The Positive Power of Friendships

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Who are the people in your life that really know you? I’m talking about the ones with whom you have chosen to go deep and share your heart. You can count yourself blessed if you have even a handful of these “inner-circle” friendships in your entire lifetime.

Studies in positive psychology indicate that people who have one or more close friendships tend to be happier. The key word is “close” – not 300 Facebook friends, but rather a few close people in your life with whom you can share your feelings and enjoy activities together. It’s easy to feel lonely if your conversation only centers around impersonal topics. Real connections are felt on a deeper level where meaningful conversations take place.

In fact, sharing personal feelings with a close friend can play a major role in the relief of stress and even depression. To be sure, we don’t want to be that needy person who overshares and never cares about others. There is a beautiful balance of being vulnerable enough to share our own joys and sorrows, while on the other hand, caring for the needs of our friends and lovingly listening to their heart.

Studies also show that one of the best ways to enrich relationships and cultivate positive emotions is to express a genuine interest in what other people are saying and respond in an encouraging way. Dale Carnegie put it best when he said, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people, than you can in two years by trying to get people interested in you.”

The apostle Paul wrote, “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.” Jesus went further to say, “Love one another as I have loved you.” Jesus loved those around him with a grace-filled, servant-hearted love. He took a genuine interest in the needs of others as He walked this earth, and He continues to take a genuine interest in us.

How wonderful to know that we can have a real and personal relationship with Him! As we grow deeper in our love for Him, we tend to reflect His love in the friendships around us. May the relationships in your life, both with Him and with others, be a source of strength and joy to you personally.

 

This Blog is a part of my new series on “Increasing Happiness.” Each week we will look at studies on happiness and practical ways to experience it.

Photo by Bewakoof.com Official on Unsplash

Take the First Step

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A number of years ago we added a new dog to our home, but she was no small pup. She was a nine-month-old English mastiff named Bentley. Sweet, gentle, and loveable – Bentley was also extremely fearful. One day, she courageously followed me upstairs to the second floor of our house. That was all well and good except for the simple fact that she was too frightened to come down the stairs. She couldn’t seem to figure out how to navigate the first step.

Of course I wasn’t going to allow her to live the rest of her doggy life on the second floor of our house, so I tried to gently help her down. She wasn’t budging. All she wanted to do was sit and bark at the steps. After forty-five minutes of bribing, pulling and coaxing, she finally decided to take the first step down. (Where is the Dog Whisperer when you need him?) Once Bentley accomplished the first step, the second wasn’t too bad. Then the next and the next and finally she was running free on the first floor again! What a relief for both her and us! She obviously had the ability to go down the stairs safely; she just didn’t have the courage to take that first step.

Bentley’s situation made me think how often I nestle safely in my situation or resist moving forward because I just don’t know how to make the initial move. Sometimes I don’t know what to do, and sometimes out of fear of the unknown I prefer to just stay put. Instead of taking steps in a positive direction, it is sometimes easier just to sit and bark  – or in human terms, whine, complain or make excuses.

Maybe you are thinking of a new career direction or a book you want to write. Or you could be considering a volunteer opportunity or learning a new skill. Or maybe you need to break a bad habit or reorganize the house. For most of us, the first step is typically the hardest one, as well as the most significant.

Stop for a moment and consider the direction God is leading you, and think about what may be keeping you from moving in a positive direction. Are there fears you need to confront? Are you blaming others? Do you need to make changes in your schedule? Are there new skills you need to learn or a class you need to take?

Ask God to give you the courage to take that first step.

 Continue to take little steps day by day, and don’t let discouragement or fear get in your way.

 Like a precious toddler, there will be those times you are walking along and you begin to stumble. But just as a parent kindly reaches down and helps the toddler up to his feet, so the Lord is there with you, strengthening you and holding your hand. David put it perfectly when he wrote:

The Lord directs the steps of the godly.
 He delights in every detail of their lives.
Though they stumble, they will never fall,
 for the Lord holds them by the hand. Psalm 37:23,24

My friend, do you see the picture of the Lord’s graceful hand helping you up? Keep it in mind as you continue to journey step by step. You may not feel as though you have what it takes, but God can give you the feet you need for the journey ahead. He is strong where you are weak. He is sufficient and able to carry you. Take the first step toward positive growth and change, looking to Him for strength and guidance.

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This is an excerpt from Thrive, Don’t Simply Survive.

Blog Photo by Lindsay Henwood on Unsplash

 

Renegade Smiler

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This past week, I visited my grandson in Brooklyn to celebrate his second birthday.  As I walked the streets of New York, I became keenly aware that as a southern, smiley, blonde girl, I stood out like a sore thumb. From what I have gathered, the unspoken rule of engagement in New York is basically, don’t look at anyone and certainly don’t smile at anyone. Just move forward, walk briskly and don’t engage.

I smiled anyway! I suppose I shocked a few people, but I also detected some people were simply grateful for the connection. Several people managed to eek out a return smile, although I could tell they felt a little uncomfortable.

Humans need connection. A sincere smile can serve as a way to reach into the life of someone who feels lonely or discouraged or thinks that all the world is against her. When we smile, we reassure others that there is hope in the world. A smile speaks love, and can lift the heart of another.

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My grandson’s smiles were contagious, sweet and refreshingly honest. As I looked into his face filled with joy and laughter, I wondered how we as adults have come to lose our ability to smile so freely. Weren’t we created to smile? Aren’t we meant to share happiness with one another? Why don’t we do it? Are we bogged down with too many cares, worries and woes? Are distractions, self-centeredness or busyness the culprits?

I’m not saying we should garnish a fake smile; people can see through that in a New York minute (forgive the pun). We must be honest with our emotions, and if we need to cry, then cry. Trust me, I’m no stranger to grief and have done my fair share of crying over the past few months especially.

Yes, we need to grieve, but we must also look for opportunities to lift up others with a gift from our heart that stretches across our face. Studies show that when we smile, we actually increase the happy hormones in our brains. Make yourself happier, as well as those around you, by taking the two ends of your lips and moving them upwards. Share the love God has put in your heart, by blessing another person with the warmth of your smile. And by the way, you’ll look better too!

 

Photo by Kevin Rajaram on Unsplash

The Happiest Place on Earth

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I did it again! I rushed into my day, with a long list of things that need to get done, and I didn’t even think about seeking God’s guidance and direction, much less His blessings and help. Nope, I just jumped into my To Do list. Ironically, one of the top agenda items was to send out my prayer requests to my prayer warrior friends! Guilty again of asking other people to pray for something that I haven’t even prayed about personally!

But in all this rush, God kindly and tenderly drew me to His throne and reminded me that the happiest place on earth is spending time in His presence. What joy I experience when I fall on my knees, recognizing that the weight of the world is not on my shoulders, but on His.

What a comfort it is to come before Him and praise Him for

His majesty, sufficiency, truth and grace!

I need this divine fellowship every morning, as it offers a time of solace from my frenetic pace. On my knees, I listen for His guidance and ask for His direction. In this quiet meditation, He reminds me of His love and power. Oh the mighty work that is done as I ask for His help and pray against the schemes of the enemy!

I am reassured that I am not alone.

As I encounter people, or experience challenges or simply do the work in front of me, I can do it with enthusiasm. The word enthusiasm literally means inspired or God within (en theos). Could there be a better description of someone who has spent time with the Father and walks closely with Him throughout his or her day?

Let us be enthusiastic people! Let’s go forward with confidence, but let us begin on our knees, knowing that this is where we find our strength and hope.

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Adding Positive Habits to your Life

 

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Ah habits – some of them good and some of them not-so-good. Like it or not, our habits can have a significant impact on our success at work, our relationships and our overall health and well-being. What positive behaviors do you need to add to your regular routine in order to improve your life?

Habits can be defined as repeated, nearly automatic actions and are typically triggered by contextual cues. For instance, buckling your seatbelt when you jump into the car or listening to the news while putting on your make-up. In order to begin a new habit, we not only want to choose the new behavior, but also choose the situation, time and place in which this behavior will occur.

Prayerfully and thoughtfully consider what new actions you want to invite into your life. These may correlate with some of the goals which you have set for the year. Let’s say your goal is to grow spiritually over the next year, so you want to get in the habit of having a regular quiet time including prayer and meditating on His Word.

Begin by choosing a context for your new habit. In starting a regular routine for spiritual growth, you will need to think about a time and comfortable place where you can be alone. Planning is key, so keep a journal, pen and Bible in that area, then these tools are waiting for you when you arrive. Connect this new behavior with a situation or habit that you already do. For instance allow your first cup of coffee in the morning to be your cue or trigger to go to your special quiet place.

Make simple, incremental changes when you are adding new habits to your life. It may seem overwhelming to set aside a large chunk of time to read, study, meditate and pray. Ease yourself into your new routine by setting aside a shorter period (say 10 or 15 minutes) and then allow the time to grow as you develop the routine into your daily life.

Recognize that “enjoyment” is a key component to starting a habit. Perhaps initially, reading the Bible or trying to pray seems a little daunting or maybe it just doesn’t even seem fun to you. Add a favorite devotional book to your time – something that you can look forward to reading. For me personally, I add a routine of writing down 5 things for which I am thankful. This practice always makes me happy as I recognize the ways God is working in my life. Discover what delights your heart and add it to your new habit.

Creating habits requires determination and self-discipline, but it also has the reward of feeling a sense of accomplishment. Over time, habits become second nature and you don’t have to think about them anymore – they just happen! Most likely you have heard that it takes 21 days to form a new habit, but some research suggests a range anywhere between 18 to 254 days (yikes!). The good news is, studies also show that it only takes about two weeks for a new behavior to feel as though it is a part of your natural routine.

Don’t be discouraged – persevere, keeping your goal in sight. Always remember, you are not alone. Just as we can seek the Lord’s help in curbing negative behaviors and habits, we can also ask for His strength in establishing positive ones. As the apostle Paul wrote, “It is God who is at work in you both to will and to act according to His good purpose.”

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Looking for a new devotional for your quiet time? Check out Pursuing God in the Quiet Places which highlights the attributes of God.

Photo for this blog by Jenna Anderson on Unsplash