Encouraging Words for Unhappy Times

October 12, 2020

I’ve been in a very dark place recently. Even though I avoid click bait and the most outrageous headlines, it’s impossible not to see how much suffering and hardship people are experiencing right now. I’ve been going about my day-to-day life feeling like an elephant is sitting on my head.

In times like these, when I finally pull myself off the floor and hunt for ways to feel better, I often turn to the written word. I have books with tape flags, a stack of 3 x 5 cards inscribed with favorite quotes, and if that’s not enough, I also have the search engines of Internet at my fingertips. Last week, I turned to them all.

Here are a few encouraging words/thoughts/mantras that have been helping me hold on, followed by a few of my own thoughts. I hope you find them encouraging, too. Please feel free to forward and share these with others if you feel they could help.

“If there is a solution to the problem, there is no need to worry. If there is no solution, there is no sense worrying, either.” The Dalai Lama

I’m prone to worry even in the best of times. These words remind me that worrying is a useless exercise. It doesn’t—cannot—solve any problem and only serves to exhaust me mentally and emotionally.

“Remember that things can change for the better.” Action for Happiness Optimistic October 2020 calendar

Huh. Sometimes change is for the better. Sometimes I forget that.


“The world is broken. It was broken long before I arrived and will continue to be so long after I’m gone. The only thing I can do is control how bright my own light shines.” A friend

One bad day, I was sharing how emotionally overwhelmed and sad I was feeling with a close friend. These words of her response stood out for me and comforted me. I’m not in charge of the world (thank goodness) but I am in charge of myself.

“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”

Marcus Aurelius

So true. It’s not the thing happening causing me pain, it’s my response. Too often my response is worry/anxiety/negativity.

“We tend to look for the whys when bad things happen—why did this happen to me? What did I do to deserve this? But if we can reframe it, we can take back the power—How can I make this better? How is this making me stronger? The answers don’t come immediately, but they will come when you’re ready to hear them.” Susannah Conway

OK, maybe I’m ready to hear them?

Two quotes from Pema Chodron:

“Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing.  We think the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved.  They come together and they fall apart.  Then they come together again and fall apart again.  It’s just like that.  The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen:  room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”

Things are certainly falling apart right now. I will try to allow all this to happen, and to remember to leave room for joy also.

“Times are difficult globally; awakening is no longer a luxury or an ideal.  It’s becoming critical.  We don’t need to add more depression, more discouragement, or more anger to what’s already here.  It’s becoming essential that we learn how to relate sanely with difficult times.  The earth seems to be beseeching us to connect with joy and discover our innermost essence. This is the best way that we can benefit others.” 

My new goal: “relate sanely with difficult times.”

And lastly, a wish I saw recently on a bumper sticker:

“I hope something good happens to you today.”

I really DO hope something good happens for you today.

What are some encouraging words that are helping you?



Being present

This Moment

August 06, 2018


I’m an expert at worrying. About the future. About what might happen.

But in this moment, I’m OK. My loved ones are OK. Sure, there will be times when this isn’t the case. But not this moment.


All my worrying, my complaining, maybe my problem is not noticing and being grateful for this moment. This moment is a gift—that’s why it’s called the present.

Hurry, distraction, multi-tasking—these are the enemies of presence and peace.

I want more presence and peace.

Instead of constantly searching for something bright shiny new (shopping, reading yet another self-help book, etc.) to distract myself from uncomfortable feelings I’m practicing appreciating, caring for, and savoring the many gifts I already have.

Will you join me today in stopping to breathe and appreciate where you are? All the things that work in your life? Let all the worries for the future go—poof! Maybe even make a list of 10, 15, 100 things you love about your life right now. Summer is a good time for slowing down to appreciate this moment.

What do you notice when you become present in the moment? What’s best about your life right now? What would you like to change? Please share in the comments!

Life lessons from the barn

Life Lessons From the Barn--Relax Your Mind

March 12, 2018

I rode Tank on Saturday while a lesson was taking place, and I heard the trainer call out one of my favorite expressions to one of the students: “Relax your mind.”

I’ve heard her use this phrase often, usually when a student is stretching outside her comfort zone and becoming uptight about it. In riding, if you’re anxious about taking a jump, for example, your horse will pick up on it and might refuse the jump, or spook at it. After all, if you’re worried about it, there must be something to worry about…

So much of horseback riding—and life—depends on our mental states. Our anxiety levels, expectations, intentions, our ability to let go of fears and worries. It’s all too easy to get worked up about specific situations, or even life in general, until our minds resemble spinning hamster wheels of thoughts (I’m especially prone to this at around 3:15 a.m.).

The antidote?

Relax your mind.

It’s a good skill to learn, and one that I’m still working on. Here’s what I do when I remember to relax my mind:

  • Stop holding my breath and start taking deep, slow breaths. This sends a calming message to my nervous system.

  • Unclench my muscles, releasing physical tension.

  • Open my eyes, ears, heart, and mind to the entire situation—i.e., stop staring intently at whatever I’m worried about, expecting it to blow up in my face.

When I’m able to relax my mind, the outcome is always better, even if it’s not ideal. 

How would you follow the direction to “relax your mind”?


Four Ways to Reduce Anxiety and Worry

January 27, 2017

For the past week, I’ve found myself waking every morning from anxious dreams. I’m OK during the day when I can use my conscious mind to relax, but by night, my subconscious takes over…and evidently it’s worried. I suspect this is a reaction to the level of anxiety in my nation and the world right now. While I can’t seem to help being anxious and worried about the future, I realize that those feelings are completely useless and are robbing me of joy. Maybe you feel the same? So I’ve been actively trying to reduce my anxiety levels instead of pretending things are fine or simply distracting myself. Here are four things I’m doing to combat anxious feelings:

  1. Accept that yes, I live in troubled times. There is suffering, hate, misogyny, fear. This, sadly, is nothing new. We will always have to fight the darkness if we don’t want it to overcome the light. 
  1. Refuse to add to the darkness by expressing hate for people or institutions I don’t like or disagree with. (Yes, I’m allowed to dislike and disagree—but I don’t have to express my opinions and feelings in a bombastic, dogmatic way.) Don’t add to my fear by reading and watching lots of news. Avoid lengthy discussions about problems the world faces. When I do choose to read the news, I choose the most unbiased sources I can find, look for context, and don’t accept stories without verifying.  I don’t bother with sources that specialize in half-truths or click bait, even if they’re primarily intended as entertainment.
  1. Support my body, mind, and spirit with uplifting, anxiety-reducing simple pleasures. Use my essential oils to calm anxiety and support my immune system. Be present and mindful. Enjoy the cooler weather we’re having by walking more, and opening the windows for some fresh air (I rarely do that here because of the humidity). Spend extra time with Tank, my four-legged therapist. Listen to happy music while working. Read a good book. (Check out Belle’s list of spirit lifting books here and mine here.)
  1. Look for ways to spread kindness and happiness. Encourage others, donate money, be a good citizen. Be kind, help out, stay positive. Don’t give up on looking and hoping for the best.
There’s nothing ground-breaking here, but that doesn’t mean these practices are either easy or worthless. They are within my power to do, as so many other things are not.

As Corrie ten Boom said, “Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.” Now if only I could convince my subconscious of that.

How do you soothe yourself when you feel anxious?

Being present

Attention, Please

October 04, 2013

Have you ever driven somewhere and found once you arrived you couldn’t remember how you got there? Lately, it seems like I feel that way at the end of the day, too. I’ve arrived at evening, but I couldn’t tell you how I got there. I know I’ve been busy all day, but I couldn’t tell you exactly what it was I’d done. This is no way to live a life of simple pleasures and everyday adventure.

Why am I so oblivious to my own life? Several reasons, actually. Despite repeated efforts to stop already, I still equate being busy with being productive so I rush around trying to pack more into every day. I also tend to live in my head, mulling things over, projecting and obsessing, even while rushing around. And there’s this: I resist being present because I find too much stimulation overwhelming and if I paid attention to every thought and feeling, I’d have a nervous breakdown.

So what am I doing instead of really being there? I’m:
  • Thinking of the next thing I have to do, rather than the thing I’m doing.
  •  Remembering a mistake or embarrassing moment. (My mind is helpful like that.)
  • Daydreaming about how I wish things were.
  • Worrying about the future.

Useful, right? I know I’m not the only one facing these challenges. The good thing is that improving my level of attention to my own life doesn’t require anything expensive or difficult. Just a few behavioral tweaks to bring myself back to mindfulness, starting with scheduling fewer to-dos (but making them of more importance to me), creating buffer zones of time around each activity, and pausing several times a day, just for a moment to take a deep breath and check in with my body and my mind. (Happify has an exercise called the Body Scan Meditation that I’ve been actively avoiding—maybe it’s time?) I’ve even started writing haiku several afternoons each week, focusing each one to reflect the moment I’m in. (They’re pretty terrible, but reading back through them I get  a clear image of where I was and what I was feeling when I wrote them.)  None of these strategies is new (except maybe writing haiku)—I just have to do them instead of just talk about them.

I don’t know if it’s possible to stay 100 percent “in the moment”—or even if I want to. (Daydreaming is fun and I enjoy it!) But I do know I want to spend more time paying attention, not missing my life.

How do you pay attention to your life?


Instead of Worry, Peace

May 01, 2013

Nearly all of us spend too much of our lives thinking about what has happened, or worrying about what's coming next. Very little can be done about the past and worry is a waste of time. Here the Kentucky poet Wendell Berry gives himself over to nature. [Introduction by Ted Kooser]

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Wendell Berry, "The Peace of Wild Things" from The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry. Copyright © 1998. Published and reprinted by arrangement with Counterpoint Press. Introduction copyright © 2013 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.


What Is This Feeling?

October 10, 2011

Something strange happened this morning. I was driving to pick up my mother-in-law after she dropped off the rental car she needed following an accident that totaled her vehicle but left her with only some sore muscles, when I suddenly felt…happy. I felt the dark mood of worry and anxiety that has so often hovered over me this year—this year that was supposed to be all about “light”—lift off my shoulders.

My word of the year—light—has been anything but. If I wished and hoped it would bring me a lessening of problems and concerns, I was wrong. This year my family has had broken bones and family explosions and sick animals and car accidents. I’ve watched and mourned for those afflicted by natural disasters, and worried over the state of the economy, the nation and the world. And you know what? We’re still here. We still have each other, enough to eat, a comfortable home. We’ve coped just fine with everything 2011 has thrown at us, not because of my worry and anxiety, but despite it. Worry and anxiety have done nothing for me except steal the joy from the present moment.

Perhaps I chose “light” (it chose me?) so that I could begin to learn the lesson of letting go—letting go of what I can’t change or affect, letting go of worry, letting go of the future and concentrating on the now. No, not just concentrating on—rejoicing in.

For just a few moments this morning, I realized If I were to stop worrying about the future, I would be happy. I would feel a lot more light. And for a few moments, I actually felt that way.

Life is good
What have been 2011’s lessons for you?


The Great Turkey Terror of 2010

March 06, 2010

All was confusion and chaos in one of the horse paddocks at the barn yesterday morning. The two ponies and the Thoroughbred gelding were frantic, trotting around and foamy with sweat under their winter blankets. What frightening mishap had occurred? What monster lurked in the back 40? Get ready…a hateful, horrifying, horse-eating…turkey. Yup, that’s right. One. Turkey.

That turkey's been around for a while.  We’ve been hearing gobbling in the fields next door for a couple of weeks. Apparently, hearing and seeing are two different things. After finally chasing away the offending fowl, Mary Ann and Holly had to hose off the sweating horses, cover them with a light blanket since it’s still chilly and windy, and move them to stalls so they could recover from their terrifying ordeal.

Honestly. Wouldn’t you think that a 1000-pound animal could figure out he was bigger and stronger than a turkey, and the turkey was no threat to him? But horses don’t think like that. They are prey animals, attuned to the smallest changes in their environments, and used to running first and asking questions later.

We’re so much smarter than horses, aren’t we? We reason, have the ability to weigh pros and cons, deal with what challenges we face in life. But how many times do we still work ourselves up over what turns out to be nothing? Or worry ourselves sick about things we have absolutely no control over?

When I worry and fret over the homeless in Haiti, rising tensions in Iran, the state of the world economy, or even what grade my son will get on his next Spanish test, I’m like those horses churning around fruitlessly in their paddock. My worry does no good to anyone in need, and merely saps the joy from my own life. What I now do instead—when I’m functioning well—is take a deep breath and ask myself if what I’m worried about is in my control. If it is, what can I do to improve the situation? If it’s not, I let it go.

“Anxiety is a thin stream of fear trickling through the mind. If encouraged, it cuts a channel into which all other thoughts are drained,” said Arthur Somers Roche. I don’t want to fill my mind with worry and anxiety, allowing it to color and shape my thoughts. I want to focus on the good and uplifting in my life and the world in general.

Wishing you a happy, peaceful weekend. Don’t let the turkeys get you down.

Gratuitous picture of Tank.  He was NOT afraid of the turkey...