In international relations, there’s a term called “Sphere of Influence.” It relates to the control or influence that one country or government has over a geographical region in the world. Before I bore all of you silly, I’ll bring the idea down to a more personal level. We all have aspects of our lives encompassed in our spheres of Influence. We have our families, friends, work colleagues, religious communities, geographical communities, and so on. The problem I've seen lately is that too many people are co-opting their sphere of influence (SOI) to outside sources.
Let me give you an example. Before the election, I overheard a woman at the gym say that she was so depressed about the election that it was hard to get out of bed in the morning. Now, I know electing a president or prime minister is important. Leaders face major issues in the U.S. and the world, and that's a worry, but it shouldn't be enough to cause crippling depression. I was glad the woman was at least able to get herself to the gym, but she made me wonder if she didn't have her priorities out of order. She was allowing others to encroach on her SOI. Even if she was unhappy about what was happening with the election, she still had the control not to let it drag her down. She had choices. We all have choices.
Life can be difficult and challenging. I'm not trying to trivialize that. What I'm saying is that it never hurts to take a step back and focus on the good in our lives and what matters most. We've all heard the stories of people in the hospital who managed to cheer up the people who come to visit them instead of the other way around. We all know people in difficult circumstances who maintain a positive outlook. We don't have to let outside influences drag us down. We can all choose to be a positive influence on the people around us.
I read two great books by Shawn Achor called Before Happiness and The Happiness Advantage. I love sciencey things, so the messages in those books resonated with me. They discuss the subject of positive psychology, sometimes called happiness psychology, and were a real eye-opener for me. I learned that our brains are wired to give us the ability to choose to be happy. I'm sure many of you have heard the saying, “Happiness is a choice." I'm not perfect at it all the time by any means, but learning that changed my perspective.
So how do we reclaim and recognize our own SOI? We start with ourselves by learning how to choose to be happy. I do this by trying to focus on the good things in my life first. That doesn't mean living a Pollyanna kind of life. We shouldn't, and often can't, just ignore the problems in our lives, but if we start from a positive place, it gives us the strength to confront our challenges.
Next, we move on to those closest to us and help lift them up. Then, we move outward from there. Most of us will never have a worldwide SOI, but that doesn't matter. If we make a positive difference in the life of just one person, even if that person is yourself, then it's worth it. Eventually, that can have a global reach.
So, what is your sphere of influence and how can you make it better? I'd love to hear, so please your answers in the comments. Then, go forth and have a happy day.
Our book for today is: "The Secret Garden" by Frances Hodgson Burnett. The book begins with Mary Lennox, a nine-year-old sickly, snotty little snit of a girl living in India with her neglectful parents during the nineteenth century. Her life is turned upside down when her parents die of cholera, and she's sent to live with her gloomy uncle, Archibald Craven, who lives in a hundred-room manor house on the Yorkshire moors. Almost all of the rooms have been closed off. One of the servants tells Mary her Aunt died ten years earlier and that her uncle has been mourning ever since. He locked up his wife's garden and buried the key.
Mary becomes obsessed with finding the key to the garden and starts spending more and more time outside. As she does, she becomes healthier and much more pleasant. She also becomes friends with other people on the estate, including the gardener.
During that time, Mary hears crying coming from somewhere inside the manor and wants to find out where it's coming from, but the head housekeeper forbids her from searching the manor. Mary forgets about the crying for a time when she finds the key to the secret garden. She starts caring for the garden, and the plants begin to grow and thrive, just like Mary. I'll leave the story there, so I don't give away any spoilers.
One of the reasons I loved this book so much is that it starts out so gloomy and hopeless but becomes bright and joyful in the end. I loved the way the author wrote Mary's (and other characters') growth and change for the better to parallel the garden. Mary goes from being a spoiled, self-absorbed child to being a loving and caring person whose actions rescue others from the same miserable life she might have had.
Girls would probably enjoy the story more than boys, but I think it's a book all children should read. It teaches what can happen when we're kind and put the well-being of others above our own.
I read this book several times when I was young, and I've seen a few of the film and TV adaptations. None of them are near as good as the book, but I enjoyed watching them anyway. I'm just a sucker for a happy ending.
Have you read "The Secret Garden?" If so, what was your impression?
My father-in-law sent an email to my husband recently with pictures of things men do when they're left without female supervision. Included in that email was a photo of a man in a hot tub, drinking a beer and shooting a rifle. Another showed a motorcycle sitting in the middle of a living room surrounded by skid marks on the hardwood floor. There were several more, but you get the idea. I'll leave it up to you to do a web search to see the rest of the pictures.
This brought to mind the deer's butt pictured above. It hangs on the back wall of my office. In others words, it's behind me. I ignore it most of the time because, for some reason, it staunches my flow of creativity. Today, however, it gave me the idea for this post. The deer butt came to be part of my life several years ago when my husband went off on an errand and came back with it. I need to mention that this wall hanging, that he is so enamored with, also has sound effects. Hilarious. That was what I got for sending him off without my supervision.
But this post isn't about men and the stupid things they do. This is about the stupid things we all do and learning to laugh at ourselves when we do. How many times would have given anything to take back or undo some ridiculous thing I'd done? Too many to count. We have unintentional moments, like the time I went to a training seminar with my skirt tucked into my pantyhose. I'll always be grateful to the kind woman who clued me in before that went on for too long. Unfortunately, we also have the intentional, idiotic choices we make. Sorry, I'm not going to fess up to them here, but I've learned an important lesson about coping with those decisions: we can't change the past, we can only laugh at it.
Life stinks sometimes. It can be unfair, unjust, or painful. But it can also be humorous, or outright hilarious. We're all better off when we look for those funny things, even if we only look for them in ourselves. Not "only if" we look for them in ourselves, but especially if we look for them in ourselves. I remember a college professor who told the class that one of the best ways to stay emotionally healthy is to laugh every day, especially at ourselves. I don't always follow that advice, but I look for things that make me laugh almost daily.
After I lost my father, I didn't know how I'd survive the grief. During that time, my husband showed me a Lindsey Stirling video spoof. He wasn't trying to downplay my grief, just distract me from it for a little while, and it worked. To this day, I watch it whenever I'm having a tough time and laugh until I cry. I have a few funny go-to movies too, like "High Anxiety" with Mel Brooks and "Multiplicity" with Michael Keaton. I also love the posts people put on Facebook® that make me smile or laugh. This fits nicely with my "Nurturing My Sphere" theme, by the way.
If we can be the butts of our own jokes and remember we're in good company, we'll all be a lot healthier. If we can seek the humorous side of life and laugh with others, not at them, we'll all be a lot happier. Most importantly, don't shoot a rifle from a hot tub while drinking a beer. We'll all be a lot safer.
Share what makes you laugh!
Arms of Grace has been out for almost a year now, and as I've interacted with readers over that time, they've often asked why I became a writer. To answer that, we have to wander back to when I was ten-years-old. My fifth-grade teacher was one of the few good writing teachers I had during my school years. I was enthralled as he taught us about writing poetry. My first poetic attempt went something like this:
Like a strawberry drink.
I like pink.
Masterpiece, no? I don't even like the color pink much, but I had discovered what has become a lifelong passion for writing. My fellow students groaned about having to write theme papers and essays, but I loved those assignments, especially in creative writing. Writing is like solving a puzzle, and I love making all the parts fit together.
I had an English teacher in high school named Mr. Purdy for my sophomore and junior years. He was grumpy and tough, but he encouraged my budding passion and fostered my love for great literature. My senior year English teacher introduced me to the brilliance of Shakespeare.
As I got older, I began writing stories all the time in my mind. As I observed the people and events swirling around my life, I began to weave together tales about them. The downside of this was when I'd wake up at 3:00 am, and my mind would start to write, keeping me from being able to go back to sleep. Sometimes I wondered if I had some weird mental illness, but then I found out that no, I was just a writer. Just as I could escape into wondrous far-off and long ago worlds as I read a good book, I could create worlds that enveloped me while I wrote as well. Not only that, but writing was and still is, a comforting and therapeutic outlet for me. It has gotten me through some challenging times in my life.
While I was in college, having a career as an author became my dream. As my husband and I raised our sons and traveled around the world, my dream took a backseat, and that was my choice, but the day came when I woke up and said, "It's time." I returned to studying the writing craft and researching the publishing industry. Finally, I began to write. I woke up one morning with the seeds for the plot of "Arms of Grace" rattling around in my mind, and I had to get it out. It seemed like as soon as I started, my life went haywire, and there were entire years when I didn't write at all, but I persevered. As I've taken this first real step in achieving my dream, I know it was all worth it.
I've trained myself to be disciplined to write full-time. I have several novels in different stages of planning, and I'm on my way. Thank you to all who have traveled with me on this journey, encouraging me not to give up and believing in me more than I believed in myself at times. I wouldn't have made it without you, and I hope you'll stay along for the ride.
Please, share your dreams with me. Who knows, maybe you'll end up in one of my stories.
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