Tuesday, December 31, 2013

18 New Year Resolutions That Will Actually Improve Your Life

We’ve arrived at that time of the year again: the arbitrary day when the calendar hits “1” and we all take time to reflect upon our lives; trying to determine where we’ve been and where we are heading.  We make New Year resolutions – vowing to make this the year we become rich and successful, or perhaps lose those 10 pounds we vowed to lose last year.

Goals can be a wonderful thing.  As the old saying goes, the shortest path between here and there is an intention.  The problem with New Year resolutions, however, is that they tend to revolve around existential things while furthering the illusion that happiness will be achieved only when such and such happens in our lives.  Just as soon as I meet my soul mate; once I get that raise; when I can fit into a size 6 dress … then I’ll be happy.

This way of thinking keeps us on a perpetual treadmill, enslaved to the idea that contentment is always just around the next corner, dependent upon some new opportunity presenting itself.  Such an attitude usually leaves one searching for happiness in all the wrong ways.  As Dr. Richard Carlson states in his book Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, “life, like an automobile, is driven from the inside out, not the other way around.  As you focus more on becoming more peaceful where you are, rather than focusing on where you would rather be, you begin to find peace right now, in the present.”  (Hyperion Press, 1977, p. 134)

So we’ve put together a list of new year resolutions that will actually improve your circumstances in the here and now, leading to a happier, less stressful life.  Even if nothing spectacular happens in the next 365 days, suggestions will ensure a lot more fulfillment in the year to come:

1. Throughout the next year, every time a frustrating situation arises, ask yourself: Will this matter a year from now?  If not, make a conscious decision to stress less about it.

2. Try to focus less on seeking the approval of other; which, ironically, tend to earn you more approval anyway.  The less concerned you are with proving yourself, the more favorable others see you.

3. Decide to stop stressing out in traffic.  It doesn’t get you there any faster, and it adds a lot of anxiety to your life.

4. Get in the habit of giving at least 3 compliments each day to people around you.  Not only will you feel better, but you’ll probably discover others treat you better, too.

5. Be more compassionate: Come up with a list of kind things both big and small that you plan to do in the next year (donate to charity, hold the door open for others, etc.).

6. Every time a problem arises, think of it as a test to be mastered rather than a crisis.

7. Stop judging other.  Not only is such a critical attitude unhealthy for your psychology, but you expend an enormous amount of time and energy doing it.

8. Forget about diets or numbers on a scale.  Just find ways to exercise more in ways that are enjoyable.  Not only will you lose weight, but it will boost your mood as well.

9. Learn focused breathing techniques to reduce stress.

10. Start meditating; thinking deeply about your life and what is important to you.

11. Stop and take time to notice the beauty all around you.  Pay attention to the little things you routinely ignore, and look at what’s familiar in a new way.

12. In the upcoming year, spend more time listening and less time trying to prove your point.  Seek to understand others before being understood yourself.

13. Be less of a perfectionist.

14. Spend more time this year doing absolutely nothing, and thoroughly enjoying it.

15. Start a gratitude journal, recording 3 things you are grateful for each day (or week, depending on how studious you are).

16. Try to relate to others more like a scientist.  See the innocence in their behavior, and rather than getting upset over hurtful actions, examine the situation like a researcher studying a pride of lions.

17, Set a goal of learning X-number of new thing this year WHICH CHALLENGE YOUR CURRENT BELIEFS AND WAY OF THINKING ABOUT THINGS.  The more flexible your thinking becomes, the less stress you’ll endure throughout life.

18. Be sure nothing important goes unsaid.  Pretend you only have an hour to live and can make only 1 call. Who would you dial and what would you say?  Why wait?  Make that call this New Years (or write a letter) and repeat as necessary until everyone important is covered.  You never know when it might be too late.

Family guidance and life issue resources by http://www.keepyourchildsafe.org/family-parent-child-help.html   or follow Twitter@GCFparents.

Friday, December 20, 2013

A Mixture of Sour & Sweet

"As I stir a big boiling pot of stuffed cabbage on my stove, I can picture the past as if it were yesterday: My sister, Debbie and I are spinning a dreidel and snacking on Hanukkah gelt, as my mother and grandmother work diligently in the kitchen.  (Grandma) sprinkles a dash of sugar into the pot of cabbage for sweetness and squeezes in just enough lemon juice to 'give it a kick.'

And I can't help thinking that 'life is like that ' -- sometimes sweet, sometimes sour, and always a challenge to blend both parts perfectly."

Quote from Sheryl Berk in Granny's Gifts, published in Chicken Soup for the Grandparent's Soul.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Man Who Would Rather Die Than Keep Shopping

 File this one under the strange but true heading: A man and his girfriend were perusing the stores at a mall while she shopped for shoes .  It had been 5 hours, and apparently he had had enough.  He complained to his her apparently to no avail.  When she insisted they keep shopping, he snapped; leaping over a railing and plummeting to his death.  Perhaps a bit of an overreaction . . . but then again, those mall music soundtracks can be annoying. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

Quantitative Easing: How the Fed is Making Your Family Poorer

If you watch the news at all, I’m sure by now you’ve heard the term quantitative easing. Yet most Americans have no idea what it is, and even fewer understand what it means for them and their family’s finances. We’ll do our best to make this boring subject both interesting and easy to understand, so you know what it means when it comes to your money.

Quantitative Easing (QE) is essentially a government stimulus program in which the Federal Reserve (the bank that controls the nation’s monetary supply) buys up $85 billion dollars each month in various financial assets. Since the Federal Reserve is the entity that creates money, they do this by essentially declaring such money into existence. Poof! Eighty-five billion dollars a month, thank you very much, have a nice day. It’s sort of like going to the mall with $1.00 in your checking account. But as soon as you got there, you decided to write in $85,000,000,000.00 as the balance, and this money magically appeared, because you possess the magic pen. Then you proceeded to spend that $85 billion buying up things from all the different stores. It creates a nice windfall for the mall. This is essentially what the Fed is doing. It’s creating money to buy stuff, which boosts the economy. There was the OE1 program, then QE2, and now it appears QE into the foreseeable future. This means a couple of key things for both your own finances and the state of the economy.

1. Creating free money undermines your own earnings
Let me ask you this: How many of you and your neighbor’s salaries would be wiped out by a charge of $85 billion? That’s how much the Federal Reserve has been cheapening the money in your own pocket on a monthly basis. The only reason you haven’t felt the full effects of it yet is because currency values are set by the marketplace. As of right now, with Europe in a mess, other nations faltering, and the unappealing prospect of parking your money in communist China, America appears to the cleanest dirty shirt at the moment. This has been keeping our currency stable and disguising the impact of the Fed’s money binge. But there is no such thing as free money, and a cost for all this stimulus will come eventually.

2. What Quantitative Easing says about the U.S. economy
Perhaps the more important issue is what this monthly IV injection into the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) says about the overall health of the American economy. You probably remember that $780 billion bailout package that Congress fought so bitterly about when the financial crisis first started. Yet as this fierce debate went on, behind the scenes the Federal Reserve was providing the banks with a bailout of many trillions of dollars. (The TARP, or Troubled Asset Relief Program, was installed to essentially buy up all these worthless loans and mortgages, putting the loss on the Federal Reserve and thus saving the banks.) The QE programs in the years since have continued this stimulus in a different way.

On an annual basis, Quantitative Easing equals $1.02 trillion dollars, or about 7% of the nation’s total economic output. Here’s where thing get really scary. During this time out economy has managed to eek out only a 1-2% growth rate each year. This means that absent this artificial stimulus, our actual growth (or lack thereof) may have been as bad as negative 5 or negative 6 percent . . . depression era numbers. It’s impossible to draw a direct correlation between QE and growth rates, but it’s certain that such a large influx of cash has not been insignificant.

A telling indicator of how dependent the markets have become on this money is that whenever the Fed even hints at the possibility that it might start scaling QE back the stock market tanks and the DOW drops 200 point or more. Keep in mind that this is not talk of eliminating the program, merely mentioning that it might be scaled back, perhaps to $80 billion a month instead of $85 billion.

 The normal reaction to this news is to get angry and blame the Big Bad Fed for screwing over the American people. But it’s important to remember that the Fed Created TARP so that you still had bank accounts and credit cards to use. Had they not, money would have frozen up, banks would have become insolvent, and we’d have seen a depression worse than the on in 1930’s – a Mad Mac-type collapse of all monetary institutions. They continue this QE stimulus program not because they want to, but in the hopes that it will keep the economy intact until it can stand on its own feet again. This, of course, assumes that our problems are temporary as opposed to structural, and that boom times are just around the corner. Returning to a high rate of growth would save the Fed from its gamble, allowing it to back out and unwind this stimulus without destabilizing the economy.

On the other hand, if boom times are not just around the next corner, then the easy money policies of the Fed are just postponing the inevitable and creating another massive bubble that is destined to pop. When it does, it will do so in a most painful way for the American people.

We are all affected because our money is worth less than it used to be due to these QE artificial injections. The tiny little raises most Americans have received in recent years can not begin to keep up. People on fixed income, like retirees, will continue to find that their savings don’t go as far.

Terms like “quantitative easing” were intentionally designed to confuse people so that the average American would have no idea what was going on. Hopefully, now you have a better understanding of what this program is and what it could mean for you and your family.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Does Your House Have Co2 Detectors?

Working smoke alarms are a must for any safety conscious parent, but many parents overlook another danger that also becomes more common at this time of the year: Carbon Monoxide Poisoning. Every year this invisible and odorless gas kills around 500 men, women, and children. Co2 detectors can be purchased at any home supply store. Make sure your house has them. Be sure to learn more about fire safety by visiting fire prevention devices for your home.