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‘Stop Whining, Start Living,’ by Dr. Laura

Dr. Laura Schlessinger agrees that there are things worth whining about, but staying stuck in whining mode can become a lifelong problem. This is where Dr. Laura steps in with “Stop Whining, Start Living” to help folks conquer the temptation to retreat from living life to the fullest. Here's an excerpt:

Introduction
“There is, I believe, no such thing as unconditional self-acceptance. Those who say so are promulgating a pernicious lie. One must first live a decent, honorable and productive life. Only then do you get to feel good about yourself.

Seeking to heedlessly gratify your desires or impulses of the moment to do things (or fail to do things) your conscience knows to be contrary to your standards of right, worthy and virtuous behavior is, in a mental, emotional and spiritual sense, akin to spending capital that you have not earned, and therefore will eventually cause you to feel very negatively … about who and what you are. You cannot in the long run have your cake and eat it too. The longer … you behave in certain ways, the more it comes to define you, not only to others, but also to yourself.”

Robert, one of my listeners, sent this to me with a note, “Thank you for helping me to learn this lesson of life.” It makes me quite proud to read and hear that folks have learned certain values from me that have given their lives some contentment, direction, or purpose. I have long thought that the ultimate meaningfulness of our lives comes from fulfilling our obligations to others.

For most of us, “others” means friends, family or colleagues. But what if, as in the case of Robert and me, you are total strangers? How does one become obligated to a stranger? Who is a stranger? Is the person behind you in line at the grocery store or gas pump a stranger to whom you owe nothing? Does that mean you are free to take advantage of your opportunity to dominate his or her time and resources, or be otherwise disdainful? Some people seem to get an actual rush from those stolen moments of pseudo-importance and power.     All strangers, though, are people like you. Have you seen the commercial where individuals see strangers doing good deeds, and then in their turn do something for another — and so it keeps going? Not knowing someone’s name doesn’t mean you don’t matter to them or they to you. Look at every human being as an opportunity to advance humanity and add something positive to the resume of your life.     Does that moment’s emotional high from the anonymous win of one-upsmanship last? No, it generally doesn’t. By the time you get home or to work, you’re probably in a worse mood. Why? Ugly sentiments breed uglier feelings and the inevitable downward spiral continues.     Too many people think that feeling good comes from competition, from beating someone else out for something, be it a parking space or an inheritance, or gaining an edge over someone,  be they siblings, coworkers, even spouses and children. These are mentalities that drive people deeper into despair because although these “wins” might mean momentary glee, the deeper needs for admiration, love, and respect are never met.     You cannot demand or grab love or respect. Demanding it will result only in resentment, fear, or dislike — even hatred. Grabbing it will not satiate your innermost desires for loving connections, given openly and without reservation. And, that which you grab or demand will not have the mirror on the wall reflect back what you need to see.    You don’t deserve anything you haven’t earned. And a lot of what you get that is challenging, unpleasant, or horrific wasn’t earned either. The key to a satisfying life is to strive toward the former, and survive the latter with your humanity intact. That, my friends, is not easy.    John, another listener, wrote, “Long ago I discovered that life is a day-to-day process. Life has its BMW (Bitch, Moan and Whine) days, and its days of joy. The bumper sticker, ‘S**t Happens,’ is a reflection of reality. One of God’s little jokes is that you don’t get pretty flowers without feeding them the proper amount of excrement, not too much and not too little.     “I found that the quality of my life very much depends on what I focus on and the environment that I choose. It is difficult to be negative when you make the choice to be around positive people.     “The key is choice. Are there days of profound depression? In my life, yes. Then I hear one of my trainers shout ‘GOYA’…Get Off Your ‘Anatomy’ — and do something about it. Sometimes doing something about it takes support, and sometimes I can do it on my own.”     Open up the newspaper or turn on your computer any day, page after page and blog after blog about death, mayhem, murder, betrayal, vicious reputation and personal attacks, lies, dirty politics, injustice, Hollywood stars undermining our government, ethnic cleansings, assassinations of the innocent, daily rapes and murders of mothers and children, hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes claiming lives in an instant, dictators fomenting terror, and the like. It makes one wonder, “What is there to be happy about?”     Patricia submitted her answer to my radio program, “My mother and father-in-law taught me that life is for the living and we should never whine about how bad we had it or have it. They lived through the Depression and my mother-in-law had three bouts of cancer (breast, vaginal, colon) and is still alive and cancer free but in a nursing home with macular degeneration, osteoporosis, and angina. But, every time we visit, she asks about our day, what’s new? how is the weather? … never complains about anything. She is 88 and still conquering.     “My father-in-law died 2 years ago with Alzheimer’s. Until the end, even when he could hardly swallow, he kept trying to help. If you came to visit, he put his drink up and pushed it towards you offering you a drink — still in some small way trying to be of use.     “He was 86 when he died peacefully with his son and myself by his side. His funeral was the best attended I’ve ever seen, with people talking about how he always helped them and total strangers who were in need. God bless.”       When I first read Patricia’s letter, I choked up. Quite frankly, it is truly difficult to imagine being the slightest bit easy to get along with, cheerful about anything, caring about anyone, when you’re suffering so very much. When I’m confronted on my radio show by a caller who is clearly going through a non-voluntary hell, asking me why they should even bother with anyone or anything, I fall back onto two flowers from the cesspool of the Holocaust: the Righteous Gentiles (Christians who risked their lives, and those of their children and relatives to save Jews from the Nazi death camps) and the known acts of compassion by concentration camp victims who shared their last scrap of food with someone who was soon to die anyway, or who tried to observe their religious rituals in an environment which would seem to deny the Divine.      You would think that in these circumstances, personal survival would be paramount. And, of course it is … but not to the exclusion of what makes that survival meaningful: one’s humanity and compassion for others — which ultimately precludes anyone from being a stranger.     Our Country is putting the lives of American military at risk to liberate  people from tyranny in the hopes of building democracies which respect their neighbors and the value of life – ultimately protecting Americans. Our Police and Fire Fighters put their lives on the line everyday to protect the innocent. There are no strangers — just opportunities for blessings — blessings, though which come at a price.     Sometimes that price is quite difficult to handle. Most of the time, though, people underestimate their ability to face pain. You can’t watch five minutes of television without seeing an ad for some medication for the quick eradication of pain: physical or emotional.  A profound clinical depression may be medical, but sadness, fear, disappointment, embarrassment, loss, frustrations, etc., are just a part of normal life, and need to be endured as a feeling, and approached with solutions, if possible.     Rebecca commented on this issue, “You took a call from a 23-year-old struggling with life’s relatively minor disappointments and was using anti-depressants to cope. You asked her how she was going to deal with REALLY hard things. You also commented on how her generation has grown up thinking sadness is a disease. I wanted to tell you I fully agree with your opinion on this.     “On July 10, 2007, I went in for a routine prenatal appointment. I was 10 weeks pregnant. I went by myself and my husband was at home watching our 2 girls. It was at this appointment I learned my baby had died. My baby died at 9 weeks, 3 days on July 4th.       “I have seared on my brain the picture of my baby perfectly still with no heartbeat. When I close my eyes it’s all I can see.  On July 13th I had a D&C because my body failed to miscarry my baby. This has sent me into a tailspin. On July 21st, I went in for a 1 week checkup to see how I was doing. They asked me how I was doing emotionally and I told my Doctor, ‘Horribly.’ She then said, ‘You know, it’s very common for women to have to go on anti-depressants temporarily to cope with this loss.’ I have thought a lot about this comment. I came home and told my husband what she said and he responded with, ‘You know, that’s the problem with our society. Everyone wants a quick fix and everyone wants you to be over it quickly. Don’t they understand that it takes time to heal and you have to mourn?’     “I have a friend whose adult daughter died in a car accident. Her Doctor immediately put her on anti-depressants. I actually met her about 2 months after he daughter died and thought she seemed too well composed for the magnitude of the loss. About a year later she demanded to be taken off the anti-depressants. You know what? She finally grieved her daughter’s death.  All the medication did was delay her grief.     “You are right, Dr. Laura, we have to feel ALL the feelings, not just the good one’s. When someone dies or we lose them for some other reason, we grieve, and in the end that process makes us stronger.    

“As for me, I am thankful for the two girls I have been given. I don’t understand yet why God took my littlest angel and I will probably always wonder. Right now I cry at night so my children won’t have to watch me. I haven’t gone a night without crying. But I honestly would not want it any other way. My emotions and my tears validate that my baby was a person.”     Most people, with time and support, survive all sorts of outrageous fortunes. For those who ultimately can’t, medical and psychological treatments may be helpful. I believe, though, that we should raise our children, as we did in the past, with stories of strangers and notables overcoming adversity as motivation and role-models. My aunt, Lucia, whom I’ve never met, is mine.  My aunt and mother were very young women during WWII in Fascist Italy under Mussolini. The Nazi SS were all over northern Italy, specifically Gorizia, their home town. My aunt Lucia joined the underground to fight with the Allies. Unfortunately, that rebel cell had been discovered by the SS, and the day Lucia joined, she was caught, lined up with the others against a wall, and shot down.       I heard this story when I was a very little girl. At the time I heard it, it had little meaning for me outside of an interesting story about my mom’s past. As I grew up and experienced more and more confusion and pain in life, the story would come back to me time and again as if to hold my head above the water. “I come from sterner stuff,” I’d remind myself, “than to cave in under this.” I’d think of my Aunt’s willingness to put her life on the line to go up against murderous fascists and Nazis, and I’d be humbled and energized.     Lisa’s story brings up the issue of endurance, “My dad was in WWII and Korea. My mom was in the British army for 3 years. My mom’s brother was a fireman who was killed in the bombings. I think one of the greatest things I learned from my parents is you do what you have to do when you have to do it. My mom lived with bombs going off all around her and my dad had to, among other things, bring home the dead soldiers to their families.     “They didn’t have time to collapse and think about how distraught they were. Things had to be done and they did them. They didn’t spend years on the Psych’s couch (I’m NOT knocking people who NEED therapy). They just did what they had to do. Great life lesson for me. They were truly the greatest generation.”     Not everyone comes from a family with spirited and inspiring stories. Some of you grew up surrounded by perpetual sadness, anger, bitterness and negativity even about the “good stuff.”  Of course that will make it difficult for you to do other than what you’ve been indoctrinated into; difficult does not mean impossible. First you must have the awareness that embracing suffering is a learned response, a habit.    Vani came to that awareness, and it freed her up to actually experience happiness without guilt or fear: “Once I realized I wanted to just BE HAPPY instead of continuing the family pattern I had grown up with, I decided to shut up, DO the right things, and focus on the blessings in my life instead of what was wrong. I believe happiness is a habit — not a circumstance.     “The two main things that have helped me make this transition in my life is my faith in God and my fight to always keep a positive attitude no matter what. I have to repeat myself: HAPPINESS IS A HABIT.”     Let me express Vani’s point in another way. You know those ink-blot pictures? Well, you can focus on the dark, or you can focus on the light. Whichever you focus on will give you a different picture. You never stop being aware of the dark — in fact you check it out quite carefully. But, ultimately, you have the choice of which picture to use to discern the picture to report. Even if the light and the dark are distributed 50/50 — you still get to choose. Even if the dark overwhelms the light — you still get to choose.     You’ve all seen movie scenes with a death of somebody absolutely beloved. Everybody is crying and suffering. One person says, “Well, at least s(he) is no longer suffering, and we all have largely wonderful memories of a loving relationship that we can share with each other for the rest of our lives.” Generally, hugs ensue, complete with tearful grins. The dark is still there but, illuminated by the light, it doesn’t seem quite as dark as a moment ago.     There is hardly an experience in life that doesn’t have a dark side. It becomes a daily struggle to fight against the mesmerizing pull of the dark, and when the dark side keeps its edge, you lose appreciating the texture and joy of living.     Another listener wrote, “You can only sit there for so long and whine and whine. It gets so tiring on both sides to make everything so dramatic all the time. Who has the time or energy?  Life is too short for all the drama.”     I take a lot of time in my book, Bad Childhood Good Life, explaining how sadness and hurt can trap us into a mindset of hopelessness. Suffice it to say, we all want to feel good, but we don’t all know how to do that when we’re suffering. And sometimes the suffering becomes our way of life and relating to others, in the hope that their ministering to us will erase the facts that pain us. It doesn’t work and we get trapped.     I talk every day to innumerable people caught in this web; they want to feel good, but giving up the suffering becomes frightening, as it has been their reality for so long. They’ll struggle against my recommendations and lament that others seem to be abandoning them, tired of the whining, which instead of being a signal for change, merely becomes another reason for sadness.     Convincing people from this background that it is actually possible to be happy, in spite of real problems — past and present — is quite a challenge. It is a beautiful thing to see someone move from a vantage point of complaining about circumstances, to making that lemonade: “I will be a Stay-at-home mom in 30 days,” writes Linda, a listener. “Honestly, I couldn’t do this until I stopped the whining, rehashing, complaining, suffering about being a mother and realized it was a blessing and something I wanted to do full-time.     “How did I get here? First, I stopped hanging around women who were SAHMs and miserable and complaining.     “Second, I fought off the last remnants of my feminist days that told me that my husband could and would leave me and I had to be strong enough and ready to take care of myself. He deserved for me to have faith in him as he never showed my otherwise.”     “Lastly, I slowed down time and took my focus off having a perfectly clean house. My focus is now 100 percent on my husband and kids. Supportive, positive friends are the only ones I have any of my precious time to share with.”    What put Linda in perspective of the “light” was a realization that she was stopping herself from enjoying the very thing she wanted to do — largely for the sake of peer pressure and “feminista” negativity over femininity, motherhood and home-maker. This took immense courage since the defensive response of her old friends is was probably ostracism and attacks.     Some people don’t come to this awareness all by themselves, they have to be pushed by a real friend. Many callers profess being a good or even best friend to someone they are not truthful with at all. They are actually more concerned with losing the friendship than being a true friend: someone who will risk the loss of the relationship to help the other move from the dark to the light side.

Fortunately, Candace had a good friend, and trusted her enough to listen and learn: “My best friend since childhood said (when I was 20), ‘You say you hate how your mom complains and is so critical yet you are just like her!’ Talk about a stab thru the gut! It made me think of Proverbs 27:6, ‘Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.’     “I knew she was right — after the shock of hearing that and having to come face-to-face with the truth, but it was a turning point in my life.     “I designated a year to concentrate on thanking God for EVERYTHING big and small. It didn’t matter if it was a particularly beautiful dandelion growing thru a crack in a city sidewalk — I forced myself to pray and thank the Lord for that weed. It proved a pivotal decision and completely changed my life.     “People have told me they wished they could be as positive and happy as I am. My cup is truly half full. I try to continue to always thank God for the small stuff as I now raise my three daughters with the constant message, ‘nothing is a problem, its only an opportunity.’”     Some of you reading Candace’s “cup half full” perspective probably think that this sort of Pollyanna-like thinking isn’t real, possible, or sustaining. Well, you’re right. At any one moment even Candace can slip into despair — but her experience with gratitude to God gives her somewhere to go before her pain causes her to set down roots on the dark side.    No matter what you’ve suffered or continue to suffer, while you are alive you have opportunity to get something from this life — and I’m going to do my best to help you with that.     I believe I am very qualified to help you do this as I am a trained, experienced, licensed psychotherapist (Marriage and Family Therapy) with over thirty years of helping people, first in private practice, and mostly through my daily radio program — but more so, I know of what I speak as this has been my torturous journey also. I came from a family of much negativity and unhappiness, and it has been a difficult transition from being angry and scared a lot of the time, having to be perfect or punished, fearing all disappointments and failures were terminal, to being freed up enough to admit that to you, dear reader!     Cassie once emailed me with her quote of the day ..: “The people and circumstances around me do not make me what I am, they reveal who I am.’ That quote is from Dr. Laura Schlessinger.” While I was most pleased to see myself quoted, I kept this as a reminder to myself. Hopefully this book will be that for you.

Blessings,Dr. Laura Schlessinger

Excerpted from "Stop Whining, Start Living" by Dr. Laura Schlessinger. Copyright 2008 Dr. Laura Schlessinger. Reprinted with permission of HarperCollins. All rights reserved.

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