Tracy Lee Karner
The Way I Was

A is for Amusement: living well, despite everything

Tracy Lee Karner

I’m writing An Alphabet of Help. It explores, in alphabetical order, 26 options for living well, despite everything, answering questions such as–How can a person live well despite an unsolvable, unfixable problem? 

Amusement helps me cope with trials and tribulations by diverting my mind from its tendency to obsess about whatever is wrong. I need to change gears, to focus my adaptable attention on something other than my anxiety about my problem. Instead of thinking about my problem, I will do something pleasurable. I could:

  1. Take a hot bath while reading a wonderful, attention-grabbing book;
  2. Sip tea and chat with an optimistic friend;
  3. Arrange flowers;
  4. Pull out my yarn stash (those fabulous colors and textures) and plan a project;
  5. Get out my cookbooks and dream up a special meal for my favorite people;
  6. Start cooking that meal;
  7. Dance to my favorite music;
  8. Open up Mango on my computer and review my Hebrew lessons (what’s boring to one person can be amusing to another);
  9. Sing along with Johnny Cash at the top of my voice, “In a land where we’ll never grow old!”

What is essential to remember: creating distraction through amusement has nothing to do with how I feel. Amusement is all about what I do–my behavior–which I must learn to manage, separately from and regardless of what my emotions would have me do. When faced with an unsolvable problem, I can mope, whine, or freak out. Or I can stop thinking about what’s upsetting me, and occupy myself by doing something entertaining.

 It’s also important to remember, it will take some practice–repeated effort over time–before “switching gears” becomes an easy and effective comforting strategy against pain, anxiety, fear, anger and depression. In other words, there’s a struggle involved. It’s not easy. But I can control myself even when immersed in an uncomfortable situation beyond my control. I can grow into a more courageous, more patient, more joyful, peaceful and loving person. I can strengthen my willpower by giving it a work out. Even if I cannot change the situation, I can change my response to stressful situations. Therefore:

  • I choose not to become incapacitated by fear;
  • I choose not to give in to outbursts of anger;
  • I choose not to slink around in despondency;
  • I choose to humbly and gratefully recognize that my life is good at every moment in every situation, including right now.
  • I choose to recognize that despite everything, my life is a gift worth celebrating. 
  • And I choose to celebrate my life this moment, by focussing my attention on a wholesome and pleasurable activity. 

The more frequently I do this work of finding diversion through amusement, the more skilled I become at turning out an effortless and graceful performance whenever I’m called upon to be patient in the face of difficulties and frustrations.

To find amusement is to infuse joy into an activity. There is one simple goal–to pass time in a positively pleasant manner. And this serves to make an unpleasant situation endurable.

Which amusements distract you from painful realities?

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88 thoughts on “A is for Amusement: living well, despite everything”

    1. Thank you–I’ve schedule one per month for the next four months, and I’m going to compile them into a super-inexpensive ebook. (You don’t need an ebook reader, I read ebooks on my computer).

  1. This post is wonderfully motivating Tracy. So often we have those unsolvable problems that pop up in our life. It’s frustrating because since you can’t solve them, there’s always the temptation to just give into a little self pity party. I’ve been guilty of this on many occasions. One of my favorite things to do when my mind needs a distraction is to take a dance class. My body stays occupied moving to the music and my mind then follows suit which allows me to fully relax and loose myself in the moment. Even if it is just a temporary reprieve during a one hour class it usually does the trick.

    1. Dancing is important to me, too, Heather! Do you do modern? Ballet? Tap? Zumba? I took dance when I was young, and again during my twenties. These days I really enjoy folk dancing, but it’s hard to find enough people to make a circle!

      (Watch for my “D” post….)

      1. Oh how fun Tracy! I absolutely love dance of all types! I grew up taking ballet, tap, and jazz all through high school. I was sidelined in college with an ACL injury but picked it back up as an adult. These days my favorite is probably jazz. When I was in DC I had fun trying a few new classes in modern, African, and even hip hop. I’ve yet to find a great place in Ann Arbor but I’m on the lookout. I can’t wait for your “D” post 🙂

  2. Tracy, I loved reading about the ways you ‘choose’ to lift yourself out of and above those unfixable problems (and you are so right, it really is a choice even though it may not be easy, far from it sometimes).

    For me, it has to be music and exercise. The biggest single thing I do is plug in my iPod and go for a long, fast walk round the park not far from where we live. By the time I get back home I’ve dealt with my attitude to my problems, my anger/sadness/depression/worry at least enough to enable me to get on with the rest of the day. Until the next day…

    1. I’m a walker, too, Sherri. I’ve saved a ton of regret by going for a walk when I felt the urge to explode and say or do something stupid. Something about striding, even if all I’m doing is going in a circle and ending up back where I started, is so therapeutic!

      And yes, tomorrow always brings its new challenges!

      1. Ahh…’saved a ton of regret’. Boy, do I know all about that…

        My walks around the park are all about going around in a circle but I get lost in my own world while listening to the music so that helps, and yes, as you say, very therapeutic indeed 🙂

  3. Great idea, Tracy! I like the idea of an alphabet. This sounds totally unhealthy, but if I’m feeling out of sorts the best distraction is either TV or a movie. I find getting totally immersed in many sensory levels in a story works on a level that a book doesn’t.

    1. I don’t think it’s at all unhealthy to use television or a movie to elevate your mood. It’s purposeful, and if it works, then that’s awesome!

      Everything, even the best things, are unhealthy if they over take everything else. Watching television/movies becomes unhealthy if its done to excess–just like eating vegetables can be unhealthy if done to excess!

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

    1. Thanks.

      The man “inside” the bubble was one of those happy accidents. I was so focussed on the happy boy chasing bubbles, that I never saw the man until I uploaded the photo to my computer. Isn’t it cool?

    1. Thank you, Peri. I thought it was a good place to start–with fun!

      Because sometimes life’s unsolvable problems are so heavy that we almost can’t see how we’re ever going to bear them, I wanted to start right out by lightening the load.

  4. What a great idea for an alphabet book, Tracy! If you post the whole alphabet here will you then publish the book – or is this it?

    1. I will publish the book, first in ebook form (for a ridiculously low price, just to make it available to everyone who wants help facing dilemmas). I’m going to publish one on the blog per month… people might want to read the whole book before it’s all up online. I’m hoping to be able to make the ebook available in April or May.

      I’ve got the whole thing written and I’m in the process of formatting it for e-pub (with pictures). I’ve got two other print books coming out this year, so I’m not sure if this one will be translated into a print version. I decided to start with the e-version, and see whether it takes off.

  5. I love a walk in the fresh air – better yet, dancersizing in the fresh air! For indoors I lose myself in practicing violin. It’s amazing how quickly half an hour or more can fly by while improving technique and tone!

  6. Here’s another Avid reader who would Advocate a walk for Amusement as a way to start your Alphabetical Allegory. I Also like driving the car fast up the A3 (no kidding) and immersing myself in a very good book.
    Great idea Tracy – can’t wait for BCDE etc., 😉

    1. Thank you, Richard. You wouldn’t believe how long it took me to write this (actually, yes, you would, but quite a few people would wonder why I had to spend so much time trying to figure out how to turn the idea into the thing I had imagined it should become). Your praise is incredibly confirming and affirming.

    1. I glad to hear you like the idea! I’ve been working on this for the past year, and I definitely hope I’m not the only one who likes it.

      I like your word soothe–that’s really what it’s about.

    1. I do, too. 🙂

      “When our work here is done and our life’s crown is won
      And our troubles and trials are o’er
      All our sorrow will end and our voices will blend
      With the loved ones who’ve gone on before

      Never grow old, where we’ll never grow old
      In a land where we’ll never grow old”

  7. For me, it used to be music. I prided myself in my CD collection (Yes, I said CDs. I still don’t have an iPod.) I could get lost for hours to a favorite CD. As I grew older, I stopped buying music and connecting. Lately, I find myself being pulled more towards music again where I can sit and veg with media around me.

  8. What a wonderful idea! I really like the structure of the post. Looking forward to the next letters 🙂
    If I understood correctly from reading one of the other comments then you plan to publish them as an ebook? I wish you the very best for this project.

    1. Yes, Julian, the plan is the 26 “helps” will all come together in a small, inspirational (upbeat) book. Thanks for your well-wishes.

      And by the way, I really like the new look of your website. Snazzy, and uncluttered. Well done!

  9. Positivity. Your idea is a sure-fire attitude improver. I read an article about rewriting an incident. By creating your own ending, you’re taking charge and kicking out the negative experience. It’s worth a shot. 😉

    1. I think there’s a lot of empowerment in rewriting the past; it may not change the past but it definitely has the power to change the present and the future. Definitely worth a shot. 🙂

  10. Sounds like a very helpful series. I liked the A example. I find doing something creative helps – writing works for me. Sometimes I find it hard to read; the ‘problem’ winning the distraction game. But walking and writing in my head or even just sitting and relaxing and writing in my head are helpful.
    Looking forward to the rest of the series.

    1. I very much agree, that doing something creative is helpful. As much as I love to read, I can’t do it when I’m really distressed or self-absorbed in my own world. It’s the “making” of something that gets me out of myself–

      I wrote a poem about that (so far, it’s the only one of my poems I’ve posted on my blog, but I’m breaking that streak next month and posting another one.) Making poems has always been helpful to me when I’m in the throes of pain or grief…

      Here’s the poem about making something:
      https://tracyleekarner.com/2013/04/19/after-grief-make-something/

  11. I find your second suggestion interesting. I’ve always found leaning on other people very very difficult. Nowadays I understand that people like to feel needed… still, old habits mean I might hesitate and choose to look at the other (also lovely options) that you list.

    I think you show a lovely open disposition by thinking of how good contact with other people would make you feel.

    1. I find it difficult, too, Denise, and risky, to trust other people. That’s why I qualified it with the word “optimistic” which means I know what to expect from that person (upbeat support) and that I know that person long enough and well enough to confidently expect it. Not a lot of people fit that category (a small handful, of all the people I’ve met in 5 decades of life). So, I’m only a little bit open. I think that those of us who have experienced untimely and profound grief, grow suspicious of the ability of just anyone to help us deal with it…

  12. Dealing with painful realities??? The only idea is painful. I guess my A is watching a dreamy movie. Something old with lots of love capable to “transport” me from a painful reality to a very happy reality.

  13. My amusement (distraction) is walking by the sea and I am very lucky to live close to it. Three is something about gazing at the waves that is so preoccupying and I find very soothing. 😉

    1. I live a few miles from a bay, and less than 1/2 an hour from the open Atlantic — the ocean waves can transport me out of myself and into a kind of timeless reverie. The immensity of the sea, and the rhythm, it is indeed soothing!

    1. Join a child, laughing and running after bubbles–how could that possibly not elevate a person’s mood?

      It was one of those moments I was happy I had my camera along–caught at a farmer’s market/fair.

  14. I have done a lot of analyzing lately as to methods used for coping with or distracting from a chronic problem, so this series is of great interest to me. You will HAVE to make it once a week or fortnight though, I do not think I can wait a month for the next installment!
    LOVE your list for A and there is SO much benefit in these short-term amusements.
    Looking back, they are often the source of happy memories as well.
    Well done YOU for this post 🙂

    1. Thank you, Elizabeth. I was very much hoping that you’d like this. You inspired me to post this series, because you’re deep thoughts and analyses have been so helpful and inspiring to people.

      I, like you, have done a lot of thinking about how to cope with crises and problems so that they become a creative, rather than a destructive force in our lives. You gave me the courage to take my musings public. 🙂

      1. I am humbled by your words. That is really encouraging for me, my progress from despair, and writing about it.
        I read two books recently listing the types of activities you mention as “short-term-emotional-avoidance-tactics” and as not being of long-term benefit (to relieving the emotional distress). I became really angry at the book (which was in itself something else I then had to come to terms with, being angry at a book) and felt that the author really had no idea of experiencing pain (physical or emotional), the benefit of short- term pleasures, and how they may contribute to long-term fulfilment. I am SO happy that you have written this post to support that viewpoint of mine. It is encouraging when there are other people (whom I admire) who have these same feelings.
        Thanks again for the brilliant post. .

        1. I think we agree about quite a lot. I’ve never met a person who believes s/he has all the answers, who has had to face the really big questions that come when your whole world crumbles into a million pieces and you’re forced to make the choice between building a new reality or sinking a catatonic despair. After that kind of earth-shattering blow, you realize neither you, nor any human, knows very much at all.

          I am completely convinced that so much of what masquerades as “confronting the truth” and “delving deeper into self-awareness” is actually a form of self-indulgent navel-gazing. There are times when my “problem,” no matter how important it feels to me, is not the most important thing in the room, and I owe it to the people around me to think of them, and just be pleasant. It’s a kindness we do for one another, when we care. We moderate our responses to our feelings.

          I’m assuming that before deciding to use “amusement” to cope with an unfixable problem, people have faced their problem and explored whether or not it’s fixable. I trust smart people to do that; and I believe most people are smart enough to handle their own lives without me accusing them of avoidance, or of not being mentally healthy enough, or whatever… I believe that often, when people deliberately avoid facing a dire problem, it’s because they intuitively know they’re not emotionally, physically or spiritually ready to handle it.

          My experience with some psychologists is that they treat the general public as if we’re cognitively impaired or pathologically mentally ill. That strikes me as a form of control-freakiness–as if they know what’s best for everyone. And I think control-freaks are obnoxious.

        2. P.S.–I think it’s great that you got angry at the book (or rather at the authors’ premise, which I think is pretty presumptuous) and stuck by your own sense of what’s useful for you.

  15. (This is in reply to your comment as the above thread was getting a bit skinny).

    I agree with what you say. Only those forced to make that choice (between the despair of the present and fear of the future) really understand there are no simple solutions. Although my problems will be (I hope) solvable and fixable, I have found these ‘amusements’ you describe have been so valuable in so many stages. When my despair has been so painful that I cannot breathe; when my fear has been so dark that I cannot see; when the thought of any solution seems so overwhelming it has smothered me, I can still always find some aspect of life to enjoy in small moments.(watching the sunrise, spending time with my grandchildren, cooking, reading etc). That has not meant that I do not strive continually to face the reality of my situation, resolve to find a solution to it; and keep marching on towards that solution, towards that goal. However, finding peace in those treasured moments of life along the way (when the “fix” still seems so far away) is truly joyous and makes me feel alive.

    As for the ‘navel-gazing’; i am not sure exactly what you meant by that (did you mean psycho-therapy perhaps? or did you mean self-reflection?). However, it certainly does annoy me when people try and connect a problem that I have now to how my parents treated me when I was two years old. To me, that goes against the wise adage that we are supposed to take responsibility for our own ‘now’.

    I have re-read your post and the second part ie your positiveness in your choices is extremely inspiring. I try for those all the time but i do fall down into despondency more times than I care to admit. However, I do get up again.

    Thanks for your inspiration.

    1. Oh, Elizabeth, I love you! Because you are self-reflective without being a navel-gazer.

      The difference is: the first type of self-relfection (the kind that you engage in) has, as its motive, to discover, “what can I do differently to change my unhappiness into happiness, for me and for everyone else?”

      Whereas–“navel-gazing” has as its motive to investigate ones own fascinating and intricate belly-button (as if there is nothing in the world so fascinating as one’s own umbilical cord!)

  16. Great post, and an excellent compilation of choices, Tracy.
    So, based on the beginning of your post, are you saying that you are a pessimist converted to optimism? 😉

    1. Hmmm, interesting question, Stefano. I have never considered myself a pessimist, and I’ve been an enthusiastic, peppy-happy person all my life. But I consider myself a realist, because unfounded optimism simply does not work for me. I just can’t believe things will work out just great, as long as I keep “believing” that they’ll work out just great. I do think the reality of choices and consequences has something to do with what happens.

      Attitude definitely has something to do with our happiness–but this is more about how to face the seemingly insurmountably tough stuff that tends to derail even the “happiest” people–actual crises like chronic loss of health due to disease or pain, financial disaster (including loss of job and loss of home, which usually results in loss of friends), death of one’s child, a spouse’s dementia, the kind of stuff that can often cause post-traumatic stress responses in many people. I’m exploring how one can live well, despite anything and everything that can happen to make a good life hard to find.

      1. Hm, thank you for your detailed answer, Tracy: admittedly my question was only meant to be a lighthearted “half-joke”, but your answer tells me that you and I have indeed much in common. I also consider myself a realist and I wholeheartedly agree that what you greatly referred to as “unfounded optimism” does not work for me either – I have always been on Voltaire’s side in his wonderful “Candide”. Leibniz got it all wrong 😉 Thanks again for this interesting insight in your way of being.

          1. Hahaha!!! 😀 Well, Oliver, don’t forget that there’s always the exception that confirms the rule! 😉 If I may recommend you something, that would be that you read Voltaire’s Candide: it is short, still entertaining even by today’s standards and makes many solid points. Essentially, the booklet was Voltaire’s enlightenment parody of Leibniz’s theory that we live in the best of the possible worlds. If I know you a bit by now, I am pretty sure that you would enjoy the read. You can even download it for free as an Amazon Kindle ebook, which you can read from any Android or iOS device or even from your PC/Mac.

            1. Okay–so I’ll finally read Candide. I’ve read “about” Candide, but haven’t ever gone to the source (which I always believe in doing, but haven’t got around to).

              Oliver, you can probably get off the hook for a few years by just asking Nina to give you the summary, if you offer to pour her a glass of wine.

            2. Aaaaaaah, my friend….10 years ago I would have followed your advice and devoured Candide. Nowadays, I don’t know. Age makes me lazy when it comes to reading the classics. 🙂

              The way you summarize Leibniz can only make one scream: How can he have had the idea that we live in the best possible world? I mean, if you want to use that as Ersatz-Religion to comfort yourself that things could be way worse in other worlds, that is still just a sad little lie. Should have been easy enough for Voltaire to ridicule that. Lol.

              I vigorously stay away from reading philosophers because I have to talk to them way more often than is good for my mental well being.

  17. Great points, although I am wondering what the distinction between diversion and amusement is. Or is amusement just a “pleasurable” diversion? (God, sometimes my lawyer brain really makes me feel like a freak…)

    1. Distinction for the lawyer (and I don’t think you’re freaky, I’m not lawyer but I like distinctions): you’ve already made the distinction. Yes, amusement is a “pleasurable” diversion, and that is what makes all the difference.

      It is possible, you know, to divert one’s attention away from “the thing” one is thinking about, to something not in the least bit pleasurable. Some people are expert at doing that (worry, anxiety, gloom, despair, misery). I’m convinced that diversion without pleasure is a sorry way to trudge through life.

      1. I agree with you. Diversion is a sorry state of affairs, although it sometimes is just what I need. There are times when I am so miserable I just want to divert my attention, but definitely not amuse myself. And I have come to realize that that is also totally ok. When it lasts longer than a day, that is when I become concerned.

        I was very much a worrier most of my life, but I am happy to report that that feeling has greatly diminished. I cannot help but wonder whether upbringing and being surrounded by a culture that tends to worry more than is good for it played its part. I definitely have felt my move to the US to have been liberating in that sense. All the foundations were laid before the move, even before meeting Nina, but it definitely has set me freer of my worrying self.

        1. For sensitive people who live in a culture where many are constantly inspecting to make sure you’re doing it right (and will report you if you’re not), it leads to a worrying spirit, I think. I’m convinced that the German regard for precision, order, and social responsibility bring on an over-developed awareness of all that can go dreadfully wrong.

          But often, just growing more comfortable with oneself (which normally happens with age) is also extremely liberating.

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