Pursuing Happiness

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.

Printable Typography.Serenity Prayer. 8x10. DIY. PDF. | Etsy

Stay healthy, safe, and happy.

What’s in my bucket?

Right off the bat I want to say, this bucket is not about my bucket list.  No, this is about filling my bucket.  It started when our school principal chose a book entitled Have You Filled a Bucket Today? A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids by Carol McCloud.  The premise of the book was that a kid could be happy or happier by showing kindness, respect, and helpfulness to others.  My take away was you have to be present in the moment to take advantage of an opportunity to fill the bucket. 

If filling someone’s bucket ultimately results in your bucket being filled there has to be some intentionality to living in the now.  That’s one of the main differences between having a bucket list and filling a bucket.  A bucket list implies that you will be or do something in the near future, or at least before you die – a kind of delayed gratification based on some day.  Bucket filling is about the present.  It is the result of living in the moment. 

In my writing I often focus on the history and relationships of past generations (especially in poetry) while considering the effects and investments it makes on the generations of the future.  Yet, I must also walk in the present.  If I fail to be present in the now, then I may miss the happiness (I prefer the term joy) of the relationships I have right now.  In other words, the past provides lessons while the future provides hope, and the present provides an opportunity to live life to the fullest.  Therefore, in order to keep my bucket filled and fill the bucket of others,  I must be intentionally present in the moment.

You may be thinking what does that look like?I  Here are a few examples from my life.  When I wake up in the morning I sit on the side of my bed, take in a deep breath, and stretch and twist my limbs and torso just to express gratefulness for life, strength, and a sound mind. When I step outside, I take the time to look up at the sky and listen to the morning sounds: my wind chimes, birds, traffic, cicadas.  I tune my favorite radio stations so that I can sing along, laugh, and listen, but mainly remain calm and unrushed in traffic.  As I drive through my subdivision, I do so watchfully and cautiously in order to spot the wildlife such as deer, rabbits, owls and opossums.  (There is also the occasional pet. I am definitely a nature lover.) 

When I meet my co-workers or people in the local coffee shop, I make an intentional effort to look them in the eye, notice their body language, and listen to their words.  (I truly hate when people ask how you are without taking the time to listen to your response.  Sometimes I’ll say something ridiculous just to catch them off guard, like I think tongue is growing longer!) When I arrive home again,  I engage in real conversations with my family.  I really want to know about their day and their experiences.  

Being present in the moment means you engage all of your senses, as well as your intellect and spirit.  Ask yourself what regrets will I have if I lost my sight (or any other sense) today.  If you would wish to see your love one’s face or a sunset or a flower, the question is why aren’t you looking at them today – when opportunity presents itself. 

There’s the DJ on the radio, Willie Moore Jr., he says, “Today is a gift that’s why it’s called the present” .  That may sound a little glib but it’s true.  We shouldn’t wait to fill our buckets with once in a lifetime adventures; we should fill our buckets with the wonders of life’s daily experiences and relationships.  Really smell the roses, really savor the flavor, truly engage and commune, actually feel and reflect, actively listen and see.  Fill Your Bucket and at the same time fill the bucket of others with the joy of being present.  You deserve it and those around you deserve it.  It’s hard to live with regret when you actively living each day intentionally. 

What will you do to be fully engaged in your environment?  How can you utilize your five senses to observe and experience life around you?  What will it take to enhance the communion of your relationships? What activities can you use to refresh and revile your spirit?  How can you fill a bucket and find daily happiness?  Please share your thoughts and share this book with a child you love.