Freedom Unfurled Now: A Happiness Tale

Fun

Watch out!  Somebody let happiness out and its heading straight for you.  Here it comes now, sliding right into its freedom game, tossing restraint to the winds and humming on its kazoo as if it were the Pied Piper himself.

It’s time for some giggles and gaffaws, Momma.  Better shine up your grin and put on your happy feet.  Happiness has come to town and it’s wearing its fun face.

It’s rolling down the street right now, throwing confetti that looks like stars and if it lands on you, it lights you up and spins you right into childhood.

Hear that?  That music that follows in its wake?  Its sweet, like ragtime, isn’t it?  And mixed with some kind of jazz that pops and snaps and won’t let you go.  It makes you want to boogie, or turn somersaults or fly.

Check out those boots!  Stomping all the Serious into bits!  And those streamers of perspective floating from its hair!  What a sight!  What a sight!

It feels like wind riding by and it ripples down your body looking for all your ticklish places.  It seeps through your skin and wiggles its way into your heart, chomping up all your barriers and inhibitions as if they were so many Cherrios.  And before you now it, it’s got you, and you’re free and singing.

The Happiness of Perceiving Beauty

Beauty EverywhereOne of the rewards of practicing a positive attitude—happiness, gratitude, openness to beauty—is that, after awhile, you have whole days where the attitude floods your mind.

I got hooked by gratitude last week, and was nearly moved to tears by the waves of overwhelming thankfulness and appreciation that washed through me.

Today, while I was on a photowalk, capturing the latest scene for my year-long photo project, I fell into what I call a trance of beauty.  The silhouette of trees against the sky, a pin oak leaf fallen on a heap of pine needles, a withered mullein plant, its leaves brown and folded . . . everything seemed painted with grace.

I expected to find beauty, of course.  I’m 146 days into my photo project now, and I have learned that beauty is always there, every single time I look for it.  Happiness is always there, too, when I pause to ask myself my core question, “Why am I so happy now?”  Expectation is a kind of faith that always finds its reward.

Tonight I’m awash in beauty, and it touches my soul and assures me that all is well.  The gentle light falling from my lamp has such a mellow hue.  The shadow cast by the glass that sits at its base falls in such graceful curves.   The fur of the cat sleeping on the corner of my desk is incredible in its texture and color.  The weave of the shirt I’m wearing is so orderly and precise.  What wonders!  How amazing!  How blessed I feel just to be experiencing them.

Everything that meets my eyes is cast in beauty, however ordinary it might seem to my general day-to-day sight.  I take this trance as a gift, a reassurance that practice produces rewards.  And I will honor the experience by continuing to look, and to expect, and to believe.

The Happiness of Curiosity

CuriosityWant to turn up the volume on your sense of wonder, your appreciation for life?   Brush off your curiosity and take it for a whirl.

Watch a toddler; watch a cat.  How eagerly they approach the world! Every day is fresh and new and their senses are on and alive.

They’re dazzled by shafts of sunlight, by the strand of a spider web.  They spot the dew on the morning grass and the bubbles in a puddle after a rain.

“What’s that?” they ask.  “How does it feel?  How does it smell?  What does it taste like?  What would happen if?”

Without boxes of words to fool them into thinking they already know, they’re engaged with the world and involved, first hand, their curiosity aflame to know it.  And so their world becomes a delight.

Curiosity is one of our most priceless gifts.  It whets our appetite for life and spurs us to acquire new knowledge.  It enhances our senses of wonder and delight, and grows us into larger people.

Turning on your curiosity is as easy as paying attention, as looking and listening more closely, with less judgment and more depth.  It’s the knack of tuning into your senses and wringing from them the juicy nuances of information that they bring.

Pretend it’s the first day you were able to see, or hear.  Or that it’s the last one you’ll have before the ability is gone.  What if you just got a nose and the fragrances of the world were all new?  What if your sense of touch, or pressure, or movement was just turned on for the first time?  How would water feel to your skin?  Or hair?  Or sunlight?

Curiosity is the art of allowing your mind to wander outside your preconceived notions, to ask new questions, to let in the subtleties and details you overlooked before.  It’s trying new combinations and juxtapositions.  It’s turning things over and around and seeing how they look and act from different angles.

Pretend you just arrived from some other planet.  Play with questions in your mind.  Where did that come from?  Where is it going?  How does it work?  What is it made of?  What is it for?  Why does it do that?  What if it went out instead of in?  What if it were round instead of square?  Red instead of blue?  What if it could float?

“The important thing,” said Albert Einstein, “is not to stop questioning.  Curiosity has its own reason for existing.  One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality.  It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day.  Never lose a holy curiosity.”

The Happiness of Imagining Yourself

Imagine

“A rock pile cases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral.”
~Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Five weeks from today, we’ll be celebrating January 1, 2010.  It may still seem a long way off, but blink and it will be right in front of you.  Between now and then a whole slew of articles about New Year’s Resolutions will start filling the blogs with advice on whether and how to make them, how to keep them, how to feel when you don’t.

All too often, we make our New Year’s resolutions at the last minute, without giving them any real thought, and, to be honest, without any real resolve.  We half-heartedly name things we think we should begin doing more of, or things we think we should stop doing.  And we go to bed thinking that somehow the next morning we’ll magically wake as a transformed being, filled with steely determination to make it so.  On average, most people make it a whole week before they toss their resolutions to the wind.

Well, what if this year was different?  What if you began now to evaluate your life and to think about the things you could do that would give you a soaring feeling of gladness just because you were doing them.  If you were going to build a cathedral of your life, what would it look like?  If you were going to create the juiciest, liveliest, most satisfied version of you, what kinds of things would you have to do to make it happen?

Positive psychology studies show that we’re happier when we have a sense of purpose in our lives, and when we’re moving toward meaningful objectives.  Joy comes from growing, from learning new skills, from broadening our mental, physical, emotional and spiritual horizons.  Why not start casting about in your imagination right now for possibilities you could move toward materializing, potentials you could develop, areas of your life you would like to develop, expand or explore?

Park all the “shoulds” on the sidelines, and start imagining the things that would be fun to do, the things that would really grab your interest, the things feel attractive and enriching and satisfying to you.

And once you get some ideas about what those things are, here’s a hint:  You don’t have to wait until New Year’s to begin them.  You can get going in their direction right this very now.

The Happiness of Settling the Day

Peace 2Another grand holiday comes to a close here in the States, our annual celebration of Thanksgiving.   In its traditional form, it’s a time when we gather together with family to share an enormous turkey dinner, complete with side dishes galore and pumpkin pie for desert, to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and football games on TV, and in keeping with the theme of the day, to give thanks for our blessings.

The variations on the meal and activities are countless, of course.  While millions travel to be with family—often crossing hundreds of miles–other millions spend the day with friends, and still others spend the day alone.  And as is the case with most big holidays, the reality often doesn’t meet the expectations.

Old family patterns ignite squabbles and irritations.  Or you were too exhausted from your travels to really enjoy the gathering.  If you end up making do with friends when you really wanted to go home, or spent the day alone, a little hollowness may be filling your heart.

Still, for most of us, regardless of where we spent the day, it was graced with at least a few moments of genuine gratitude as we turned our attention to the things for which we truly are thankful.  And the luckiest among us felt thankful all day long.

However your day unfolded, and whether you celebrated it as a holiday or not, a beautiful way to bring it to a close, to settle it in glowing peace, is to perform a loving kindness meditation at its end.

This gentle ritual allows you to wrap yourself and everyone else in thoughts of well-being, acceptance and unconditional love.  You can find a brief description of it here, and beautiful, more detailed instructions here.  Give yourself the gift of it.  It makes of every day a day of thanksgiving and peace.

The Happiness of Three Good Things

Three good things “Three Good Things” is the name of a technique guaranteed to raise your happiness quotient, no matter where you are on the happiness scale when you begin to put its magic to work.

It’s simple.  And everybody can play.  All you have to do is name three good things from your day.  That’s it.  Just three.

Now if that sounds superficial to you, too easy to have any real impact, you may be interested to know that it works even for the clinically depressed.

What we focus on expands in our experience, you know.  When you tell your mind to pick out three good things during the day, it will begin to look for them.

At first, you may find it takes a little bit of effort to name three good things.  It’s a new activity after all.  But before you know it, you’ll have three good things before lunch.  And then you get bonus good things.  And they just keep on coming.

When you get really good at it, you can teach yourself to look for three good things in any moment, even the most challenging ones.

But for starters, just name three good things from your day every day.  Tell them to yourself.  Even better, write them down; keep a little log of them.  Make it a family affair if you like, where everybody shares three good things from their day with each other every evening.  Or enlist a “three good things buddy” to play it with.

It’s a delicious little technique, like joy-food for your mind.  Dish some up for yourself.  You’ll like it!

The Gift of Gratitude

thank you 2I’ve been thinking all day about Mike’s phone call. The story about how he regained his spirit and courage in fighting the cancer that was spreading through his bones touched me deeply.  But I need to tell you the rest of the story.

It was no easy matter for Mike to find me in order to make that call.  Our lives haven’t touched in the fifty years since we shared high school days in Michigan.  My name has changed.  Each of us has moved to different states.

But Mike remembered that he had seen my married name in my dad’s obituary, twenty years ago, because his mother passed away at the same time and her obituary shared the same page in the newspaper as my dad’s.  So when Mike made a trip to Michigan this summer, he went to the newspaper office and dug through the archives—just to find my name.  That and some internet research finally yielded my number.  And so he called.  Just to say thanks.

As I thought about that today, I wondered how many of would go to that much trouble to thank someone for something they had done for us.  I thought about people who have positively impacted my life, offering a word of kindness or guidance, a helping hand, inspiring me with some example of strength or virtue in their own lives.  And while I may have thanked them in my heart, and felt gratitude for their gifts, in all too many cases my thanks have gone unsaid.

I intend to change that, thanks to Mike’s extraordinary example.   That he called during the week when we celebrate Thanksgiving here in the States has given the holiday a special new dimension of meaning for me.  I suspect I’ll think of Mike every year now when the holiday comes around.  Meanwhile, I’m making a list of people I want to contact with my thanks for the ways they touched my life.  I want them to feel the same beautiful joy that Mike’s call evoked in me.

The Treasure of Forgotten Memories

Forgotten TreasuresWhen he learned that he had bone cancer, Mike told me, he had fallen into a long spell of despair.  Life was over.  Close the book.  The future had been erased for him with the mere pronouncement of the diagnosis.

Then one day, while he was sorting through some things, he came across his old high school year book.  He leafed through its pages, transported back in time to the days when the world was filled with possibilities and dreams.

As he read the little messages that his fellow students had written on the book’s pages, one in particular struck him.  It thanked him for what he had meant to the writer, for the way he had touched her life.  Something about her words made him ask, “What ever became of that Mike—the one so full of spirit?”  And he decided then and there that he wasn’t going down without a fight.

He started working out, running, and even entering marathons.  He’s done several of them since.  And while no cure exists for his cancer, he’s in love with life again and making the most of every day he has left.

Through the magic of the Internet, Mike managed to track me down to tell me his story, and to thank me for what I had written in his yearbook those long, long decades ago.  The words had turned his life around when it most needed turning.  From his past came a few sentences to give him hope.  And from my past came Mike, to give me inspiration.

The Happiness of Balance

balanceI was reading about the concept of balance when I came across two quotes.  The first, by Trappist monk and poet Thomas Merton said, “Happiness is not a matter of intensity, but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony.”

I thought about that, about the calm, deep center from which happiness arises.  Although it splashes and ripples and sparkles with joy when it bursts out into the world, the core of happiness, its wellspring, is indeed a beautiful point of perfect harmony and balance.  It’s the state where genuine mindfulness takes you, the perspective that allows you to perceive the world’s glorious rhythmic order and grace, and to feel its reflection in your own being.

But how do we find that spot in the midst of the upheavals and stresses life brings us?  The second quote I found, from science fiction writer Frank Herbert, held the clue: “There’s no secret to balance,” he said.  “You just have to feel the waves.”

What put the two quotes together in my mind was the memory of a wonderful poster I saw years ago.  A laughing, white-bearded guru in a soaking wet gown was speeding down the edge of an enormous wave on a surfboard, his arms outstretched, hair flying in the wind.  “You can’t stop the ocean from flowing,” the caption said, “but you can learn to surf its waves.”

That’s what Herbert was saying.  The key isn’t in pretending the waves don’t exist, or in trying to stay on their crests, but in staying centered as you ride them.  It’s in understanding that the surface of life’s ocean is a turbulent affair, where highs are followed by lows that give way to new highs.  Gladness is followed by sorrow that gives way to another round of gladness in wave after wave after wave.  Happiness is allowing yourself to feel the peaks and troughs with your whole being so you can glide with them in harmony, centered in your awareness that it’s all just the rhythm of the ocean’s flowing dance.

The Happiness of Being Here Now

You are HereIt’s one of those bottom-line truths that’s so obvious you generally let it slide right by without paying any attention at all:

You are here now.

But those four little words hold the key to a happiness so high and fine that gurus and saints from time immemorial have laughed uttering them to themselves at the moment of enlightenment. They’re the answer that you find when you finally stop looking for one because they say it all.  But they hide it in such plainness that unless they’re really true for you, you can’t see what they’re saying.

Huh?

They’re reminding you that you are.  Right now.  Right this very nano-second.  Right smack dab in the middle of the ever-changing, multi-dimensional, transcendental, all-encompasing here.  You know, the point where all your power is, the place where reality happens.

They’re important because all too often we need reminding.  The “now” part of it is so fleeting that we skate off into dreams of the argument we had with Sally or wondering what’s for dinner.  And the “here” has so many layers and stretches so far that we cling to liitle pieces of it as if they were lifeboats in the ocean.

It’s all about presence.  Yours.  Focused in the immediate moment.  Hearing its music.  Feeling its flow.  Dancing to its rhythms.  Here.  Now.  You.

Beautiful.