Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Relationships with Other Significant Others

The focus in my mind for the last several weeks of blog posts here have been about healthy romantic relationships. I kept that focus as I dug into the research. Even though I said that the points refer to relationships, not just romantic ones, I still lasered in on romantic data and my notes were biased toward romantic relationships.

However, other relationships in your life are as critical as the romantic ones. This post will focus on significant others who are friends or family.

Generally speaking, the same criteria apply: Is the other person supportive of you and helps you be your best self? Is the other person someone you trust? Can you say anything, talk about anything, and resolve issues through discussion? Does mutual respect underlie your relationship and interactions?

If not, “Houston, we’ve got a problem.”

If the person you’re having difficulty with is a parent, sibling, or child, very different dynamics are in play. Especially with parents and siblings, there is so much history, family patterns, and baggage that separating the current interaction problems from the past can muddy the waters. Old arguments and resentments surface, or worse, lurk below the surface and taint the attempts to communicate and resolve issues.

With children the complications of changing roles from dependence to independence creates its own kind of friction. Each person remembers past connections and it’s hard to let go of them as you and your child mature. That plays out, in reverse, with your own parents.

How does one navigate familial shoals? The best advice can be summarized with these suggestions for approaching a family member/friend with the intent to start anew and erase old patterns of interaction.
1)   First make sure you are in a good place before tackling what will be an emotional encounter. That could mean getting your support team (of friends or allied family members) to reinforce you before the encounter.
2)   Plan how you will confront the person and identify“I” statements to keep the discussion on a less emotional level and not sound like fault-finding. Also “I” statements are assertions so your perspective is represented positively.
3)   And thus, you need to listen to what the other person is saying and not fall into old patterns of response. Listening is key to understanding.
4)   Before the encounter, identify the person’s positive traits so you can mention them as a way to soften the potential harshness of your encounter. Don’t go in with an attitude of trying to change the negative traits. This encounter is about setting acceptable boundaries for future interactions. The only person you can change is yourself.
5)   Stand up for yourself. Silence implies consent. If someone makes statements you find inaccurate or cutting, speak up. If someone is intruding on your boundaries, let them know. Use “I” statements here, too.
6)   Concede an area to the person. If your mother-in-law wants to take care of your children every day (because she thinks you don’t know how), give her two mornings.
7)   Stay calm. Quietness can help de-escalate volatility. To quote a former First Lady, “When they go low, we go high.” When you get quieter, they will not yell (or at least not as loudly).
8)   Don’t be “guilted” into resuming the status quo. Stand pat on your boundaries.

Even with a positive encounter to try to resolve issues, there are times when it seems severing relationships might be best. And that could be true, but it is the last step one should take. Only after many attempts at coming at the relationship from a different angle, different approach, different mindset, should one step away from these close relationships. However, if after trying the suggestions in previous posts about how to navigate the relationship doesn’t work, then stepping away and making a break might be the best thing for your mental and/or physical health.

Remember the old Dear Abby question, in relation to “should I divorce him?” “Would you be better off without him,” she asked.

If you can unqualifiedly answer yes to that, then maybe it is time to sever the connection. If the person always makes you feel worse in shis presence, then maybe it’s time to break up with your mother/father/sister/brother/cousin/BFF.

If your life isn’t better after the break-up, maybe it wasn’t the toxicity of the other person after all. Perhaps you need to work on making yourself happier and then try to repair your other relationships. Self-reflection and honest communication with yourself underlies any successful relationship with others.

See you next year!

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Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Happy Holidays and Why I Say It

I write this greeting because I have friends from so many traditions that Merry Christmas isn’t appropriate for all, and how I am to know what holidays they celebrate unless they tell me. Since there are 29 holiday celebrations between November 1st and January 15th, it makes perfect sense to be more inclusive with the “Happy Holidays” saying. How that is taking away from Christmas escapes me!

Whether you celebrate Hanukkah, the Winter Solstice, Kwanzaa, Saturnalia, Festivus, or any of the other seasonal holidays, I wish you a safe and joyous one!

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Four Components in Creating Healthy Relationships

The past two weeks, I have talked about healthy relationships and unhealthy relationships.

Assuming you want a healthy relationship, what does that entail? How do you get there? How do you keep it going?

Three aspects seem to underlie all the reading I’ve done for this series of posts. Intimacy, Respect, and Communication. Now, that reads “IRC,” but think of that acronym as a mnemonic that will get you the opposite result.

Also remember that at the heart, the core of any healthy relationship is trust. Attending to intimacy, respect, and communication builds foundational trust. If you can’t trust your partner, the sex can be good, but it won’t be enough to keep you together. But that is typically the first to go.

Consciously attend to your relationships in these three areas, and I can almost guarantee a positive outcome because of the trust built. Relational vigilance is required. Don’t take anyone for granted just because you’ve been in the relationship a while. Familiarity should breed respect, not contempt, or worse, boredom.

Remember that intimacy isn’t restricted to sex. Intimacy is that deep sharing of goals, values, hopes, fears, joys, and concerns. Date night has become a throwaway. “Oh, we’re going to the movie for a date night.”

Think back to the early days of your romance. Date nights were the opportunity to learn about one another. Keep that goal throughout your time together. Sure, go to a movie, but plan to have a dinner (or dessert) before or after to talk. Talk with a capital T. This is your time without distractions to discuss issues. Go deep. Tell one another what is special about the other. Share a story from before you met you haven’t told before. Get away from talking about the kids and work, and instead focus on your shared goals, short- and long-term.

Do the small things that say, “I love you,” without saying the words. If heesh always scratches your head before you go to sleep, tell shim it’s shis turn. Put little notes where heesh’ll find them unexpectedly. Do a task the other person normally does, like the dishes or taking out the trash. Buy a tiny gift that has meaning for the two of you, like earplugs because you snore.

Oh, yeah, and as to sex? Do it. Often. And vigorously. And enthusiastically. Each partner should initiate the contact.

You can’t respect others unless you respect yourself. A good sense of self is important in healthy relationships. And showing not telling, as is the mantra in writing, is more powerful than saying, “Of course I respect you.”

Respectful couples don’t denigrate one another in public or private. Respectful couples encourage the goals and achievements of their partners, but they are there to give support needed when things don’t work out. They never say, “I told you so.”

By the same token, respectful couples value the achievements of the partner and proudly let others know of the accomplishments. They never try to downplay achievements.

Respectful couples honor the ways in which each is different as well as alike. They urge on exploration of separate interests. They celebrate their diversity for the new perspectives they bring to shared experiences.

Respectful couples pay attention so they know what the partner needs in situations and they act on their insights.

Is there anything new to be said on this topic? We all know how important clear and frequent communication is. And we all know the trope that “ Men are from Mars, . . . “ blah blah.

There is truth to be found here even if the message is an old one.

Assumptions make an ass out of you and me. Remember that one? Tell shim what you want, what you feel, what you think. Mindreading has never been a reliable source of information.

“He ought to know.” “She’s seen me do it a hundred times.” Umm. Right. But heesh doesn’t know, right? So just say the words, respectfully, of course, to get your thoughts, wishes, hopes, fears across to your significant other. You’ll both be happier when the message is clearly sent and received.

Of course, for us writers, building story lines around trust, intimacy, respect, and communication is what we’re all about, both successful and unsuccessful relationships.

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Thursday, December 7, 2017

How to Exit an Unhealthy Relationship

Are you in, have you been in, do you know someone in an unhealthy romantic relationship? Join the crowd. We’ve all been there at some time. Not still being there is a sign of growth and health. Healthy relationships are interdependent not co-dependent. Last week I laid out signs of a healthy relationship, and now we go into the other end of the continuum.

Recognizing an unhealthy relationship and getting out is the sign of a healthy adult. Healthy adults want, need, and deserve healthy relationships, but getting out of an unhealthy one can be difficult to do. You might be thinking romantic relationships, but sometimes unhealthy relationships are with relatives. Those might be even trickier to get out of.

Let’s assume for purposes of this particular post, that the unhealthy relationship is not dangerous. That you don’t need an order of protection or something similar. Let’s just deal today with your run-of-the-mill “this isn’t working” relationship. First, what is an “unhealthy relationship” with a Significant Other?

In my research into this topic, I found that unhealthy relationships tend to fall into xxx categories: identity, denigration, trust, emotional support, respect, negative influence, and avoidance.

Identity: In an unhealthy relationship, you’ve lost your sense of self. Your partner may be trying to isolate you from others, change you into who you are not, or downplay your successes. Does your SO insist shis ideas are more important, more right than yours? You should always feel better about yourself in a relationship, not worse. Does your partner dismiss your interests or talents?

Denigration: Making the other person feel bad about shimself, whether through bullying, telling you you’re stupid, body shaming, or making you do things you’re ashamed of, are all negative behaviors. Does heesh make fun of you to friends or family? The same arguments resurface over and over. You don’t do those things to people you love.

Trust: If the partner is unfaithful, that is breaking the most important bond. Or even if the partner isn’t unfaithful but acts in ways that cause a lack of trust, you should be wary. Healthy relationships demonstrate a security in the relationship. Are you always thinking things are about to end? Does your partner lie to you?

Emotional Support: Whether what is going on in your life is good, bad, or ugly, your SO has to be there for you. You turn to each other first in a healthy relationship, not others. If you don’t turn to shim first, why not? Does your SO dismiss your fears, anxieties, concerns as unimportant or trivial? Is heesh available to talk when you need to? Do you or your partner blame the other for problems?

Respect: If you and your ideas are not respected, not necessarily agreed with, than there is something wrong. Does our partner only seem to value you for one thing (financial support, sex, etc.)? Do you share the same values? Do you respect your SO’s viewpoints and stances and actions?

Negative Influence: A healthy relationship cheers on each other to be the best that each can be. If your SO leads you into drugs, smoking, excessive drinking, illegal activities, activities that make you feel bad about yourself, then that’s not healthy. If you can’t identify any positive influences, this is not a healthy relationship.

Avoidance: Do you or your partner avoid coming home, not viewing it as a nurturing, safe place? Would you rather spend your discretionary time with someone other than your SO?

Are you considering breaking up? Breaking up is more of emotional process than a physical one. Why now? What’s changed? What will you do after the break-up? Do you have a plan for where to live and how to live? What will you do differently without your SO in your life?

If it’s time to get out of an unhealthy relationship, quick, non-emotional, and firm are your key words.

Don’t break up during an emotional upheaval, nor should you plan a special dinner to soften the blow. Both send a muddled message.

In a neutral setting, state that the relationship is over because you find that your goals for the future are not matching. Past experiences have provided many examples of your incompatibility. Pick a few and without judgmental language use them to make your point. Use “I” statements to avoid blame-language. Choose the least abrasive of the reasons for leaving so that you keep it as unemotional as possible.

“I’ve come to realize that we need to go our separate ways. There are few things we enjoy together, and I want to spend more time on some of my interests. Recently, I found that I’m happier when I spend more time with my friends. And, no, it’s not negotiable. This is final. Let’s each go out and enjoy our lives.”

Don’t bring up old arguments or irritations. Don’t draw it out. Don’t get pulled into a defense. Just leave. Surgical. Clean. Clear.

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Wednesday, November 29, 2017

5 Signs of a Healthy Relationship

I’m in one. Are you?

Healthy relationships with a significant other or with family is really the same thing. Oh, sure, there are different dynamics influencing familial versus romantic relationships. After all, you didn’t choose your family, and odds are good there is some baggage going back to having to share a bedroom or chafing against rules you considered arbitrary.

But the principle is the same. Healthy relationships are characterized by some very specific characteristics. None of them are new to you, but in article after article these popped up, so there must be truth to them.

You can sort most of what you find by researching healthy relationships into several broad categories: Trust, Respect, Communication, Shared Values, and Intimacy.

Trust is bedrock for healthy relationships. The person you love should be unfailingly trustworthy. My online dictionary says trustworthy people are: dependable, honest, direct, principled, truthful, ethical, loyal, faithful, staunch and more. Is your partner one you can always count on for support? Do you believe what heesh tells you?

Respect isn’t just deep admiration for one another. It goes more deeply to having regard for the other’s wishes, rights, traditions, and feelings in a non-judgmental way. You honor one another’s differences and treat one another kindly despite disagreement. In a respectful relationship, the past is let go. Once a disagreement is resolved it’s never resurrected. Holding onto grudges represents a lack of respect.

Communication is essential for relationships that work. No topic is off limits. No judgments are formed based on past experiences or present perspectives. The partner may express concerns about issues or stances, but the lines remain open. Also, in healthy relationships people talk to one another about what’s important (and even unimportant) rather than assuming the partner knows how to read minds. “He ought to know . . .” is the route to hurt feelings and deeper misunderstandings. Communication also means that sometimes you spend time in one another’s company in companionable silence. Through communication, couples make decisions and move forward with life.

Shared Values is another critical component. The most important shared value is a total commitment to the relationship and making it work. You and your partner need not have all the same goals or identical values, but they need to be compatible. Think of yourselves as a Venn diagram. The middle section is where you are the same and supportive of one another. The two outer sections are your individual strengths, interests, talents, and identity. The strongest, healthiest relationships are when two people are fully realized, actualized. Each has a strong sense of self so each can engage in the give and take in relationships.

Intimacy is so much more than sex. Oh, yeah, sex is important to many of us. It ought to be equally important to partners in a relationship. But if true intimacy is missing, sex is just an exercise routine. My online dictionary says intimacy is closeness, familiarity, rapport, affinity, friendship, togetherness, warmth. Your partner ought to be your best friend. You experience joy and sorrow together. When you are so connected to one another, the sex act isn’t an act!

As to novel writing, there is plenty of fodder here to show healthy and unhealthy relationships in your stories. Use these five as a template for healthy relationships. Or when there is a breakdown in one of the five, show how troubles arise and are dealt with.

Want more? Come back next week for the signs you’re in an unhealthy relationship.

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Wednesday, November 22, 2017

An Open Letter to My Husband on His Birthday

Dear David—

Happy birthday! As we age together I am reminded daily of how good our life is and how fortunate I am that we found one another. As I’ve shared, this Ohio farm girl had no idea her life would turn out to be this wonderful.

I thought I would not marry. Oh, I had plenty of boyfriends back in the day. Even some proposals. But I didn’t want to end up like so many of my friends and parents of my friends. Divorced. Or worse, M&M, married and miserable.

I have no doubt my parents loved one another, but they had a weird way of showing it sometimes. They could go from canoodling on the couch one night to screaming at one another the next. Not a terrific role model on how to be a good spouse, though I have thoroughly adopted the canoodling modeling.

But it will end. Because that’s the way of it. I will leave our relationship or you will. We’ve talked about how the best scenario is we leave together. At the same time. Without pain and suffering and lingering, of course. Just, BAM, we’re dead at the same time.

But a part of me thinks you will be the surviving partner from our life together. And all I have ever wanted for you is to be happy and loved. My birthday present to you today is my blessing for you finding someone to spend your life with.

Find someone who is funny, smart, interesting, and interested in what you like. Find someone who will nag you about the good stuff and let lie the other junk.

Find someone our children like and respect and, I hope, come to love. And she should enjoy cooking, too, since you enjoy eating. I’ll leave her my David’s Oatmeal-Cran-Pecan cookie recipe.

Find someone who can play Crossword Cubes with you and win sometimes. Find someone who understands when you’ve had a rough day at Pickleball and bring it home.

Find someone who can be silly and serious, impulsive and restrained, curious and reflective. Find someone who can “read” you so she knows what is going on behind your quiet demeanor.

Maybe she’ll even be tidier than I. You could get lucky. It could happen!

Love you to infinity and beyond!  xoxo

P.S. Remember that I’ll be back. So look for me in the sparkle of a new baby’s eyes!

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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Fight Right Plight

We all know to fight fair, don’t we?

Dr. Nathan Cobb’s article says that fights between couples need rules as much as any sporting event. “Rules,” he says “provide purpose, safety, structure, and predictability.” Hmm. Maybe we need to send this article to our legislators.

Seriously, though, arguments are unavoidable in healthy, honest relationships. It’s how they are dealt with that can determine whether the relationship remains so. And there’s where the stories lie. As authors we can create numerous scenarios for fair/unfair fighting episodes. One is fair. Neither is fair. Both are fair. Then create variations based on those.

Cobb and others have examined what makes for good fighting and how fighting can deteriorate and never resolve anything. Cobb has nine rules. They are:
1)   No degrading language
2)   No blaming
3)   No yelling
4)   No use of force
5)   No talk of divorce
6)   Define yourself, not your spouse
7)   Stay in the present
8)   Take turns speaking
9)   When necessary, use time outs

Both parties need to agree to the rules. If one doesn’t agree or if one breaks the rules, it’s time to leave the argument. Simply state that when fair fight rules are in place, you’ll be back to start over.

Walking away and not responding is very, very hard. But if you want to fight fair, you have to fight for that state. Don’t let yourself be baited into fighting unfairly yourself. It never works.

In essence, you can boil down these nine Cobb rules to the ones we use in my family:
1)   no personal attacks or physical abuse allowed
2)   keep to the topic of dispute
3)   keep tempers and volume in check
4)   settle it by the time you’re done; it can’t come back up in a later argument

Disputes are inevitable. Feelings can be strong and emotions run high. But only reasonable address will lead to resolution.

Oh, one more thing. Compromise isn’t a four-letter word. And a simple, “I’m sorry” goes a long way in resolving arguments.

How do you resolve disputes with your partner? Please share your tactics in the Comments section.

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Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Develop Story Premises from Quotes

A story concept is a basic idea or theme. The premise is that concept/theme fleshed out to make a viable story idea.

Family first. Blood is thicker than water. Love conquers all. Shared love is multiplied love. And many more concepts come readily to mind.

A premise however has to have more detail. The premise builds on the theme or concept to add in characters and their conflicts. As an example for “family first”,
You might block out a story premise like this:
       Alli is caught between loyalty to a friend who needs her support and her family who see the friend as a liar and betrayer who is taking advantage of Alli’s good nature. Does she stick with the friend who might destroy what she loves or desert the friend to save her family?

A premise is very close to a mini-book blurb.

I typically know my premise first and then examine it to pick a concept/theme and a sub-theme or two to weave into my stories. Others start with the concept/theme and develop the premise. 

I’ve found a short cut way to premises. Read quotes on a topic. I love the website  It has quotes on hundreds of topics.

Here’s what you do: read the quote that speaks to you, identify the concept/theme, and fill in the missing parts of the premise.

For example, for the John Woodern quote, “The most important thing in the world is family and love,” you could develop the premise I created above.

         The most important thing in the world is family and love, and Alli is caught between loyalty to a friend and her family threatened by this liar and betrayer. She must choose between the friend who might destroy what she loves and the family she needs.

See how that works? Now you try it. I have ten quotes for you to play with. Show me what you come up with in the Comments section. Have fun!

Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.   Lao Tzu

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Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Can You Make Yourself Happy?

I wrote an earlier post in August on happiness that was inspired by a quote on a favorite necklace. The post garnered a lot of page views. I says to me, “Hmm. People must be interested in happiness. I wonder what the research has to say about happiness.”

What does the research say? A recent National Geographic article (November 2017) looked internationally and boiled the results to a sense of pleasure, purpose and pride. When you have those, you tend to be happier. That is consistent with the necklace quote from Gandhi: “Happiness is when what you think and what you say and what you do are in harmony.”

First, let’s look at what the signs of happiness are.

Prevention magazine in the September 21, 2010 issue identified nine aspects/traits associated with feeling joyful. The nine are: you were a smiley student, you have a sister, you’re not glued to the TV, you keep souvenirs on display, you make exercise a priority, you have a healthy love life, you hang with happy people, you stay warm with hot cocoa (or tea or coffee), and you have two best friends.

Hmm. Eight out of nine ain’t bad! I guess what people say about me is true. I manifest signs of being a happy person. And I view myself as a happy person. I’m not too introspective about the why of it. I admit to mostly taking my positivity for granted. And I shouldn’t, I know. So many people are not happy that I need to be more grateful for the situation I’m in that leads me to this happiness state.

I used to drive my father crazy. He was the exact opposite of me in temperament. He never saw the glass as half full OR half empty. He was more likely to say, “What glass? There’s no glass.” Yes, we did argue. A lot. Still my inner happiness shown through despite setbacks and circumstances.

Scientists in the field of positivity include Sonja Lyubormirsky, Ed Diener, Robert Biswas-Diener, Stephehn Post. They have found that your actions have a significant effect on your states of satisfaction and happiness. An article in Yes! Magazine summarized their findings. Here are those ten things that science says make us happy:
1)   Savor everyday moments.
2)   Avoid comparisons.
3)   Put money low on the list.
4)   Have meaningful goals. (strive for significance)
5)   Take initiative at work. (express creativity, help others)
6)   Make friends, treasure family.
7)   Smile—even when you don’t feel like it. (fake it ‘til you make it)
8)   Say thank you like you mean it.
9)   Get out and exercise.
10) Give it away. (money, time, goods and services)

There is not one thing on that list that we cannot do on a regular basis. If these are the components of happiness, then simply set about to change your habits in areas where you fall short. You can be in control of your happiness level says scientific research.

In another happiness study reported by Dr. Axe, “What Makes Us Happy and Healthy?”,
the Harvard Happiness Study found that “good relationships keep us happier and healthier, period.” Simply put: social connections matter, the quality of relationships is more important than the quantity, and good relationships protect our brains.

In Albert Ellis’ study of happiness he debunked the idea that happiness stems from external circumstances like losing weight or having more money. He found that happiness was highly correlated with sleep quality and depression proneness.

And the old saw that money can’t buy happiness? A study by a couple of economists called that into question. In fact, international findings were that those with the most income in countries reported the highest levels of satisfaction. Doubling income doubled satisfaction whether it was from $1000 to $2000 or from $10,000 to $20,000. Their study could be used to make a case for income redistribution!

Nevertheless, making more money isn’t feasible for all of us. But, other findings from research scientists tell us we can become happier. Implement their findings. Just do it!

One of my favorite gifts to give those struggling with life is Dr. Barbara Frederickson’s book, Positivity. She explains her research into how to change your brain—literally restructure the brain--so you can become more positive about life with her discovered 3-1 ratio of actions.

Do you know the Pharrell Williams song, “Happy”? That’s kind of me. I do know what makes me and keeps me happy. Do you know your happiness triggers? Share them below in the comments.

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Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Meditation Readings

Part of what makes us functional human beings in healthy relationships is being mentally healthy ourselves. For me, and many others, that includes meditation as a way to get in touch with my inner being. My essence. My core.

My on-line dictionary defines meditation as:
a written or spoken discourse expressing considered thoughts on a subject

I admit to a flaw that some meditationists (Is that a real word?) might call me on. I’ve never gotten to the point where I can still my mind enough, to make it blank, so that I reach deep for self-awareness. I cannot sit and think of nothing.

I know. I know. It takes practice to still the mind and just “be.” Call me impatient. Call me a meditation dilettante. But I am not willing to put in the work. Sorry, purists. But as Frank said, I’ll do it my way.

For me, morning reading meditations work best. I read, reflect, and apply to my life and what’s happening around me. Much as people who read the Bible daily do.

But my readings are varied and from several sources. I sometimes open up a book and read from what appears. Other times I go through a book in order. Some days I read the table of contents and pick the topic that appeals. It depends upon my mood.

The people I read are smart folk. Pithy points fall from their pens to the page. I just love coming across quotable, relevant ideas. I often read some of them to DH. That leads to conversation which typically deepens my understanding.

My newest source is Meditations for the Humanist: Ethics for a Secular Age by A.C. Grayling. On his book jacket he tells us that he wants to stimulate thinking on “the problems and possibilities of being human.” Indeed, this book does that and more.

This thoughtful collection of sixty-one short essays, each presaged by an appropriate quote, is organized into three parts: Virtues and Attributes, Foes and Fallacies, and Amenities and Goods.

Under Foes and Fallacies, the first two-plus pages entry is “Nationalism.” The quote at the beginnins is from Erich Fromm: “Nationalism is our form of incest, it is our idolatry, our insanity. ‘Patriotism’ is its cult.” Isn’t that a whiz bang way to begin an essay? Erich Fromm studied demagogues (Hitler and Stalin) and coined the term “malignant narcissist” for them that I see making its way into today’s news. The first sentence of this essay is, “Nationalism is an evil. It causes wars, its roots lie in xenophobia and racism . . .  In his essay, Grayling’s perspective is that nationalism is short-sighted and dangerous for the health of democracy. Much food for thought in light of current events.

Under the category Virtues and Attributes, in the essay “Death”, Grayling states that to the dead person, to be dead is indistinguishable from being unborn or in a deep sleep. It is others who mourn that death really matters. If death cuts short pain and suffering, then it is good; if death cuts short a life of promise and hope, then we view it as not good. He states that. “If we base our understanding of death on evidence rather than fear or desire, we are bound to accept it as a two-fold natural process: the cessation of bodily functions [and] . . . the body’s dispersion into its physical elements.”  He also says, as a true humanist and naturalist, “Hopes for an afterlife are, in fact, a sad reflection on, and a condemnation of, the facts of this life.”

The essay from the third part, Amenities and Goods, that I’d like to share with you is “Peace.” Livy’s quote opens the essay: “Peace is better and safer than hopes of victory.” Grayling’s first paragraph of the four in the essay states: “Peace is the condition required for education, and the arts, and the formation of human relationships. . . Peace gives a society time for reflection, which is where most good things have their start.” But the essay isn’t merely about societal or national peace. As he says, “Personal peace thus mirrors social peace in having both external and internal aspects.”

Did I enjoy every essay equally? Of course not. Some topics are more relevant to me. Grayling’s tone varies from piece to piece. Sometimes biting, sometimes reassuring, but always contemplative. I highly recommend adding this to your reading list.

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