In one of my previous messages, I spoke about the importance of the 1,440 minutes that we are gifted every day. What we do with those minutes influences the path our lives take, the quality of the life that we lead, and the satisfaction we have had with those minutes when we reach our final years. We only get one chance to take advantage of the next minute that comes our way. Once that minute is gone, there is no ability to alter it, but rather regret it or bask in the knowledge that we have done the most that we could to make it meaningful.
So many times in our lives we find ourselves at a decisional crossroad. This often requires split second action because of the situation, while other times we are allowed the opportunity for long range planning. No matter what opportunity with which we are faced to affect one of those 1,440 minutes, when the minute is gone it is no longer retrievable. That is the reason that making the most of every minute we are gifted in life is so important.
Throughout my life I have made good and bad decisions. I have always tried to use the bad decisions as building blocks for better future decisions and capitalized on good decisions to drive me to the next step to make life even better. That doesn’t mean that bad decisions don’t get repeated, they often get altered until I finally reach the ultimate change that I was seeking. As most people, I do ponder those minutes of the past that could have altered the path that I was trying to take and failed, but sometimes the things that I would have missed while walking that path to that which I would have desired would have been disappointing. I also learned that it is most important to focus on the future minutes that you have the ability to change that could ultimately make life better.
Finally, the thing that I regret most is not taking advantage of those opportunities that presented themselves to affect my next minutes when I had the opportunity. Fear, inability to make a decision, lack of self confidence and simply being human, created the barrier that I was unable to overcome. We understand this less in our younger years, but it becomes much more clear as we age. The importance of living each and every gift minute that we are given to the fullest is ultimately what makes life meaningful and wonderful. Understanding the value of a minute before it becomes a memory is one of the most important tasks of all.
Have you ever delivered a gift on a birthday or holiday, sat and watched the person open it, and felt your heart enlarge a little when you saw the joy on their face? How about completing a volunteer project and feeling a sense of satisfaction that brings the same feeling as if have just completed a long workout? There is a reason for that. Many researchers have found that people who give of their time to help others through community and organizational involvement have greater self esteem, are less depressed and have lower stress levels than those who don’t. In general, people who take the time to show compassion and caring for others are happier people. The good news is there are even more physical and mental effects.
Volunteering and participating in good deeds for the benefit of others, rather than ourselves, is one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves. Not only does it benefit the person on the receiving end, but it is the gift that keeps on giving. Many research studies have shown repeatedly that the health and mental benefits of those that participate in volunteer activities include; boosting physical and mental health, lower blood pressure, increased self esteem, less depression, lower stress levels, longer life, and greater happiness and satisfaction.
People often ask me why I spend so many hours involved in the Bring Smiles to Seniors program. The most common question is, “Do you ever sleep”? The answer is yes, and quite well I might add. As I often tell people, working a full time job and running a nonprofit is hard and often tough work. I also tell them that my day job feeds my stomach, and my nonprofit feeds my soul. I truly believe that my involvement in giving back to the community has resulted in all those things listed above.
Years ago, I took blood pressure and depression medicine. I didn’t feel so great about myself. Exercise and meditation weren’t even near being a part of my daily routine and stress was definitely out of control. Working to make the lives of others better has had an effect on all of those things. Today, I am much more calm than in the past. My blood pressure is normal. My stress levels have decreased dramatically. I am definitely a much happier and more satisfied person. The same has been heard from many of the people that participate in the Bring Smiles to Seniors program.
People have been kind enough to write me or send emails to let me know what the program has done for them. Individuals who were looking for purpose and meaning in the their life have found it. Those who were depressed or even suicidal have found an outlet to connect their life to something positive that has given them a reason to get up every morning. When all that culminates with the friendship, help, sharing and love that people are experiencing every day as a part of our groups, the prescription for many of the things listed above have been written and filled.
People often think volunteering and giving back takes money. That is far from the case. For those that desire to be involved, there is always a way to do so, without placing a financial burden that would cause unneeded stress. If you have been looking for that purpose and just can’t seem to find it, find something in your community where you can make a difference. Even the smallest effort can help boost that physical and mental health that we all strive for.
Responsibility for a world filled with compassion and caring begins with us. To live a life of truth, means that we recognize each other for our individuality, accept each other with our faults and strive to treat all individuals as equal human beings. This is done while doing what we can to live our best life. There are many who make that task difficult for us. However, if we stay true to who we are and draw on the lessons of compassion and caring that we were taught as children and young adults, we truly can be the vaccine that injects change into this turbulent world.
Many times we tell ourselves that we are only one person and have no power to affect change. When the number of people who do that multiplies, it is likely that will prove out to be true. Yet, when we have the courage and wisdom to be the one person that makes a difference, that is often the injection that the next person needs to make their own stand in the world. One becomes two and eventually enough people take the necessary steps to create the change that is needed for the moment. If we truly want a better world, sitting back and watching the world go by is simply not an option.
We often spend so much time caring about what everyone else is doing and how they are living their lives, that we fail to do what is necessary to live our own truth. Not doing so negates the opportunity for us to set the example that others can learn from. When we lead the way with conviction, those that know and trust us often follow. It is then that the possibility for change begins. Refocusing all the energy that is spent on negativity, on that which is positive and productive, creates the foundation necessary to make a difference.
To survive a world of division, there is no other option than to live our truth, not expect others to be who we want them to be, rather than who they are, and respect our differences, while celebrating our similarities. Understanding that each person has the ability to make their own contribution to the world, in their own way and respecting that, creates the space for the change that is needed. At the end of the day it truly does all start with us. With the appropriate effort, we truly can be the much needed vaccine for change.
There is no question that technology has changed the world. The days of pulling over to look at the map to see where you are going, faxing information to those with whom we do business, and leaving voicemails to make contact with individuals all seem to be relics of the past. Communication is now instant, often with expected instant response, and information is at our fingertips with just a few keystrokes on our computers or smart phones. The ability to increase our knowledge has grown exponentially. The opportunity to interact electronically is now at our fingertips. However, at what cost has this advancement in technology been to our art of conversation and development of interpersonal relationships?
If you wanted to speak to a friend or family member before smartphones, you walked down the street, got in your car or met up at the local coffee shop or restaurant for a conversation. For those minutes you interacted with each other without disruption. You were truly interested in what each other had to say and were intimately involved in each other’s lives. Sundays were reserved for family dinners. We sat around the table in the evenings for our evening meals. Family outings involved interacting with each other on a personal level. While technology has brought so much to our lives, in some ways it has stolen those things that we held most dear.
Think about it. Picture the last week in your own homes. How many times were you sitting together on the sofa, having dinner, or in friends or family’s presence and the majority of that time was spent on your smartphone? How many times did you actually sit and have a conversation, asking about each other’s day or had an in-depth conversation about what was going on in each other’s lives? How often has our interpersonal relationship been with an electronic device, rather than those that we care for and love? For me, I think about this a lot and find myself guilty of all of the above. This caused me to examine the effect that this has had on my art of conversation.
There is no question that technological devices have become addictions. However, they are now ingrained in our lives and have become the tools that we need to accomplish so many things. Breaking that addiction has become difficult. Having better relationships with our devices than those we love has affected not only the art of conversation, but the interpersonal skills that we desperately need to regain the respect we need for each other as human beings, so that we can move away from the division that we experience daily.
While technology has served us well in our current Covid world, it seems that finding time for a break from the technology in the home, and outside the home in a post Covid world, is more important than ever. It will not only benefit our close personal relationships, but the way we see society as a whole. Good robust disagreement with facts and truth are healthy and building blocks for strong relationships. Relying on often incorrect information that spreads like wildfire through technology serves as a detriment to this effort. At this point in our lives, I believe that we can all use a scheduled technology break during our weeks. Take a walk together, share what is going on your lives, revive the art of conversation and enhance your interpersonal skills. That in itself may be the starting point for a better world.
It seems like waking up each morning, I increasingly find myself in a world that I hardly recognize. The effort to promote and portray positivity seems to take far more effort than in years past. However, the desire to live in a world full of caring and compassion for our fellow person remains as strong as ever. As I try to make sense of it all, I find myself increasingly struggling to understand why each day brings about another story of violence, hatred, suppression, regression and certainly failing compassion. I wonder if I have entered this alternate reality where me is always first, we seems to not exist, and they is always at the forefront of blame. I then have to remind myself that the best that I can do is take care of my part of the world and live the life that I need to live to set the example that many others need. It’s not easy.
When you have an innate compassion for people, there is a natural tendency to want to avoid conflict. “Why can’t we all just get along” becomes a constant refrain in your head, while the brain tells you that as long as there is a desire for power, money and position, the likelihood of that ever coming to reality is practically nonexistent. From the beginning of time, the desire to have more than we need, have power over those who do not, and advancing ourselves by whatever means possible, has been ingrained in so many societies. So much so, that we often forget our true purpose for why we are here and the responsibility we have to make the world better, not only for ourselves, but also for those around us who may be less fortunate.
There are times when not caring would be so much easier. Looking out for only one’s self and not caring what is happening in and to the rest of the world, would certainly be the easy way out. However, unless we as the people of a common society take the stand that is necessary to make the world a better place, and leave it a little better off than we found it, then the hope of a better world truly is hopeless. When we stop putting “me” first and focus on the needs of the collective “we”, it is only then that we plant the seeds that are necessary to achieve a desirable society that cares about the whole rather than the few.
Politics, greed and the need for power have replaced compassion, caring and the desire for peace. Failing to focus on that which benefits all people rather than the few, robs us of the chance to live in a world where we are able to focus on the good, rather than trying to survive the bad. At the end of the day, it all begins with each and every one of us. It requires us to do our part to enact change, provide the examples of caring and decency, and to live a life that serves as an example for those that follow us. When rooted in everything we do, compassion has a unique and powerful way for taking hold and spreading. We have proven that time and time again. It is within the truth of compassion and caring that we have our best chance of living in a desirable world that we all deserve.
So many times in our lives we often fail to dare to dream because we believe that the chance for success is so low that it is hardly worth the effort. What we often fail to realize is that it is usually those small dreams that find their way into very big realities. Never was that more evident than the dream that I had for the Bring Smiles to Seniors program that I started almost five years ago.
I first recognized the need to remind seniors that they were loved while visiting my grandmother in her nursing home. I had a dream to turn the faces of those that I saw who were sad and lonely to having a smile and happiness that someone had reminded them that they were important. All I wanted was a few cards to deliver to the residents of my grandmother’s community, to make a difference in their lives for that one moment. However, I knew after that first act, that I was dreaming too small and I needed to go bigger and better. I also knew that the scary aspect of dreaming bigger meant that it was a dream worth pursuing.
The process to create a nonprofit, obtain your tax exempt status and build donors and donations, brought scary to a whole new height. I knew that if I could be successful, the payoff for dreaming bigger was going to be far greater than anything that I could have ever imagined. “If you believe it, you can do it,” became a mantra that would make every twist and turn along the journey worth the payoff that was waiting at the end of each effort. From over 7,000 cards delivered the first year, to greater than 200,000 in 2020, people I met along the way who became a part of the dream as it grew helped scary become satisfaction. Had I been content with that initial effort and failed to dream bigger, the ability to touch lives all across the country and in other parts of the world would have never materialized.
Second guessing ourselves is easy. Staying within our comfort zone and away from that which is scary is also easy. However, when we believe that the results of our efforts will be far greater than any discomfort we may experience along the journey, the ability to create magic makes dreaming big one of life’s most pleasurable experiences.
There is no question that I have an amazing life. I have a good job, great friends, an awesome spouse, a nonprofit that fills my soul and plenty of people around me that are my cheerleaders. There is much to be thankful for and for that much thanks is given. I do my best to stay upbeat, keep others spirits lifted and work hard to continue the mission my grandmother laid out for me through the Bring Smiles to Seniors program. From the outside, many would look at me and think I have it all and don’t have a care in the world. In our lives, we see many people like that. However, what we often fail to realize is that we are all humans with real feelings, going through life’s journey the best we can. Naturally, the question that people often ask is “with all that you have, how could you possibly feel lonely?”
The answer often comes in the circumstances that surround us. In my regular job, I work from home. In normal times that is taxing as I am in the house five days a week. My interaction with the outside world is through a video screen, which in the best of times is bearable. There is an opportunity for evenings out for movies, dinner with friends, social gatherings and of course weekend events. Fast forward to these current times and those opportunities for escape from the daily routine have all but disappeared and five days in the house quickly become seven. An outing to the grocery store or post office becomes a major event and I find myself driving slower to and from simply to make the most of those things that I am still able to do. A year of that has certainly taken its toll.
The decision I made for myself to abide by the guidelines wasn’t political, it was personal. I made a conscious effort early on to not only protect myself and my spouse, but having a father with Lymphoma, there was no way I was going to take a chance for a few minutes of pleasure that could put those that I love at risk. Without judgement, I have watched others make different decisions and go about life as normal. As I began to question whether or not I was the crazy one, the loneliness started to set in and the impact began to take its toll.
The loneliness enters a new phase as I watch all those around me getting access to vaccines, while I find myself in an age group waiting its turn that never seems to come. I feel caught between the younger generation that seems to have the ability to fight off whatever may come their way and the older generation that needs the vaccine desperately to ensure that they live. That in itself creates a space with new feelings and emotions that naturally increases that feeling of being alone.
At some point, the pressure becomes too much and the emotion finds a way out. One morning recently it came out in full force and fifteen minutes of a good cry was in order, which often relieves the pressure. If only temporarily, it did. Through that act, I am reminded that I am human, I have the same need for comfort and support of everyone else and despite all that I have, I too can be lonely. It is what I choose to do with that loneliness that becomes the most important thing of all. When that feeling takes over it is important to acknowledge it, understand it, and do what is necessary to find our way to the other side. There is always an other side if we persist.
Having an incredible life doesn’t mean that we can’t be lonely. Learning to deal with that loneliness helps us create a foundation to deal with it when it arises again. There is no question that it will, but with each episode, we hopefully learn new methods, tools and tricks to get us through. Understanding the difference between being alone and being lonely is key to how we are able to overcome it. Acknowledging and being open about it provides others the opportunity to return the favor and be there for us when we need them most. When you are able to overcome the loneliness, celebrate the success, make note of the tools you used and be ready for when it shows its face again. The foundation for dealing with it becomes stronger with each episode and that my friends is how we grow.
Life is a series of lessons. As we grow up we navigate the highs and lows, often taking a path that others want us to walk, rather than living a life that is true to ourselves. We spend countless hours trying to please everyone one else and living the life they want us to live, rather than living our own truth and making our lives what it was meant to be. This doesn’t end in our adolescent years as we continue our quest to please others in our adult relationships, while putting our lives on the back burner.
At some point, we learn that it is not others music that makes our life meaningful, but the music that we make for ourselves that makes our life complete. When we learn to let go of the necessity to ensure that others’ perceptions of who we are supposed to be are fulfilled, and start to fulfill our own wants and desires, it is only then that we can truly begin to live.
One sided relationships, where only the needs of one individual are fulfilled, are unfortunate stepping stones in life’s journey. They rob us of the ability to understand our own self worth and that which we have to offer others and the world. We work so hard at fulfilling the needs of the unhealthy relationships that we are in, that we fail to see that there is a better path to a more fulfilled self. When we are able to escape the mundaneness of that existence, it is only then that we start to realize that there is much more to life than we ever realized there could be.
Life’s moments are fleeting and time passes much faster than we would like. Do we want to spend those moments making sure that everyone else’s life is the best that it can be? Or, do we find a way to make our own kind of music, do the things that make us happy, and live our life path. When we are being good to ourselves and living our truth, we create the healthiness that is required to be in good relationships that enhance our lives, rather than make life work. Accepting each other for who we are, not asking the other to be who we are not, and allowing each other to make their own kind of music, is a recipe for the kind of life we all deserve.
Most people who know me, know that goals are an important part of my life. I need something in my sight to work towards, with milestone check-ins along the way. It gives me an opportunity to change course when I am faltering and extend the goal when I am overachieving. It is the way my brain works and what allows me to drive to success. However, it took me a long time to figure out that it really wasn’t about the goal, it was the person that I was to become along that goal journey that really mattered. Nowhere has that been more evident in my life than my journey in the Bring Smiles to Seniors program.
Starting out, I was just a guy visiting his grandmother, who recognized a need in her senior community. My visits gave me a glimpse into an unfamiliar world, where people became part of a community in their later years. During my visits I would see family and friends sitting and talking with their loved ones. Of course, I also saw those that were sad and lonely, who were longing for that human touch. Initially, I was achieving my goal, to visit my grandmother and remind her that she was loved. It wasn’t long before that goal became so much larger.
The idea that I would make a Facebook post and ask all my friends and family to send cards that I could deliver to the residents in my grandmother’s community, came to me in a visit early on. It was to be a one time thing and the response that I got was overwhelming. I received enough cards to make sure that every resident in her community received that reminder that they were remembered and loved. With that act, my goal was complete. Or was it?
That one act lit a fire inside me that would begin a journey that has been going for almost five years. I felt that the need for compassion for our seniors to remind them that they were loved and still mattered soon filled my mind. It was then that the idea for Bring Smiles to Seniors came to life. It was then that I started to discover the person that I needed to be, to fulfill this goal that I had created for myself.
Along this journey, people came into my life that supported, loved and encouraged me to be the kind of person that used a passion for others, to fill a void that had long been present. The program grew beyond any expectation, including my own, as we went from delivering over 7,000 cards our first year to over 200,000 in 2020. Along the way, I learned to do things I previously thought impossible. I found inner strength on the days of potential collapse, to find what I needed to muster through. I used the collective energy of all those involved to mold and shape the person I wanted to be, I needed to be, to achieve success.
While goals are important, it isn’t always just about the goal. On the journey of success we have to shape and mold ourselves to become the person necessary to make the achievement of that goal a reality. It is the strength that we gain, and the knowledge of our inner selves, that provide us the tools to tackle anything that our minds decide is possible.
It has been a while since I have put fingers to the keys and there is a reason for that. Like many people in the world, I have been trying to come to grips with what is going on in the world around us, and exactly where I fit in this new and unfamiliar world. For a person who tries to stay upbeat and positive, I am finding it more difficult, but not impossible, as I watch the division in the world, our country and even in our own families that has changed the very way we live. Suddenly, trying to do the right thing makes some look at you like a “monster with two heads”. Not doing the right thing makes you a target for social media that spreads at lightning speed. As I focused on this, it is here where I have landed.
The ability to make a difference lies within ourselves. Living our life to make everyone else happy is impossible. Living life to make ourselves happy is a much easier task. When we extract ourselves from what everyone else is doing and focus on what we ourselves are doing, life becomes much more manageable. At the end of the day, is it everyone else that we have to answer for, or is it the life we lead and the example we set for others that really matters?
The key for me getting through this past year has been to focus on my well being, both mentally and physically. A regular exercise plan, followed by meditation, has allowed me to stay sane in an unfamiliar world, where all the things I would normally do currently don’t exist. Dinner with friends, trips overseas and family gatherings have been replaced by alone time by the pool, hours on end in my house, and trips to the grocery store turning into a major outing. While I have been dismayed by the action of others, I have not let it become all consuming as I focus on keeping me and my family safe.
I do wonder what it would be like if we were all navigating these difficult waters together, rather than apart. If we were supporting each each other no matter our difference in personal or political beliefs. If we were spending our time helping others shepherd through these difficult times, rather than making it more difficult. Perhaps a utopian world, but it doesn’t hurt to dream. That brings me back to living in our world.
When we are living our truth and what is right for us, that should be what comforts us and helps us get through our days. When we deny others the opportunity to affect our goal of making our life path the best that it can be, we have more time to focus on that goal for ourselves. When we are doing what we believe is right, having compassion for others, and doing what we can to leave the world a little better off than we found it, that should make us content with the person that we are striving to be.