A couple of weeks ago Thom and I were wandering through used bookstores in nearby Ventura, CA. Thom was on a mission to find a particular book, with me helping to locate it among masses of used books. That’s when I came across Maria Shriver’s latest. The title caught my eye and with such a giveaway price, I couldn’t pass it by. And although I seldom read books authored by celebrities or famous personalities, I’ve Been Thinking…Reflections, Prayers and Meditations for a Meaningful Life certainly sounded SMART to me. Clearly, Shriver comes from a dramatically different world than I do, but I was pleasantly surprised to learn how many thoughts we have in common. In fact, I’m guessing that this notable woman shares a great deal in common with most of us—and her reflections are reminders about how to live a happy and fulfilled life.
For the most part, our culture seems to assume that movie stars or those from famous households have advantages that most of us can only hope to experience. Even if we know logically that tragedy happens to us all regardless of celebrity, it is still easy to imagine the benefits over the challenges. What’s the saying? The grass sure looks greener on the other side.
In contrast, Shriver explains how uniquely challenging it was to grow up as a woman in a powerful and political family. I doubt that few of us know what the pressure is like to be the only daughter in a family with immense expectations for each child. And few of us knows what it is like to be publicly humiliated by the infidelity of our husband and the father of our four children. Sure, we might be beautiful, have plenty of money, and be famous for some of our own work, but as I wrote about last week, that’s no guarantee of happiness.
Instead, Shriver offers a series of ideas that reveal what has helped her find happiness and peace today. Here are twelve that I believe are both SMART and something that many of us (especially women) share in common.
- We are all worthy and deserve a happy life. Shriver says,“We all long to be seen as valuable, no matter how old we are. And we work hard trying to get others to recognize our value, our worth, so often giving them the power to decide if we are, in fact, jewels to be cherished….But the power is actually our own.” In other words, even someone as well-known as Maria Shriver recognizes that we all struggle to believe in our own worth and whether we are deserving. Really loving ourselves doesn’t come automatically to even the wealthy or famous. Ultimately it is our own personal path to become who we are meant to be.
- No matter what happens in our lives, we always have the choice of how we will respond. Shriver says, “When a negative thought pops into my mind, instead of dwelling and ruminating on it, even obsessing over it—I think about how I can turn that negative thought into a positive thought. Or as Maya Angelou says, change the way I think about it.” In other words, choosing to be positive is a skill that can become a habit—even if or when it doesn’t come naturally.
- Writing helps process thoughts, emotions, and the world. Shriver says, “…for me, thinking and then writing about my life and world around me helps me get clear and find peace.” This one might not fit those of you who aren’t writers, but it was refreshing for her to admit how helpful it can be to write out her thoughts.
- We get to make it up. Shriver says, “Who you become as a person is up to you—up to your imagination, your will, your determination, your choices.” I think it is normal for most of us to believe that if we grew up with famous parents and lots of money, that we wouldn’t have a care in the world. Shriver confesses that “No one is immune to some kind of struggle, whether it’s mental, emotional, physical, financial or professional.” Instead, she suggests that you “start where you are –not where you wish you were, but where you are.” She also advocates resiliency, intestinal fortitude and to “visualize ourselves rising—rising above disappointment, rising about failure, rising above a negative mindset.”
- Peace begins within. Shriver says, “Peace in the world will take global leaders coming together, but peace in our own hearts can start today, right now.” In other words, peace begins with each of us—in ourselves, in our homes, in our communities—and then that will radiate out into the world.
- Practicing gratitude is the key to a happy life. Shriver says, “I believe strongly in the power of gratitude.” Shriver admits that having a positive frame of mind doesn’t come easily to her, so she recommends a daily gratitude practice. She believes, “Being thankful can make all the difference in your day.”
- Letting go is a critical skill in creating a happy life. Shriver says, “It’s hard to let go—to let go of things, let go of attachments, let go of beliefs that no longer serve you, let go of old stories you tell yourself, let go of people.” Clearly, letting go is one of Shriver’s biggest challenges. But she has learned that it is far better to flow than fight the changes in our lives. Shriver admits that she normally hangs on to people/things/circumstances because she wants to feel safe and in control. Instead, she reminds herself that “LET GO also means LET’S GO!”
- Forgiveness is a key to loving and letting go. Shriver believes that “…forgiveness is a process and it takes time….it’s letting go of resentment, giving up feeling harmed or damaged. That doesn’t mean the harm or damage didn’t happen. It means that you’re not going to keep revisiting it over and over again, staying stuck in your resentment of the person who caused the harm…Even if it’s you.” Powerful words. And I appreciate how she points out that much of the time, the real forgiveness we need is towards ourselves.
- “Perfection is an illusion…there’s no such thing as a perfect life,” says Shriver. “What we need are meaningful lives. A full and meaningful life requires forgiveness of self for our imperfections—and forgiveness of others for theirs.” Shriver clearly grew up in a family where perfection was expected on many levels. Her honesty in admitting her own flaws reveals how and why letting go is important for us all.
- We must stay true to ourselves and let go of caring what others think of us. Shriver says, “I’m dedicated to building a more conscious, caring, compassionate, and connected world, and I’m trying to do that while also not caring too much about what others think about me and how I live my life.” How refreshing to learn that Shriver shares some of the same struggles as many of us.
- People are basically good. Shriver believes that “…there are far more good people in the world than bad…So let’s not give in to the fear…” While she concedes that we live in difficult times with lots of potential problems, she instead encourages us to work together and help each other in order to create the life and the kind of country we want ours to be.
- In the long run, love always wins. Shriver says, “I’m choosing to focus on the examples of love that I see because that’s what reinforces my belief in humanity. That’s what inspires me to work harder, do more, and focus on hope even more.” As a journalist, Shriver reminds us all that we have a choice—do we look at the terror and fear in the world or do we see the light, the love, the truth—shining through the cracks. The choice is ours.
While I didn’t find any of Shriver’s reflections to be a surprise, I found her honestly sincere. And I was heartened to learn that even a woman with her profile struggles with many of the same issues as many baby boomer women. I think it is also very helpful to remember that deep down inside, no matter who we are or how we were raised, most of us share the same needs—love, letting go of attachments, refusing to care what others think of us, forgiveness, perfectionism, seeing the good no matter what, and inner peace. Messages like this are constantly being offered to us from others who are reaching out a hand, offering to help. Perhaps the SMART action is to accept the help where we find it and then pay it forward whenever we can.
Okay, your turn. Are you a fan of Maria Shriver? Have you read any of her books before? Do you share any of these thoughts and beliefs as I do? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.