Hope: Helping Other People Evolve

HOPEHope.  What is it?  I like the acronym for Hope in this image: Help Other People Evolve.  What a great way to make hope real in my life: helping others.  When I help others evolve and express my caring, I become witness to the promise of growth or change.  This is not only exciting, it is inspiring.  When I see someone else’s success or joy or delight as a result of their willingness to take the risk to evolve, I am blessed with hope concerning my life as well.  It all comes full circle in the simplest and most elegant of ways.  Hope gives back hope.

Hope keeps us alive.  Without growth and change in life, I tend to lose focus of why I am on the planet.  When I do not feel hope burning inside of me, life feels more than hopeless.  It feels pointless.  When I lose my sense of direction and feel utterly lost in a fearful place, I can feel hope being extinguished by despair and worry and fear.

These emotions disable my forward evolution, instead I am spiraled into a hopeless state of devolution.  While a modern scientist might state that there is no such thing as devolution, I believe that my spirit and my intuition would disagree.  I know, internally, when I am evolving into a new state of “advancement” and when I am devolving into a previous primitive state — those experiences that we sometimes refer to as being 2 steps forward and 3 steps backward.  I like to feel growth and positive movement as a result of hopeful living.  I have an aversion for devolution.

I like this acoustic version of the song “Despair” by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.  It is one of those songs that is both sad (with the potential for the self to be swallowed by overwhelming regret), yet it is hopeful.  It speaks of wasted years, tears, and fears.

What sometimes feels like the path of least resistance can lead to “wasted years.”  There have been times when I have given up hope and “settled” for various “hopes” that were not real: financial security, available opportunities, self-limitations on skills or resources — all perceptions and oftentimes a poor assessment of reality.

In January of 2014, I met a man from Jamaica on the beach in Hawaii. He said he was almost 80 years old, but he looked like he was in his early 60s.  Life on the island was treating him well.  His name was Cliff.  We talked.  He had a lot of interesting things to say.  He asked to take some pictures of my hair before we said good bye.

Cliff told me that I was going to have the best year of my life.  At the time, I thought that it was so kind of him to say such nice things.  I wanted to believe that he was a prophet and that he could see things that I could not see at the time — things that I had lost complete hope of ever realizing or enjoying.

We parted paths, and I remembered his words throughout 2014.  His words gave me hope.  True Hope.  Based on his prophetic words, I stopped settling for second or third best.  I changed my game.  I looked for better when things were just okay.  When “bad” things happened — like getting laid off from work — great things kept happening as a result of these fear-inducing negative things.  My life shifted into Amazing.  Really great things presented themselves as a result of research, reaching out, staying alert, moving forward without fear, and hoping.  Dreams that I have held for many years have grown into reality.  Who would have thought?

Today?  I feel like a Public Service Announcement for the Do-Not-Give-Up-Your-Hope campaign.  Don’t stop hoping.  Own your hopes.  Act on your dreams.  Don’t settle for second or third or fourth best.  Don’t settle.  “If it’s all in my head there’s nothing to fear . . . Nothing to fear inside . . .” Let me be your Cliff and hear that 2015 is going to be the best year of your life.  The Best Year.  toaster oven

Partial lyrics from “Despair” by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs:

“Don’t despair, you’re there
From beginning to middle to end
Don’t despair, you’re there
Through my wasted days
You’re there through my wasted nights

Oh despair, you’ve always been there
You were there through my wasted years
Through all my lonely fears, no tears
Run through my fingers, tears
They’re stinging my eyes, no tears
If it’s all in my head there’s nothing to fear
Nothing to fear inside

Through the darkness and the light
Some sun has got to rise”

Smiling: a Super Power

black and white tree branchesDuring these gray, dark days of winter, I find myself turning inward.  I spend more time in reflection, in meditation, in exercise, in self-care, in research, in cooking and cleaning.  As I focus inward, I sense that I am not smiling as often as I normally do.  I thoroughly enjoy this indoor time of engaging with family and friends on a more intimate level; still, as my thoughts travel further and farther inward, so does my smile.

We are really lucky we can smile.  We are actually born smiling.  Scientists once thought that babies “learned” to smile by mirroring others, but they now agree that babies are smiling while in the womb.  The babies then, after their trip down the birth canal, do not normally smile until they are approximately six weeks old.  It is speculated that this is because babies have to get used to a completely new and strange environment . . . a stark contrast to the the baby’s stress-free environment in the womb.

“Did you know your smile can be a predictor of how long you’ll live – and that a simple smile has a measurable effect on your overall well-being?” I was re-watching Ron Gutman’s TED talk “The Hidden Power of Smiling.”  It is a great talk that reminds us of how important it is to our own health and to the well-being of others.  Gutman’s talk tells how the world can be changed by simply smiling.  Research and common sense and personal experience substantiate this.

Keep-smiling-keep-smiling-8001329-386-480I thought about this research today as I was out and about running errands.  I made it a point to smile at everyone who was stopped next to me in traffic.  Even at a few people who were walking on the sidewalk and crossing the street.  Some people’s expressions led me to believe that they thought that I was a creeper, but this was not the case with everyone.  Some people smiled back.  Some people waved.  One car let me go ahead of him in traffic.

Near the end of the afternoon, I found myself in the insane maze of Trader Joe’s parking lot.  Insanity rules in this particular location as the number of shoppers far outweighs the number of places to park.  People troll from lane to lane with grim expressions of determination on their faces.

I went into the maze with a philisophical state of mind.  Determined to carry out my mission of smiling at strangers today, I put myself into the ludicrous and absurd flow of cutthroat parkers.  People were cutting others off and zipping into parking spots ahead of them.  Sign language ensued.  A near fender bender was prevented by some pretty insane honking.  Everyone was wanting to get in and get out with their groceries.

I spied an empty spot, turned on my blinker, and then saw a car bearing down on me from the end of the lane.  Yikes!  This person must have really needed my spot because he zipped in ahead of me before I could even begin turning my wheel.

When he got out of his car, he smiled at me.  But it wasn’t a nice smile.  It was a smile of one-up-man-ship.  Gotcha! is what his smile said.   Now I am not a saint.  No, not by any long shot of the arrow.  And I could feel my brow furrowing and the corners of my mouth turning south.  But I paused.  And I thought.   And I remembered my research mission of the day.  As he came walking by my truck — which was hopelessly stalled behind two other cars that had been wanting that same parking spot — I smiled at him.  Really smiled at him.  He looked at me smiling at him, shook his head at me to confirm my insanity, put his head down, and kept walking.  I don’t know why, but this made me laugh out loud.

The moral of the story.  I ended up parking across the street from the fray of bumper cars, went into the store and ran the aisles, paid for my groceries, and rattled the cart across the way to my truck.  I was loading my bags into the back when a voice clear out of nowhere asked me, “Can I help you with your bags?”

It was a woman who had somehow materialized behind me.  I looked at her and thought, “Whoa!  Where did you come from?”  I almost declined her offer but then thought better of it.  She was smiling.  She helped me with my bags and then offered to return my cart for me.  Wow!  Like an angel, she rattled back to the store with the empty cart, still smiling.

I shut the tail gate and got into the truck and sat there while the truck warmed up.  I felt as if I had been visited by a significant act of kindness.

toaster ovenMy research mission for tomorrow?  Smile more. Even when I am here at home clattering away at the keyboard, I am going to smile more.  Research has shown that when you are feeling really blue, you can take a pencil and hold it horizontally in your mouth, across your bite, to simulate a smile.   This simple little act of holding your mouth in a make-believe smile — which is called facial feedback or priming — will indeed make you feel better. Good feelings are released.  It is like an instant therapy in moments of stress or sadness.

Below is a link to Ron Gutman’s TED talk.  Enjoy!  And it is my wish that your day is awesome and full of smiling.