Invisible

Invisible woman

I recently ran into a woman I’d worked with over 10 years ago.  We had worked together in a 50-person office for almost 2 years…and she had no recollection of me.  While that in itself is not surprising — it had been several years, after all — I realized during our conversation that she didn’t remember me because, at the time I worked with her, I was in an entry-level role in my company and she was a manager.  Even though I interacted with her every single day for almost two years, I had been invisible.

That led me to think about all the people who pass through our lives invisibly day after day:  the mailroom assistants; janitors; coffee baristas.

People yearn for connection and to feel significant in some way.  We want to feel that we matter to others.  People who have deeper connections with others enjoy better health and well-being.   The need to belong is a basic human need, and what better way to belong than to be known by those around you?   Our propensity to treat people as invisible as we go through our day means that we may miss those moments of belonging and deep connection.   A happy life is made up of small moments of joy.  Who knows what joy we miss out on by not making eye contact with the people around us, by not bothering to learn the names of people who serve us, by rendering people invisible.

What can we do to establish connections with those around us?

  • Make a point of noticing others.  Have you ever eaten in a restaurant and realized your water glass had been re-filled, but you had no recollection of it?  Next time, turn your head and look at the waiter who is pouring your drink; thank him for his service to you.  Make note of his name.

 

  • Put the smartphone away, for just a moment, and be present.  Too often, we have our eyes on our phones, reading texts, emails, messages from friends who are not with us, while ignoring the people standing right beside us.  We do it while standing in line at the grocery store, while ordering a coffee, or even while having dinner with friends.  Put the phone away, and pay attention to those around you.  Be present.

 

  • Learn the names of those who come into contact with regularly.  The mailroom assistant, the lady who walks her dog by your house each morning, the drycleaner.  Each person can add to your daily moments of joy and help you feel more connected to others.

Not only will making connections help to strengthen your own life and improve your health, but it will prevent others from being and feeling invisible so that, 10 years from now, when you run into someone who says, “Remember me?”, you can say with joyful certainty, “Why of course I do!  You haven’t changed a bit.”

By the way, the mailroom assistant in our office is named Leanne.

This is not the winter of our discontent

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I bought my first magazine when I was twelve – the April edition of Glamour. I’d never read it before and I thought it was so grown up and sophisticated and, despite the fact that I. Did. Not. Look. Like. Those. Girls (except maybe the Glamour Don’t girls on the last page), it started me on my lifelong addiction to magazines. Every magazine since then has created wants in me. Architectural Digest – why can’t I have a house like that? Shape – why can’t I have a body like that? Fortune – why can’t I have a job like that? Leisure & Travel – why can’t I go on a vacation like that? Cosmo – why can’t I have sex like that?

But despite this love/loathe relationship, in which I am teased by everything I see and yet cannot get enough of what’s between the pages, I still read the articles hoping for some epiphany on how to get my house/body/face/job/vacation looking like that.

With so many images and messages bombarding us — in magazines, on TV, even on our friends’ Facebook statuses – it’s easy to start to feel discontented with our lives.  We start to feel envious of other people, to feel somehow inadequate to all the seeming perfection around us.  What we don’t do is question the images and messages with a critical and objective eye.  We may not acknowledge that the beautiful model in the advertisement has been airbrushed to unrealistic perfection.  We may not know that the gorgeous house in the magazine spread has been staged by a team of 12 professionals to look so stunning.  We may not appreciate that our friends post their most glamorous vacation photos but suffered from sunburn or lost their wallet while on holidays.

So how do we tame the envy and discontent that threatens to overtake us?

1.  Put it in perspective.  There will always be people who are better off in life than you are and there will always be people who are worse off in life than you are.  You may not know what lies behind the envious life that our friends or neighbours may lead, and there may be people looking in on your life and envying you.

2.  Adopt an “attitude of gratitude”.    Studies show that happiness is related to feeling grateful for what we already have.  People who keep a gratitude journal, writing down 3 things a day or a week that they are grateful for,  feel better and tend to be more optimistic about their lives as a whole .  They also tend to be more spiritual or religious, forgiving, empathetic and helpful, while being less depressed, envious or neurotic.

3.  Borrow an idea to improve your circumstances.  If, like me, you aspire to the “better” house/body/face/job/vacation that you see in magazines, on TV or even in your neighbor, ask yourself what one idea you can take from that source and apply it to improving your life.  Can you try a new exercise routine featured in a fitness magazine?  (Hello, sexy body!)  Can you re-arrange your furniture to make your house function better?  (There’s no place like home!)  Can you try a new, local Italian eatery to emulate the feeling of a Roman getaway?  (Staycation, anyone?)

4.  Borrow an idea to help others.  This is perhaps the most significant point to help us overcome envy and to build happiness.  Ask yourself what idea you can take from that source and help others.  If you are decorating your home, are there any household goods that you no longer use or love that could be donated to charity?  If you are adding new accessories to jazz up your look, are there any clothes you can give away to people who may need them?  If you are looking for a new job, can you share your knowledge and mentor someone who is more junior while you pursue your own dream?  People who do good for others enjoy greater well-being, health and overall happiness (as long as they are not overwhelmed by helping tasks).

Rather than allow the barrage of images to create discontent in our lives, we can use it to inspire good in ourselves and to help others.  Hmmm, maybe those magazine articles are on to something after all.

Do more of what makes you happy

 

 

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I recently posted a picture on my BBM profile that said, “Do more of what makes you happy.”  A short while later, my cousin* messaged me, “Yes…so true.”  “The secret,” I typed back to her, “is to know what makes you happy in the first place,” to which she replied, “You are absolutely right.  Time to do some soul searching.”
Now, aside from the fact that I love it when people tell me I’m absolutely right, her comment made me stop what I was doing and think about what makes me happy in the first place.  I pulled out a pad of paper and started soul searching.  What I discovered is that I am at my happiest when I’m dancing (especially dances from Thrace, in northern Greece, or salsa, which I do not know how to dance well but would like to learn), when I am exercising, when I’m writing and when I am hanging out with my friends, my cousins and other people I love (my parea, as the Greeks say).
And yet, as I thought more about my list, I realized I do not do any of these anywhere often enough.  There is a growing body of research that says it is experiences, not things, that make people happy, but when I look at my list, I feel like I’m not pursuing my happiest experiences frequently enough.  Why?   None of these experiences on my list cost money.  In fact, I can do most of them for free, in my own home even.  Am I denying myself happiness and, if so, why, and what am I going to do about it?
I say I have “no time”, or “no energy” or “no mojo” to do these things more frequently.  But these are excuses.  Daniel Gilbert, author of Stumbling Onto Happiness and host of PBS show “This Emotional Life”, says that there are three key findings on the science of happiness:
  1. we can’t be happy alone;
  2. we can’t be happy all the time;
  3. we can be happier than we are currently.
Spending time with friends and family would satisfy the first finding.  By spending time with people I love, I can be happy with others.  Dancing more often, even in my kitchen with the stereo blaring in the background, would make me happier than I am currently.  And while I say I love writing, the act of writing is torturous and grueling and frustrating for me…proving that we can’t be happy all the time, even when we are pursuing happiness.
Time to put away my excuses and do more of what makes me happy, more often and with more joy.  Time to make a coffee date with my cousin.  Time to exercise and invest 30 minutes in my health.  Time to dance in my kitchen.  Baiduska, anyone?
What makes you happy?
* This makes it sound like I only have one cousin.  I actually have 26 first cousins, and each one of them is special to me in his or her own way.