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'Instructions For Your Discontent'

With summer, most look forward to enjoying the sunshine and sandy beaches.

But for many, it also causes negative feelings about body image, vacation envy and other feelings of dissatisfaction.

The discontent could be a good thing, however. According to Barrie Dolnick, the author of "Instructions for Your Discontent: How Bad Times Can Make Life Better," feeling discontent can create opportunities to grow and evolve, which can help change lives for the better.

Dolnick visited The Early Show Monday to further discuss the ideas from her book.

Dolnick says meeting challenges provides an opportunity to make life better, and the only time people change is when they are unhappy or uncomfortable.

Restlessness is the first clue of discontent, Dolnick writes in her book. Discontent can initially make you grumpy and coax you into a bad mood. Dolnick says as discontent settles, you feel much more sour about your life and your future.

Discontent, Dolnick says, can dampen your spirit, decrease your hope, make you feel sluggish, dissociated, disinterested, even disabled. Discontent starts with a single facet of your life, but left unchecked, it can eventually overwhelm your entire life, she says.

Discontent, however, isn't depression. Dolnick explains people can function with the feeling of discontent, but they are unhappy.

Symptoms of discontent include complaining, moaning, listlessness and expressionlessness.

Here are some common feelings of summer discontent:

  • Body image: Dolnick says she combats bad body image by remembering that people of various sizes and shapes exist in the world. This allows people to choose between enjoying themselves or not.
  • Vacation home envy: Dolnick says the United States has become a nation of complainers who need to take action to satisfy their wants. For example, she says to start saving money for a house fund or get in touch with realtors and find out about summer homes you can afford.
  • Family reunions - During the summer, people get together for reunions and most want to have fun. She suggests avoiding environments that you know will cause you unhappiness.
Read an Excerpt

Principles of the Instructions

What you are about to encounter is a little strange. You're just going to have to get over that. These Instructions work. I can attest to it. That said, if the discontent we encounter together in this book isn't suitable for these Instructions, you'll be encouraged to seek help elsewhere. I always enjoyed those Dear Abby columns where she evenly and firmly indicated that the concerned letter writer should seek professional help. If your brand of discontent is outside my experience, you're going to know it.

Discontent is a truly universal experience: you're going to see many of your friends, family, and colleagues in this book. But you're the only one who can follow these Instructions. You can't fix other people. You can only fix yourself. Apply these Instructions liberally to your life and you will, by example and by healing, help others. But that's as far as it goes.

The tenets in this book aren't founded on "what's right" but on finding "what's the right thing for you." One person's ambrosia is another person's arsenic. You're the only one who can call the shots in your life. It's your free will, which is the most difficult and the most blessed thing about it. Yet you may be tempted to judge someone else's choices or way of life. When your attention starts to wander in someone else's direction and you feel the urge to utter "Ugh" or point out the error of his ways, resist!

You are here to explore your own reality, not to judge others. You're here by the grace of God (or whatever the Great Energy may be to you) and no one appointed you (or me) keeper of the Right Way. If people around you seem to be going astray, let them -- as long as they don't harm anyone else. If no one is hurt (I mean gravely hurt) by another's choices, you have no reason to interfere. This is what's known as the harm-noneprinciple.

Some of these Instructions require action on your part. Most of them require you to reevaluate your beliefs. In many ways, your beliefs about the way the world works can keep you from finding serenity and happiness. You will be challenged to look into what you have accepted to be "right" about the world. This isn't to say that you're wrong, but the "Re-Beliefs" in this book can enhance your vision, expand your scope, and broaden hope and healing. Discontent can't be contained or outlined to fit your agenda or your convenience. It appears in your life in its own time and place and pops up in almost every area you can imagine. For that reason, this book is organized based on the most commonly expressed discontents to the less expressed but certainly no less important.

Discontent has layers, like an onion. The outer layers are typically the problems that we're more willing to share with others. We can all gripe about money -- that's perfectly acceptable. We can complain about other people, too. That's not too far from the surface. Money and love are the two most pervasive forms of discontent. The inner layers are more personal and less commonly articulated. These are personal issues that include self-esteem, time management, anger, and your inner spiritual life. For this book, we'll work from the outside in, but you can go wherever you need the Instruction. Be sure to read the first two chapters before you get started.
You're going to enjoy examining your discontent, and moreover, you're going to love being happy again.

Copyright@ 2003 Barrie Dolnick