confident woman walking
Illustration: Dan Page

2. Pretend people love you.

One of the statements that changed my life comes from spiritual teacher Byron Katie: "When I walk into a room, I know that everyone in it loves me. I just don't expect them to realize it yet." I'm by no means certain that everyone in every room loves me, but I've found that pretending they do works nicely when I want to make someone's day.

I spent much of my life wandering about armored against criticism and rejection, unaware that my wary defense appeared to others as inexplicable offense. And since everyone around me was also frightened, their defenses escalated the moment they encountered mine, which in turn ratcheted up to meet theirs, and so on. This emotional arms race drives people apart in every home, office, subway car, dentist's office, rice field and square-dancing school on Earth. But pretending other people love you flips the vicious cycle into a virtuous one. Imagine how you'd enter a public space—say, a grocery store—if you knew without a doubt that everyone in it adored you. How would you move? How would you look at people? What would you say? Now imagine interacting with a loved one while feeling so sure of her infinite, unconditional acceptance that you had no need for reaffirmation. How would you behave? You'd probably lay down some of your armor. Then she would loosen hers. Then you'd relax even more, and so on and on and on. Try it right now—you can do so without getting up! Pretending someone loves you, right where you sit, will begin a day-making spiral of love.

3. Stop worrying about everyone.

Barbara sits before me fairly drowning in stress hormones. Her parents, who've come to the session with her, would do anything to eliminate her anxiety disorder and the panic attacks that go with it. Well, almost anything.

"We're so worried," says Barbara's mother, Janice.

"Mom, Dad," says Barbara, "please don't worry. It just puts pressure on me."

Janice's imploring eyes stay fixed on me. "What can we do?"

"Did you hear what she just said?" I ask.

"She's suffering," Dave, Barbara's dad, tells me.

"And what did she ask?"

"She needs to stop being so tense," says Janice.

"Actually, she asked you both to stop worrying," I say.

"Yes!" Barbara shouts.

"Well, of course we'll keep worrying," says Dave. "It's our job."

Barbara turns to me and whispers, "Help."

Mark this, gentle reader: Love and worry are not the same. (If you believe they are, I point you in the direction of blogger Jenny Lawson, who says: "A hug is like a strangle you haven't finished yet.") Think of someone you're worried about. Now replace worry with something else: creativity, perhaps, or singing or sudoku. I'm serious. It truly will make that person's day.

4. Advise people not to trust you.

One of the first things I tell new clients is not to trust me. Why should they? They don't know me. My job is to be trustworthy while telling them to put their trust where it belongs: in their own sense of truth. People often tell me that simply hearing this is enough to make their day. It's like taking spinach from a baby. (Whoever coined the phrase "taking candy from a baby" never had a baby.)

I also advise my loved ones, such as you, not to trust me. It's not that I'm pernicious or false—it's just that I'm fallible. If you trust me before trusting yourself, you'll rob us both of excellent counsel. So please don't trust anything I've written here unless it resonates as truth. Count on your instincts to keep you safe; they will. Doesn't that make your day?

Next: Help a loved one play hooky


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