Inspiration from Music: Dolly Parton's "Better Get to Livin'"
 
Wednesday, June 09, 2010

By: Ken Howard, LCSW

In my work as a psychotherapist and life coach, I am always grateful for the many and varied sources of inspiration that come my way.  The latest uplifting piece of material I’ve come across is in music, in a relatively new song by country/pop star Dolly Parton, well-known by her fans and her colleagues for being so cheerful that she refers to herself as the “Dolly Lama” for being asked for her advice on how she keeps her perennially-positive attitude.  Summarized in a song, “Better Get to Livin’”, (from her new CD, “Backwoods Barbie”) and featured in the Broadway musical version of “9 to 5”.  Dolly describes her philosophy, available at iTunes.com or at http://www.dollyon-line.com/archives/lyrics/better_get_to_livin.shtml. 

The lyrics go like this:

“You better to get to livin’, givin’, Be willin’ and forgivin; ‘cause all healin’ has to start with you.  You better stop whinin’, pinin’, Get your dreams in line, and then just shine, design, refine til they come true —  and you better get to livin’.”

As simple as these words are, they reveal a similar philosophy about self-empowerment that I often teach my clients as I encourage them to identify, call forth, strengthen, and implement the skills of coping they need to face life’s challenges head-on.  One of the best strategies for any challenge is to adopt as relentlessly positive an attitude as you possibly can, even if that’s hard to do.  Earlier this year, when I was facing Total Hip Replacement surgery of my left femur bone joint in my left leg due to HIV-related Avascular Necrosis (crumbling bone), I took this attitude to prepare for my surgery.  I worked out extra-hard the week before the surgery so that I would be in peak shape for my subsequent recovery and physical therapy.  I was grateful for the not-so-bad hospital food, for the cute physical therapist, for the silly word games my fiancé played with me to pass the time, and for the nurses who took good care of me, I believe, in part due to the relentlessly polite and positive approach I gave them (I wanted them to be happy to answer my buzzer!).  Later,  I undertook my physical therapy not as a chore, but as a joy that the exercises would restore me to full athletic physical functioning — which they did, after only 12 weeks of consistent and diligent work.  I don’t think it would have gone as fast or as well if I hadn’t been practicing Dolly’s advice — and this was before I learned about her song!

In daily practice with clients, I will often quote an inspirational song, story, script, or poem that I think might help them, or ask them to see if they can draw inspiration from a piece of music or literature that inspires them.  Getting inspiration from the materials we are exposed to, and applying that material to challenging situations, is one aspect of emotional coping with the challenges that life inevitably tosses into our path.

Dolly’s song goes on to suggest that if “your life’s a wreck, your house is a mess, and your wardrobe’s way outdated, all your plans just keep on fallin’ through; overweight, underpaid, under-appreciated — I’m no guru, but I’ll tell you, this I know is true:  You better to get to livin’, givin’, a little more thought about bein’ a little more willin’, to make a better way — Better start carin’, sharin’, tryin’, smilin’ — the day we’re born, we start to die, don’t waste a minute of this life — get to livin’.”  All of these “in” verbs are a motivating list of how we need to jump-start our self-empowered attitudes.  If something isn’t right, reach deep down into yourself and ask, “What do I need to evoke in myself to make things better?”  Or, “What do I need to ask of others to make things better?”  Knowing the internal resources we need (motivation, assertiveness, stamina, self-respect, effort, belief, inspiration, compassion) and the resources from others (information, elbow-grease, wisdom, time, compassion, faith, trust, courage, patience) helps us to assemble the tools we need to make change.  Applying our resources — plus those we borrow from others — is  what makes change in our lives.

Dolly’s more religious side suggests, “If it gets too rough, fall on your knees and pray — and do this every day.”  For non-religious but perhaps more spiritual people, maybe it’s about meditating, concentrating, releasing, and believing.  For people in AA, it’s about “giving it up” to a God of their understanding, or to their Higher Power.  Sometimes, when it gets real rough, our spirituality has to augment all the resources that are within us and those near us.  The anniversary of 9/11/01 comes to mind, or when things happen that seem to take all that we can give — and then some.  When we really stretch at those times, we grow.

Lots of song lyrics can inspire us, and other materials that I can explain in therapy or coaching.  What songs inspire you?  Get to listenin’ — and get to livin’ — so that you, too, can Have The Life You Want!

Ken Howard, LCSW

Helping people survive and thrive after barriers, setbacks, and losses in their relationships, career, health, mental health, and finances.  Have the Life You Want!