dark, a musical masterpiece blends major and minor keys—our strongest human feelings are so deep that they sometimes seem unfathomable. Emotions require our honest examination to express them with accuracy as they convey the love and honor that others deserve, by virtue of being human.

When our actions reflect our authentic self-expression—with love at the apex of our attention—we are the creators of caring and meaningful lives. While art can enrich our lives, it’s not a prerequisite to becoming fine human beings.  Beyond this, a life well-lived is never dependent on riches or fame to be a tour de force!

Mary Kathryn “M.K.” Jones

The Value of Self-Love

Have you ever stopped to think about what it means to love yourself? Do you dismiss self-love as being selfish or self-indulgent? Does putting yourself first seem like a direct contradiction to loving others? Perhaps you question what makes you worthy of love? These are questions many of us have asked ourselves, including me.

Often, we hold ourselves to impossible standards in trying to be deserving of others’ love as well as our own. In fact, we can be our own worst enemies. In our quest for love and acceptance, we forget that being attractive has more to do with a genuine smile from a loving heart than the result of superficial beauty enhancements. We ignore the fact that another’s admiration is more likely in response to our kindness and character than our material belongings—at least it should be.

Here’s another conundrum: our efforts to be kind, patient, and loving are sometimes met with indifference. Even worse, our thoughtfulness is taken as weakness and our generosity is considered foolish. We believe we’re the nice guys who always finish last. Well, it’s time to stop believing our caring attitude may be a waste of time. In truth, coldness and cruelty are never a winning combination—not in the long run.

While mean, underhanded and bullying tactics may work on occasion in crossing a finish line first, we need to look closely to realize that line isn’t worth crossing for attention, financial gain, or any conquest that requires we compromise our values.

When we consider how to love ourselves without hurting or short-changing others, it’s helpful to replace the word love with the word value. We do a disservice to everyone if we don’t learn to value ourselves. In other words, in order to serve others’ as well as our self-interest, we need to become aware of our innate value. Just by virtue of being human, we are born priceless instruments made by our Creator, God—whatever your beliefs—with the abilities to reason and to love. These are gifts unique to humans with tremendous potential value to do good. At the same time, misusing our capacities for reason and love can do enormous harm.

As  we learn to appreciate that our value lies within our power to do good, we can make a conscious choice to be effective, contributing adults who are adding to the collective good of society. This is preferable to deciding that we’re incapable of making a positive difference and thereby remaining passive—leaving a void where we could spread a caring constructive influence. And deciding to be loving is far better than doing deliberate harm.

Loving ourselves is not only unselfish, it’ s the defining decision to acknowledge our potential and act consistently according to our highest values. While these vary in priority from one person to another, they almost always include integrity as well as caring for our fellow man. Loving others is the epitome of worthiness, the real basis for self-love.

Mary Kathryn “M.K.” Jones

Take The High Road to Happiness

 

There are as many roads to happiness as people on the planet. No two are alike. None of us can judge another’s concept of the way to find happiness. Novelist Paulo Coelho said, “We can never judge the lives of others because each person knows only their own pain and renunciation. It’s one thing to feel that you are on the right path, but it’s another to think that yours is the only path.”

However, we can explore what happiness is and how we might achieve it. Although each of us is a unique individual, human beings share universal commonalities. While our emotional makeup may vary, we smile when something brings us joy, we laugh when we’re amused, we cry when we lose a loved one, and we become angry when we’re betrayed.

I become concerned when I read that our greatest and likely our only goal is happiness. While it’s certainly true that happiness can help provide us with the strength to act on our own behalf or for the good of others, it’s a by-product of our actions, not the ultimate goal. Besides, it’s little like the chicken or the egg puzzle: Which comes first—happiness or action?

We can examine two concepts: 1) What actions can make us happy? 2) Are actions necessary for happiness?

Author William Arthur Ward wrote, “Happiness is an inside job.” It doesn’t depend on outside circumstances, but rather a state of mind we must cultivate unless we’re fortunate enough to be born with a happy disposition that we maintain throughout our lives. While pre-packaged happiness may be possible with some exceptional DNA, our environment probably has the greatest effect on the state of our emotions. Most of us need to work at creating happiness within ourselves through 1) self-indulgent actions to give us pleasure, or 2) caring for others, which depends on—and engenders—our self-worth and self-love.

We often measure our happiness by our accomplishments, such as marriage, raising a family, and holding down a job or career. These are conventional rungs on the ladder to success—but they don’t necessarily lead to happiness. While they may be noble pursuits, they can be relatively meaningless unless we prioritize our open expression of love and compassion for others.

Someone born with material advantages may think that he or she can find happiness in quantifiable success. Never learning the value of money or the need to be accountable for his or her actions, this individual might even feel entitled to all the material symbols of success: an Ivy League education, marriage into a wealthy family, world travel, expensive cars, designer clothes—the whole package. I venture to say that these attractive perks may bring some semblance of happiness— and let’s face it, privileges many of us dream of, especially during moments of aggravation—but the potential for joy is missing when greed takes precedence over love.

Measures of success do not determine happiness. Not all of us are born with the means to afford even the simplest luxuries of life. Some of us struggle to provide ourselves with the most basic necessities. Job training or education is not always available or affordable. Even food is in short supply. Without the means to support ourselves—not to mention a family—the only option is to strive hard to simply provide the basic means of survival.

But there’s hope. Remarkably, many who are born into humble surroundings and left without apparent means still seem to possess an invisible source of happiness and gratitude that doesn’t depend on material advantages. Despite their hardships, they show a great capacity for generosity. As fellow members of humanity, they deserve our empathy and respect.

If we are lucky enough to enjoy more advantages than others in our community or anywhere on the globe, any time we can spare out of our busy lives to help our underserved neighbors to help themselves will not only uplift them, it can also bring us happiness, peace of mind, and self-worth for our efforts, which at best won’t seem like effort at all, but genuine pleasure—not fleeting self-gratification.

Sure, some self-indulgence is a good thing! Plan that big vacation. Delight in the double-chocolate lava cake. Put up your feet and enjoy a glass of wine…OK, more than one on occasion. Buy that expensive pair of designer shoes that you’ll only wear once. Take a long nap. Do what it takes to make you feel good and energize you for another week of work in a job you took to pay the bills while you plan for that dream career a few years ahead. Maybe you don’t have the time or the means to plan beyond tomorrow. Treat yourself, at least once in while, to the little things that will make you feel content. But only use things as your fallback solution for creating happiness. Keep top-of-mind that your primary source of happiness is love.

Individual happiness is subjective and mysterious, based on unseen layers of our capacity for love, and little or nothing to do with material wealth or prestige. Someone who puts others first may even transcend happiness and find something deeper we call joy. The paradox of life is that although the human race exhibits inestimable diversity, we are all one. As such we need one another for happiness. Author Nikki Rowe stated it well: “Of all the paths you take, follow only those where your heart is wide open, mind enriched and your soul learns to dance.”

We would all be shallow indeed if our only goal was to live in a constant state of happiness without any investment of love. As we evolve, we realize love is often a conscious choice. It’s more of a verb than a noun—something we do, not just something we feel. We are complex beings with potential for good that we need to develop. Happiness and its deepest manifestation joy emanate from our victory over the more selfish side of our natures. In the words of writer Kamand Kojouri, “The only path wide enough for us all is love.” The road to happiness beckons us to grow to love something larger than ourselves and serve it with our kindness.

Mary Kathryn “M.K.” Jones