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Imaginative Outlooks

Optimism Do’s and Don’ts

optimism smile field girl

The Original Phoenix wrote a wonderful post recently called 4 Ways Positive Thinking Helps Me that got my wheels turning, particularly since she mentioned some articles that were critical of positive thinking. I had seen some similar anti-optimism articles circulating lately and have been wanting to address both sides of the coin. When I worked as a suicide prevention instructor, I had given a lot of thought to when and in what ways optimism is helpful and when it is not so helpful. I decided to compile a little guideline to optimism from what I had learned through work and also through personal research.

1.Do practice gratitude.

Studies have shown that practicing gratitude has a very positive effect on mental health along with tons of other benefits. I like to think of what I am grateful for when I wake up in the morning. It puts my stresses in perspective.

2. Don’t ignore your own feelings.

In America where I live, there can be this kind of expectation of optimism that sometimes makes it hard to NOT look on the bright side. Think about it: what’s the standard answer to the question, “How are you?” Do people really want to hear any answer other than “good?” But denying our own feelings isn’t helpful. We can be honest with our own feelings and still hope for a positive outcome in difficult times.

3. Do find the silver lining.

When bad things happen to us, it’s very easy to focus on what else could go wrong. I am guilty of this as well. While being prepared for the worst isn’t a bad thing, I do like to take a moment to ask myself, “what could go right?” What opportunities could come from a bad situation? What can be learned? How can this experience lead to growth?

4. Don’t be blindly optimistic when the consequences are high.

There are many times when it pays to be optimistic. When the consequences of failure are high, it doesn’t pay to be optimistic.* In other words, go into that job interview optimistic; what’s the worst that can happen? But don’t start up that full passenger jet plane with the check engine light on and hope for the best. Blind optimism in risky situations is not a good thing.

5. Do make optimism intentional.

It’s easy to fall into a rut of our traditional thinking and forget to be optimistic; I’ve certainly been there. That’s why I try to make time for optimism. Optimism can help  with ability to cope with stress, our social support, our health, our career, our longevity, and more* so there are a number of reasons why it pays to be a little optimistic besides just “feeling good.”

6. Don’t forget to wallow now and again.

Is there anything more cathartic than a good cry? When I was little and I would cry, my mom would read me the Owl at Home story about “Tearwater Tea.” Owl wants to make his favorite tea, so he thinks of sad things like broken chairs and forgotten spoons until he has filled up a teapot with his tears. As silly as it is, it’s a reminder that a good cry once in a while is important. Just make sure that wallowing is a place you visit on occasion, and not a place you live full-time.

7. Do defend your own personal boundaries.

Don’t let others tell you how you should or shouldn’t feel. You are feeling miserable today? Feel miserable. Feeling optimistic? Feel optimistic. Exploring our own emotions is a very personal journey and shouldn’t be invalidated by others. It’s okay to feel what you need to feel. Even this post; if you’re not feeling it today, it’s okay to say, “no thanks” and come back to it another time.

8. Don’t force optimism on others.

On the flip side, it isn’t helpful to force our feelings on others when they come to us for help. Truly listening involves accepting how someone else is feeling with no strings attatched. I have found that when we listen in a non-directive way, it is easier for people to talk through their own feelings and to find a solution that works best for them. Often this process leaves people feeling much more optimistic in the end than if we try to force them to feel how we feel about a situation.

I hope this has been a helpful guide to optimism. And speaking of gratitude, thanks to The Original Phoenix for the inspiration. Be sure to check out her blog for posts about mental health, college life, and the power of human potential.

Source: Positive Psychology: Theory, Research and Applications, by Kate Hefferon and Ilona Boniwell

Enchanted Spaces: Bedroom Reveal

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This is the second room on my Enchanted Spaces journey, where I focus on one room of my house from the aspect of a fantasy novel and ask what that perspective can teach. I am also, incidentally, bearing in mind a different climate for each room in my house. The climate for my bedroom is forest.

Now, confession time: the bedroom is small, has inconvenient storage space, and is just not functional for our needs. It is often frequented by more piles of clothes and such than I can keep track of, even with a very minimal wardrobe. But today it is CLEAN!

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Plain white comforter (easier with a dog); Faux fur blanket I got for Christmas this year

So, forests. In fantasy literature, forests represent both a barrier and a place of transformation. There is a sense that, if you dare to enter into the forest, you will not come out of it the same. It is also a place of ancient wisdom that sometimes takes on a sentience of its own. I like the idea of having the place I sleep be a forest because to me, dreams are also a place of transformation, and represent that barrier between the conscious mind and the unconscious, the known and the mysterious. There is also this sense of tapping into a deeper, older wisdom as I sleep.

I would love to take this transformation further with a trickling fountain, evergreen-scented candles, a moss-style rug, and a deep blue ceiling painted with stars. However, I like slow decorating and I’m not a fan of big, fast, elaborate transformations or designs that are overly “themed.” For now, I settled on a new purchase of a whimsical pillow cover. Isn’t it sweet?

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There are so many fantasy stories about going into the forest that it’s hard to choose, but at the risk of stating the obvious, I have decided to focus not on a book, but on the musical, Into the Woods. In particular, there is a line that Little Red Riding Hood sings:

Into the woods where nothing’s clear, where witches, ghosts, and wolves appear.

Into the woods, and through the fear you have to take the journey. 

There are so many journeys out in the world that we can be afraid of taking, but truly, some of the toughest journeys happen from within. That is why I like to consider my dreams from time to time. I recently read that dreams help us to create new patterns and associations and to simulate things together that we might not connect with our conscious minds. In that sense, dreams may help us to live more imaginatively and to forge new paths, which can help with problem-solving.

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Other side of room; husband’s dresser and extra side table for storage

So tonight, I invite you to consider your sleep not as an annoying seven to eight hours of necessary checking-out, but as an opportunity to take a journey through the deepest forest of your mind and to find what inner wisdom may be there.

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My mom’s owl, hand-carved jewelry box, illustrated edition of The Hobbit
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Dog crate with quilt covering, extra boxes for clothes
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Cabinet with grandma’s quilts
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My dresser for clothes; I have a few hanging clothes in the hallway also
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My jewelry boxes; top was my mom’s; bottom a gift from my husband
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Print of my mom’s; re-framed in re-claimed barnwood
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Rewined Candles, my favorite!
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Sweet little birdie lamp from my childhood bathroom
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My hanging jewelry
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My bedside table, with my (ahem) favorite mug

Bonus: Somewhere in this bedroom, Wooly Bully, the mischievous trouble-making hedgehog, is hiding. Can you find him?

For more on my “stuff story,” check out this post on the guilt box. And if you missed it, check out my living room reveal.

Source: Encyclopedia of Fantasy: Forest

Creatures and Happiness: Gumiho

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Japanese Kitsune

I have heard it called a few different names: gumiho (Korean), huli jing (Chinese), kitsune (Japanese), kyuubi (also Japanese). It is a fox spirit of East Asian origin. Often having nine tails, the gumiho is thought to have originated from a fox that has lived thousands of years and had accumulated lots of energy and thus, became very powerful. Their moral intentions, however, were ambiguous, and thus the gumiho was a creature to be wary of, as they were thought to have the ability to shape-shift into beautiful women in order to seduce men and possibly eat them.

In today’s gumiho stories, often a person has the gumiho spirit within them, either as a separate entity or as a deeper power that can be drawn upon. This person, then, is a person of deep conflict.They want to be accepted by their society, and yet, their society is wary of them. They want to embrace their own inner power, and yet they are fearful of it as well, partly because they know how different it makes them, and partly because they want to be a force for good, not evil.

So, today’s post is for those who feel different, I mean really different, for those who are struggling to embrace themselves as they are and to find their own greatest strength. Yes, to clarify, there is great strength in togetherness, too, and I do not think we should seek to be individualistic and ignore the thoughts of others merely for the sake of standing out or getting attention. At least, this extrensic goal of raising ourselves to new heights at the expense of others will never make us happy. However, being human has nothing whatsoever to do with an ability to blend in, to follow paths that others have taken, or to suppress our own innate differences. There is a lovely quote from one of my favorite gumiho tales, Gu Family Book: 

“What determines your humanity is not the blood that flows inside you, but your decision and willingness to live a good life.”

So get out there, my friends. Show your inner “tails” today. Use them for good. Be a powerful, positive force in the world. Your inner gumiho will thank you.

I had originally decided to just do this Creatures and Happiness series leading up to the premiere of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, but I am having so much fun with it that I’ve decided to make it an ongoing thing. So, if there is a creature you would like to see me cover, the floor is still open.

Daily Gratitude: Imagination

lightbulb-imagination

Today I am grateful for imagination. Isn’t it a beautiful thing? It allows us to go beyond the now and to ask so many amazing questions: What if? What could be? Can it happen? Is it possible? I wonder why?

Without imagination, we would probably all be sitting in caves somewhere. We would have never thought to pick up a tool or stand on our hind legs. Perhaps we wouldn’t be able to dream at all. Imagination, in essence, is what makes us who we are, and I am so grateful to have it.

What are you grateful for?

Chatting with Fear

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I once wrote a poem that started with, “What is fear but the unnamed, unexplained, unappreciated monster, the bump outside our fortress in the dank, dark night, the tickling, prickling of our feet as we dog-paddle across the deep, dragon-infested waters of the unknown?”

It was a silly poem, but fear is arguably the most vulnerable emotion, is it not? At the least, it is hand-in-hand with love. We would much rather shove it in a corner, cover it up, push it down, than admit to it. However, it is only in admitting to it that we can accept our fear for what it is.  So many other more complex emotions are largely a mask to cover up that scary emotion called fear.

What is hatred or bigotry but fear of the unknown, the different, the “other?”

What is anger but fear of losing the ones we love or fear of being unloved ourselves?

What is complacency but fear of change?

What is arrogance but fear of rejection or failure?

What is anxiety but fear of what could go wrong?

Today, I invite you to invite your greatest fear into your home, sit it down, and serve it some metaphorical tea and cookies. Listen to what it has to tell you. Don’t try to hide it, change it, or move past it. Not today. Just let it be, and accept it for what it is. In listening to it, you may find a beautiful truth, something you never knew about yourself because you were too afraid to find out.

Creatures and Happiness: Dragons

img_1152In anticipation of the premier of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, I am excited to reveal my new series, Creatures and Happiness, where I will examine the symbolism of magical creatures and what they can teach us about our own wellbeing. First up: Dragons!

I love dragons and could talk all day about the different things they symbolize. Today I will talk about one of their less-thought-of attributes: the attainment of wisdom. Dragons are often portrayed as particularly cunning. They love riddles and tricks. They are also, of course, very dangerous. To meet with a dragon is a great risk, but it is also an opportunity. Defeating a dragon takes a lot of courage and a lot of brainpower. In short, it is a chance to find one’s inner strength and see the full extent of what a person is made of.

The dragon, thus, can be seen as a trial. On the other side of that trial is a stronger, wiser person: the kind of person who has had the courage to face their greatest fears. To best a dragon is to grow as an individual into a stronger self, to shed one’s old skin, so to speak, and step into a new self.

Is there a dragon in your life that you have been avoiding because it is scary or involves taking a risk? Think of it this way: the stronger, wiser “you” is waiting on the other side of that dragon. And let’s face it: that person is pretty awesome. So, perhaps this is the week to strap on your sword and get to it. Your dragon awaits, as does the hero you will become by facing it.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Fantasy: Dragons

 

Changes

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I’m so thrilled to introduce my new blog, The Enchanted Outlook. Please feel free to take a look around. If you followed my former blog, Magic Behind the Morning, you can expect similar content from this blog, but with a more streamlined approach and, of course, a new look. (If you have yet to follow me and would like to, you can do so in either the right-hand toolbar or bottom of screen.)

I have been thinking a lot about changes lately. I think change is something we like to embrace in theory, but struggle with when it comes to the actuality of it. This has been a year of changes, both in my personal life and in the world at large. Some of those changes have been very difficult. Others have been joyful. Regardless of type, it is only too easy to view all change as a threat. We worry about what could go wrong, which leads our imaginations down a deep rabbit hole. There is a time to think of what could go wrong. However, lately, to try something new, I have instead been trying to first ask myself what could go right. What are the possibilities? What challenges can be conquered? What progress can be reached? What joys can the change bring? What can be learned?

Sometimes, even the very toughest transitional periods hold within them the seeds of wonderful things to come. It is up to us to see those small seeds of promise, water them, and encourage them to grow.

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