There is a bench that sits on a low bluff that looks out into the ocean. I go there every morning and sip my coffee and watch the tugboats and fishing vessels go back and forth. The seagulls caw overhead and occasionally an eagle flies by. Each day is a different scene. The water color, the waves, the air, sky, wind is always different. Something about that view as I sit and sip my coffee is forever imbued in my memory. It is my “happy place,” a place that brings me the most joy.
When I’m feeling low or stressed. I take myself back to this place by the sea and the rememberance of the images, the sounds and smells bring me peace, joy and love to my being.
William Butler Yeats felt something similar when he wrote in his poem, the Lake Isle of Innisfree. He was standing on a busy street and the sound of a fountain’s trickling water took him back to his boyhood and he conjured images of a past time of not only wonder and beauty but peace, love and joy. He created a place in his mind where he could go to feel better about life.
I hope everyone has a happy place, somewhere in their mind they can go to feel a deep sense of peace, joy and love.
I forgot my happy place when I started watching the news and reading social media. All the fear built up by others, all the information and not knowing what to believe, kept my mind in a constant state of turmoil.
When I reach for my happy place in my mind, it gives me some pause to feel what peace, joy and love feel like.
I know places are not the only memories where I can peace, love, and joy.
Family memory can bring me joy. My grandchildren and their actions and play or just remembering their smiles, puts me in a good mood.
Meditation using Headspace or Calm can bring me back to a more relaxed state. It doesn’t give me joy but it does bring me peace.
Friends can bring me into a joyful focus either by remembering the good times with them or calling them up and falling into conversation. I recently began calling a friend from my high school days. It’s been over 20 years since we last spoke, but our conversation was as if we just spoke yesterday. We fell into easy relaxed conversation that quickly.
Religion helps me sometimes. Knowing, feeling and believing my greater-than-life force brings me to a higher level of positive energy. Reading The Book in times of stress brought me back from despair many times when I was younger.
Experiences from the past, times of my life when I felt so on top of the world, might make me feel better, but for me events from the past, stay in the past. I don’t relive them. I know people do, and this might be a tool to uplift someone.
Journal writing also can bring me more joy. It allows me to empty my soul of all my negativity and then write in the positive reflections in my m life, give thanks and gratitude for what I have, and create a list goals to my day.
Bravery brings me a sense of joy. Doing something I’ve feared attempting. I do it in a small way, nothing grandiose. Examples might be calling my friend from high school; writing a blog for others to read; finishing a novel or poem and sending out for others to read.
One brave activity I’m trying is camping. I haven’t really camped in my life, but I love nature and I want to try. So, I did baby steps first. I watched videos online. I began collecting what I need for my camp box. I drove to campgrounds to see what they have. I practiced setting up a tent in my backyard. I learned to cook on a camp stove. With each practice, I took notes: what am I missing? How should I organize my camp box.
People smirk and say, “Just go camping.” But, I want it to be a success and success to me means planning, practice, and patience. Small steps lead to greater joy, to me.
I have my first overnight camp trip in two weeks. I reserved it online. And, of course it’s at the beach. I felt such joy when my reservation was confirmed. I can’t wait to continue stepping out of my comfort zone toward another goal.
Whatever my happy place, having a picture or video helps me to remember the experience.
I’m sure there are other forms of “happy places” in the mind but for now, this is a good start.
May all seek and find a thought that brings joy to life.
“Two souls, alas, are housed within my beast, And each will wrestle for the mastery there.“
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
One Early Chinese culture explains human beings are made up of two spirits: two hun and po. Hun represents the earthly needs and wants while the po represents the more ethereal needs and wants.
“As generally understood, hun is the spirit of a person’s vital force that is expressed in consciousness and intelligence, and po is the spirit of a person’s physical nature that is expressed in bodily strength and movements. Both hun and po require the nourishment of the essences of the vital forces of the cosmos to stay healthy,” according to encyclopedia.com.
No English word exactly fits hunpo, but I like to think of it as a kind of dualistic “soul.”
Both souls need nourishment. Both souls need attention. When both are in harmony I feel a true joy. When one receives more attention than the other I feel a “false” joy.
These two forces pull within me. Sometimes my thoughts are for ease of life, distractions, and pleasure, my po, so of speak. Other times I crave mental stimulation, service above self, and communion with others, my hun.
When consciousness demands more time, usually driven by urgency or fear, I drown myself in study and writing and forgo exercise, proper eating, and personal connections. I become driven to accomplish my task or goal. Never mind the journey just show me the “brass ring,” get me to my goal. I will achieve the goal and I feel a joy that it’s done, but it’s a false joy, for it lasts only a short while before I’m left wanting more. During this imbalance between the two, I can get moody, sullen, or angry. I look at the goal as the object that will bring me my joy in the end, but more often than not it is a false joy that doesn’t last and I have forgotten it’s the journey that brings true joy.
When my body urges me toward physical desires and activities and food of which I derive a certain pleasure, I binge watch television, eat unhealthy sweets and snacks or drink in excess or feed my addiction to online gaming. These feel so pleasurable in the moment, but leave me craving more. I find if I spend too much time and energy to these pleasures, my joy feels like a “false” joy. It stays a short while and is gone.
Both the body and the mind can easily pull me toward an excess of one over the other that creates a false sense of joy. The key for me is to recognize the pattern that pulls me into the excess habits and change it.
When the po becomes overextended with activities, I need to be aware of my cravings, urges and addictions and decrease my “pleasures” and include more hun activities, usually in the form of meditation, reading, and communion with people.
When the hun becomes overextended with mental stimulation or service activities, I decrease my studies and include more po activities like recreational activities such as walking, hiking, or sports and nutritional foods like fruits, vegetables and nuts.
My true joy comes when both souls feel in balance. I’m calm, content, and at peace with my world and the world around me. I strive for this balance. I strive for true joy.
My conclusion is that one soul is not better than the other, nor should I let one soul be master of the other, but to allow both souls to move in harmony together.
Like Wolfgang von Goethe, I wrestle to find a balance daily between the two souls and not to allow one to master me but for me to be the master of both.
To me, only then do I feel true joy in my daily life.
The author Ursula LaGuinn wrote a short story titled The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas. In it there is this town called Omelas where everyone feels joy all the time, people are happy, prosperous, and loved, but that euphoria the townspeople came at a price.
To feel joy in the town of Omelas the people must allow for one young child to be in misery and pain. The child is locked up in a room in a basement that’s no larger than a broom closet. The child is scared, maltreated, and alone forever. The child wails in pain, hides in fear, and starved for kindness.
It’s part of the deal for the town to prosper. This child must never feel joy. Everyone in the town knows about the child, but no one does anything to make the child’s life better. The townspeople make excuses. Making the child’s life better means making the townspeople’s life worse.
When the town’s youngsters reach their teenage years, they are encouraged to visit the child to learn the town’s “reason for happiness and prosperity,” but when they are shown the child in the closet and learn this child must live in pain, suffering, and starvation forever, their first reaction is anger or sadness. but given their well being, many come to accept the situation as necessary, but some empathetic souls question the community’s action or inaction. They must choose to go on living prosperously in the town accepting this atrocity or walk away from this nirvana forever.
LaGuinn’s, story feels strangely allegorical in these pandemic times. Should I accept that many more people should die from covid 19 in order to restart the economy so they can feel more joy, contentment, and well being? Or, do I do my best to follow the guidelines to mitigate the spread of the virus and STAY AT HOME and suffer the sacrifices necessary so that more people can live?
Personally, I can only control my choices. I am responsible for my own actions to help not spread the virus. So, I promise myself to do these three things:
I will follow the guidelines recommended by my doctors and elected leaders: to wear a mask, practice social distancing, wash my hands and stay at home whenever possible.
I will not give in to peer pressure by those who try and make me feel bad for following the guidelines. Instead I will use my integrity and “doing the right thing,” follow the guidelines.
I will ask people to wear a mask in my present. I will stay my distance even as they get closer. A number of people have the mask with them. They just don’t put it on.
I see no joy in another’s death for the sake of my well being. Talking with individuals that caused another’s death either by accident or on purpose, I notice high stress; I see remorse and depression, even after ten years the incident.
Joy comes in the simple act of giving and caring for others. We see this around the Holidays.
I will adapt; I will persevere; and I will survive and do so by caring for the mortals around me.
In story LaGuinn’s story, not everyone accepts the situation of the little boy. Occasionally, adults go back and revisit the child and when they walk away they choose to keep walking away from the town. “They keep walking, and walk straight out of the city of Omelas, through the beautiful gates. They keep walking across the farmlands of Omelas. Each one goes alone, youth or girl, man or woman.”
I choose to walk away — six feet away from people, wearing a mask, or I can just stay at home.
A new U.S. television series called The Baker and the Beautyhas two supporting role characters that I like to watch more than the leading role characters. It’s Rafael and Mari Garcia, the mom and dad of Daniel Garcia. What makes them interesting to me is their attitude toward their relationship, their children and their life experiences — good and bad..
The Garcia’s owns a bakery, which if you know anything about bakeries you know they are a struggle, but though they struggle and tensions flare slightly, they always come back to what’s important, each other and life and more often then not, they use humor to get them through.
In the second episode, the bakery oven breaks down when they have chance to make an impression on a prominent food critic. They try to fix it, but in the end, instead of yelling at each other the mom and dad start laughing about it.
Two children stand dumbfounded at their parents respond to disaster. When the oldest asks, “Why they are not more upset and yelling and screaming.” The mom replies “Sometimes you just have to laugh.”
I agree. Sometimes you just have to laugh. It’s healthier to laugh than to anger. Yelling and allowing my tension to ooze into the environment does little to help any situation and does more harm to the people around me.
I had a minor disaster this morning — lost money in the stock market.
My wife could feel my tension even though I never said a negative word. My tone and facial expression spoke volumes of what happened.
She, in turn, picked up the tension and her voice and body language mirrored mine — how sad.
I’ve come to realize my mom modeled how to raise one’s tension over even a minor disaster like lost keys. As a kid, her yelling added to my tension and left me feeling like it was my mistake.
After our breakfast, I I tried it this morning after I meditated.
Three things that help me get to joy in times of disaster
One, I choose in my mind to look at my situation with a little humor.
“Just because you’re miserable, doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy your life.”
Thoughts are just that, thoughts. I can choose which thoughts to bring into my mind, which one’s to hang on to , and which ones to let go. It’s my choice.
In my mind, I have grabbed onto my negative thoughts and let them bring me down. In my mind, I’ve projected horrible outcomes for my life, but my mind, I’ve reflected back on regretful choices.
Never did my dwelling on these thoughts ever help me be a better person, but the opposite. Meditation and the practice of choosing which thoughts to pursue in my mind helps me grow in real life. Sometimes it’s humorous thoughts because my mom’s modeling is hardwired into me.
When I looked back at my folly of thinking I could beat the stock market this morning and instead of anger with my decision making, I switched my mind to use humor to look at my poor decision. And instead of berating myself mentally, I took the experience as a lesson.
Two, I surround myself with people that have a little humor in tough situations.
“We are the average of the five people we spend the most time with.”
You know these people. When you get off the phone or finish a conversation you feel uplifted. Sometimes they make you laugh even at your own mistakes. Yes, they may have a bit of “pollyanna” but sometimes we need that.
Call up someone you know is positive and maybe funny and see what happens to your mood.
Three, I choose to watch or listen or read to things that make me laugh.
“People throughout history have used humor, stories, music, dancing to cope with human tragedy,”
My wife always said if she got cancer, she would watch I Love Lucy reruns 24/7. No show ever made her laugh so hard or made her feel so good, but each one of us has a different idea of what’s funny.
On the internet I see people asking for cartoons or pictures that are funny because they need a little humor in their life — like now — and people respond to their need. We all get to laugh, then.
What shows or movies make you laugh and change you mood. I found this Funny Videos site. It made me smile. This activity is more passive and, I believe, the least effective of improving one’s attitude, but it’s still an option.
Humor helps keep me from spiraling down he rabbit hole of despair in my mind.
It was Victor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning that brought this to my attention when he said, ““Everything can be taken from a man but one thing, the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Media is all about getting the ratings. How else does a news outlet survive otherwise? I’m just as guilty reading the alluring headlines and then clicking on the piece only to read —
One , the headline is hyped to get people to read information that is already well know with but the writer put just a slightly different spin on it.
Two, the article is falsely reported or twisted from the original intention in order to hook readers into emotionally charged behavior.
Three, the article guides me to buy something in order to solve my COVID problem.
Don’t get me wrong, there are intelligent articles and great reporters but the myriad of lurid news pieces catch more eyes and attention than the facts sometimes– sad but true.
I’ve learned a few lessons about my brain’s information addiction during my forced hibernation:
One, check to see if other news sources are reporting similar news.
I read stories posted on Facebook that seem too good to be true. When I double-checked its validity by typing in the article title or keywords, I would either find other sites that verified the article or said it was false news.
Two, seek out other news sources closer to the action.
When our news media and scientists floundered with what to do, I turned to Asia and listened to the doctors and scientist that regularly dealt with animal virus transmissions to humans for the last thirty years. The Coronavirus was not their first “rodeo” with a virus. They knew what to do where other countries were still guessing. This interview with the leading COVID-19 expert from South Korea is one of my favorite information pieces and is filled with important advice. I especially listened to his concern that the United States said wearing masks during this COVID outbreak would be optional.
Three, look at both sides of the political media spectrum.
I watch a CNN report and then I watch a FOX news report. I feel the truth is somewhere in the middle. I avoid the reports that do not use science but instead offer a personal opinion to convince people one way or another.
Four, look for the closest to objective reporting. The science and data speak to me in a way that gives me the information without raising my blood pressure.
I still have friends tell me this virus is all made up by the Democrats. I have other friends tell me the Republicans made this far worse because the president did not act soon enough. I don’t see how the “blame game” will help solve the pandemic. It does, however, show me a person’s character in times of stress and strife.
I learned we will get through this pandemic.
I can see what I need and my family needs to do to not get the Coronavirus. I have more faith now that a vaccine will be developed and knowing that calms me down. It will take time, but I know how to act in the meantime and I follow the experts’ guidelines. Scientists in the United States and around the world are now starting to say the same thing and work together except for a few outlier countries.
Times like these I feel like fighting this virus is like “building a plane while we fly it.” We all learn as we go along. That’s okay. I like where we are heading, and I’m confident it will get through this. Hopefully, we will build one well enough that this never happens, again.
During the first World War, a young French officer had been disciplined by his colonel for showing fear in battle. When the commander heard of the incident, he choose to reprimand the colonel rather than the officer saying, “None but a coward dares to boast that he had never know fear.”
We all feel fear. In times like these fear holds me captive in my thoughts. It blocks me from feeling joy. I have bowed to fear, dropped to my proverbial knees and done everything I could to avoid feeling fear, but I found in the long run it was better to face my fear, go through it, slice it and dice it until I no longer fear it. My fear level has dropped significantly.
Here are a dozen ideas I found that helped me to grow passed my fears and to find more joy in my life.
Write Thoughts Down
Writing down my fears has always helped me with sorting out them out and creating possible courses of action. It was a way to express my pent up feelings and brainstorm courses of action. Many times writing helped calm my mind.
There were times in my life when fear kept me in my bubble when I actually needed to grow. It was thinking of others, like my family or teammates or squad that pushed me passed my fears, calmed my mind, and motivated me to action. Who needed me right then motivated me to be more than a ball of fear.
Study the Source
“Fear always springs from ignorance.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Many of my fears come from a lack of information — true information. That means researching assertions to ascertain its falsehood or truth. Once I read, study and learn from reliable sources my insecurity calms down, many times it helps me deal with it. Sometimes I call them “epiphany moments,” those times where I say, “Oh, that makes sense.” I avoid the sensationalism or exaggerated news, sometimes called “yellow journalism,” that raises my stress like watching a horror movie. Instead, I look for objectivity and facts. “Tell it to me straight.” The unknown causes me more anxiety than the known.
Study the Science
Looking at the science helps . I say science because with many unfounded “stories,” wives tales, and home remedies posted on the internet it’s easy to fall into believing they are true. Data usually does not lie. Science is backed with data and studies over a wide group of people. So, once I find information, I check how many sites actually support the information and, in particular, how many scientific sites.
Read “the Book”
I have books in my library, religious or otherwise, that inspire me to calm the storm in my mind. Just reading a few lines each day calms me enough to move through my day.
Concentrate on Breath
Concentrate on breathing not your thoughts. Thoughts are just that. They are not reality; they are perceived reality. When I concentrate on my breath, count the air flow in and out, I take power from my fear and give it to my body. This calms my mind because I no longer put energy toward my imagination. It’s a meditation technique. I meditate daily and concentrating on my breathing is a large part of it. When I am most anxious, I’ll do the meditation technique three times in a row until my mind starts to quiet.
“I cried because I had no shoes until I met the man who had no feet.”
Sometimes just being grateful helps me remember how much I have in my life. I must also look at the things I take for granted and be thankful. I look around me or at myself. I am so blessed. It can always be far worse, and if my time comes, I will be thankful for the life I have been given.
Develop positive affirmations
Certain affirmative phrases come to mind that help me through a situation. I like many of the same ones. They are like my mantras: “This too shall pass;” “Out of everything bad that happens, something good will come;” or “I will not go quietly into this good night.”
Setting goals helps me feel more empowered and less a victim. Where is it I could realistically be in five years? I focus on what I can do instead of what I can’t do. Sometimes that means radical change for me.
It’s so easy to put energy into past regrets or future uncertainties. I look to focus where I realistically can and want to be instead of what might happen. Sometimes I need to ask questions, activate new a approach or prospective or make tough decision before a more focused future was possible.
Listen to Music
There’s no doubt in my mind music helps calm my soul, raise my optimism, and motivate me to greater things. For my wife, it’s country music for me rock and roll. Sometimes it’s just one song you need to hear over and over — like the one to the right. When I get low, I crank it up.
To me prayer is a form of mediation. It soothes my mind depending on my degree of fear. I do pray. Prayer can be in many forms.
“Courage is often caused by fear.”
When I think back, I needed to be courageous at different stages of my life. I felt fear many times. It felt like a fire, an anxiety fire, as I moved through my situation, my decision, or my actions. It felt horrible, yet, as I stepped through that fire, I came out the other side stronger and wiser. This would never happen had I not chosen to face my fears. When I avoided facing my fears or avoiding actions needed it cost me in my personal growth.
So, moving passed my fears, some with painful consequences, has helped me become a better me.
We all feel fear. I hope to keep learning techniques for dealing with my fears.
During the Vietnam War era, a high school English teacher had a classroom of students that constantly belittled one another. One cruel comment after another was heard when students could talk. The teacher grew tired of the negativity. So tired, in fact, that one day after a particularly bad bout of negative remarks, he stopped the lesson and let them know the comments needed to stop. He told his students “We need to lift each other up, not tear each other down.”
He changed the lesson for the day. He gave each student one blank sheet and told them to write their names across the top. He asked each student to grab a pen or pencil and go around the room and write on each student’s paper something positive or inspiring about that person. It took some time, but the students did it.
After that exercise the class settled down and fewer negative comments were heard. It wasn’t long afterwards that that class graduated and moved on. Some students were drafted and went overseas to fight. Others went on to college or work. Sadly, One of the students from the class was drafted , sent to Vietnam and died in battle.
At the funeral, many nice things were said about the young man killed in action, but one eulogists commented about a piece of paper found folded in his shirt pocket. It on it were written kind words and compliments. At the grave site people wondered about that piece of paper and its origins. Without hesitation, three other former students said they knew exactly where it came from and pulled their paper from their pockets and wallets and explained the exercise the teacher had done.
Maybe it’s the stuff of urban legend, but today’s world, I like to think this can happen. People need to hear something positive right now, if not positive then funny or inspiring. Words are way to boost people in positive way to lift their spirits. Words are simple ways we can give back to our community, online or otherwise.
Speak with good intent, not evil impulse
More specifically to speak with a “good intent” to help uplift our world in a small way. Today’s media makes is so easy to send an impulsive nasty comment, picture or video when we’re angry, hurt, or fearful, while hiding behind a computer screen miles away or on the phone.
Sometimes the best action before responding or writing is to pause before actually saying or writing something. Steve Covey, an internationally recognized leadership authority and organizational consultant, used the phrase “the gap between stimulus and response.” In his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, he explains, “Between stimulus and response, man has the freedom to choose.” We can choose our response to a given stimulus (statement or circumstance). This is also part of what’s called Emotional Intelligence.
During that pause I can ask myself, what is it I’m trying to achieve with my response? If my reaction is to cause something negative, I need to rethink my response. If my response is to add information missing or to present truth supported with facts then I will proceed. The pause helps me to be more effective. The pause could last a while. It could be five minutes or five years. It depends on the circumstance with me.
During that pause I can ask myself, what is it I’m trying to achieve with my response?
To help with my response, I found this acronym of questions to help me formulate a response. The acronym is called THINK.
T — is it True?
H — is it Helpful?
I — is it Inspiring or funny?
N — is it Necessary?
K — is it Kind?
Is it True?
Three things about the truth.
First, am I putting forth the best response? Our emotional response of pride, fear, jealousy, revenge, suspicion, anger and hatred that rise up from what we read or hear can make it easy to respond with negativity. It’s quick and easy to spread rumors, false information, and meanness these days on the internet. One click of a button and thousands more viewers can see it, as well.
Two, am I being true to myself? Our need to be heard and understood of our needs and desires are also the truth. Assertiveness in words is not bad. It let’s others know our needs. When we stay quiet and not say tell the other when something said or some person’s action bother’s us or when we disagree with someone else, there are times when we need to speak up for ourselves. Otherwise, we run the risk of becoming passive until we can’t take it anymore and we explode with negativity.
Three, am I using Objective language. Objective language means your statement uses facts found from reliable sources and your statement avoids use of negative, positive or derogatory words in your statement. Bring the truth, the facts, the data to back your statement and avoid coloring your language with adjectives or opinions. People crave the truth.
“Good words anoint us, and ill do unjoint us.”
Is it Helpful?
Your response to something written, is it helpful to those reading it? Are you offering your experience, knowledge, or links to help others gain valuable information or alleviate anxieties? Almost like being a teacher, we can share our knowledge or experience in a way that brings people together and encourages others to share their knowledge or experience.
Is it Inspiring or funny?
People like to be inspired. We all need motivation to act sometimes, especially when we’re on our own. What constitutes inspiration will differ among readers. But, if something inspires you, chances are it might inspire someone else.
Reading something funny can relax my nerves or raise my distress when I see in print. Your inspired to write or say something you believe is funny. It might be worth it to reflect before you speak or write.
If your not funny, maybe it would be better to, just share something funny that you think will help people relax.
“I tell people, the only time people laugh at something I say is when I’m serious.”
My brother-in-law isn’t funny himself, but he shares with me things he finds daily online. I look forward each morning to his posts. It’s like reading the comics in the morning. It brightens my day.
Is it necessary to write or say something catty, snarky, or mean just because the other person hurt your feelings?
Is it necessary to distribute unverified information, conspiracy theories, or your opinions. Worse, is it necessary to purposely start a thread you know will raise readers’ dander, blood pressure, and heart rate and cause dissension and argument among readers.
Ask yourself how necessary it it to say something that you might regret later or might fulfill some retribution you might feel entitled to?
Necessary means providing information, all around humor, uplifting words or memes. Does what you write support these?
Is it Kind?
Responses to what someone writes can lift a person’s spirit, help them feel better about a situation or themselves, and encourage the readers to grow in social, emotional and cognitive intelligence. Kindness leads the way in this regard. Your words, even in the most heated argument can help calm a situation, bring peace to people’s minds, and yes, even joy to their hearts.
So think about your response when you hear or read something that get’s your feelings flowing. Use that pause, that time between when you took in the information and when you are ready to respond. Think of the word THINK. Is what you are about to say True, Helpful, Inspiring or funny, Necessary, or Kind? If it isn’t you may think about altering your response in a way that truly enhances the conversation toward Peace, Joy or Love.
One last thought, sometimes the best response is no response. That by itself makes a statement. I’d rather not add negativity or worse an evil thought to the conversation because I disagree with what is said. With me, this happens half the time.
My Own Story
That story I told you about about the Vietnam-era English teacher. Well, as an English teacher, I did the same paper exercise in my classes around Christmas time each year. I told students they were going to give each other a gift this Holiday season, the gift of words. I instructed them to write something positive or uplifting about each student in the class.
I gave each student a blank paper. I asked them to print their name at the top. Then, I gave them 10 minutes to go around the room and write something positive or inspiring about each student. Each class wrote something positive for each student in the class, with some classes setting up a paper for me.
Years later former students still come up to me and pull that piece of paper from that day out of their purse or wallet. “I still have it,” they say.
Words have power even years later. Let’s choose our words well.
We all have a “happy place” or “happy activity,” but sometimes we get lost in the day’s events, work activities, responsibilities and lose sight of that one thing that really “fills our well,” lifts our spirit. It’s our core being and without it we can feel like we’re suffocating in life. We can feel drained to the point where our loved ones don’t feel loved anymore. How can we love them if we don’t even love ourselves?
My wife and I recently dealt with this issue. First, it was my wife. I could tell she was sinking, not happy, lying around. Here we were retired, traveling, no worries, no health issues, but something was missing from her life. We looked back over what had changed. It turned out she really missed having a dog and missed the caring for the grandchildren and her plants. The main theme that ran through all these things is caring for them. Caring for plants, people, and animals — and sometimes husbands — really fills her spirit immediately.
So, we went home. We rescued a dog that she dotes on. The grandchildren she sees at least once a week and she started growing and selling succulent plants online. Her happiness soared. She laughs, again. She’s her old funny self . . . most days.
I’m still in the dog house, occasionally.
Next it was my turn to lapse into sullenness a year later. It happened so quick and I didn’t recognize it, but my wife did. She said. I can tell you are suffocating. What do you miss that you need in your life?
I knew right away. I told her I need to create. I want to finish writing my novel even if no one read it. I wanted to write this blog, write letters to friends, complete small projects I started around the house.
Within ten minutes of me sitting at my computer stringing words together, I felt my spirits lift. I felt a sense of joy and contentment. My wife commented on my different mood as she walked by my desk.
I thought about other creative projects I particularly wanted to see completed, especially with my ’94 Toyota truck I’m renovating for a camping trip. Though working on the camper shell and putting in lights interests me, I found that it did not lift my spirit. It felt more like a chore than a gift to me. As soon as I went back to writing — creative writing — my spirits lifted.
I’ve always felt that I wanted to be a creative writer. I avoided it for financial reasons, but now in my later years I see how much of life I’ve missed by not focusing on what my intuition had led me to.
Finding that one in life that makes one feel joy, sometimes isn’t easy. How does one find their “One Thing” that lifts their spirit, to make one feel happier or more carefree when one is not sure?
I ponder this question and came up with a few possibilities, though none of the following ideals is proven by science. They are possible answers.
What attracts you?
Looking at what reading material , television shows, places you visit or conversations that energizes you. These can give hints as to what you enjoy. I love going into book stores and wandering the aisles. I love reading about authors, their lives, their thoughts about writing. I enjoy a good adventure novel. Most of all I love going to book festivals and listening to authors talk about their latest works. This hints to me a direction to look.
Who do you admire?
Looking back at people you admire living or dead. Are you living vicariously through that person? Do you really long to be doing what they are doing but fear trying? A friend admires doctors and nurses and puts them in high regard. One time she fell into conversation with a doctor she met. He interrupted the conversation to ask, “Are you in the medical field?” The woman blushed and said, “No.” He said, “You fooled me.”
What were your favorite activities or your greatest successes growing up?
Sometimes we lose track of the thing we found such great satisfaction. We might take it for granted or negated it as some silly thing, but it could hold a kernel of truth to what gives you inner strength to keep going. I remember writing, producing and directing a play when I was younger. I didn’t think anything of it. It was a kid thing, but it started me thinking about all the crazy creative endeavors I did as a kid. I created stories in my room. I created a carnival, a bowling alley, a game show, a new board game. I loved creating something from nothing. As I grew older I abandoned those activities as childish and frivolous. Years later I’m coming back to these same things because they renew my spirit.
Will an assessment help?
Assessments are a fancy word for tests. I love certain personality assessments that give you an idea of your preferences.. They must be viewed in a “free thinking” manner, not to label yourself. It’s not empirical science but not a parlor game either. It might just stir a memory you hadn’t thought about in years or one that you buried.
Some examples are the Myers Briggs and StrengthFinders. Both of these tests offer someone possible ideas to one’s preferences. Preferences are what you lean toward, what’s most comfortable to you. A good example of a physical preferences is the hand you write with. That’s your preference. Now, imagine your preference toward interests, passions, and activities.
After taking both. The thing at stands out is my preference and strength with creativity.
When I saw this it awoke in me something I hid from myself, something I buried inside and did not tell anyone, but there it was in print in front of me. I felt a cold chill run down my spine as if I had been exposed. “How did that know that about me? I had never mentioned it to anyone?” That one thing was to be a creative writer.
So, now I don’t ignore the feeling. I do what satisfies me: to create and especially to write creatively. It doesn’t matter if anyone reads what I write. It’s the process that’s valuable and fulfilling. In being creative, I feel good about myself. So much so that I can give back to my family, friends, and others in my community.
Step out of you comfort zone.
Maybe you still haven’t found that “one thing” that really peps you up. Maybe it’s just a step away, though. Sometimes we have to wander into uncharted activities to connect with that one thing that will bring us joy.
For one young husband and father, it was starting a business. He reached a new low in life and felt so empty and depressed at his life situation. With income low and bills high and a new child to care for, he felt old beyond his years. Someone mentioned starting a cleaning business. The man scoffed at the idea, but he needed money. He went ahead and tried it anyway and after his first job, his joy for life came back. It wasn’t the actually work. It was that he was creating something from nothing. Creating a business where he provided a service and eventually he would give people jobs. He would never have considered starting a business had he not been forced to earn more money somewhere.
So, what is it that makes you feel so good about yourself that you can start giving back to others.
There was an old television show back in the 1960’s where a boxer had a day job as a janitor at a business. He was the happiest person in the world at his job: so friendly with all the customers, so helpful to anyone that needed a hand, but the owner did not like that he was a boxer, and asked him to quit. She felt that being a pugilist was an uncivilized hobby.
So, to he honored her request and quit the ring. Well, within a week, that same man became rude, uncivil and down right mean to people. The owner and other employees recognized that he was not the same person, that boxing was his “happy place.” The owner suggested the man go back to boxing. He did and his old nice personality came back.
The moral to me: don’t give up who you are to please someone else. You wind up pleasing no one, including yourself. Find that one thing.
I can be a downright depressing person to be around. Usually, I’ve made myself miserable in my own mind and blamed it on other people or circumstances. No, I don’t have any chemical imbalance or other psychological issues, I just learned to mope.
My dad taught me how to mope. I asked him one time, “How do I let people know when I don’t like something.” He told me to make a really sad face which I saw him do all the time. He was a good model for moping.
Unfortunately, I learned to be a great “moper”, too, which I figured out later in life was just another way of being a passive personality type. I avoided the issue by just putting on a sad face and going away or should I say running away from the issue.
It would take most of my life to figure out moping does not get what you want. For a number of reasons.
One, most people have their own troubles and needs and just get annoyed or nervous around a moper.
Two, moping pushes people away from me, so not only do I not get what I want, I isolate myself from others.
Three, people are not mind readers, unless I express what I want or need chances are it will be a cold day in Hell before people figure it out.
Sadly, it was feeling the end of my time on earth slipping away, before I pushed myself to express my desires. I don’t have the time to wait around for people to figure out what I want. I need to express it, now.
Through research, I learned two techniques that worked for me.
The first technique: be assertiveness with my needs.
This is new for me because I associated assertiveness with the assholes in life, those people that assert their wants on others and others accommodate for them, bending their own will to give the ass-ert-er what they want.
I would accommodate everyone because I try to be a nice guy, but there reaches a point where I need to say, enough and not mope about it.
It turns out assertiveness is not necessarily a bad thing. There’s a way to be assertive without being a jerk. I learned three statements to tell the person causing the problem in a nice way.
First, describe to the person or persons your need and explain that in a neutral or objective way.
For instance, my wife and I committed to a group meeting. after we received the information and I read through it, I didn’t want to commit anymore, but I didn’t say anything, I just moped. She talked about it, but the closer the day came the more I moped. Finally, I drew up the courage to be assertive and told her in an objective, non-judgmental way that I did not want to go to the meeting, nor did I want to commit to any further contact with that group. I told her how the topic made me uncomfortable.
To my surprise, she felt the same way, but neither one of us had the courage to speak up. We both came away happier and more at peace with our decision. Imagine if I had just stayed passive and not said how I felt. We’d both be going to this “thing” that neither one of us really wanted to attend. We’d both be miserable. Instead we felt relieved.
“Winner, winner, chicken dinner,” for us.
One more thing about being assertive with your needs: Avoid negative comments about the other person. When you feel the urge to be snarky, bite your lip, count to ten, do whatever it takes not to criticize the other person.
Just stay kind and calm in your tone and talk about your specific need, the time and the action necessary to do it.
Second, describe how what’s going on makes you feel. The other person, may already have some idea, but it’s still important to clarify how you are feeling.
For instance, I sometimes display moody, sad days where I can’t get myself going, where, nothing seems to interest me, but I know how to get out of it for me, but I don’t know how to tell people. My wife can see it. So, when I tell her how I feel she listens. Just yesterday, I mentioned how down I felt. She said, “Almost like you are suffocating?” I told her “Yes! my time spent on things that sap my energy have brought me to a new low.” I do things for other people. I like to help, and I feel genuine enjoyment from seeing the relief or contentment within them from my help, but sometimes it goes to far, because helping people is not my happy place.
She knows what this feels like. Her “happy place” is doting on plants, kids, and animals . . . and sometimes her husband. When she has time to interact with one of these three, her mood lifts almost instantly.
My “happy place” is creativity. When I get to create my joy soars. It’s almost instantaneous. Just writing this blog puts a smile on my face even if no one reads it.
I have my novel that’s nearly finished. Writing my novel puts me in my “happy place.”
Three, describe the changes you’d like to make. Be specific about what actions should stop or what actions should start.
Finally, I let my wife know the changes I need to make to get back to a good place with her and the family. I am specific. For instance, I set aside two hours of writing time. That’s my time. That fills “my tank,” so I can be more helpful and friendly the rest of the day. She honors this request. I am way happier during the day, now.
The second technique I learned is to be a “broken record.”
The “broken record” is what I need to use when, after I have been assertive with my need, the other person counters with the reason I can’t have what I want.
In the past, I would freeze up and just say “okay,” surrender to the other and then go back to sulking.
Now, with my life slipping away, I can’t do that anymore, but I don’t want to get defensive or angry or pout, so the “broken record” technique helps me stay my course in a calm manner. The Broken Record technique is three steps:
First step: State your need
Usually, I’ve already stated my need to the person and how I feel, but sometimes the other person comes back with why they need me to do or act a certain way. This is where the “broken record” comes in.
Second step: Verbalize the other person’s statement and then state your need, like it’s a broken record.
Whatever is mentioned as an excuse, verbalize the other person’s excuse, but then add your need. It’s important to say it in a way that doesn’t antagonize the other person like not sounding sarcastic or rude but sounding caring and calm.
I heard our neighbors in an argument in their backyard. The wife needed the husband to help more around the house and watch the kids. The husband gave her one excuse after another, but the wife stayed the course with the broken record technique. She mentioned his excuse, but then expressed what she needed. She did this over and over with each excuse he mentioned. She did throw in a few, “I need you to listen to me.” A few days later, I saw the husband walking the kids to school.
I will admit, I don’t have this technique down yet because it comes close to being in conflict with the person. It’s seems easier to do with kids than adults, but I’ll work on it as the need arises.
What I found with my new-found assertiveness is people appreciate my honest. Hell, I appreciate my honesty. It turns out that gut-honest communication is one of my “happy places,” as well. Maybe it’s yours, too.
Recently, I found a small volume called On the Shortness of Life, Life is long if you know how to use it written by Seneca, a man who lived between 5 BC and 65 Ad. He talked about how Romans wasted their days on trivia, researching unimportant details like which battle was one first or who commanded the fleet a 100 years before — who cares? Or, people amassing things to show off, spending years at jobs that demean them or the leisure class that when pulled from their bath asked, “Am I standing or sitting?”
Seneca’s words punched me not once but over and over with the idea of how much time I waste and what is the point of it all? I looked at my many years and see I was afraid to do what I really wanted, so I hid in my time wasters.
The good news from Seneca was there is plenty of time if you know how to use it.
I set a goal to take back control of my time. I decided to look at my three biggest time wasters. My phone use, my binge Netflix watching, and my “nice guy” attitude.
The cell phone
I hide behind my phone too much. It’s easier to just not interact with people. In person, you have to think of something to say where with my phone interaction I can just be a “fly on the wall” watching conversations. It’s addicting to me, but that’s what phones do: keep you engaged in their screen and not real life. It’s a real addiction.
My screen time averaged four hours a day. I was shocked — four hours of my life looking at a little screen in my hand. Yuck.
So, I made a conscious effort to put the phone away, but use it for important things: finding information, making connections through the phone or messages, and storing information.
In one week I dropped my screen time down to less than 45 minutes a day. That still seems a lot, but it’s better than four hours. I got three hours of my life back!
Binge watching television
T.V. shows suck me in so easily, specially fantasy. The writers are so good at leaving you wanting more: more of the characters I love or more of what’s going to happen next. Once I find a show I like, I need more and Netflix, Prime and the make it so easy to keep watching. I zone out and three hours later — that’s three hours a night — I’m begging for more time to watch the next show. That’s bad.
So, I’m holding myself to one show per night. That’s it. I can watch one other show, something educational besides my favorite fictional characters. My time saved dropped only an hour, but that hour I talked with my son about his day.
Giving control of my life to others.
This one is hard. I just naturally lean toward being nice, accommodating, LIKED, needed. In being so, I find my time given to other’s needs. I would guess 25 % of my time is doing things for other people.
Breaking this habit will take time. I must learn how to be assertive and not feel guilty for my wants. When I agree to some activity or task that I really don’t want to do, I feel hollow and weak. When I do stand up for what I want, it brings me incredible joy and resolve.
Up until recently, I didn’t mind, but the older I get, the more I put off my own desires, the sadder I get. That’s when I felt Seneca’s verbal punch in the face. “What are you doing?” I feel he is saying to me from almost 2000 years ago. “Why are you waiting until it’s too late?”
Already I feel my body changing, weakening. I started getting dizzy spells. It takes me twice as long to finish a task than it did, just twenty years ago.
I’ve ignored the signs twenty years ago.
I remember I was fishing the beach near Point Wilson lighthouse in Port Townsend, Washington. I spied a man in a wheel chair when I walked back to my car. I said, “Where’s your fishing pole?” What he said next shook me to my core, like Seneca on the topic of time. He said, “You think you can fish for ever. You can’t.” I didn’t know what to say. I think I laughed and moved to my car, but his words kept ringing in my ears.
“All those years I had in my pocket,
I spent them, nickel and dime.”
That night I went swing dancing with a friend, and as I twirled my older friend on an inside turn, she became unsteady. I caught her and helped her finish the turn. When the dance ended she leaned in and whispered, “You think you can dance forever. You can’t.”
Twice in one day! the same words spoken to me.
But, I didn’t listen. I continued to put off what I wanted to do with my life because I needed to make money. I felt strong, healthy. I’ve got time I’d told myself.
Now, with my skin sagging, my eye sight fading, my hair thinning, I look back at all the time I wasted. I “spent it nickel and dime” just because I thought I had plenty of it.
“You think you can dance forever. You can’t.”
The good news is, I now recognize how time is deceptively fleeting, but I can choose to spend the rest of my days of my choosing. For me, it’s always been writing. I wanted to write 100 novels, but I let all my time wasters take precedent.
I started writing my novels. I have six, now. I’ve got a long way to go, but I just have to start where I’m at. I can’t look at the past, it only causes me to feel distracted from my present creative passion. I’m through with my time wasters taking me away from my passion, my creative writing. It’s amazing that it took words written almost 2000 years ago, to prod me to look at my time as a fleeting gift. Nothing has brought me greater joy.