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Excerpted from Creating a Life of Joy by Salle Merrill Redfield. Copyright 1999 by Salle Merrill Redfield. Excerpted by permission of Time Warner Books and Time Warner Bookmark.  All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.  HTML and web pages copyright by SpiritSite.com.

"Learning to meet our needs consciously is so important. If we have a pattern of meeting our needs in destructive ways, we have to be wary."

Salle Merrill Redfield, Creating a Life of Joy, Part 3

Certain activities meet a variety of our needs. A man can take his family on a vacation and feel a sense of significance by paying for the vacation, connection from being with people he loves, variety or uncertainty because he is visiting a new place, and growth because he will learn about the local culture.

As simple as these needs are, the challenge comes when we try to find our unique style for meeting them in positive ways. The need for significance could be met by becoming the president of a major company or by joining a gang and carrying a gun. For some people, abusing alcohol and using drugs temporarily meets the need for connection with others. Someone might feel certainty because the drug makes him feel better, at least for a while. And he gains significance because being drunk or high enables him to delude himself into feeling more self-esteem. This is one of the challenges of these addictions. They can seem to meet so many of a person's needs. Often we are hooked before we realize that the alcohol or drug's ability to meet our needs is just an illusion.

The same idea applies to food. We can be certain that a little comfort food during times of stress will make us feel better, and there is an endless variety of foods to eat. Just look at all the ice cream flavors on the market. We get connection because we can be with friends while dining out. And significance comes in when someone eats only at the most popular restaurants or drinks only the best wines. We can also get significance by having the reputation of baking the best apple pie in our community. Food can be one of the greatest pleasures in life. It can also lead to obesity, disease, and various eating disorders if it becomes our only method of meeting our needs.

This is why learning to meet our needs consciously is so important. If we have a pattern of meeting our needs in destructive ways, we have to be wary. We need to learn to first understand which needs are being met by our destructive behavior and then look for another way to meet them. The same needs that we have seemed to satisfy through the abuse of food, alcohol, shopping, or sex can be met in a healthier, more productive manner.

Become an expert at recognizing how you are meeting your needs. If there is something you love to do, notice which needs are getting met. If there are activities you have to do but don't like, look closely at your reaction and notice which needs are not being met.

Beliefs About Life

I once attended a women's retreat where I met an elegant older woman named Ellen, who radiated optimism. At seventy she was graceful and refreshing to be around. On the last day of the retreat she and I took an early morning walk. As we walked, I questioned her about her optimism. "Ellen, have you always been this joyous about life?" I asked. Her immediate response was, "Oh, no, I used to be a very depressed person." A bit surprised by her answer, I asked her to tell me more. She described how she had once been a magazine editor in New York, always in a hurry, living by everyone else's standards, and never having an original thought or action. She came home from work one day and discovered that her husband of thirty-seven years had left her. She was shattered.

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