Spiritually Speaking

QUESTION: I work with a person who constantly complains – about the job, about his family, and life in general. I don’t think he understands how he comes across to others. The man is responsible and seems to be a family man. I often wonder if he saves his complaints just for the workplace. I have often said to him, “Is it really that bad?” He doesn’t reply.

What makes a person happy or unhappy? Is there anything I can say to this guy that will help him look at his life differently?
– Puzzled Co-worker

Dear Puzzled,
It is hard to know why people are happy or unhappy. You don’t say how long your co-worker’s negative behavior has been going on. If it hasn’t been very long, he may be going through a rough patch and just needs to vent. Or maybe he is simply asking for someone to reach out to him in friendship. Are you that person? If so, your concern for him could just give him the support he needs to move in a positive direction. However, you need to be sure not to become so concerned with his issues that they affect your own work.

If you don’t feel comfortable getting personally involved, you could ask the Human Relations folks in your office, if you have them, to help since his action seems to be affecting the environment in the office. However, he might then become angry that others are getting involved in his personal life, potentially making matters worse rather than better.

Another possibility is that your co-worker is suffering from chronic depression. If that is the case, he may not be able to control his negative reactions to situations and people in his life. And, as you suggest, he may not even realize that he is behaving in anything other than a reasonable way. If that is the case, there is unfortunately very little that you can say or do, short term, that will change his behavior.

I am sorry I have no simple answers for your dilemma. But without direct knowledge of the situation, it is difficult to suggest alternatives. I just hope that your co-worker is able to get the help he needs, and I have great compassion for your predicament.

Rev. Dr. Betty Stapleford

Minister of the Unitarian Universalist
Church of the Verdugo Hills La Crescenta


Dear Puzzled,
“Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of a friend springs from their heartfelt advice.” Proverbs 27:9

This Proverb comes to mind when considering your options. One question you may ask yourself is, “What kind of relationship/friendship does my co-worker and I have, both from his perspective and mine?” Apparently he feels comfortable enough to unload his thoughts and feelings around you. But is he comfortable sharing with anyone who will listen or with only those he feels safe? Unless you ask him directly you may not know why he shares his troubles with you.

Unfortunately happiness is subjective. People choose whether to see the glass half empty or half full. I remember as a young boy watching the cartoon “Gulliver’s Travels.” Glum was always saying, “It will never work; we’re all going to die.” His voice even sounded gloomy each time he spoke, complaining at every turn. In each episode, Gulliver would say something to Glum to set his mind onto positive thoughts, but positive thoughts never lasted for Glum.      What I learned from Glum is that there are some people you can never make happy, at least not happy all the time.

The silence you hear when he doesn’t reply after asking, “Is it really that bad?” may be him hoping for some heartfelt advice. Giving heartfelt advice may not have the result you’re hoping for in him but I know every time Gulliver gave heartfelt advice to Glum he always tried to receive it.

You have shown you care enough about him to ask for advice in looking for ways to help him. It just may be that he already knows about your gracious helping heart and he is hoping to hear your positive kind responses, which could make him feel a little better about his challenges with life, one challenge at a time. He needs to want to help himself change to really look at his life differently. His perspective of what kind of friendship he is willing to have with you and his desire to be content enough not to complain will be an important variable in his receiving your heartfelt advice, at least to the point of change, lasting change.

Words and feelings flowing like perfume and incense really can bring joy to the heart, especially when it comes from the heart of a friend.

Mark Yeager

Senior Pastor Verdugo Hills Church

Senior Chaplain,
director, Chaplain Services
YMCA of the Foothills

National Senior Youth Pastor

Director, Youth Ministries
Cleansing Stream International

QUESTION: We have three children and we asked them to give us a list of what they would like to have for Christmas to get a head start on the shopping. Our middle daughter, who is in the second grade, has asked for a West Highland Terrier. We’ve always had large dogs, and our last one passed away from cancer, so we are a dog-less family now. My husband prefers large dogs and doesn’t want to get our daughter the Westie, so we asked her to revise her list which looks like this: 1) Westie from Mom and Dad; 2) Westie from Grandma and Grandpa; 3) Westie from God.

We read Spiritually Speaking regularly and my husband said he will respect and honor the answers to our situation.
– Parents Seeking Answers

Dear Parents,
Dogs are wonderful; my wife and I have three, and all of them rescues. So I am a dog owner but I am not a parent – so please weigh all the facts before you decide what the best course is for you.

My first impulse is to suggest that you get the Westie. You may prefer large dogs, and I do, too, but we have a little Minature Pinscher or Manchester Terrier and I love him as much as I love the other two. You know what? If you get your daughter a Westie, I’ll bet you’ll fall in love with it, too!

As I was growing up, we had dogs, and my parents were more “dog people” than “cat people.” Yet somehow we got a cat, and my dad learned to love that feline. When the cat died prematurely (a car backed over it accidentally), my dad said, “I really miss that cat!” I think even he was surprised that he had bonded with the animal.

So my advice would be to get the Westie … and then if a rescue opportunity should arise, an opportunity to get a big dog, get it and then each animal will have a friend to be with when you and the family are out on the town.

Let me leave you with this prayer, written by Margaret Wise Brown: “Dear Father, Hear and bless Thy beasts and singing birds. And guard with tenderness small things that have no words.”

The Rev. Skip Lindeman,
La Cañada
Congregational Church

Dear Parents,
I completely understand the predicament from the parents’ point of view – and your daughter’s. I myself grew up with three large German Shepherds. When one beloved dog passed, we became the owners of two more. I am ashamed to say I turned my nose up at the idea of ever owning a small dog.

I also have three children. My children wanted a small, indoor lap dog. I kept thinking, no way! I cannot deal with a small dog underfoot. Then my mother got a Shih Tzu. He was a little silky ball. He kept running to me and his personality just captured my heart. So when my oldest daughter’s birthday arrived I found myself at breeders holding a dog I fell in love with. Still not completely convinced, I brought her home. My children’s joy was contagious.

I did this for my children. It was a selfless act as I did not want another dog. But the amount of time and love my kids bestow on this dog has been worth every penny. Their joy brings me joy. However, that little dog has brought me unexpected happiness as well. She greets me in the morning, complete adoration is shown to me as I get my coffee, and having one of the hardest year-and-a-half of my life, she has actually comforted me daily.

The moral? Sometimes giving selfless love to our kids and seeing them happy is the greatest blessing to us; and often we are unexpectedly blessed by the decision or act ourselves.

If you feel your daughter will be delighted for years to come by this dog, buy her one. My thoughts … you will be surprisingly blessed as well. You may find you even like the smaller dog as much as a large one – I know I did. And even if I didn’t, my children’s daily enjoyment overrides any personal preference I may have.
Merry Christmas!

Kimberlie Zakarian, M.S., LMFT
Kimberlie Zakarian Therapy, Inc.