Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a complete guide to surviving and maintaining happiness during times of crisis? After all, somebody should have the answers to all of our questions, right? Maybe that’s the danger of fairy tales, we always expect the story to end with happily ever after. It doesn’t take much adult living to figure out that that is a crock. Happily ever after comes in spurts throughout our lives. It’s hardly ever a constant, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t see our lives as happy in overview.
The question is does the good out weigh the bad? Have we made corrections, adjustments, or a conscious effort to establish the basis for our happiness. Admittedly, happiness is an elusive and ethereal term that can be defined in a thousand different ways. So, allow me to define my terms. I’m talking about a contentment that brings peace and joy to your life.
Several years ago my grandmother died. She was close to ninety. She was blind due to glaucoma and she had severe Alzheimer’s. She had lived a good life prior to the onset of Alzheimer’s. She enjoyed traveling between the states of her children and grandchildren. She loved to try new things, and she had an abundance of hobbies. She used to say she was doing everything she could to enjoy her life while she was able because the day would come when she couldn’t. She did not dread what the future held, she simply accepted the fact that change would come as she grew older. (She based this way of thinking on scripture, particularly Ecclesiastes chapter 12) That doesn’t mean she didn’t have some hard and rough days. She did – the failure of her marriage, the loss of a home, the death of her sisters and her parents, the loss of sight in her left eye before losing the sight of the right – many major and minor life events. Yet, she found a way to laugh, to count her blessings, to appreciate the love of family and friends around her, and practice her faith every day. She is my example. She is what I strive to emulate in my worldview and outlook on life.
“The greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our disposition, and not upon our circumstances.” I don’t know where this quote comes from, but I believe it’s true. My grandmother was born in 1911. She grew up impoverish. She worked hard as a sharecropper in the South and as a domestic worker in the North. When I was twelve she got a job as a factory worker which earned her a Social Security check of a little over $600 a month. Yet, she was rich in her attitude toward people and life. Everyone loved her. So many people all over the country (due to her travels between family members) adopted her as their mother or grandmother. She was respected for her humanity and her spirituality. She was a confidant, a friend, a nurturer, a giver. She was my inspiration.
So here we are in the midst of a pandemic. What’s our disposition? What kind of attitude do we have toward our circumstances? How has it changed our outlook, our perspective on life? Are we miserable or happy? I’m finding a lot of that depends on me, not on others. When I wake up in the morning before the sun rise and hear the birds sing, I am so grateful. I’m reminded that there are persons who can’t hear what I hear. I’m aware that I’m alive. I have the activity of my limbs, a sound mind, my five senses (maybe six or seven), shelter, food, family, and so much more. I start my day counting my blessings and praying for those whose experiences are so different from mine. Being grateful enhances my empathy and reminds me that things can change drastically at any given moment. Like my grandmother, I purpose in my heart to enjoy my blessings and to be a blessing while I can, so that when the day comes that I can’t I won’t have any regrets.
It’s hard to be sheltered-in. It’s uncomfortable to wear masks and gloves every time you step out of the house. Long lines at the grocery store and drive through restaurants are so inconvenient. But, if you compare that to not knowing the destiny of your hospitalized love one; or being homeless not only during the pandemic, but before and after it; or having COVID19 while pregnant; or losing a love one who died alone; what do we have to complain about? My heart breaks as I hold the heart of my friends and family, as well as hear about countless others who are suffering at a far greater level than anything I have known or experienced. Yet, I can also find peace and joy in doing whatever I can to help them. (There are countless charity opportunities and ways to express your desire to help.)
If you can’t find you happiness – your peace and joy – or your contentment, may I suggest a couple of things. 1) Do a self-check. If you are depressed seek help: a counselor, your doctor, or clergy. Don’t accept depression as a norm. 2) Stay connected. Stay in touch with family and friends by any means necessary. Use electronics, stand outside windows, or call them on the phone. Take some classes on the internet, sign up for seminars. (Some local libraries are offering virtual classes.) Participate in virtual church or club meetings. Don’t be an island unto yourself. (ref: John Donne) 3) Find a way to give back. Donate food, clothing, or dollars to an organization that is helping those in distress. (You can do this at any age. My mom has been making masks.) Volunteer at a food bank or to drive Meals on Wheels, if you are not at that vulnerable age or have preexisting health issues. 4) Journal. Write your experiences for posterity. Write your feelings to examine them. Write your goals and dreams and how you can creatively accomplish them during the pandemic and after. Write fiction, poetry, song lyrics, or recipes. Writing can be very cathartic. 5) Count your blessing. Try to count 30 things that you are thankful for each week (or day). Do this while taking a walk or a warm bubble bath or sitting on your porch (deck) at sunset or sunrise. (You could also use your journal for this.) Lastly, 6) Do something you enjoy everyday. Read a book, cook, garden, sew, build bird house, whatever you enjoy doing find a way to include it in your schedule. It will give you something to look forward to as well as bring some joy to your heart.
We can pursue happiness by adjusting our attitude and watching our disposition. It starts by changing what we can change, and that is usually ourselves and how we choose deal with our circumstances. To that end I share one last thing with you – the Serenity Prayer.
Stay healthy, safe, and happy.