Happiness Meets Murphy’s Law

It was one of those Murphy’s Law days.  You know, the kind where you keep exclaiming, “What on earth can go wrong next!” and are instantly rewarded with an answer.  It was as if someone let loose a box of gremlins during the night and they busily crossed wires and hid things and demagnetized all the electrons.   Late start.  Rain. Traffic.  Crying children.  Orney adults.  Ringing phones.  Paralyzed software.  Spilled coffee.  Leaking pens.  Out-of-order machines.

happy nowAbout noon, my glazed-over eyes spotted a little sticky note on the bulletin board next to my desk.  “Why are you so happy now?” it asked.   What an absolutely ridiculous question!  I broke out in laughter at its sheer absurdity just as a coworker walked past.

“What’s so funny?” she demanded, sticking her head in my door.

“Everything!” I gasped.  “You.  Me.  Diane.  The whole damned day.  I mean, could it be more outlandish than this?”

“You have a point,” she said, rolling her eyes.  The gesture was so exaggerated that it made me laugh again, and seeing herself through my eyes for a second, she started chuckling, too.

“What’s so funny?”  Leslie said, pulled in by our laughter.  I pointed at her and Kathy and I laughed harder.

“Everything!” Kathy choked out.  “Everything!”

“You’ll have to excuse us,” I said, “We’ve gone over the edge.  Just slid right on over into hysteria.”

Kathy and I pulled ourselves together.  Kathy was wiping a tear from her eye.  “What a zoo!” I said.  “Aren’t we amazing, to function at all in the midst of so much chaos?”

“Yeah,” Leslie said.  “I guess we really are.”

They left, smiling and relaxed, and I sat for a moment and thought about the magic my little sticky note had triggered.  Instantly, it brought us a round of comic relief, and in its wake, renewal and perspective.   “Why am I so happy now?”  Because, I answered silently, we are all so willing to be.

The Happiness of a Challenge

Fire Lily
Fire Lily

A couple weeks ago I took my love of making photos to a new level.  I decided to post a photo that I took during the day on my Flickr page every day for a year.  To set a goal to do any behavior every day for a year is a pretty big challenge.  But I expect to raise my happiness level exponentially as I pursue it.

For one thing, it lets me exercise some of my key strengths, such as my love for beauty.  And exercising your strengths is a great way to increase your happiness.  We like doing what comes naturally to us, using our talents, following the bent of our particular personality.  Doing what comes easily, and doing it well, is just plain fun.

I like challenges, too, and another of my strengths is perseverance.  I can keep on as stubbornly as the Energizer bunny once I set a task for myself.  Still, 365 days is a lot of days.  Who knows what twists they will hold?  Can I keep at it though thick and thin?  Not knowing is part of the adventure.

If I fail, will I be crushed?  Nah.  It’s only a game I’m playing with myself.  And lots of things could come along that would be more important to me than taking a picture.  But, I tell myself, if I succeed, imagine the incredible sense of accomplishment I’ll feel!  And that—the dream of how I’ll feel if I succeed—is what will keep me going.

I expect to learn a lot from the experiment, too.  And because of love of learning is another of my strengths, that’s another aspect of the challenge that will bring me joy.  I expect to learn more about photography, how to look for the beautiful and interesting in new ways, and how to stretch myself to meet a goal I’ve set for myself even when I’m in a spell where I’m wholly unmotivated.  I expect to see my view of the world’s beauty reflected in a whole new say, and to have, a year from now, a very interesting log of how I look at things.

Juicy goals do so much for increasing our happiness.  They give us something meaningful to work toward.  They challenge us to rise to new levels of performance.  They let us learn to trust that we can overcome obstacles.  They let us feel the flow of our strengths in action.

And there’s a subtle something more, a kind of magic that happens when you’re doing the things that bring you joy.  Mythologist Joseph Campbell put it this way:  “When you’re following your bliss,” he said, “doors will open where you would not have thought there would be doors; and where there wouldn’t be a door for anyone else.”   I’m excited about that.  I want to see the opening of those doors.

Comfortable Shoes

old shoesFor the past several weeks I have been playing with the question, “Why am I so happy now?”  I ask it of myself in the morning when I wake up and throughout the day, whenever it occurs to me.  And it brings me back some very wonderful answers.Today the answer came from a pair of old shoes.

As I laced up a pair of worn sneakers that I pulled from the back of a closet to wear on my photo-walk, I suddenly realized how much I love these old shoes.  They’re creased and scuffed and grassed-stained, but they support me where I need support.  They’re soft and pliable in all the right ways, and they keep me from slipping when I’m on questionable terrain.   Most of all, I suppose, I like how they are associated with so many wonderful memories.  They’re like old friends.  It made me happy, I realized, just to put them on.

As the evening unfolded, it brought with it old friends of the human persuasion, engaging in the kind of good, intimate conversation that happens between friends who know each other well.

I’m happy, I thought later, for the old friendships that grace my life, for the people who fit me like comfortable shoes.  We’ve walked many roads together, in all kinds of weather.  And like my shoes, they offer me support where I need it, the softness of their affection, and they keep me from slipping when I venture onto untried ground.

In today’s throw-away, mile-a-minute culture, what a treasure, what a comfort, enduring friendships provide.  Despite the scuffs and wrinkles, they fit so beautifully well—even when you’ve left them in the back of the closet far too long.

If that’s where a couple of your old friends are, pull them out.  Give them a little brushing—a phone call maybe, a catch-up email.  Tell them you love them because they’re as wonderful as comfortable shoes.

The Happiness of Celebration

“The purpose of life is the celebration of it.”be

I don’t remember when I first came across that line or know its source.  But I remember that it blazed across my consciousness as one of those great, shining truths that you know at once will stay with you forever.   And indeed it has, taking on increasing significance as the years roll by.

When the word “celebration” first came into use, it meant to solemnize or to honor.  In short, it meant to hold something in reverence.  Then, along its travels through time, it picked up connotations of happiness and revelry.  The events to which it first referred, after all, were those that provided life with some of its greatest joys—marriage, communion with the Divine, the anniversary of the days a culture considered holy.

How apt a word, then, to answer the great Why of our existence!  It doesn’t solve the mystery, but it tells us how to meet it.  We are here, it says, to honor life, to hold the fact of it in joyous reverence.  We’re here to dance and sing, to drink the wine of life’s moments and enjoy the feast of days.

Even when the wine is bitter, and the feast but dry crumbs, we can bring to it our reverence, our understanding that these things, too, are life and a part of the great mystery which we are privileged to experience.

Regardless of the stories of our lives, however humble or great our aspirations or achievements or abilities, we’re all part of life’s magnificent stream.  That our little individualized sparks of consciousness, embodied in such fleeting forms, can envision whole universes, can experience whole symphonies of emotion, can conceptualize infinity and eternity and dream that we somehow compose them, is so astounding that what but celebration can be our response!

If you have been searching for a purpose, may I offer you this one?  Embrace it, and I guarantee, it will lead you to happiness and satisfaction and joy.

Hard Times Knockin’

I read a wonderful quote today by the late journalist and broadcaster Allistair Cooke.

“In the best of times,” he said, “our days are numbered anyway.  And so it would be a crime against nature for any generation to take the world crisis so solemnly that it put off enjoying those things for which we were presumably designed in the first place . . . the opportunity to do good work, to fall in love, to enjoy friends, to hit a ball, and to bounce a baby.”

I found it interesting that Cooke, a man who was passionately and intimately involved with so many crucial junctures of contemporary history, would gently point out in this paragraph of his that every generation experiences a world in crisis.  Not just our grandparents, or our parents, or us.  But every generation.
Given all the turmoil of our current times, it’s good to remember that the world didn’t end when crises confronted humanity in the past.  People went on.  And the wisest ones followed the path that Cooke so elegantly describes.  They lived their lives.  Not lost in struggle and warring against the evils that threatened their well-being, but involving themselves in all those things that make living worthwhile.  They worked and played, and loved, and laughed with friends, and welcomed new life onto the world’s stage—even when it was drenched in darkness.

They lived for the hours of goodness.  They embraced hope.  They savored the pleasures that fell across their paths.  They gave themselves to work, to the service of others, and to family, and friends—to “enjoying those things for which we were presumably designed in the first place.”

When the present world crises threaten your peace of mind, think about those who lived through hard times before.  It’s not what you lose that matters in the long run.  It’s what you make of what you have left.

The Happiness of Practice

When I was a little kid, I grew to hate the word “practice.”  Generally uttered by my mother as a command to attend to the week’s piano lesson, it came to mean an unwelcome delay or interruption of my playtime.

Over the years, of course, I reaped rich rewards from this imposed daily ritual.  In fact, the rewards generalized into so many areas of my life that I can’t possibly pay the debt of gratitude I owe my mom for her determined insistence that I learn the how to sit for practice regardless of how strong the pull to avoid it.

Today, the practices I have incorporated into my daily routine—thinking about happiness as I write pieces for this blog, making a photo of at least one beautiful thing, exercising, meditation—are real sources of happiness for me.

Not only do my daily practices add a soothing sense of rhythm to my day, but they allow me to connect at regular intervals with the things that matter to me.  They keep me from being distracted from all the glittering attractions that do not hold the real gold.  The real gold in our lives lies in the things we value most highly.  And happiness comes from digging deeply into its veins, from putting our time into mining it and refining it until its qualities become a part of us.

The more deeply you dig, the more you work at refining, the more you understand the real nature and beauty of your practice—whatever it is.  It becomes your teacher, leading you to ever new discoveries, not only about the object of your practice, but about you yourself.  You learn the nuances of the tools you’re using and new skills for applying them.  You learn to keep digging when the vein seems to have run dry.  You learn to refine your practice with a hotter fire, to make it burn away the dross and yield greater purity.

Of course it’s great fun to realize that you have developed skills along the way, too.  One day you notice that you’re hitting your target on center nearly every time, almost effortlessly.  The ball clears the net.  You hear the way the clay wants to bend.  The code has become a natural language.  You see the way the light falls.  Your stride becomes a natural flow.

But best of all, you have become a larger you, expressing in the world more of who you truly want to be.  All because you took the time to practice, to connect with the things that give you the greatest satisfaction and joy.  And that, my friends, is happiness.

The Happiness of Loving Kindness

“When we feel love and kindness toward others, it not only makes others feel loved and cared for, but it helps us also to develop inner happiness and peace.” ~ The Dalai Lama

I recently happened on a beautiful gift of serenity and quiet joy – the heart-opening practice of the Loving Kindness Meditation.* Many versions of it exist, but the one I chose to follow was a simple one that took only twenty minutes of my time and yielded an exquisite sense of tranquility.

It goes like this: After sitting quietly for a bit to calm yourself, as you would do with any meditation, you send focused, conscious thoughts in four waves. You begin with yourself, wishing yourself happiness, healing, prosperity, forgiveness, love and all that you need to flourish and thrive. Spend at least five minutes enfolding yourself in these thoughts. There’s no rush. Allow yourself the full time to bathe in your sincere desires for your own well-being.

Next, expand your wave of benediction out to embrace those nearest and dearest to you. Picture each one in your mind, and saying their names, one at a time, wish them all the goodness you just wished yourself. Imagine their hearts opening to receive your blessings.

Now let your wave of loving-kindness expand to your more casual relationships and to strangers. Feel it gently expanding to touch hearts in all the world’s nations and cultures.

As the wave expands, it becomes filled with more and more loving kindness, becoming sweeter with every passing moment.

Finally, embrace within it people you dislike or who you view as enemies of any kind, and hold them in loving kindness, too.

When you have finished, gently open your eyes and savor the softness and openness of your heart. Let its gladness spread to your face and its glow color everything around you as you return to your normal routine.

Because it’s very soothing and fills you with a sense of connectedness and peace, I find using it as I settle into bed for the night especially enjoyable. But I urge you to try it, regardless of what hour you may choose. The happiness it brings is deep and fresh and sweet.

* * *

*I’m sorry; I was on a surfing rampage when I found it and I didn’t think to add the source of it to my notes. I offer my sincere gratitude to its author, believing his or her permission to share it with you would flow easily.

The Hues of Happiness

One of the reasons I’m so high on happiness is that it comes in such broad array of colors. It’s not always bursting with laughter, or picking daisies on a summer day—although it certainly can be. It’s not always fun-filled or twirling with exuberance or crossing the finish line or winning the prize.

And while I love all those aspects of happiness, to be honest with you, my personal preference is for some of its softer, deeper, more subtle shades. You know, the whiskers on kittens kind of things: The sky full of stars. The smell of the air after a storm. The satisfying exhaustion after a day of really getting things done.

For me, happiness contains not only the whistling, confetti-strewn feelings, but the wispier ones that evoke contented sighs, and, sometimes, even those that bring tears.

Tears? Yes. The kind that come when you watch your child graduate or marry. The tears that come at funerals when you realize how much you loved and will miss the one who’s gone. The tears of relief when you’re reunited with a loved one after a long separation, or when a novel or movie ends in a way that moves you to your core.

Happiness is all these things, and more. It’s the awe we feel when we see authentic beauty or hear exquisite music. It’s the way we’re touched by generosity and kindness. It’s the thrill we feel when we witness an act of heroism or high achievement. It’s the reverence that comes over us in the face of genuine goodness or grace.

Happiness is the honoring of the best in us, the celebration of life’s wonder and sweep and depth. It’s the expression of our humor and wit, our strengths and talents, our foibles and our darings. It’s singing hosanna and sighing amen.

It comes from someplace essential in us. And it’s always there, available, free. In all its colors, just for saying Yes to it, for opening our hearts to the moment’s richness and seeing what’s before our eyes. Have some, won’t you? And pass it around. It’s even better when it’s shared.

A Taste of Ambrosia

More and more I’ve come to realize there isn’t any place better than here, any time better than now. Of course that’s an old truism. And if you’re anything like me, because you have heard it a hundred times, it’s easy to think to yourself that you’ve “got it” and let its truth slide on by. Don’t.

Heed the sage advice that the four most dangerous words we can utter are “I already know that.” Just for a couple moments, let yourself pause and consider the gifts the present offers.

Accepting as a fact that the present is full of mystery and wonder and living it in your very own tangible, touchable experience are two wholly different things. The fact tastes like cardboard; the experience tastes like ambrosia.

What’s happening for me as I dive more fully into living in happiness is that I’m developing quite a taste for that ambrosia, that life-enhancing nectar of the gods, called “Now.” And I’m discovering more and more ways to invite it into my awareness. I’m learning to notice it more frequently and to stay in it for longer periods of time.

In our too-busy, rush-rush lives, attuning to the present doesn’t come naturally. We are, in fact, conditioned to avoid it in countless numbers of ways. And that’s a shame, a real loss. It contributes to our dis-ease and steals from us the sense of life’s majesty.

But the good news is that the present is always here for us, always offering us its richness. It’s just a matter of stopping to notice, to see what it holds.

It’s that “stopping” that’s the key. Like the beverage slogan says, it really is the pause that refreshes. It’s pausing in your thoughts, in your actions, and taking a moment to feel what you’re feeling, to hear the sounds, see the colors and movements around you, to realize you are wholly alive, a sensual, conscious being in the midst of an unfathomable mystery.

nowie wowie It’s noticing the sky, and realizing it’s not wallpaper but a dancing atmosphere, filled with the breath of all that lives, expanding beyond the curtain of light to endless worlds of stars and galaxies and nebulae. It’s blinking your eyes and feeling the warm, moist glide of your eyelids as they close and open. It’s feeling the temperature and weight and flow of air as you breathe, the placement of your tongue in your mouth, the alignment of your posture, the brush of your clothing against your skin, the texture of your fingerprints as you rub your thumbs together. And all of it is a mystery, however many pieces of it we name and put together.

And that’s just a sip of it. Just one sip of all that’s there to be tasted. Give yourself a moment of it. It’s right here, after all. Right now. Always.

Pumped on Happiness

Some kinds of happiness come unbidden, wafting across you of their own accord– rays of sunlight fanning up from a cloud, the giggle of a child, the scent of a freshly baked cinnamon roll. And some you have to work for—the satisfaction of a goal achieved, peace after an argument is finally put to rest. Both, I’m discovering, are arriving in my life more often, and settling more deeply now that I’m paying attention.

Did you know that happiness is a skill? That you can train yourself to have more of it in your life? It’s true! Just as you can learn to ride a bike, or drive a car, or play guitar, you can learn to be happier. (And happier, and happier, and happier!)

Granted, it’s easier for some folks to learn than others. Half of our capacity for happiness is inborn; it’s in our genes. And some folks have a slight advantage over others because their circumstances are a little friendlier. The advantage of circumstances, though, is pretty slight. About 10% of the package, research says. That means a full 40% of your ability to be happier rests in your own hands.

Can you imagine what it might feel like to reach the upper limits of your happiness capacity? To become a master of the art? A happiness connoisseur?

As with any skill, the first step is simply deciding that learning it could be genuinely worthwhile. So, I ask you: Wouldn’t it be refreshing to wake up every morning eager to face the new day? To fall asleep at night with a contented smile on your face? What if all your hours were touched by pleasure? What if life turned into an endless experience of beauty and goodness? Would it be worth spending a little time to pick up the skill?

For me, the answer to those questions is a resounding “Yes!” I’m pumped about happiness. I’m shouting out to it, “Come on in!” And every day, it smiles back at me, and says, “Why, thank you; I think I shall.”

If you think you might want to hone your happiness skills, too, start by deciding to become a collector. Start watching for the bits of it that flow across your day and consciously acknowledge when you spot them. See how many you can find. Make a mental list of them before you fall asleep at night, or better yet, start a happiness log.

It all begins with noticing.