The New Normal

By Scott Westerman
“Every time I find the meaning of life, they change it”

Friday at 1:47PM, we heard the words we had been hoping for for the last six months. Dr. Reynolds smiled and said to Colleen, “You are cancer free”. The roller coaster ride began in Just after Thanksgiving when our Albuquerque Doctor told The Queen that despite all of our proactivity, the same thing that took her mother and sister from us was now part of our lives.

In addition, I was in the midst of a new opportunity that would relocate us 1,300 miles from New Mexico to a temporary home that would hold us over until we found our next temporary home that would serve us until we selected a “permanent” residence, our 13th house in 32 years of marriage.

To say that the last six months has been a constant exercise in change management is a gross understatement. At this moment its all good. Colleen is stepping back on the track toward her passions and I’m definitely living mine every day.

This is the new normal.

Albert Camus statement that, “Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal,” has been the story of our recent life.

But looking back over our long adventure together, there has been no normal, only brief respites from continual change.

And how about you? Life is fired at us point-blank. Each day is another story-problem. We’re thrust into a constantly evolving arena and must play the game.

I’m reminded of Andrew Bernstein’s maxim that, “Nothing is given to us on earth – struggle is built into the nature of life.. the hero is the person who lets no obstacle prevent her from pursuing the values she has chosen.”

Over 100 different people contributed to WikiHow.com’s survival manual on how to cope with whatever your “new normal” may be. I’ve added my own twist to their thoughts.

1. Be optimistic. In the 1970s, researchers followed people who’d won the lottery and found that a year after they’d hit the jackpot, they were no happier than the people who didn’t. They called it hedonic adaptation, which suggests that we each have a baseline level of happiness. No matter what happens, good or bad, the effect on our happiness is only temporary and we tend to rebound to our baseline level. Some people have a higher baseline happiness level than others. But it’s also largely influenced by how you think. So improving your attitude towards life will increase your happiness permanently.

2. Follow your gut. In one study, two groups of people were asked to pick out a poster to take home. One group was asked to analyze their decision carefully, weighing the pros and cons, and the other group was told to listen to their gut. Two weeks later, the group that followed their gut was more satisfied with their posters than the group that analyzed their decisions. This doesn’t mean you avoid due diligence on the important turning points in your life. Plug the objective factors into your conscious brain and then allow your subconscious to make the final call.

3. Focus on the basics. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs tells us that once you earn enough to support the basics, your overall quality of life is not significantly affected by how much money you make, but by your level of optimism. And remember.. Your comfort may increase with your salary, but comfort isn’t what makes people happy. It makes people bored. That’s why it’s important to push beyond your comfort zone to fuel your growth as a person.

4. Stay close to the important people in your life. Relationships with our friends and family have a far greater impact on our lives than our jobs do. A major part of the joy we feel being back in Michigan is being close, again, to our best friends. So next time you think about relocating factor in the opportunity cost you’ll pay by being away from people you love.

5. Find fulfillment in the job you have now. Many people expect the right job or the right career to dramatically change their level of happiness, but research makes it clear that your level of optimism and the quality of your relationships eclipse the satisfaction you gain from your job. If you have a positive outlook, you will make the best of any job, and if you have good relationships with people, you won’t depend on your job to give your life a greater sense of meaning.

6. Smile. Science suggests that when you smile, whether you feel good or not, your mood will be elevated. So smile all the time! Look for opportunities to praise others and take note of the little things around you that make make the world beautiful.

7. Get a friend / Be a Friend. Nothing beats talking with someone who is a good listener and who genuinely cares about you. And we’ve written before about the power of giving. Be that friend you would like to have. Be a philanthropist. Give a little of your time, talent and treasure to something you care about.

Like Buckaroo Banzai says, “Wherever you go, there you are.” Whatever your new normal is today, dive in and make the most of it.