Genuine well being for ourselves and the planet

Archive for the ‘Gratitude’ Category

Only Three Positive Things?Or, Remembering to be Happy While Flying

 

A hopeful sign of moving in the right direction: O'Hare airport's vegetable garden!

A hopeful sign of moving in the right direction: O’Hare airport’s vegetable garden!

Last Saturday morning, I had an early flight to western North Carolina to celebrate a friend’s 70th birthday.   I’ve been trying to say “yes” to life’s opportunities more often, so when the invitation came from my friend Lynn, I figured out a way to afford the airfare.  I also love that part of North Carolina.  These friends live about an hour east of Asheville, where the mountains are spectacular.  Plus, I have another dear friend — a high school era BFF — an hour west of Asheville.  This was a chance to spend time with her, too.  It was all very last minute, but I said, “yes!”  Yes, to a pleasant, meaningful, happy trip.

Then in the car, I started complaining to my husband as he drove me to the airport.  I said, I’d be much more excited if I was driving*, not flying — because, of course, everyone “knows” flying is just no fun anymore.  It wasn’t major complaining, but I was definitely leaning into my brain’s negativity bias (which, by the way, your brain has, too!).

Yet,  about an hour later, when I heard the pilot speak in a delightful Irish brogue, I realized, “I’m having fun! I’m enjoying my air travel experience!”

That realization made me think about the power of intention, and attention.  In any given moment, we  choose (usually sub-consciously) what we pay attention to — and what we don’t pay attention to, don’t even see.  It is simply impossible to pay attention to everything all the time.   We can consciously choose to focus on the positive, or we can choose the negative.   If you doubt the power of attention, try this quick video test.  I’ve seen other versions, but I think this gets the message across.

In turn, that led me to mull over  one of the fads currently making the rounds on Facebook.  I’ve been repeatedly challenged to “name three positive things” each day for a week.  I’m not at all opposed to the “three positive things ritual,” but buckled in my seat and waiting for take-off,  I thought, “Why just three?  What if I count all day?  How many positives will I rack up?”

It was immediately apparent that counting all the positives is impossible.  I mean, the sun rises and my heart beats and I have running water.  Not to mention, I was about to be, as comedian Louis C.K. puts it, “partaking in the miracle of flight.” I also wake up almost every day in Vermont, a place that is so special to me and where I am always grateful to live.  The scenery between my house and the airport is stunningly beautiful.  On a more personal note, I wake up most days next to a loving and devoted husband, to whom I am also enormously grateful.  Etc.  Life overflows with positives.  With all that as a baseline, here are just a few positives from August 30, 2014:

  1. Yay for a 7:30 AM flight! Many flights leave Burlington at 6:00 AM.  It is ever so much more civilized to leave the house at 5:30 AM than to leave at 4:00 AM.
  2. For some reason, I was totally prepared and ready to roll out of bed and into the car.  Patting myself on the back!
  3. Bob offered to accompany me into the airport, not just drop me off outside.  So sweet.  So Bob.
  4. The check-in was totally smooth and pleasant.  I didn’t even have to use one of those automatic machines which make me anxious.  Instead, I got to deal with a pleasant and helpful human being.
  5. Yay for Skinny Pancake!  It makes me happy to have this Vermont franchise, with its emphasis on local and organic products, in the airport gate area.  Plus, I could buy bottled water from them in a resusable glass battle!  Awesome.eat-more-kale-sticker
  6. Coffee!! ‘nuf said.
  7. Pleasant interaction with a woman and her young adult son waiting to board.  They were flying to Colorado for the start of  his college career.  Fun to wish them both well.
  8. Pleased to have a seatmate who doesn’t want to talk (though, I would probably also be pleased to have a seatmate who does want to talk!)
  9. Phew!!  Especially pleased that this seatmate (a young man) seems to have a pleasant disposition.  That is, he didn’t get upset when I spilled water all over him.
  10. Good thing it wasn’t coffee.
  11. Flying over my beloved Vermont and seeing some special spots from the air (like Shelburne Pond).
  12. Glad I chose only yogurt at the Skinny Pancake and not a muffin.  I always seem to gain weight while traveling.  At least I’m off to a good start.
  13. Happy also to fly over the Adirondacks, a magnificent wilderness area I can often see from the Vermont side of Lake Champlain.  Though I would love to spend some time on the ground in the Adirondacks, we never do, because Vermont’s mountains  constantly beckon.  So it’s nice to get a good view of the Adirondacks this morning.
  14. It is a beautiful summer day.
  15. I laughed out loud (but not too loud) when the flight attendant announced, “For the comfort of other passengers, please securely close the door behind you when you use the lavatory.”
  16. I was inspired to write!  I so love it when I am visited by inspiration.
  17. An article in the in-flight magazine about Dutch aeronautical student Boyan Slat, who has developed a method of cleaning up the massive floating plastic garbage dump in the Pacific Ocean, fills me with hope.
  18. Traveling with a bathroom.  Really, that’s soooo much better than mile after increasingly stressful mile in the car, wondering where I can possibly stop to use the restroom.
  19. Feeling like such a goofus on the plane — bumped my head, scrawled some ink on the back of the seat in front of me, and of course spilled water on my seatmate — but (and here’s the positive) — feeling so okay with this.  Sometimes I get to be in a group where I am the wise one or sparkle in some other way.  Sometimes, I’m the goofus.  It is really okay.
  20. Plenty of peacefulness on the plane, making it easy to meditate.
  21. Appreciating the fact that meditation has become a joy and not a chore, and that I no longer worry about whether I’m doing it “right.”  I know it’s right by how I feel, even squished into a tiny seat on a crowded plane.
  22. More signs of hope.  They are everywhere, it seems.  Solar panels, windmills, and, in Chicago’s O’Hare airport, of all places, a poster about the airport’s own vegetable garden.  Awareness seems to be growing re sustainability changes we all need to make.
  23. I love Vermont but it is exceptionally homogenous.  It is fun for me to see such a diverse population as the passengers in O’Hare.
  24. Talking with my granddaughter on the phone — really, talking with my daughter, because my granddaughter was too happy playing in the background for a phone call right now.  I think that’s great.  I’m happy she’s happy.
  25. Fun exchange with the flight attendant about the fact that non-dairy creamer is a poor substitute for half-n-half.
  26. I did NOT lose my laptop in the Charlotte airport!  I put it down near the baggage claim area, to call my friend Lynn and let her know my status.  After I grabbed my suitcase from the carousel and started walking away, I realized I no longer had my laptop with me!  Mild panic set in, but I went back to where I made the phone call, and there was my laptop.  So, so relieved.  That would have put a real damper on this positivity list!  Instead, it’s one of the highlights.
  27. Yay for “Eat More Kale” stickers!  Montpelier artist Bo Muller-Moore hands out free, mildly subversive  “Eat More Kale” stickers.  I had stuck one on the plain black suitcase I borrowed from Bob, so this suitcase would stand out from all the others just like it on the baggage claim carousel.  It worked!  I spotted the bag right away.
  28. When Lynn picked me up, I really enjoyed looking at her simple but effective turquoise drop earrings and her matching turquoise blouse.  Very pretty.
  29. With an hour drive to her house, Lynn and I had time to reconnect in the car after four years of not seeing each other.
  30. Then when we arrived at their house, I could reconnect with Mark, the birthday boy — once also known as my college adviser.  Very special.
  31. Later, all three of us sat out on the deck drinking wine and eating crackers and cheese.  Delightful.
  32. Lynn made a simple but scrumptious stir fry dinner, with chicken, bok choy, and rice.  Perfect.
  33. The guest bed is super super comfortable!!
  34. With the windows wide open, I can hear the crickets chirping as I fall asleep.

 

All in all, a good day made so much better by focusing on the positives — so much better, in fact, that I feel like my brain has been at least a little bit re-wired.  I honestly look forward to my flight back home to see what joy it brings me.

This was such an easy exercise.  Let me know if you try it — I’d love to see your list!

 

 

 

* Of course, driving would have been a terribly selfish choice, environmentally.  I know some folks I know refuse to fly on environmental grounds, but nurturing relationships with lifelong friends seemed like a good enough reason to fly in this case.

 

Personal Happiness and Broken Systems

Periodically, I feel compelled to stress that my passion for spreading the happiness gospel is based on a fervent desire for a radically different political and economic paradigm — one that is focused on the genuine well-being of people and the planet, as opposed to a world which “has become an idolator of this god called money,” according to Pope Francis.  Like the Pope (I never thought I’d say that!), I “want a just system that helps everyone.”

The events last night that led to my granddaughter Madeleine taking care of her first ever baby doll have once again inspired me to write about the connection between personal happiness and broken systems.

My granddaughter practices nurturing relationships with her first ever doll.

My granddaughter practices nurturing relationships with her first ever doll.

My path is, of course, different from the Pope’s.  I believe that cultivating personal happiness is a key element (not the only element)  in working toward this shift.  Here are a few reasons why.  With greater understanding of personal happiness, comes a deeper appreciation of the sadness, emptiness, and destruction inherent in relying solely on Gross National Product  measurements of success.  When we internalize the knowledge that money and material goods are important but only a piece of our personal happiness, and also understand that chasing the almighty dollar can seriously undermine our enjoyment of life, we can so much more easily grasp the practical and visionary potential of a Gross National Happiness paradigm.

Further, cultivating personal happiness will strengthen the traits we need for the indescribably huge challenges of ameliorating climate change and ending the grown economy.  As we become happier individuals, we are, for starters:

  • less attached to things;
  • more optimistic;
  • more resilient;
  • more aware of what is truly going on around us;
  • more creative;
  • more compassionate: and
  • more grateful.

Oh, yes, and we are also more fun to be around — which no doubt makes us better messengers.

Okay, I’ll climb off the soapbox now and share what made me want to climb up there in the first place.  About a week ago, my daughter Jennifer’s old clunker car finally died.   She and my 20-month-old granddaughter will soon be joining us for a long Christmas break, but for a week and a half, she has had to cobble together a new transportation “system”: getting rides from friends, walking, and taking the bus.  She is fortunate to live in a city with decent public transit, but even so, last night my daughter and granddaughter spent 45 minutes on a cold, dark, and snowy Wisconsin night waiting for the bus to take them home.  It was pretty hard for Jennifer to be happy when her baby was crying from the cold.  My daughter sang to the baby to keep her calm until Jennifer’s cheeks were just too cold to keep singing.

Of course, the bus arrived eventually.  At home,  Jennifer decided it was a good time to open a Christmas present from Madeleine’s other grandmother.  That present is Madeleine’s first baby doll.   Watching her toddler practice taking care of this immediately beloved toy gave  my daughter a lot of reasons to feel much happier — gratitude, love, savoring the moment, etc.  So the story has a happy ending.

To me, this little vignette illustrates both the limits of, and the value of, personal happiness within broken systems.  For starters, cultivating our internal happiness is especially  important in the context of broken systems because, hey, this is the only life we get!  We should make the most of it, no matter the systems we live within.  I am so glad Jennifer and Madeleine got to end their evening on such a positive note.

To be clear, my daughter’s situation isn’t that bad.   She has a great job, a wonderful apartment, and a cousin who is helping her get a new car over Christmas break.  She’s only lived in Wisconsin a short time, yet she already has a group of friends who have been amazingly generous in providing rides.  Jennifer’s monetary resources may be limited, but she has almost an embarrassment of riches in terms of friends and family who love her and can help when help is needed.  Which brings me to another reason for cultivating personal happiness, a la nurturing relationships: it provides us the tools to build alternatives to systems that break.

But personal happiness has its limits.  My daughter’s transportation struggles inspired me to write about Gross National Happiness because of the millions of young parents — or old grandparents, for that matter — who struggle with transportation to school, work, and child care day in and day out, in broiling heat as well as frigid cold.  Their own fatigue and discomfort, intensified by their children’s suffering, may well make “happiness” seem like a ridiculous goal.  Not everyone has presents waiting for them at home, and there is no reliable car in the immediate future for untold numbers of America’s working families.  We do not have “a just system that helps everyone.”

And then there’s the obvious: we should all be weaning ourselves off fossil fuels.  A political and economic system focused on the well being of people and the planet would surely be moving rapidly toward excellent systems of mass transit.

Another obvious point: transportation is just one of our many broken systems.  That is why, this Christmas season, I will be spending lots and lots of time with my family and friends — giving and receiving, singing, playing in the snow, laughing, meditating, and doing my best to live a happy life.  At the same time, I’ll be working with my friends at Gross National Happiness USA and The Happiness Initiative to move towards a world of greater peace and justice, a world that does more than pay lip service to well being for all.

As Tiny Tim says, “God bless us, every one.”  Everyone.

And now I have to go bake cookies.

It’s Vacation Time! Is Everybody Happy?

This Memorial Day weekend it was snowing at my home in Vermont, but now that the sun is out — and we’re supposed to get 80-degree temperatures in a few more days — perhaps we can relax and believe that summer is finally here.  For many of us, in addition to pulling endless weeds, summer means vacation!  Will those vacations make us happy?

According to research, yes.  A February 2010  New York Times article  reported on findings from the Netherlands that vacations do in fact make us happier, if nothing goes wrong, like an illness or a fight with your spouse.  The Dutch researchers found that the biggest happiness hit comes from anticipation.  We can also savor the joy of vacations in the present moment.  Not only that — Sonja Lyubomirsky notes in The How of Happiness that we can savor these experiences in retrospect, especially with the aid of photographs.

A very happy evening with a simple but savory meal on the beach.

A very happy evening with a simple but savory meal on the beach.

Okay, that’s the research, that’s the theory.  But how does it work in “real” life?  This has been on my mind because a month ago, when I was returning from a blissful week long stay at the beach, I was not happy.  Rather, I was close to tears — and a little bit angry, too.

The anger — or maybe it was resentment — was toward those (temporarily?) fortunate souls who were just arriving on the island and toward those with the financial resources to afford second homes and lots of time in this heavenly spot.  I felt like living proof that our country’s extreme income inequality breeds unhappiness.

I also felt spoiled, petty, and not very highly evolved for even thinking in these terms.  First of all, the trip was an amazing Christmas present to me from my very loving husband, and throughout the week, I was filled with gratitude for him.  But the desire to stay longer overwhelmed me with sadness.  Ah, desire — the cause of so much suffering!

Further, I know that comparing ourselves with others is insidious and a sure fire recipe for unhappiness.  Yet there I was, comparing away, and finding myself very much wanting … Never mind that I was still in a warm, sunny, carefree place while most of my friends were stuck in climates where winter just wouldn’t let up.  Or, the much broader comparison with all the pockets of desperate unhappiness in the world.  I was looking at those with more money and more time than me, and that comparison was anything but cheer inducing.

I’m pleased to report, I’ve got my happiness equilibrium back and can look at photos and videos of the trip and feel joy.  I still long to return, but that longing functions more as an inspiration for me to take the steps I need to take to make that happen.  It’s now a goal, and goals can increase our happiness.  Can increase our happiness, or not — depending on the goal!

A month out from my sad state of desire and social comparison, I’ve landed on three thoughts: first, happiness is a process; second, the ground rules can seem murky sometimes; and third, never underestimate the value of a mindfulness practice.

A Lifelong Process: In my happiness workshops, I like to quote writer Margaret Lee Runbeck, who said, “Happiness is not a state to arrive at, but a manner of traveling.”  I also like to compare cultivating one’s own happiness with maintaining flexibility through a regular yoga practice.  It’s not something we can do once or twice and declare victory.  We have to stick with it to maintain our happiness muscle tone.

So maybe my vacation deprivation was a little teeny tiny example of income inequality — and maybe, much more so, I was a loud example of the need to maintain one’s happiness practices.  After all, I read about this field all the time, and I try to heed the wisdom of the great science of happiness thinkers.  Throughout the week, I consciously savored the experience, expressed gratitude, exercised, and even went to yoga class twice.

It wasn’t enough to carry me through the departure.  Guess I’ve still got work — a lot of work!! — to do on my happiness journey.

The murkiness of happiness practices: Driving home, I mulled over the complexity of happiness strategies.  For example, savoring.  Really, it was a sweet, sweet week — perfect weather, and we saw many wild animals in their own habitat (including a snake that liked our patio, and two manatees in a nearby canal) — with much to savor.  But, did that make it harder to let go?

Then there’s social comparison — obviously, a source of distress for me.   Yet, comparison with others can serve as a spur, providing us with the role models we need to follow.  For example, there was a lot of time for people watching on the beach, and I saw many fit bodies of all ages — an inspiration to me to be more physically active and stay as healthy as I can for as long as I can.  Envy may be destructive, but looking at a woman older than me in great shape, and thinking, “Wow, good for her!  Maybe I can do better, too!” seems very positive and an excellent motivation for long-term happiness.

Mindfulness: I’m beginning to think all roads lead to mindfulness.  It seems like any happiness question or strategy you examine includes a crucial element of awareness.  In this case, thankfully, I was aware and self-reflective.  While I felt bad for myself, I knew that was a) petty and b) temporary.

Mindfulness helps us make better choices.  I say that I now have a goal of getting back to this gorgeous island, but at what cost?  Do I focus on making money for a vacation rather than follow my true calling?  Do I choose a tropical vacation trip over a visit with my granddaughter?  Meditating helps me find the answers to these and an infinite number of other questions, big and small.

I also know that so much unhappiness can come from wanting.  Wanting, wanting, wanting.  And yes, that wanting can sometimes serve us, but more frequently it leads to unnecessary suffering.  A meditation practice is so crucial to building and maintaining an awareness of what really matters in life.

Meditation also strengthens our capacity for compassion.  In my sadness at leaving behind a week of joy, perhaps I could have had compassion for myself; compassion for those who get to spend more time on the island but undoubtedly have their own suffering; compassion for those just arriving for their week’s vacation and who might be as sad as me the following Saturday; compassion for my friends enduring a snowy April; etc. That’s a very big etc., and I’m sure you can fill in the many, many blanks.

The Dalai Lama has said, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion.  If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”

I often practice a loving kindness (aka, compassion) meditation, but I did not meditate on this vacation.  I’m sure it’s natural to feel a sense of loss when vacation ends — the high of a good vacation is by its nature fleeting.  Still, I wonder if meditating while on vacation would have made departing an easier pill to swallow.  Hmmmmm … maybe I’ll give it a try next time.

Savoring Happiness

It pleases me no end that savoring — just taking the time to smell the roses and truly enjoy life’s pleasures — is a scientifically proven strategy for raising our personal happiness levels.  How cool is that?

Perhaps you’re thinking, “Science? Really? What science?”  Fair enough.  I have zero scientific expertise.  Instead, let me offer up the Mayo Clinic.

In an article entitled, “How To Be Happy: Tips For Cultivating Contentment,” the Clinic cautions that being happy takes “practice, practice, practice.”  They offer multiple options for “choices, thoughts and actions” to get happier, including savoring:

“Don’t postpone joy waiting for a day when your life is less busy or less stressful. That day may never come.  Instead, look for opportunities to savor the small pleasures of everyday life. Focus on the positives in the present moment, instead of dwelling on the past or worrying about the future.”

Since becoming mindful of savoring, I’ve noticed that it is almost always an option, regardless of immediate circumstances and surroundings.  This makes it a particularly helpful tool.  In crabby-making situations, if I remember to look around and drink in whatever beauty or joy is at hand, I can get an immediate happiness  boost.  As I write, I can pause to more deeply appreciate the Ravi Shankar music playing on Pandora or to breathe in the aroma from a pine scented candle just to my right.  No big deal — it just takes intention and attention.

Of course, what and how you savor will likely be quite different from my choices.  My scented candle would give some of my friends a headache.  To me, that’s part of the attraction of happiness-building activities — they are based on science, but you can choose strategies that most appeal to you and apply them in your own unique way.

Another lovely aspect of savoring is that it need not be restricted to the present; you can also relish past memories and anticipate future pleasures.  Thus, as Sonya Lyubomirsky observes, “when you master this strategy, you ‘will always have Paris.'”

Lyubomirsky lists savoring as “Happiness Activity No. 9”  (out of 12) in The How of Happiness which I listened to last March while driving from Vermont to Alabama for the birth of my granddaughter.  I think I’ll always remember how much I was able to savor the beauty of a perfectly ordinary rest stop in Virgina that day.  The clouds and the wildflowers were so normal, and so sublime.  Drinking in the beauty that surrounded me filled me with gratitude.

Our little Christmas baby.

Our little Christmas baby.

Since Madeleine was born and moved in with us, I have had countless opportunities for savoring.  However, when I interviewed environmental activist Kathryn Blume for an article in Vermont Woman, she suggested I might also observe how the baby herself provides a case study for human happiness.

For example, one day I headed up the stairs to her room.  Knowing how pleased she would be to see grandma, I made lots of noises to give her plenty of time to anticipate my arrival.  When she finally saw me, she squealed and jumped with pleasure.  It was quite amusing!  I come in her room to greet her almost every day, but building in the anticipatory savoring made the experience so much sweeter for her, and me.

She has no problem savoring the ordinary.  Ordinary, extraordinary — it’s all the same to her.  One of her favorite toys right now is an old jewelry box.  It’s just decorated cardboard, but really — how charming is the silky lining, how solid it feels in the hand, and what an ingenious opening mechanism!  Madeleine reminds me daily that savoring opportunities abound.

Now that the holiday decorations are up, we have a special set of objects and experiences to savor.  Through Madeleine’s eyes I have learned that the snow in the Santa Snow Globe is actually teal, that the Santa wine bottle cover has bells that ring (and a beard that can be pulled off), and that the little blue ceramic Santa has a bell that can almost always coax a baby smile.  I’ve always loved Christmas lights, but I don’t know how much I actually savored them.  Now, following Madeleine’s lead, I take the time to hold her as we both gaze and savor the amazing reality of colored lights.  Wow!  How glorious!

And of course, I keep savoring her, storing up these precious memories — so I’ll “always have Paris.”

A Serendipitous Note

Gratitude is another one of my favorite happiness tools, and this morning I was reminded of a person to whom I owe much gratitude:  Dr. Lynn Johnson, who introduced me to the importance of savoring.  In November 2010, I took a daylong seminar from him (“Happiness: How Positive Psychology Changes Our Lives”) and later read his book, Enjoy Life.  Today I received a link to his own blog also on savoring.  Naturally, Dr. Johnson’s take is very different from mine (warning: it may make you hungry).  Between his words and mine, perhaps you’ll have a whole new approach toward smelling roses, literally and metaphorically.

What Are You Grateful For?

Gratitude.  Aaaahhhhh.  I just love moments of gratitude.  How fortuitous, then, that practicing gratitude is a scientifically proven method of deepening one’s own well of happiness.

Many years ago, long before I’d even heard of positive psychology, I had a gratitude practice: noting in a daily journal what I was thankful for.  But I confess, I only journalled for a few days, which couldn’t possibly have done me much good.  In The How of  Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirksy stresses the importance of choosing happiness activities that will keep you engaged for a significant period of time in order to actually make a difference.  Rick Hanson, a neuropsychologist and author,explains the brain science involved in an article called “How To Trick Your Brain For Happiness.”  Here’s an excerpt from that article, recently shared through The Daily Good web feed:

“Just having positive experiences is not enough to promote last well-being. If a person feels grateful for a few seconds, that’s nice. That’s better than feeling resentful or bitter for a few seconds. But in order to really suck that experience into the brain, we need to stay with those experiences for a longer duration of time—we need to take steps, consciously, to keep that spotlight of attention on the positive.”

Happily, while listening to Lyubomirsky’s book during my long drive from Vermont to Alabama last spring, I had an “aha moment” — rather than write about happiness, I would pull out my watercolors and create a weekly gratitude painting.  Perfect!

Okay, so the weekly painting turned into a monthly painting and I skipped April altogether (hmmm, could that have something to do with helping my daughter care for a newborn???) — but I stuck to it.  It’s working.  I have weeks to contemplate the subject of my next painting; thus, gratitude is frequently on my mind.

My first gratitude painting. I am often surprised by the subject matter that comes to the top of the list when I sit down to paint.

So my mental pump was primed when I stumbled on Ken Wert’s “Meant To Be Happy”  blog list of 48 unconventional things for which he is grateful.   His list  ranges from toilet paper (this makes me smile) to gears (yeah, okay, I can see that) to color (yes, yes, my heart is singing!) to hugs and voice (deep sighs of appreciation).  It’s a pretty darned good list.

Wert’s list, and the many expressions of gratitude I heard at the Happiness Conference in Seattle, made me wonder: what are other people grateful for?

To find out, I put out a few group emails, and changed the question on the blackboard in front of The Happiness Paradigm to, “What Are You Grateful For?”   Naturally, the blackboard collected shorter answers: “Obama,”  “Fall in Vermont,” and “blankets.” The written answers, on the other hand, are wonderfully thoughtful — perhaps precisely because writing takes more thought, and perhaps because almost everyone who responded is involved in some way with the happiness movement.

Their responses are below.  Before you read them, though, I’d like to ask, what are YOU — the person reading this, right now — grateful for?  This collection is neither scientific nor comprehensive, but the more answers the better, because this is good food for thought for all of us.  So please feel free to post a comment or send an email with your own answer to this question.

Now, in no particular order, here are some gratitude answers thus far:

  • Grateful for the fact that I’m alive and well each day. And grateful for the opportunity to work on this (happiness) movement 🙂
  • I am grateful for my Mom who taught me I can do anything!
  • Immense gratitude to all who call forth the most thriving possibilities for humanity and the fullness of life. The call to happiness and compassion has deep roots even beyond the measurable and our time together was soul food.
  • Grateful for all the help from near and far in taking care of a new baby — babysitting, onesies, toys, students taking care of the baby, support from family, etc.  Can barely name it all!
  • I am thankful for old clothes that seem to melt into my body this cold September morning, one that marks the beginning of Fall, a season I love best in New Mexico. And I am grateful for the happiness class I began teaching last week on the anniversary of September 11th. I am grateful that in spite of such darkness in the world we can gather in places like Albuquerque, Seattle, and Maple Corner,Vermont to promote happiness.
  • I am grateful for: 1)  My spiritual teacher Sant Kirpal Singh, and my meditation practice.  2)  Fran Joseph’s uplifting Laughter Yoga Certified Leader training last weekend–and Laughter Yoga itself.  3)  My kindred-spirit office mates.
  • Sleep — it’s like a miracle every night.
  • Shooting stars, and being able to see the Milky Way.
  • I am grateful to have such a good friend in YOU!
  • I am grateful that the conditions of my life allow me to participate in the arena of enhancing happiness, compassion, community, and  creativity; I am grateful that I am surrounded my many whose lives are about lifting the spirit of those that they touch; I am grateful that I live in a place where I have access to nature, culture, and really good food; I am grateful that there are so many people in my life that I love and appreciate; and I am grateful for the authors and film makers that create or capture stories that are captivating and meaningful.

    My gratitude painting for May — grateful for yoga!

  • While eating corn on the cob last night I realized how grateful I am for my teeth…many of which are implants.
  • I’m grateful to be reminded how happiness and gratitude go hand in hand ….  And that you keep me on your email & Facebook lists. I’m really appreciative of the work I have, even when it keeps me fairly close to home.
  • Ginny, I’m grateful for your regular messages on happiness and your ongoing curiosity about what creates it; I am so grateful to be here in Vermont where people still work at “creating a more perfect union,” as Bill Clinton reminded us yesterday was a goal of our nation’s founders. I am also very grateful for an amazing partner with a heart bigger than problems we’ve faced together. Together! I’m grateful for that word.
  • Silence, even though I love music.
  • Antibiotics that kill Lyme disease.
  • Right now I am feeling grateful for the people that have a passion and act — you in your store and how you reach out with your great loving positive energy, Linda and Paula and their big walk and listening hearts, and just a ton of people I read about and listen to that open their eyes to understand, then open their hearts for generous selfless action.
  • I always come back to gratitude for the most basic things.  I am again and again overwhelmed with gratitude for my senses – –  For being able to see (beauty of all kinds) and smell (roses, lavender, verbena, pine, chocolate) and hear (music, rain) and feel and taste.   I am also frequently grateful for having a soft clean bed to sleep in, a roof over my head and a safe, warm and dry place to call my own, and a fridge full of wholesome food whenever I open the door.  So many others are not this lucky.

    In June, gratitude for the trees my neighbor planted.

  • To all this wonderful gratitude others have expressed, I will add something to just reflect that gratitude can be for big deep things, but it can also be for little things:  today I’m grateful for pure maple syrup!
  • Today I’m grateful for this space in time:  a few hours to listen to my inner messages, to detach from the pull of outer events, & to process emotions.  So, really, I’m grateful to my Self for choosing to give me this gift in spite of all the pressing “shoulds.”
  • Our own little savings and loan down the street that only makes local loans.
  • Skype.
  • I am truly grateful to be able to be doing this work. Part of it is because of the wonderful people. Part because of the learning experiences. But mostly, because we are so very lucky to have the opportunity to do this work. It’s a grace not many people on this planet get.
  • I just got back from a short meditation retreat in Canada.  While there I got the news that two different old friends had died in last few days, greatly heightening my appreciation and grateful was for my Buddhist practice.  The outlook is so precious in preparing for decline and death, which we all must do; to have a path of joy in such reality is a great gif
  • I’m grateful that my husband thought to take my RAV4 to our neighbor when I drove it ’til there were no more brake pads, and he was able to earn some extra cash, and I was able to avert driving into a ditch.  I’m grateful that we have a generator as we just lost all power with this rain storm.  I’m grateful that I’ve been sober 11+ years, and I’m able to be of service to women who struggle with alchoholism.  I’m grateful to have a Mother-In-Law who is full of joy and laughter.
  •  I am grateful for so much, including my life and that of all beings (may all be at peace).   I am grateful for  connection, blessings, challenges and the opportunity to grow and share.

And me?  So many many things, from that first cup of coffee each morning to the glory of puffy white clouds in azure autumn skies and opportunities to be of service to others.  But, right now, having a six month old granddaughter (who lives with us!) trumps all else.  I am in love, I am happy, and I am grateful for this precious new life.

Happiness And The Kindness Of Strangers

The Tennessee Williams quote “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers” makes me smile, thanks to the brilliant satirical musical “Streetcar!” on “The Simpsonsback in the 20th century.  Marge sang the lead, with absolutely fabulous back-up singers who belted out, “You can always depend on the kindness of strangers … A stranger’s just a friend you haven’t met.  Streetcar!”

This blog, though, is sober — deadly serious, in fact.  Two days ago, the kindness of a stranger may have saved my son Ben’s life.  The stranger’s kindness has filled my family with gratitude (a key happiness tool) and has spared us from immeasurable pain.  We don’t know who he is, and he will never know how profoundly he helped Ben — but his actions illustrate how interconnected our lives are, and how our choices can impact the happiness of others.

Ben on his first birthday, 38 years ago this month. He’s still pretty cute, though.

Here’s the story:

Thanks to another gift — a very, very small inheritance check from his grandfather — Ben bought a new-to-him pick-up truck from a dealer in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, about an hour and a half away.  I drove him to pick up the truck.  We decided not to convoy on the return trip, as he needed to stop for gas.  Also, he observed, I had my cell phone so he could always call if for some reason he needed help.

Or not.  In this part of rural Vermont, cell coverage is highly sketchy.

Did I mention the tornado warnings?

Right before we left home, I learned from The Weather Channel that our entire area was under a tornado watch.  And as we drove north, I kept the radio on, just in case the dreaded emergency broadcast signal began.  It did, with warnings of a severe thunderstorm headed toward in the same direction as we were.

So when we left the dealership, I was eager to skedaddle south as quickly as possible — radio still on, with more warnings.  Tornadoes, this time, in the towns I had just driven through.  I quickly calculated that, even stopping for gas, Ben was probably through those towns, too.  All was well.

At home, I breathed a sigh of relief and then looked at my cell phone.  Ben had called twice.  Not good.  Not good at all.  Anxiously, I called back.

He was stressed, though alright.  He, too, had been trying to drive out of the tornado zone — but ran out of gas and was stranded along the interstate, in the bull’s eye of the oncoming storm.  Minutes before it hit, the stranger picked up my son and dropped him off at a gas station in town.

The tornado touched down nearby, taking out hundreds of trees and one chimney — but, as it turned out, that wasn’t the real danger.

When Ben finally got back to his truck hours later, it was … gone.  As in, totally destroyed.  And shoved several hundred yards farther down the highway shoulder.  During the fierce storm, another trucker had accidentally rammed into the back of Ben’s new truck, completely wrecking it.*  Without the kindness of the earlier stranger, Ben would have been in the truck at the moment of impact…

Okay, that’s all my mother’s heart can bear to write.

I’m reminded of the Dalai Lama‘s wisdom that, in every interaction with every person, we can either contribute to that person’s happiness or contribute to that person’s unhappiness.  Usually I interpret that as sharing smiles, pleasant greetings, or maybe a hug.  Not, saving someone’s life.

I’m reminded, too, of an incident many years ago when Ben may well have saved the life of another stranger.  It was a cold November evening and Ben was outside having a cigarette (that’s another story!).  From somewhere in the woods at a bit of a distance from our house, he heard — or thought he heard — a very faint cry for help.  Together with his dad, Ben took off running toward the voice, which belonged to a hunter who had fallen from a tree and broken his leg.  The hunter was alone and unprotected.  The night was about to turn freezing.  Thanks to Ben, emergency personnel got the hunter to safety.

None of us know who that man was, either.

I have on my bookshelf Exploring Happiness: From Aristotle to Brain Science, a review of morality and happiness by the very thoughtful Sissela Bok.  I have thought about the concept of morality of happiness from the viewpoint that our happiness choices might have a negative effect on others — ie, drinking non-fair trade coffee could lead to suffering and exploitation of those who pick the beans in countries far from me.

But the truck incident has turned my thinking around.  Our moral choices, decisions made from kindness or a generosity of spirit — say, picking up a driver stranded by the side of the road — could well enhance the happiness of others far beyond our knowing.

My daughter Jennifer wrote on Facebook of her gratitude to the stranger who saved her brother’s life:

“So I say: THANK YOU with all my heart to the man who potentially saved my brother’s life yesterday by being generous and giving him a ride.
And I invite you to think about what you can to with small gestures that make a world of difference.”

Indeed.  Sometimes we need a kind stranger, sometimes we’re called upon to be that kind stranger.  Happiness may depend on how, or whether, we answer that call.

* The other driver was uninjured, and Ben’s truck was insured.

Gratitude! (and not just because of Thanksgiving)

Happiness is both unique and universal.  One universality is the importance of gratitude.  As I embark on my blog journey,  gratitude is no stretch.  Indeed, I am overflowing with thankfulness for the many people who have showered me with generosity recently.

I don’t want this blog to be about me.  It will be about all of us, as we work together to create greater happiness on the micro and macro levels.

To start, though, I will be personal.  I’m going to name names:

First, my son Ben toiled for months turning the slightly decrepit A-frame in our backyard into a warm, colorful, and welcoming happiness oasis.  Gone is the disgusting carpet, the sagging walls, the broken heater filled with mice souvenirs.  The A-frame is now filled with color and joy — and, as we enter a long Vermont winter — heat!

Judy and Jenny stopped by to help me paint the polka dotted display pieces.  Jenny delivered Happiness Paradigm posters all over Central Vermont and then volunteered to provide beautifully arrayed opening day refreshments.

Roni baked chocolate chip cookies, described by one visitor yesterday as “happiness in a circle.”  Debbie surprised me with another batch of cookies.  Renee was going to help Roni bake, but with a 10-week old baby (the totally perfect Charlie) that didn’t work out — so she brought a supply of chocolate candy instead.  Rob brought a cupcake, and Paige brought a cake fresh from her mom Karen’s oven.  Laurel brought M&M’s, AND gave me one of her upcycled bags.  Ulrike and John shared wine, cheese and crackers at the end of a very long grand opening.

My sister Peggy in New Jersey has been scouring sources for happy items and interesting books that would be perfect for the store, and her son Timmy is working on a Wikipedia article about The Happiness Paradigm.

Lynn, Kairn, Jeannette, Cheryl and Liz all pitched in to edit the all important first Happiness Paradigm press release.

Megan and my other former colleagues at Home Share Now were an amazing and constant source of used colored paper for me to shred and turn into recycled paper art.  I learned how to do that just last February, thanks to Christina and her friend Carrie who volunteered to teach a paper making class.

Amy, Kathleen, and Marianne have all agreed to come to the store and lead sessions on non-toxic cleaning (Dec 3), healing through sound waves (Dec 17), and how to wear recycled saris (Dec 10), respectively.  In January, Linda is ready to teach reiki techniques, and Edward will lead us in laughing yoga.

Betsy gave me boxfuls of books to stock the “lifelong learning” free lending library.  Janet is sharing her magical paper mache art.   Nel, the queen of making art from things other people throw away, brought some of her gems to sell on consignment.  Another Renee delivered colorful and warm hats knitted from recycled yarn — and, interviewed me on her WGDR radio show.

I can’t imagine how I could have gotten to this point without Kayla’s  unwavering healing touch.  And I’m blessed with smart, creative, and loving friends (insert long list here!!) who helped me find the courage to take risks.

My daughter Jennifer is my long distance cheerleader, especially on Facebook.  In the spring, she’ll make me very, very happy when she gives birth to my granddaughter.

Best for last: Bob.  Even though I was just barely 17 when we got married, somehow or the other I managed to get hitched to a really, really nice man who always trusts me to forge my own path.  Plus, he’ll cook dinner, help with a multitude of tasks, figure out my computer needs (including setting up this blog).  Not only that, he’s agreed to lead monthly ukulele sessions at The Happiness Store and Experience. That makes both of us happy.