When Seeking Pleasure Turns Into Emotional Pain

Mother and daughter walking together at beautiful autumn day

Yesterday I was walking down the block with my daughter, a cup of tea in hand. As I sipped my tea, feeling the crisp fresh air on my face and listening to my daughter’s lovely voice, I felt joy. I experienced everything as wonderful and peaceful – here was a truly perfect moment. But as we neared home, all of a sudden my sense of being joyous in the present left me. I longed for the walk to continue. We entered our building because I had a scheduled phone conference, but I kept thinking about how I had felt just minutes earlier. I no longer felt peace or joy and was now experiencing a twinge of sadness. I wanted to continue the pleasure of the walk home with my daughter instead of going back to work.

There is nothing wrong with desires and pleasure seeking; it is perfectly normal to want wonderful things and experiences. Most of us are engaged on a daily basis in seeking pleasure one way or another. We may seek it through work, sports, hobbies, helping others, engaging in learning or other special endeavors. But longing to repeat an experience that has already happened is a type of pleasure-seeking that can leave us feeling miserable. Our minds become so focused on repeating a past experience – even one that happened just five minutes earlier – that we can’t appreciate the new moment we are in.

My example is a simple moment with my daughter that resulted in mild emotional discontent that lingered for the afternoon. It is similar to when we get disappointed that our night out with friends was not as fun as “usual” or a meal is not as great as we remembered. These are not events that ruin our lives, but they do dampen the present moment as we are always comparing it to “how great it was last time.”  The emotional pain can be greatly heightened in more complex situations such as a past relationship, job experience or accolades from our peers.  Our minds can get so busy with thoughts of past pleasures or achievements that we don’t show up clear-minded in the next, new moment.  Without even realizing it, a longing to recreate the past can become our focus and our goal, instead of reaching for new and creative ways to find joy.

So the next time your mind starts longing to recreate an experience that has passed, try to take a deep breath and guide yourself back to the moment your are in.  Living in the present provides the instant perception of wonder and is its own great enjoyment. When we experience good things without wanting the experience to be repeated, we suffer less pain and fear, and we increase the potential for a lasting joy and greater success.

Of course we can make plans and have goals similar to ones we have already enjoyed or achieved, but to avoid that painful longing and not limit our present potential we must let go of expectations and attachments to past experiences. Try to allow each new moment to offer you a new beginning and remain receptive to the chance for new enjoyment. As it is said, we can’t step in the same river or drink from the same cup of tea twice!

Who knows, when you let go of the desire to relive past experiences, MAYBE the moment you’re in will surprise you and bring more joy and peace than you ever imagined possible!

Originally Published in Psychology Today


What Happens When We Can’t Put A Positive Spin On Our Troubles?

A man holding a card in cupped hands with a hand written message on it, Change.

Change is inevitable.  Change is constant.  Benjamin Disraeli


My client, Michael, was very sad about several things happening in his life. He had just broken up with his girlfriend who he liked, but found certain aspects of her personality too hard to manage. At about the same time, an employee upon whom he relied heavily, announced he was leaving the business. The prospect of these changes just made him feel sad and somewhat depressed. I think when he called me he expected I would put a positive spin on his troubles, but instead I acknowledged his sadness and reminded him that he has Maybe.

Sometimes it is hard to see the positive side of life when you feel disappointed or an unexpected event leaves you feeling alone and groundless.  You want to feel optimistic but you just don’t see how life will change or what could possibly make things better.  This is a perfect moment to let Maybe into your life.  The idea of Maybe helps you accept where you stand in the moment, but also gives you an opening to recognize that things will always change.  In time, you understand that Maybe whatever situation is making you feel sad will turn out to be a good thing, Maybe things will get better or Maybe that sadness will evolve into acceptance and feeling okay about how things turned out.  Maybe allows you to feel sad but will not let you get stuck in that place. It offers you an opening of hope that you can glide into naturally over time when you feel ready.

As we talked and Michael started to breathe in and out the idea of Maybe, he felt relieved and actually a little happier. Acknowledging life would change again allowed him to feel hope and not doomed to be stuck in his sadness. Over time, he saw that there are many paths and that one would lead him to a new place. Maybe he will find lasting love.  Maybe he will find an even better employee.

So today, whether you are feeling sad or anxious about something that is happening, make the time to let some Maybe into your life. Just breathe in and out the idea of Maybe throughout your day. Watch for the opening it gives you.  No matter how small the opening, over time MAYBE it will light your way to hope and all the possibilities that life can offer.

Change is inevitable, but Maybe everything is still okay!

Six Tips to Help Reduce Our Children’s Stress During the School Year

young mother praising daughter doing homework at desk

As our children are heading back to school, they may already appear a little more stressed.   Children that are in middle school and high school know that in the near future they will have hours of homework, papers and tests. If your children are in high school, they may already be dealing with college applications or SAT and ACT prep.  Many of our children will also be participating in sports, drama, science teams, newspaper and other extra curricular activity. The minute these demands fall upon our children they can become irritable, sleep less and you may notice things getting out of whack with family life at home. There is certainly a lot to explore regarding whether our children are being overworked and whether school homework policies should be examined. But what can we do for our children right now and during the rest of the school year to help them be less stressed and worried? The following are some helpful tips that won’t take all the work away, but will at least help our kids relax more, release some stress and stay focused and get their work done.

1. Give your child some Maybe Statements. Sometimes when our children get stressed it is because they feel stuck or things are not going their way. They don’t realize in the moment that life will always change again and their future is not doomed if some things at school are difficult or not working out the way they would like. Remind them that as bad as things may look or feel, there is always the possibility that Maybe what is happening will turn out to be good, Maybe things will get better, or Maybe they can accept what is happening and still be OK. Thoughts of Maybe will help your child to return to the present more peacefully and get their work done with less stress and worry. Tailor a variety of Maybe statements to your child’s situation: “Even though Math was difficult last year, Maybe this year things will improve”; “Maybe I will make some new friends this school year”; “Maybe some new ideas will come to me and I can finish my college applications”; or “Maybe everything is okay regardless of all my worries.” Help your children create a habit of keeping Maybe statements close at hand so they will be prepared when stress and worry arise.

2. Teach your child the practice of gratitude. Gratitude creates a larger perspective on life so that every little thing does not get us down. Remind your children of all the wonderful people in their life, all the things that they love to do, and all the aspects of their life that they appreciate. A gratitude practice in the morning and at night will help them tremendously. It is best not to teach them this practice when they are in the middle of studying or are really stressed. It is best to share this practice when things are calm. This way, you can help them create a larger perspective so they react less during difficult times.

3. Try to buy some good quality lavender and chamomile essential oil for your home to help ease your child’s stress.   Get a spray bottle at the drug store, fill it up with water and add six or seven drops to the spray bottle (more if you want the spray to be stronger). Spray the house and your child’s room before they get home.   Another good option is to boil water and pour it into several bowls. Then add four or five drops of the oil and place the bowl in your child’s room and around the house. If they do not like the smell, there are other oils that are good for calming anxiety, like bergamot or valerian. Everybody has their own favorite oil, so see which one your child responds to best and that the family likes to smell around the house.   If you have a child that is very allergic or sensitive, you may want to dilute the oil even more and spray very little around the house to make sure they are okay with the smell.

4. A nice cup of hot tea is always very soothing when children study. Try to give them one without caffeine.   I find chamomile or decaffeinated earl grey tea to work wonders on helping my children relax.

5. If you have the time, nothing relaxes children more than a foot massage when they are studying. I have seen my own children go from stress and panic while doing an assignment to being relaxed and focused just by a ten-minute foot massage.   There are plenty of “how to” videos on YouTube if you need some guidance, but just a simple massage of the entire foot does wonders.   It is also good to do when your child is just telling you a story from school about something that made them stressed or hurt their feelings. Massaging their foot when they are speaking helps them release some of the tense energy they were feeling all day and return to more emotional balance.

6.     Give them a hug. Sometimes there is nothing else to do but give your child a hug and let them feel your love. Even though you do not see a change on the outside, feeling love and support is a good foundation for any child to build resilience and keep them going throughout the school year.

And as parents, it is not easy to watch our children stressed and worried. These tips can help us, too. Even though the school year can be tough at times for our children, give yourself a hug and remember, MAYBE everything is still OK.


The Blessings of A Messy Room

Businesswoman and children's mess

While we try to teach our children all about life, our children teach us what life is all about.  Angela Schwindt

When school is out, many of us find our children hanging around the house more often. Without a strict schedule and a lot of homework, there is more time for them to relax, and make a MESS. For most of this summer, I felt my days were consumed with cleaning dishes, cleaning crumbs off the floor, finding wet towels everywhere and putting things away in each room to find it all out of place again by the end of the day. I was constantly asking the children to clean up after themselves; but unfortunately their talents seem to lie in making a mess.

A few weeks ago, I was telling my friend about this experience with my children and she said, “You should see my house; it is so clean! I would never let my kids get away with what your kids get away with. My kids clean their rooms, put their dishes in the dishwasher and wipe the floor. You need to be harsher with them and let them know their responsibilities and that you are in charge.” I thought to myself, she is right. My children need to do their chores and help out more around the house. There is no excuse for this situation. So, for one week I marched around the house, venting irritation about the mess, using a stern voice to make the kids clean up and an angry voice when they did not do it. Instead of cleaning up myself, I spent the entire week reprimanding them and letting them know I was in charge. However, this new mindset just resulted in more yelling and conflict than usual. They cleaned up more but it was so painful for me to feel so frustrated and to keep reminding them what needed to be done. There were more arguments and I felt exhausted, uptight and angry.

The next day, my younger daughter was at day camp and my older daughter was out with a friend. It was so quiet in the house and I missed them both. I looked down on the kitchen floor and I saw muffin crumbs from breakfast that morning. In that moment I smiled. I realized that this is the blessing of having two vibrant children in my house. As I cleaned up the mess, I did not feel angry or upset. Sure I would tell them that they left crumbs all over the floor and still ask them to clean up their messes, but right then my entire perspective shifted. I now see each crumb and each unmade bed as a reminder of how lucky I am to have them in my life. Looking at the crumbs as a blessing couches the frustration with warmth and allows me to make space in the situation. One day they will move away and my house will be very clean, but I will miss them dearly. Sure I keep asking them to help out, but the mess no longer makes me feel angry or uptight. Now a mess works as a reminder to me of the wonder of having these children in my life. Do I like cleaning up? Of course not, but kids are messy and why be miserable over it? I prefer to choose gratitude and joy.

I was out with friends for dinner the next night and my friend was complaining about how his daughter graduated college, moved back in the house and was making a mess. He told us his daughter is loud, doesn’t clean her room or help enough with the dishes. It was driving him crazy. I turned to him and said, “I try to see my children’s messes as a blessing” He replied, “Allison, you are out of your mind.” I responded, “I am happy right now and you are miserable. So which one of us is crazy?” He smiled and said, “MAYBE you have a point. I am not sure I can embrace the blessing of a messy room, but I will try.”

So the next time the floors are marked up because your children didn’t take off their shoes, or they spill grape juice all over the table, don’t make their bed or leave food in their room, try to take a deep breath and see the blessing behind the mess. Of course tell them to clean it up and teach them to help out more around the house, but when you see the blessing behind the mess you won’t feel so frustrated and relinquish your joy so easily. Your heart will stay open with gratitude for their presence in your life and you will keep a larger perspective of what is really important. It feels so much better to support them on their journey with more joy and love than to scream and react all the time about the messes they make.

I actually think my children might be cleaning up after themselves more these past few days or MAYBE it is just bothering me less. In any case, seeing it all as a blessing can be a key to less suffering and the path to fully enjoying each day with our children.