Waking to Happiness

Waking to HappinessMy alarm clock and the rising sun are coinciding these days so that I wake to the painted sky of the morning’s first light.  The sheer luminosity of it cuts right through the lingering haze of sleep, and I gaze in rapt awe as the earth wakes to a new day.

“Gosh, I love waking to happiness,” I thought to myself this morning.  “Waking to happiness.”  The phrase quietly echoed inside my head.  Yes, I thought, every day a little more.  And it’s more beautiful that I ever would have dreamed.

It wasn’t always so.  For long seasons of my life I was wrapped in a weary dullness so dense and heavy that some days it was all I could do to put one foot in front of another to keep on keeping on.

I tell you that to give you hope in case you’re in a struggle of your own.  Here, take this little light beam and tuck it in your pocket.  Let it be a promise to your heart that one day you will open to life’s joy.  One day you will be so filled with it that every cell of your body will sing.

It doesn’t matter if you don’t know how.  You can learn.  And it’s not a matter of hit and miss anymore either.  The ways are known and proven.

In a few short weeks, I’ll be launching another blog with tools you can use to release more happiness into your life.  For now, just be kind to yourself.  You’re not hopeless.  Far from it.  You’re a magnificent being, living in a breathtakingly beautiful world.  It’s just a matter of seeing it, of knowing that it’s the truth.  That’s what I’m trying to share with you in these little daily essays—how beautiful it is, how wondrous, and funny, and glorious, and easy, and glad.  And most of all, how full of love it is.  And that love is singing a dawn song to you right now, to paint your sky with joy, and to bring you the gift of waking to happiness.

Spring Clean for the May Queen

Spring Clean for the May QueenThe wind kicked up out of nowhere, riding a heap of rolling clouds.  It was a cold wind and smelled of rain, and I headed toward home, hurrying to beat the storm.

As it rustled through the newly opened leaves in the thicket beside me and bent the boughs of the trees, I felt a little rush of exhilaration at the drama of it.  And then I laughed out loud when Led Zep’s lyrics from “Stairway to Heaven” sang themselves through my mind:

“If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow,
don’t be alarmed now.
It’s just a spring clean
for the May queen.”

I’ve always liked that line.  Sometimes you need a sweep of strong emotional energy to clean out old debris.  A bit of a rant, a snit, a tantrum, a good cry can be just the ticket sometimes to bring you to the point of release.

It’s like this: ball up your fist really tight and squeeze it as tight as you can to a count of ten.  Then slowly relax it and uncurl your fingers and feel how light your hand feels, as if it wants to float.  See?  Nothing to be alarmed about.  It’s just a way of cleaning things out to make way for a new flowering.

I looked up “spring cleaning” at Wikipedia and found out it’s a universal practice, often performed in preparation for a culture’s holy days or feasts.  Here in the States it was the custom to clean in the windy months of March and April because you could have the windows open before the insects hatched and let the winds blow the dust out as you worked.

Got some inner clutter you want to clear out?  Now’s a great time do put some energy to it.  Go for a brisk hike in the wind, pen your rants in a journal, get to the gym and pump some heavy iron.  Or just sit quietly and look at the mess.  Concentrate on it with all your attention, not making any judgments about it, just seeing it for what it is: old, constricted emotions that you need to clean.  And then imagine a wind blowing through, picking it all up and sweeping it out the window to a place far, far, far away.

Have a spring clean.  May’s right on the horizon.

A Spot of Joy

A Spot of JoyAs I headed home from work yesterday, suddenly the scene before me took on a kind of Norman Rockwell feel.  I had the sense that I was viewing a classic moment, with an almost nostalgic universality to it.

Here, on this fine spring afternoon, someone was carting home a truckload of bright azaleas.

Was it a spontaneous purchase?  A gift?  A decision made over dinner?  I would have loved to know the story.  But I could make up my own.  The sight itself was enough to smooth my face into a warm smile.

A little spot of joy was going home to brighten someone’s spirits and yard.

“Joy spots!”  Oh, my! I hadn’t thought about those in years!  And now this truckload of flowers brought the memory back.

I got the idea from an article I read in a magazine that suggested you leave every room you enter better than you found it in some way.   Pick up a piece of lint from the floor, wipe the dust from a surface, straighten a painting on the wall.  On a whim, I decided to try it for awhile, to see if I could create what I came to call “joy spots.”

I was working as a waitress at the time and the idea carried over into my work life.  I decided I would do whatever I could to make my customers’ visits one of the joy spots in their days.  I made sure each table was clean and well-set before I seated them.  I paid attention to each customer’s style and treated them with respect.  Did they want conversation, or unobtrusive, attentive service?  I did my best to deliver.  I made sure their food reached their tables as soon as it was prepared, and that their bills were ready when they were ready to leave.  It was a challenge in the busy restaurant where I worked, but it made the job more meaningful and fun.  And I routinely hauled in great tips and genuine thanks from people, too.

I dropped the phrase “joy spots” a hundred years ago.  But I still do what I can to leave a room better than I found it.  I try to bring a touch of light to those I encounter, to sooth or comfort, to encourage or support.  But after yesterday, I have a new name for the practice.  As my evenings come to a close and I do my little daily review, I think I’ll ask myself, “Did you bring home some azaleas?”

The Knack of Acceptance: A Happiness Tale

AcceptanceSo this is it, she thought.  Here I am, a yellow violet on a woodland floor.  I’m not a rare and elegant orchid, or a ruffled rose exuding heady fragrance in a garden, or even a cupped tulip on the edge of a manicured lawn.  But I am a violet.

And look how beautifully the sun shines on me!

She had dreamed grand dreams when she was still a bud, unfolding.  As she felt her green leaves unfurl, and sensed the DNA of orchids directing the shaping of her cells, she imagined she was destined for greatness.  She would be among the queens of the flower kingdom.  She imagined herself opening in an exotic botanical garden where she would be protected, pampered and highly admired.

So when her petals first stretched themselves open and she took a look at herself, she was quite stunned to discover she was but a lowly cousin of the grand orchids whose genetic heritage she shared.  She was still more stunned to see that not only was she not in a finely tended botanical garden, she was in no garden at all.

Had she been a human, she might have tumbled into a snarl of resentment, even anger, or despair.  She might have felt cheated by the fates and decided she was a victim of misfortune, left to the mercy of the wilderness and weather.

But violets are simpler than humans, and far more skilled in accepting what is.  So despite being quite surprised at the reality that faced her, the little violet quickly released her fantasies and looked around to see what was really what.  And that’s where we stepped into the story, you and I, just in time to hear her exclaiming “And look how beautifully the sun shines on me.”

As the kaleidoscopic moments moved across her little violet life, she would discover wonder after wonder – the insects with their iridescent wings, the marching armies of ants, the singing of the leaves in the boughs above her, the sparkle of dew and starshine.

That’s the luckiness of being a violet, this skill at accepting what is.  Once you get the knack, wonders appear.  Wonders and wonders and wonders.

The Happiness of Duty Well-Performed

Duty Well-PerformedThe mother duck looked so alert and poised as she sailed out into the pond, a bevy of little ducklings following in her wake.  I imagined she was content, following the path that nature laid out for her, performing all the tasks of motherhood by instinct.  She was made to do exactly what she was doing.

I don’t know, of course, whether ducks feel contentment or not.  But they look pretty peaceful.  It’s hard to imagine them saying, “Geeze, I hate this job.  I can’t go anywhere without all these ducklings following me.  Can’t a girl get a break?”

Not all of us find work that feels like we were born to do it.  When I drive to my office in the morning I sometimes wonder how many of the other commuters are going to jobs they dreamed someday they would do.  Very few of us, I’d wager, despite all the “do what you love, the money will follow” advice out there.  But we do end up in work that allows us to exercise our capabilities and, once we’re past the learning curve, to apply our strengths and talents in performing our duties well.   And to the extent that we apply them, giving our work our focused attention, doing it well, we find satisfaction in what we do.

That combination—engaged attention on an activity where our skills meet its challenges—is the recipe for what psychologists call “flow.”  Feeling neither bored nor anxious, you’re absorbed in the moment, performing with focused attention.  You feel in control. You have a clear sense of what you’re working to accomplish.   You lose track of time.  There’s just the activity.  And at the end of the day, you feel that you did something worthwhile.

In addition to the satisfaction that follows a stretch of being in the flow, the skilled performance of our duties yields other psychic rewards.  It provides us with a sense that we contributed our piece to the larger whole.  The earnings from our work help us feel self-reliant.  The work itself moved the company toward its goals and served its clients or customers.  We were part of society’s rhythm as we performed it, connected.  We held up our part.  We met the expectations of our position.  And those things generate a sense of belonging, pride, and self-esteem.

So it’s Monday and most of us are sailing out into the pond, ready to paddle through another work week.  And most of us grumble about it, and say we would rather be eating bon-bons at the beach, or playing golf or gardening.  But the truth is there’s happiness in duties well-performed, however subtle and overlooked its appearance may be.

The Happiness of Play

The Happiness of PlayEvery time I see a patch of may apples, I’m reminded of the 1977 comedy, “Oh, God!” with George Burns playing the central, good-natured, fun-loving character.  Asked whether he had a sense of humor, God responded, “Have you ever seen an aardvark?”

To me, may apples look like an aerial view of  umbrellas clustered on the patio of some resort.  I imagine frogs sitting on little frog-chairs at round frog-tables sipping margaritas and daiquiris, telling frog-jokes and having a rollicking good time.

Comedy is the opposite of gravity.  It’s the healing twin of seriousness.  It’s one component of play.  And whether play takes the form of imaginative amusement, engagement in a loved pastime or hobby, or involvement is a favorite sport, one thing is sure: We all could use a bunch more of it.

Play is, to borrow the Cocoa-Cola’s slogan, the pause that refreshes.  It’s like an uplifting breeze that carries us away from the heavy duties of adulthood into a realm of light-heartedness and enjoyment.  It gives us a break from monotonous routines and offers us a chance to connect with the kid inside us, flexing our delight muscles, showing us the world from a fresh perspective.  It brings enjoyment to life and lets us remember that life can be fun.

Play gives us permission to be silly, to goof-off.  It throws us into the present and gives us a new focus, and so it broadens the way we look at things.  It wipes the dullness from things and lets life’s shine come through.  And when we play with others (which is the best fun of all!) it builds human connections and lets us feel the happiness of camaraderie.

As you head into the work week, be sure you tuck some slices of play between the work hours.  Make some popcorn.  Get some giggles in.  Put on your tap shoes.  Have some fun!

Be Glad

Be Glad“May your thoughts be as glad as the shamrocks;
May your heart be as light as a song;
May each day bring you bright, happy hours
That stay with you all the year long.”
~Irish Blessing

Gladness tastes like satisfaction and pride.  It feels a reward, like a relief, like a heart filled with gratitude and joy.

Children know it, and baby animals at play.  And fathers who see their children achieve, and mothers whose efforts are met with heartfelt thanks.  It blesses the reunion of friends and accompanies good meals.  It travels on sunshine and sings through bright flowers, celebrating the sheer joy of being.

It bursts suddenly like applause from the heart.  And as quickly as it comes, it goes.  But oh, how thick and warm its aftertaste, how lingering its glow!

Wrap your day in ribbons of gladness.  Stitch it through your hours.  Sprinkle it over your mornings.  Spread it on your toast.  And when the day’s hours have gone, let it tuck you into your dreams at night, gleaming in your heart the way stars gently shimmer in the dawn.

Limitless Possibilities

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in seeing with new eyes.” ~Marcel Proust

At last the long work week came to a close. A bank of clouds had blown in during the afternoon, draining the sky of its color, mirroring the way the sleep deficit I had accrued drained me.

I ran through the list of places I could go for my daily photo shoot, but none of them appealed to me.  I wanted just to go home.  “It’s spring,” I told myself flatly.  “You’ll find something in the yard.”

So I let the pressures go, and the work week go, and drove home with music on the radio, dreaming about the nap that waited for me there.

As I pulled in the driveway, a patch of weeds on the hillside caught my eye.  Some kind of small white flowers bobbed on leafy stems in a little clump near its base.  They were kind of non-descript from a distance, ordinary weeds you would pass without giving them a thought.

But when, moments later, I focused my camera’s lens on them, their beauty bathed my awareness.  Atop each stem, dozens of pretty buds snuggled at the base of the perfect four-petaled white flowers, surrounded by slightly blushing deeply toothed leaves.   Each bud would open to become a flower.  And each flower would produce a seed capable of growing into another plant that would produce more blossoms and more seeds.  How remarkable!

The sight washed all my weariness away.  The world was a miraculous place once again.  And all because of a patch of weeds that I could easily have passed by.

It’s all in how you look at things.   The world within us and the world without are strewn with limitless possibilities for discovering new beauty, new wonders, new paths, new interpretations and perceptions.  I was reminded to keep from too quickly dismissing a glimmer on the hillside as a weed.   Often it’s wise to readjust your focus, to take a second look.

“Somewhere,” Carl Sagan once said, “something incredible is waiting to be known.”  And it’s up to us to open ourselves to see it.

In Celebration of Grit

“Grit,” says dictionary.com, is “firmness of character; indomitable spirit; pluck: She has a reputation for grit and common sense.”

I ran into a passel of grit this week and seeing it made me feel proud.

In a time when the dominant slogans for feeling good advise us to take it easy, go with the flow, and steer clear of those things that cause us turmoil, the characteristic of grit doesn’t get much traffic.  And yet, research in positive psychology shows that people who have a fair share of it are generally happier than those with lesser amounts and achieve more than those who lack it – even when they’re less talented.

Grit is perseverance, persistence and exceptional commitment to your aims.  It’s the sustained and focused application of your aptitudes and abilities over time.  It’s the stuff that makes the difference between winners and also-rans.

The director of the clinic where I work showed the staff what grit is this week when she came to work after a surgery that left her with two very black eyes.  She wore rhinestone-studded sunglasses — to keep from scaring us all with her appearance, she said with a laugh.  But I knew it took some courage for this always beautifully groomed woman to work a very visible job with a temporarily disfigured face, especially when she was feeling a fair amount of pain as well.  She could easily have taken the week off, especially since this week held her birthday.  But her commitment to her work and to the staff took precedence for her over her own comfort.

As if the sore and blackened eyes weren’t enough, on Tuesday night she severely injured a deteriorating knee.  But again, she mustered the determination to come to work, walking with a cane, despite the obvious pain and the further insult to her image.   Don’t get me wrong; she’s by no means a vain woman.  Her attention to her appearance is a part of her professionalism.  She maintains high standards in all that she does.

In fact, it’s her exceptional commitment to high standards that exemplifies her grit and that makes her the inspirational leader she is.   An extraordinary string of painful personal challenges have strewn her path over the past couple of years, and not one of them has kept her from carrying the mantel of leadership with fortitude, humility and good humor.

I see her resolve mirrored in the staff as well.  Her example says, “This is how you handle difficulties.”  And employees follow her lead when they face misfortunes of their own.  She shows us what backbone is all about and how to be resilient.  That’s grit.

All winners have it.  Grit carries you through the long spell of practice and preparation necessary to hone your skills and gain the knowledge you need to reach your goals.  It’s what gets you past the inevitable obstacles.  It keeps you in the game when the game gets tough.  It pushes you past setbacks and failures.  It’s the currency that lets you pay the price to win the prize.  And today, I celebrate and applaud it.

The Peace of Happiness

The Peace of HappinessBeneath all the intensity and turbulence of life, peace stretches its calm knowing.  It swallows up our hurts and wraps our wounds in its largeness.  It dissolves our anxiety and fears in its luminous, infinite glow.

It comes with the softness of morning, with the melody of a quietly babbling brook, to sooth and refresh and renew us.

And all we have to do to feel its might is to quietly breathe and let go.

Shhhhhhh.  Listen.  With a sigh of relief, an opening of the hand and the heart it comes, quietly singing, “All is well; let it be.”