Chicken soup for a better life

Burbank, California; March,2003;
Joan Marques, MBA, Doctoral Student

With the increasing numbers of scares in today's world we can't help but find ourselves searching for some more meaning at work, home, or in any other segment of our social life. Progressively it seems that the end of times is getting closer. Skeptics among us will shrug and explain that issues such as the war in Iraq, the tension with North Korea, the SARS-threat, and the devaluation of human life in general are merely explanatory for the spirit of the age. Religious fanatics will relate it all to the long forewarned apocalypse. And the ones in the middle will just evaluate it, accept the things they cannot change -- Stephen Covey calls it "The Circle of Concern"-- and subsequently contemplate about possible ways to increase the value of their existence as well as they can -- Covey's implication of "The Circle of Influence".

Since there have been so many mental and emotional chicken soup recipes presented to the public in the past years, all pertaining to specific circumstances and relationships, I came up with one that may very well be applicable to all areas of our life: something like a one-size-fits-all principle. It's simply a list of mental and emotional ingredients we all seem to be searching for in our journey through time, whether it's in the work-environment, in our family circle, or in the loop of friends and acquaintances we encounter throughout our existence. This is what my chicken soup for a better life consists of:

* Connectedness: None of us wants to live on an emotional island. We want to feel that the ones we are involved with care for us like we care for them. We want to develop relationships consisting of positive vibes even when no words are spoken. The most constructive way to perceive our interconnectedness is through consideration of the following two quotes dating back to the sixties: "Our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future. And we are all mortal."--John F Kennedy, and "We may have all come on different ships, but we're in the same boat now."--Martin Luther King Jr.

* Happiness: "They say a person needs just three things to be truly happy in this world. Someone to love, something to do, and something to hope for."--Allan K. Chalmers. What else is really essential in the lives of all living creatures? Don't we all want to feel as if "we" make sense and as if what we do is worth our (and all-the-ones-we-care-for's) while?

* Inspiration: When the going gets tough, the tough get going. What the "tough" need to get going, however, is inspiration: a feeling of encouragement in doing whatever they consider themselves to be good at. If that is not there, we will be tempted to give up halfway and just settle for easy mediocrity. "All things are possible until they are proved impossible--and even the impossible may only be so as of now." --Pearl S. Buck

* Comfort: Although we are repeatedly taught not to get too comfortable with anything -- because change is happening much faster now than it used to -- we still need to feel that there is a certain core of reliability in our life. Without that feeling of comfort we will be like coyotes, hunting for our necessities, but chased away everywhere we show our face. "We seek the comfort of another. Someone to share and share the life we choose. Someone to help us through the never-ending attempt to understand ourselves. And in the end, someone to comfort us along the way."--Marlin Finch Lupus

* Kindness: The great Goethe once stated, "Kindness is the golden chain by which society is bound together." We lean on kindness more than many of us will admit. Just think of the effects of the smile you recently encountered from the store salesperson, the nurse, your child, or just a passer-by. Smiles are famous for making people's day, and for bringing more sun on one's way. Henry Burton explains it like this, "Have you had a kindness shown? Pass it on; 'twas not given for thee alone, Pass it on; Let it travel down the years, Let it wipe another's tears, Till in Heaven the deed appears, Pass it on." And Randolph Ray stresses, "Kindness is tenderness. Kindness is love, but perhaps greater than love. Kindness is good will. Kindness says, I want you to be happy."

* Empathy: The ability to place yourself in the shoes of another is invaluable on your way toward establishing good relationships. As a manager, for instance, your employees will trust you much more if you show them some concern for their whereabouts. But empathy works just as powerful among colleagues, friends, or family members, of course. "Some people think only intellect counts: knowing how to solve problems, knowing how to get by, knowing how to identify an advantage and seize it. But the functions of intellect are insufficient without courage, love, friendship, compassion and empathy."--Dean Koontz

* Naturalness: Words that are mentioned in close relation to naturalness are: spontaneity, artlessness, openness, sincerity, and lack of pretensions. This should paint a clear picture of the value of naturalness toward a good life. It all trickles down to being who you really are; quitting every presentation that is not your real self, for that will only drain you in the end. Being your natural self is effortless for you, and is positively recognized by the people that are in touch with you. Their intuition will detect the difference between a forced personality and a natural one, and they will give their trust and sympathy to the one that refrains from holding up a front. "Be natural. Everything unnatural has to be avoided. Don't do anything that is unnatural. Nature is enough - you cannot improve upon it." --Osho Rajneesh.

* Support: Lend a hand when and where you can, even if there is no immediate gain in sight. Today it is your neighbor's turn to ask for support; tomorrow it may be yours! You can support others in many ways, even if you're not very strong financially. Sometimes a listening ear or a consoling shoulder can perform miracles, for emotional support often reaches further and has a longer lasting effect than material one. "Note how good you feel after you have encouraged someone else. No other argument is necessary to suggest that (you should) never miss the opportunity to give encouragement." -- George M. Adams

* Optimism: Keeping a positive outlook on things may not be as easy as some explain, especially if you're laid off at work, if your partner leaves you, or if a dear one passes away. But lifting your head up after every downturn will gradually become a second nature, and things will look better after a while. Time heals all wounds, but it is your optimistic attitude that will shorten the time needed for healing. So, be an optimist, and fulfill Mark Twain's perception on it by becoming "a person who travels on nothing from nowhere to happiness."

* Understanding: "The noblest pleasure is the joy of understanding."--Leonardo Da Vinci. Your ability --or even just your efforts-- to understand others will encourage them to understand you. It's the ultimate reciprocity one can think of. Now, understanding the motives behind other people's actions is not always an easy task: sometimes it will require some intense digging, either into the other person's character or in your own, but the rewards will be worth your effort. People who feel you understand them will open up to you, will give you their best, and will cut you some slack when you land in a dip.

* Patience: A very hard one to obtain and maintain in today's hectic world. But some things just won't succeed without patience: the more we push, the less progress we seem to make in those cases. Patience may be the hardest lesson to learn for many of us, especially because it seems so contradictory to everything life personifies these days. Just remember, "Patience will achieve more than force" –Edmund Burke.

Sure! We can come up with more ingredients to be poured into the chicken soup for a contented life. But those can be labeled as extra spices. The above recipe should do for everyone who is in search for meaning. For meaning only comes when:

Understanding, and
Patience-- have earned a steady place on your list of priorities.

Have a bowl of chicken soup for a better life: it will make you feel great!