But in between activities, she sags into the sofa in the cyber cafe and complains:
"I hate retirement! It's so boring!"
"I hate it here. Look out there: it's flat and dry and ugly and awful."
"It's so hot, I could die. I really could. This is disgusting."
This, of course, is her depression speaking. When someone is seriously depressed, it can take on a life of its own, perpetuating a way of thinking that maintains the dark mood.
One of the techniques of cognitive behavioral therapy interrupts the depressive cycle by consciously stopping negative thinking and then substituting positive thoughts, stopping the downward spiral.
Most of us don't struggle with the same overwhelming depression that Stephanie faces on a daily basis. But we can still turn boredom to excitement, a down mood to joy, monochrome to Technicolor just by reframing some of our thoughts and observations, giving them a positive twist.
Bob and I tried that just for fun during a 40 minute drive to the nearest movie theater and book store the other day.
The temperatures were hovering in the 110's and the humidity, thanks to an active monsoon season, was oppressive. "It's life-giving warmth!" Bob cried, opening the car windows and letting the hot air blast our faces. Normally, I would have recoiled. But the sense that this was life-giving warmth (instead of energy-sapping heat) made it not only bearable but also almost pleasurable.
We also surveyed the passing landscape: stark desert dotted with saguaro, sage and other Southwestern flora and fauna alternating with cotton fields, row after row of towering corn, dramatic mountains looming in the distance, a bright blue sky with billowing storm clouds building vertically all around the valley. Instead of thinking that we're seriously in the sticks here, that there is a beige theme to the landscape with only occasional interruptions of green and gold agricultural fields, with yet another monsoon storm on the horizon, we marveled at the vast open skies, the dramatic contrasts, the lack of traffic (for people who spent years commuting in Los Angeles traffic on the dreaded 405 of recent Carmeggedon fame, lack of traffic is a huge plus!). We were smiling at our great adventure when we finally arrived at our destination.
There are many different realties, after all. A place can be starkly ugly or starkly beautiful, depending on your point of view. Retirement can be a terrible bore or an unprecedented opportunity to do things you've always wanted. It can be the loss of all that was familiar or the blessing of freedom from past obligations. It's all in how you look at it.
We were in the community pool today when the talk came around to a few former neighbors who moved because they didn't like their immediate neighbors. Short of living next to a mass murderer, what could possibly possess people to sell their homes at a loss and move on in hopes of -- what? Finding the perfect neighbors by random luck?
It makes more sense to reframe some negative impressions. Do you have a neighbor who isn't especially friendly? Reframe it as someone who likes his or her privacy and doesn't wish you any harm.
Is a neighbor overly fussy about noise? Reframing the person as especially sensitive to noise can help soothe the irritation. Is a neighbor loud? Think exuberant instead. This can help your own mood and can also lead to more cordial relationships with your neighbors. Looking for the positive qualities of others instead of focusing on their faults can change how you feel about your immediate environment.
And if misunderstandings or hurt feelings happen, take positive action rather than let them simmer. A new neighbor Hank resolved a brewing misunderstanding with another one of his neighbors by showing up at their door and telling them how much he wanted to get along and enjoy living next to them. His positive attitude and courage in expressing his feelings has made a major difference. Peace reigns anew.
Reframing doesn't demand a major life change. It can mean little shifts in your thought patterns, exploring a different way of looking at everyday life.
It's a matter of loving what is -- not longing for what used to be or dreaming of finding your own personal Shangri-La complete with perfect weather, perfect neighbors and a perfect house where nothing ever goes wrong. Loving life as it is and as it happens can make you feel blessed with the joys and the imperfections alike.
Bob and I feel uniquely blessed -- with truly the best neighbors we could possibly have (that didn't take any reframing), a life that feels wonderfully free and full of possibilities, in sun-kissed (reframed from sun-baked) wide open spaces, with plenty of -- uh -- life-giving warmth.
Life is good, indeed!