Choose Happiness

“Happiness is not something you postpone for the future; it is something you design for the present.” Jim Rohn

How does happiness happen? Could a person have found any happiness in a concentration camp? Would being in the camp doom that person to never smiling, having a pleasant thought, or feeling a happiness in their heart? I have never been in a concentration camp, so I cannot suppose to claim that I would know the answer to that question. But I have faced sadness, broken heart, broken dreams, disappointment, and terrible grief on many occasions. I have been on my hands and knees sobbing into the carpet as my heart broke.

I would not say that during the time that I was crying that I was happy. In fact I would have resented someone suggesting at that time that I should be. But over the course of what ever it was that I was surviving, I think finding happiness was a tool for survival. Happiness isn’t necessarily an activity, it may be a mindset. It is both.

Happiness is also something that I am responsible for myself. Other people may make me laugh, they may ask me to a party or to something that I would enjoy…but I could go to those places and still be very unhappy.

I have a friend who tells me of her friend who is constantly upset with her husband because he does not make her happy. In turn, he runs around trying to make her happy. A person can spend a lot of time and money doing that. The truth is, I believe, we are all responsible for our own happiness.

So how do we do that? Where is the button to make us happy? There is no button. Wish there was.

Perspective is one way. The way we see the situation. If I believe I have it worse than anyone else-I sit around and lick my wounds and confirm to myself over and over how bad my situation is. If I get out of myself, look around me, I see things could be worse. Others are hurting too. Maybe they need help too. If I think that I didn’t deserve this to happen to me…than what? Someone else deserved it? Am I better than them? We live in a world that things happen. They happen to everyone-cancer/dementia/disability/loneliness/sorrow…the whole list..is no respecter of persons. They hit anyone; anytime. Admitting to myself that I am sad or disappointed or wish that it had not happened is okay and healthy. Thinking I have it worse than anyone else is “stinkin thinkin”. And it will poison me.

Activity is one way. Get myself out of the house. Go out where other people are. Their energy might infuse me. I might see something that helps my perspective. Perhaps there is a person in my life that always encourages me. I am very fortunate to have sisters who are very close to each other. They are more than sisters, they are friends. One of them is my identical twin-couldn’t be much closer than that. We know when the other person needs someone even before they call or come by. All it takes is one friend. It might even be a pet. I have talked to JJ my little silky terrier on many occasions and he is a good listener. For some, it may be God. Getting out -seeing people-sharing with someone ..they are all activities that help me find some happiness even in a bad time.

Pleasure Journal is another way. During some of my saddest times, I kept a pretty wordless book with me. It reminded me to look for something that made me smile or made me feel good and I wrote it down. I tried to write something every day. Sometimes they were pretty simple: I heard a little child giggle in the grocery store today and it made me smile-I saw the first daffodil and it brought me pleasure-I stood outside and felt the breeze and it felt like it was gently blowing the sadness off of me….

Laughter is a great way. I may not feel like laughing, but once I do, it is like medicine. No one may be around to make me laugh. Fortunately I had a TV, and I watched a lot of sit coms. They made me laugh. Watching children in the park can make me laugh.

All the above are active things. they are things one has to get up and do. That is why I like the quote above…it is something you design… You have to know yourself and then be true to yourself. What brings you pleasure. There have been times in my life I just could not answer that, hence the pleasure journal that made me focus on that question. Over time I learned that a nice hot bath brought me pleasure, listening to music lifted my spirits, and making thought lists of what is good in my life would help change my perspective.

Events happen in life. Sadness occurs. I heard a saying a long time ago, ‘you can become bitter, or you can become better-it is the “i” that makes the difference’. I have gone back to that many times. I can’t control what happens to me but I can control how I respond to it. Stinkin thinkin will make me bitter and resentful. Processing the sad event, getting out of myself, reminding myself of the blessings around me..are all proactive things that I can do that will return/or create happiness for me.

It is an activity, and it is a mindset. The choice is mine.

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Appreciate the Finish

“Nothing builds self-esteem and self-confidence like accomplishment.” Thomas Carlyle

The trouble is, we often do not give ourselves permission to recognize the accomplishment. We rush from one goal to the next.  Perhaps we have too many goals? Sometimes the tyranny of the urgent is so pressing that we cannot take time to reflect.

We are rehabbing our historic home which was built in the 1840’s. There are many goals! Everything had to be gutted and replaced. Floors shored up, walls pulled in, roof replaced, electric out, plumbing in…it is like a new house in an old shell! I have learned a whole new meaning to patience. We are still in the midst of construction and living in the house which is not fully finished.

We have so many urgent needs. We have multiple projects going at one time. Raining? no problem, we will work inside on the crown molding. Sunshine? no problem, we will work on the front entry door way with preparations for painting. Whatever the weather, we are ready with a job. The challenge to this is that many projects are in the in-between stage. It can take a long time to finish one as we get interrupted with another.

My father was Irish. He knew how to stop at the end of the day and sit with a glass of your favorite drink, and reflect on that day’s work. To embrace and celebrate what was accomplished that day. Maybe the job got done, maybe he just made progress; either way, he took time to recognize the work.

I have tried to implement that practice. My husband had never had the opportunity to experience that ‘celebration’. He works hard and goes from project to project with little celebration of the reflection. I have taught him the pleasure, and we enjoy our glass of wine, and scotch as we review what was done that day. It helps to bring back into your mind that you didn’t just while away the time-mind you sometimes we should while away some time: vital to self care!-but when we are working on a project, it is good to remind yourself of the progress–give yourself some credit.

Over time, that builds how you feel about yourself. You recognized what you did-and it was good. Last night we finished the roofing on the workshop out back. Joe has done the whole construction of this workshop himself with a few exceptions. He had a good friend help him with the roof. Before the roof was started we used a tarp over the structure to protect from the weather. I cannot tell you how many late night runs we ran outside when unexpected rain started to get the tarp up and over the workshop-getting dripping wet in the process!

When the last shingle was put on we all sat down to a good dinner-discussed, and laughed, about the process, and then pulled out the celebratory scotch. It was a good night, and a good feeling.

Take time to celebrate the events in your life! Cheers!

Human Reason vs God’s Word

I have to put the quote for this blog a little later in the text. Otherwise it might appear to be one that I accept into my philosophy. In fact it is one I reject and oppose.

We went to the Creation Museum yesterday. It was opened in Petersburg Kentucky in 2007, is 70,000 square feet and cost 27 Million to construct. People from all around have visited there-over a million-and it has been written about in New York Times, Vogue and a variety of other publications. While I am no longer in the church, we thought it was a phenomenon and maybe we should see it. Some of the reviews discussed how well done the displays were and how beautiful the gardens were. So we went with a couple of friends.

The gardens are beautiful and certainly the displays have been well done. However, I did not feel like it was a museum necessarily, but an argument giving voice to convince people to believe in the literal 6 day creation and subsequent bible stories as literal and scientifically founded.  Furthermore, about 1/3 to 1/2 way through the museum the displays took on an urgency to illustrate the evils that will occur if a church, or a people, do not believe in that particular narrow conviction. The displays stated that a break from this creation definition would lead to war, the 9-11 attacks, illness, homosexualty, abortion, drugs, pornography and any sort of independent thinking.

This was troublesome to me as the narrow creation view of a literal 6 day creation is held only by a minority (only 46% of Americans polled in Gallop Poll in 2012 believed in 6 day creation, and 47% believed in either Theistic Evolution -God involved somehow in the evolution process-or pure Evolution). The 2009 Pew Research Center found that 97% of the scientists say humans and other living things evolved over time. The theme of the Creation Museum is in contradiction of the majority acceptance of evolution.

I generally allow for people to believe how they wish. I object when they claim that if I believe differently, that I am depraved, have no moral fiber, and will be on the loose to create havoc and community unrest.

My ire was slowly building at that insult, but I came head to head when I encountered the poster entitled “Who’s Your Brother?”. On the left of that large wall poster is “Human Reason” and on the right is “God’s Word”. The intent of the poster is to contrast those two apparent opposing views and to disparage the human reason side. Under Human Reason is-among other things-Racism (with a picture of a bond slave with scars on his back) and Genocide (with picture of Holocaust prisoners). Under God’s Word are various pictures of people of all races smiling as though they were all accepted under this view.

I felt a visual reaction to this exhibit. I had heard of people who strongly opposed the exploitation of animals as used for fur coats and consequently threw paint on them when they saw someone wearing one. I didn’t understand that action. Today I did. I wanted a marker of any sort to cross out the lies of this exhibit and expose the truth.

The dominate  religious group who adheres and supports the 6 day literal creation is the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). They believe the whole Bible is the inspired, infallible Word of God. They would be the believers eager to take their children to this museum to substantiate their home and church teaching of the young earth. However, the SBC was violently supportive to slavery. The humanists were the ones supporting freedom and abolition. Here are my quotes:

“…for the right of holding slaves is clearly established in the Holy Scriptures, both by precept and example..” Slavery was Biblical and therefore abolition was sinful. Richard Furman-President of South Carolina State Convention of Baptists in 1823. The baptists in the south felt so strongly about their biblical right to have slaves that it lead to their secession from the Baptist Convention in 1845. The Southern Baptist Convention was established in 1845 with that secession. Their endorsement and support to their practice of slavery was preached from the pulpit. In fact, it was urged that the churches be more vocal in that support.

“…our passiveness has been our sin. We have not come to the vindication of God and of truth as duty demands…it is necessary to teach slavery from the pulpit, as it was taught by Holy men of old…both Christianity and slavery are from Heaven, both are a blessing to humanity…because slavery is right…their Maker has decreed their bondage…” Ebenezer W Warren, Pastor of First Baptist Church Macon, Georgia, 1861.

The Southern Baptist Convention did not recognize, nor apologize, for this stand until their convention in June 1995. That is correct, I said 1995. At that point they stated, “lament and repudiate historic acts of evil such as slavery..we apologize to all African Americans for condoning and /or perpetuating individual and systematic racism.”

You can imagine my shock and outrage that the Creation Museum is revising history in this unacceptable fashion. I felt revulsion at it’s claim that human thought was responsible for slavery, when I knew the history of the convention that I was a part of. I attended that June 1995 convention with my then minister husband. While I was grateful for their apology, I was mortified that the convention that my church was a part of took such a role in the evil domination of slavery.

My current husband and I now life in an historic home built in mid 1840’s. It is believed to have been a station along the Underground Railroad passing from the Ohio river, to Cincinnati, though our town, and onto Canada. There is a small doorway in the attic knee wall, which appears to have had no purpose other than to hide something, or someone. We are restoring this home and I am pleased and very proud of the person and his family who put their life on the line for the protection of the oppressed people who came to his door. He was a founding member of the Presbyterian church down the street. They are not of the literal mindset of the Southern Baptists, so therefore, that congregation would be described by this museum as part of the support to slavery.

The ludicrous representation at the museum blew my mind, angered my emotions, and grieved my heart. The museum is a place that uses falsehood to promote hatred and animosity. I knew that the scientific community had opposed this museum. I understood why. The museum twists facts of science. I am not a scientist, but a humanist who loves people and all living entities. The museum lies of who is really the person who cares for others angered me. They propose the narrow believing church to be the only group of people with moral fiber and concerns for others; when in fact that is the group who owned people, struck them, sold children from families, split asunder spouses….and rationalized it with their narrow belief-claiming the rest of us heathens.

How does one reason with people who are unreasonable? How can you discuss history when they alter it? How can scientific merit be considered when they twist science? How can the children who are being raised by the families that promote this altered version of reality be able to enter an adult world so different from what they were told that it would be?

I believe, and hope, that education will be the means for people achieving greater knowledge. Education, and being exposed to new ideas, was the light that lit my new path, away from the southern baptist church and into a new freedom of thought. As we learn new, we should put away old.

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” Nelson Mandela

Kindness

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.” Plato

One day I while I was sitting in church, I was thinking about some of the struggles I was facing at that time. My mother was struggling with dementia, and we were in grief as we watched her disappear before us. I glanced around the congregation and thought about all the struggles people around me must be facing too.

They enter the church and smile, just like I did. They laugh at the light hearted comments, just like I did. But inside my heart was breaking. I wondered how many others had broken hearts too.

I work at a hospital. I have had many days and nights in a hospital ‘on the other side of the sheets’ sort to speak. I know what it is like to have your schedule disrupted, to have pain, to be frightened of the possible outcome, to be confused and to want comfort-not just for your physical pain, but your emotional and spiritual peace. Not a day goes by that I don’t pass people who are coming and going through those hospital halls that I don’t think about what they may be facing. I try and offer comfort where I can…an explanation/directions/smile..anything I might be able to do to wrap some comfort around their heart.

I’ve learned I am not unique to struggles. Everyone has them. They vary in their intensity, and there may be moments of reprieve, but another struggle will come.

So, I want to be kind to people. Kindness leads to thinking outside of myself. If all I can be concerned about is my personal struggle -and how people can help me; I am blinded to the needs around me and how I might help others.

I recently discovered a web site that is private and does not accept any grants or donations, they only accept stories of kindness and post those to inspire others with ideas of things they could do to promote kindness. http://www.randomactsofkindness.org

“Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless” Mother Teresa

 

Taxes

 

We recently sold a patch of land in Tennessee. The first thing we did was pay the estimated taxes. I understand that I may be in the minority in my dearth of outrage related to taxes. I agree that there should be a limit to the percentage of the tax, but this is not really a financial blog. It is one of philosophy, so I will not diverge into the debate of how much, or what percent, but will try and keep to the sentiment that generally speaking I do not mind taxes.

I do know people who bombastically declaim the collection of taxes as offensive. When I ask them why, to the one they at some point comment that taxes go to support people who sit around and eat bon bons all day, and that they are sick of entitlements to those who don’t work. When I ask them who do they know that is receiving such assistance, they cannot identify anyone, they just use the nebulous ‘they’.

So I then bring up people I know who have received assistance.

* a young teenager who was pregnant and chose to keep the baby. She received food stamps and medical care for the baby. While caring for the baby she studied to get her GED, then she went on to become the Vice President of an Insurance Company.

* a young man and his wife received food stamps and medical care while they were trying to get established in a new state and work was hard to find. Now he works for Dish Network.

* a military man gave 20 years of service to the Air Force and receives retirement and social security.

* a young woman who received food stamps and medical assistance while she was a single mother without work. Now she works for a Cable Company.

* my daughter who has a disability receives food stamps, medical care, and housing assistance. She is trying hard to be independent and give back to society. She has worked in many jobs, usually losing them because of the special needs, or inabilities she has. Once for not being able to transfer from her wheel chair to a bar stool they wanted to place at the cashier register, once for taking too much time in the restroom for breaks. She can only get into the wheelchair stall, and I cannot tell you how many people use that stall because it has more room and is more comfortable for them. Kristen cannot get into another stall, so if she has to wait, her neurogenic bladder may not. Now a change of clothes is in order. Or if she gets in the stall, she has to self catheterize which takes longer than it takes others to go. Even with a doctor’s note and a full description of her process-employers just don’t like to make concessions. Yet, she will go out again and again to try and find gainful employment. A job service sent her to a place of employment with curbs and stairs; she couldn’t even get in the door for the interview! She had to call from the parking lot to explain her inability to get in. Of course-no job for her there. She will start at a place and have to miss for multiple doctor/ brace/ therapy appointments-let go again. She inspires me on her continued attempts. She is now considering volunteering at the local hospital or hospice so that she can give back to a society that is helping her.

These are the stories of people I have known who have received assistance because of my taxes. If someone knows a person who is receiving assistance who does not need it, that person should be named and an investigation should be initiated to review the situation. The nebulous ‘they’ has become tiresome to me.

“I like to pay taxes, with them I buy civilization.” Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr

Water

“The water doesn’t know how old you are” Dara Torres

Nor does it know if you are disabled. My daughter has a disability-spina bifida-and utilizes a wheel chair for mobility. Unless she is swimming. When she is swimming, she is mobile just like the rest of us. As she moves along in the water, her head and shoulders above the water, she is moving just like those she is swimming with. I wonder how freeing that must make her feel.

She has always loved to swim. As a child her legs carried little weight so I had to put little ankle weights on her ankles to keep them under the water, they kept wanting to float up and capsize her! So, once we got the balance straight, she could swim like a fish. And she can out float an otter!

I know I feel free in the water. My arms and legs move so fluidly. I like to feel the movement of the water on my skin.

Some people jump in the water, splash, and swim laps. I might do those occasionally, but mostly I find I just want to float quietly. I lie back and the water cradles my head. But I don’t usually just lie there. I find I want to swirl in the water, side to side; head one way and legs the other with my arms flowing up and down . I am not sure how I look, but I feel great when I do that. Perhaps it is because I can feel so much of the water flowing past and along me. Perhaps it is because it feels so carefree.

Swimming, in this case, reminds me of freedom and strength. This is a time when someone who faces the daily challenges of a crippling disability  has the same mobility that I do. Getting into and out of the pool, she is certainly reminded of her disability, but in the water there is no need for leg support. She can swim, or float, or bob along in the water as we all talk and laugh-nothing between us but the same water.

“Water does not resist. Water flows. When you plunge your hand into it, all you feel is a caress. Water is not a solid wall, it will not stop you, but water always goes where it wants to go, and nothing in the end can stand against it. Water is patient. Dripping water wears away a stone. Remember that, my child. Remember you are half water. If you can’t go through an obstacle, go around it. Water does.” Margaret Atwood