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                               GratitudeHeart “Thankful—for What?"


I’ve heard that question (or a similar one) many times during my tenure as a professional counselor. The question was usually a response to my inquiry about an individual’s sense of gratitude in the midst of depression or unhappiness. Most people who struggle with depression also struggle with thankfulness. In their painful darkness they cannot see the positive aspects of life; they tend to see the negatives—their mistakes, their messes, and their misery. For these strugglers there is seemingly nothing for which to be thankful. My therapy goal is to encourage the depressed person to shift his perspective in a positive direction through increased gratitude. The rationale? Simply this:  gratitude is a powerful antidote for depressed moods and unhappy hearts.  Admittedly, gratitude by itself is probably not a cure-all, but the practice of gratitude is one useful tool in the treatment of depression—and unhappiness in general. My experiences as a therapist and in living my own life continue to reinforce an important truth: a grateful heart is a joyful heart!
GratitudeWayOfLife
“Be thankful for what you have!” These words still touch my heart, and it seems almost yesterday when my mother was reminding us children to be thankful. Her reminders were probably prompted by grumbling on my part about something I wanted but didn’t have or couldn’t get. Like most kids I was more interested in getting what I wanted than I was in being grateful for what I already had. My mother certainly understood my frustration since she had grown up during the Great Depression and was accustomed to doing without many things she would have enjoyed. She not only believed in the concept of gratitude but practiced it on a daily basis. Her lifestyle provided the example and the encouragement for my current beliefs and practices regarding gratitude. Thank you, Mom, for encouraging me to travel through life on the Gratitude Highway.

What about you? To what extent was gratitude a part of your developmental years? What kind of parental examples did you have in regard to gratitude? By the time you reached adulthood what were your personal beliefs and practices about gratitude? What is your current belief system and lifestyle in terms of gratitude? What would you like to change about the way you currently practice gratitude? As you consider future years how important is it to you to travel through life on the Gratitude Highway? These questions are very relevant simply because our quality of life is affected significantly by the absence or presence of gratitude.

Fortunately, many people in our culture associate gratitude with the Thanksgiving holiday season. During that season they give special attention to their blessings, and they tend to be more expressive of their thankfulness. Gratitude gets a major boost during this special holiday. Unfortunately, too many people limit their sense of gratitude to the Thanksgiving season. During the remainder of the year they tend to live by a “business as usual” philosophy in which gratitude is a neglected or forgotten trait. However, since gratitude is important to our health and happiness we would do well to be thankful throughout the entire year. We know that we are growing in gratitude when Thanksgiving is no longer just a day in life but rather a way of life.

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                                           "Does Music Really Matter?”

Music matters. That conclusion certainly appears to be accurate based upon the amount of energy, time, and money that we devote to music. Ponder the energy you’ve exerted in finding new music or in using the music you already have in your possession. Consider the amount of time you’ve spent during the past month listening to music and/or playing music on some type of instrument. Crunch the numbers in terms of money you’ve spent on music in the form of equipment, instruments, lessons, concerts, or compact discs. During any given year most individuals spend a significant amount of money on various aspects of music. The collective sum spent by United States citizens might even be enough to eradicate our national debt—and we’re talking big bucks!

Music really does matter. It is within us—and all around us. Frequently we’re singing or humming, either out loud or silently. Our feet and fingers are often tapping out rhythmic patterns for the music we love. Our interest in music is reflected in the widespread usage of Pandora, iHeart Radio, YouTube, and countless other internet music streaming resources.  At restaurants, in automobiles, in elevators, and even in the International Space Station music is a vital part of day-to-day living. Indeed, we are surrounded by music.

Throughout human history music has played a vital role in times of war and in times of peace.  In regard to warfare music has been used to motivate soldiers to march into battle with greater zeal and courage, while at the same time music has been effective in generating fear and anxiety within the enemy.  People who have disagreed philosophically with warfare have used music as an effective method for protesting involvement in war activities. The impact of music is felt in many of our personal experiences. We use music at weddings to celebrate the commitment made by a man and a woman to begin their journey together along the Marriage Highway.  We sing lullabies and play soft music to help our young children fall asleep. We go to the theater to see a movie and we listen to a musical score written specifically to enhance the emotional effects of the story line. Romantic dinners and special parties include music designed to add to the experience. We attend funerals and hear music that helps us grieve the loss of a loved one or to commemorate the person’s life. Indeed, from the cradle to the grave we respond to music. The role of music in contemporary society might be summed up by one person’s comment I heard recently: “I could not live without music!” Music is definitely a significant part of the human story.

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                               IntegrityCoupleText            “What about Integrity?”

Is that a question we ask when we’re making important decisions involving people? If not, what questions do we ask when considering which political candidate to endorse? Or which employer to select? Or which doctor to use? Or which person to marry? Or which friend to call? In terms of people-oriented decisions how often do we ask, “Does that person have integrity?” We often make life-altering choices with little or no thought given to the level of personal integrity possessed by the individual under consideration. In doing so we are typical of most people today for whom personal integrity is a lost value that is never taken seriously or is dismissed completely.

What about integrity? Is integrity a concept we should view as outdated and irrelevant to postmodern man? Or, would we do well as individuals and as a society to reclaim both the concept and the practice of personal integrity? Clearly, our world is fast moving away from a commitment to personal integrity and toward a mindset of “anything is okay.” People engage in lifestyles and behaviors with little if any attention given to the impact upon personal integrity. How would you respond if a friend observed your recent actions and asked you, “How do those actions affect your personal integrity?” I recall having discussions with individuals about some negative behavior and asking, “So, how does this behavior or this lifestyle affect your personal integrity?” The most common response I got was a puzzled look and the comment, “Uh, I don’t know. I haven’t even thought about that.” Their body language usually told me that they preferred not to think about integrity as a personal issue for them. In contrast, other people still value personal integrity and are deeply disappointed in themselves when they violate or lose their integrity through unwise choices and inappropriate behavior. For these men and women the loss of integrity usually generates a combination of internal sadness, guilt, and frustration. Thankfully, most of these individuals commit themselves to the reclaiming of personal integrity.

In our search for good mental health and successful human relationships we would do well to consider the risks of lost integrity and the benefits of reclaimed integrity. Once gained personal integrity can be compromised or lost completely through inappropriate attitudes and actions. Once lost, personal integrity can be reclaimed through restoring its basic components. This reclaiming process is more effective when we understand both the meaning and the measure of integrity. In this article our focus is upon the meaning of integrity; the measure of integrity will be explored in a follow-up article.

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                               IntegrityIQCouple            “What’s your IQ?”

Have you ever been asked that question? If so, how did you respond? Without doubt you interpreted the question in reference to your intelligence. How smart are you? What is your intelligence quotient—your IQ? Since intelligence is important you might want to know just how smart you are.

To determine our IQ (that is, our Intelligence Quotient) we could complete standardized testing utilizing the Wechsler scales and a psychologist can interpret the results to measure our intelligence. The score might be high enough to place us in the “above average” or perhaps even in the “genius” category. If our IQ score falls in the top 2% of the population we might qualify for membership in Mensa International and join the 120,000 other geniuses from around the globe.

As important as intelligence is to most people there is another IQ that is of far greater value. That IQ is our Integrity Quotient. How much personal integrity do we possess? What is our Integrity Quotient? The process for measuring personal integrity is not as simple as the methods we use for measuring mental intelligence. Our Integrity Quotient cannot be measured by a typical Wechsler scale. We could measure integrity as a range from None to Low to Moderate to High. The level or degree of integrity obviously varies from person to person. In terms of measurement there is no perfection; no one gets a perfect score. There is always room at the top of the scale for additional growth. While personal integrity can be increased it can also be decreased—or lost entirely. We want to explore the growth of integrity, but first let’s consider the results that occur when personal integrity is lost.

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                               CompassionHeartTextFinal “How Can I Become More Compassionate?"

As he asked this question Thomas* struggled with a decision that would impact homeless people. The church he attended was planning a major relief project for homeless individuals living in the city’s downtown area. Thomas was trying to decide how much money, if any, to donate to the purchase of winter clothing and supplies for the relief effort. Intellectually, he believed that he should contribute to the cause; emotionally, he did not feel any measurable compassion for the homeless. In fact, sometimes he even felt critical of the homeless population, declaring that most of them could work and provide for themselves if they would become more self-responsible. In describing his struggles Thomas acknowledged that he had never been able to feel very compassionate toward people who were suffering from various losses or illnesses, yet he knew that, as a Christian, he was called to compassion. That’s when Thomas raised the question, “How can I become more compassionate?”

The lack of compassion for human suffering is not unique to Thomas. Many individuals in our contemporary world are much more likely to be critical than compassionate in regard to people who suffer with helplessness and homelessness. Other individuals are not openly critical but are basically apathetic; they simply don’t care one way or the other about needy people. Their response is not one of criticism but one of indifference. In contrast, many people today are characterized by genuine compassion, and their compassion calls and even compels them to provide help to people in need. The latter group is the one in which Thomas desired to have membership. He wanted to cultivate a heart of compassion.  

What about you? To what extent do you see yourself as a person with a heart of compassion? How interested are you in compassion development? Like Thomas, are you asking the question, “How can I become more compassionate?” Because you are reading this article I choose to believe that you are indeed interested in this important area of personal growth. We would all do well to examine the issue of compassion cultivation and then expand our capacity for healthy compassion.

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                               SecondChancesGiftHand “I Need a Second Chance."

How many times have we requested a second chance? Probably every time we’ve done something wrong. The sequence is one we know well. We make a big mistake. Our mistake results in a big mess. Our big mess leads to major misery. In the midst of our misery we consider our losses and we admit, “I need a second chance.” Because of our human weaknesses and shortcoming we are all in a desperate need for second chances. Without second chances life seems hopeless; with second chances there is hope for a better future. A second chance is a welcomed gift—the gift of starting over.

On a recent road trip I noticed a sign beside the highway that advertised an automobile repair shop. The name of the shop really caught my attention:  “2nd Chance Collision Repair & Custom Painting.” In my ponderings I imagined a new car that was involved in a major collision. Due to the extensive damage the insurance adjustor was tempted to “total out” the car, but the car requested a second chance. “Please take me to the 2nd Chance repair shop. Give me another chance. I don’t want to be totaled and dismantled for parts or sold as junk. I can be a good useful car if you'll just give me a second chance.” The car in SecondChancesAutoRepairquestion might have caused the collision or perhaps it was the unsuspecting victim involved in the highway crash. Either way the car was in major misery—and needed a second chance.

I also imagined the driver of the car in question. Perhaps he is seriously hurt with life-threatening injuries. Without medical attention he will die at the scene of the accident. However, he wants a second chance. The paramedics arrive, administer appropriate aid, and take the injured man to the nearest hospital where he undergoes emergency surgery. He survives the surgery and his life is spared. During the next few months he completes an extensive program of physical rehabilitation after which he returns to his normal lifestyle. This man wanted—and received—a second chance in life. Without doubt motor vehicle accidents cause a great deal of damage to both automobiles and people. For both cars and people the need for a second chance becomes a vital issue.

Human beings are very prone to crashes and collisions as they travel the Highway of Life. Through these wrecks lives are often abruptly altered and dramatically changed. Sometimes we cause the wrecks. At other times we are the innocent victims. Either way, damage is done and we need a second chance. But what if there is no second chance? What if we are allowed only one mistake and then we get “totaled”? What if we have to live by the “one strike and you’re out” rule? A “no second chance” lifestyle is not the preferred way to live. An effective journey on life’s highway requires hope, and hope is generated and sustained by a second-chance mentality and lifestyle.

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