Joy in the Shortness of Life

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.”

Peter Mulvey

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.

Peace, Joy, Love

Finding Joy from Argument

It doesn’t have to be this way.

I’m not much of a fighter. I like to get along with everyone, and I’m pretty good at it. I know when to duck a verbal barrage wrapped in sweet talk.

In the classic fight or flight mode, when the verbal fight starts I sprout wings.

I’m not proud of it, I’m like a lot of people: keep the peace; let’s all get along.

But there comes a point when I needed to say something that might offend my best friend: my wife.

She sensitive. It’s something I admire and detest depending on the situation.

An online friend wanted to set up a group for a book called Crucial Conversations, by  Kerry PattersonJoseph GrennyRon McMillan, and Al Switzler.

I had the book sitting on my bookshelf the last five years after a business communications consultant told me she has all her clients read it before she starts working with them.

What better time to read it: someone to read it with. Okay, truth be told, I’m not finished with it yet, but the tips and suggestions are spot on even for old married folk like me.

For instance, in passed discussions when my wife started to get upset, I calmed her down; played down the situation or need, but it didn’t resolve solve anything. I buried it.

Now, The book recommends three methods to bring the relation discussions back on track. This works in domestic and work relationships.

First recommendation is to start with heart.

I can only control my actions, so I try and look at if from a caring standpoint. What is it that I really want and what outcomes do I want to avoid? I want to move away from my normal fight or flight conversations, so I visualize ahead of time a goal I need to achieve in the relationship for it to work.

Second, apologize when necessary.

I’m usually pretty good with apologies and I’m sincere. Where I fall down it giving in to a situation I do not find desirable. My mouth agrees but my mind sinks. This is where I needed to build up courage to say what I need without causing a crazy argument. That’s where these next dialog statements worked for me.

Third, use contrasting “Don’t and Do” statements to fix misunderstandings.

It goes like this. When the person starts to get upset and does not understand your actions or your words say, “I don’t want to give you the impression that I ______________ you. I Do value your _______.

For example, let’s say your girlfriend gets upset when you want to go out. She wants to stay home. She loves nothing better than to stay home and she never understands why I like to “ditch” her. She feels hurt and she’s lashing out at you.

Using a Don’t and Do statement goes something like this: “I don’t ever want to give you the idea that I’m “ditching” you. I do love spending time with you. You’re my best friend.” You get the idea — don’t and do statements.

After those statements, you could go straight to “But I need more people contact than you do . . .” which I don’t think will go over well. That’s where the last dialogue activity comes into play. Now, it may seem hockey at first, but give it a try.

Four, use the CRIB method to get mutual purpose.

CRIB stands for

  • Commit to seek mutual purpose
  • Recognize the purpose behind the strategy
  • Invent a mutual purpose
  • Brainstorm new strategies

In commitment to seek mutual purpose, we “start with heart” and decide together to “agree to agree” and stop using conversation that triggers the “fight or flight” in the other. That usually looks like unkind statements or silence.

Once we decide to seek ways to agree, the next step is to evaluate our strategies of trying to get what we want. We have to ask “what is the purpose or reason behind me using that strategy. For example, what is the purpose behind you wanting to go out instead of stay home. Going out is the strategy, but why do it? For what reason? For example, one reason might be you need to talk more with friends. You crave friends conversations, you say. Okay, that’s the purpose for using the strategy for wanting to go out.

You partner needs to look at the reason or purpose she desperately wants to stay home. She may say too much with friends drains her. That’s her purpose or reason for staying home. It’s a reasonable one.

Now, that you both understand your reasons for your stay at home or go out strategy to fulfill your need. Then comes the next dialogue phase: Inventing a mutual purpose.

In inventing a mutual purpose you both come up with acceptable solutions. Come up with mutual reasons and You both start with heart and hopefully through this dialogue it remains. It’s easy to feel upset at some point. Then go back to the “Don’t and Do” dialogue if necessary. Look for mutual goals that satisfy both parties. Now that you have common mutual goals, reasons, or purposes we use the last dialogue technique: brainstorm new strategies.

Now, that you both were honest in what you want, you try to find mutually beneficial strategies for getting what you want. For example, she has a special TV night of music and wants to watch it undisturbed. You decide to plan a night with friends that night.

It’s not perfect and takes practice, but it sure beats a room that feels more like a boxing ring than a home.

Good Luck,

Peace, Joy, Love

The”Feel Good” T.V. Shows

I have a show I watch when I want to feel good. My show is called Chuck, a series that ran about 10 years ago. It’s about a nerdy guy, Chuck, who teams up with a hot spy, Sara. The characters’ chemistry makes the show for me. I’m a sucker for the good guys and girls winning and following in love. When I’m finished watching I’m in a better mood.

My wife watches Ellen DeGeneres on her show Ellen daily. It raises my wife’s dopamine levels a little each day. Ellen makes people laugh, she uplifts the downtrodden on the world, and models how to be a nice person every show. She makes others want to be good people, too. Plus, she put my wife in a good mood, not an easy task. I admit watching Ellen Ellen DeGeneres walk out on stage puts a smile on my face, too, but not as much as watching Chuck.

What could be easier then to flip on the television and find something that picks you up? I know it depends on what lifts your spirits, but watching a show can raise your dopamine levels. Dopamine is associated with feeling good, and low levels of dopamine make people less motivated to do things, according to John Salamone, professor of psychology and longtime researcher of the brain chemical dopamine.

It could be a scene that triggers a memory, a word or comment that makes you laugh. Whatever it is, take time to treat yourself to a show or two.

Not sure what to watch? According to the following three polls these are the top “feel good” television shows that the audience says makes them feel good.

The first is Opray Winfrey’s list of “happy” shows.

  • The Great British Baking Show
  • The Golden Girls
  • Queer Eye
  • This Is Us
  • Fresh Off the Boat
  • Friends
  • Black-ish
  • Fuller House
  • Jane the Virgin
  • Grace and Frankie
  • The Mindy Project
  • Chewing Gum
  • Gilmore Girls
  • 30 Rock
  • Cheers
  • Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
  • Parks and Recreation
  • The Andy Griffith Show
  • Younger
  • The Brady Bunch
  • Superstore
  • Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
  • Living Single
  • The Conners
  • Insecure
  • New Girl
  • The Office
  • Modern Family
  • Arrested Development
  • The Big Bang Theory
  • The Middle
  • Broad City
  • Lip Synch Battle
  • Anne with an E

Next, Rotten Tomatoes put together their own list of 10 binge-worthy, happy shows to improve your mood.

  • Superstore
  • Bob’s Burgers
  • Schitt’s Creek
  • The Good Place
  • Queer Eye
  • Glow
  • Outlander  
  • Black-ish 
  • Jane the Virgin  

Finally, Entertainment put together their own list of “feel good” shows that will brighten your mood.

  • Fuller House
  • Younger
  • Jane the Virgin
  • When calls the Heart
  • Rupaul’s Drag Race
  • The Good Place
  • Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
  • Black-ish
  • The Late Late Show with James Corden
  • Fresh Off the Boat
  • Queer Eye
  • The Great British Bake Off
  • Grace and Frankie
  • Glow
  • Modern Family
  • Saturday Night Live
  • Lip Sync Battle
  • Bob’s Burgers
  • Superstore
  • The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon

A few shows are in all three lists, which puts them at the top of my list to try out.

If you don’t see your show, don’t feel bad. Mine didn’t make it either, but I’ll keep watching it.

There is one caveat, though, watching too much of a “good thing” maybe not be a good thing. Binge watching shows has a downside. It can isolate you from people and actually cause you to feel depressed after the marathon show watching.

So, watch responsibly.

Peace, joy, love

A little “feel good” music to start your week.

Finding Joy between Trump and Pelosi

How do I feel joy when my leader’s behavior makes me feel anger and sadness.

Watching President Trump give the State of the Union address and Congresswoman Pelosi’s reactions, I couldn’t help but draw the analogy of a dysfunctional family, both of them trading unprofessional behaviors. They reminded me of an angry husband and wife or ex-husband and ex-wife acting badly.

Afterward, the news media fed the negative emotions to the viewers or readers by re-showing the insults. After all, it’s about getting an emotional reaction from viewers, isn’t it?

Then citizens carried the negativity on to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and other social media, with their own pathos posts, meant to stir up more anger and strife. If I remember my psychology, anger turns to depression and becomes a vicious cycle. 

Does our leaders behavior increase the depression in our society? How does this help a nation already struggling to feel good about life? How can people learn to deal with this bombardment of negative emotion? How does one find joy in the election process when what we see is poor behavior from our country’s leaders?

I know, I’ve been there. I’ve been so hurt, so upset, and finally so angry by our leaders that I fed into the same negative talk. After all, I wanted to get my jabs in at the other side, as well, but I have learned no one wins in these negative battles and it certainly doesn’t make me feel better.

I for one have found three actions I can take that keeps sadness at bay and brings me back to more joy in my life during the election process.

1) I accept responsibility for my emotions.

No one can make me feel bad or negative. I have to allow that person’s negativity into my boundaries, my psyche. I chose the feeling. I alone chose the attitude for the action. I alone choose to read or watch something that feeds my negative spirit.

I alone allow someone’s actions or words to affect my mood. A favorite book that helped me understand this was Change Your Mind and Your Life Will Follow, by Karen Casey. Just reading this book when I get so upset by another’s words or actions calms me down.

The anger that festers inside me does not hurt anyone but me. That anger, annoyance or irritation I harbor from someone effects my health. It affects my relationships around me. I might think angry thoughts that turn into a snarky comment to some poor child or friend that happens to be in conversation with me. That may cause the other person to be infected by the negative energy and go on the defensive or worse say something negative to someone else because of my behavior.

I’m hurt! doesn’t that mean I can hurt them back? Yes, that’s one choice, but I don’t feel better and most times I feel worse.

Changing my attitude about the offense makes a difference. I try and look at it another way. If a two-year-old said the same thing to me, I might smile, laugh, at the very least I will not give that two-year-old power over me by reacting. I don’t change my attitude or feelings because of a baby. So, I will think of the offending person as a two-year-old child. Suddenly, my attitude has changed.

2) I Forgive

“The best thing to give to your enemy is forgiveness; to an opponent, tolerance . . .”

Ben Franklin

It helps when I forgive them. I don’t know the experiences that caused them to feel a certain way. I try to put myself in the other person’s shoes.

I don’t know if it’s an age issue. Studies show the coginitive fuctions in humans do not fully develop until later in life and could explain the immature behavior.

I don’t know who or what pushed his or her button, caused the hurt to make them act that way, and if that’s the case, I wish them more peace in their life.

I don’t know what fears drive the negative emotions. I wish them to feel calm and clarity.

3) I am Proactive

“Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself . . .”

Ben Franklin

For the longest time, I read Facebook messages that I saw were meant to make readers feel angry or fearful. I did not feed into the shark frenzy, but I didn’t do anything either.

I asked myself, “Am I part of the problem or part of the solution?”

Am I part of the problem feeding angry words to a divided society or am I part of the solution choosing my mindset to overcome the emotionally charged negative emotions and write constructive comments to mitigate the tension?

This is hard. I’m the type that avoids conflict, but I’m finding the courage to say something at the risk of becoming the target of negative energy.

I can do one of five things.

One, I post statistics or studies that prove a point when opinions run wild. My feeling is data talks a verbiage walks.

Two, in a neutral way I call out the person feeding negative emotions

I call the writing or depiction what it is: a post meant to rile people and feed their negative emotions. This has caused me to become the target of those individuals trying to stir up emotions, but I calmly restate my opinion and point out the emotionally charged language. Sometimes I call it “Word Vomit.” Hey, I’m not perfect.

Three, I thank people for posting information that helps me with informed choices.

Can I be proactive in this election year and stand up for decency in a dialog? Can I say or write something that will bring more positive emotions to the world? Can I model how to handle the insults, the words or actions meant to cause me to feel anger?

Four, I write a letter or email to a congressional leader.

Write the media and express concern about their choices of wording or articles. Use your dollars to avoid such media. Write to congressional leaders expressing your gratitude for the professional manner or your concern about their non-professional manner or encouraging them to bring civility back to civic duty.

Five, I get involved

I can get involved either with my money or my time to bring civility back to the world.

The Joy of choosing my response.

“Be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let every new year find you a better man [or woman].”

Ben Franklin

There is a period of time between the stimulus and my response, where I decide how to respond. according to Steven Covey, an American author, speaker, and businessman who wrote The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.  Will I choose a negative response or a productive response? Bringing peace to the election process begins with me.

It’s not easy, but I am determined to speak out in my small way to quell the fire of anger and fear that depresses our nation.

I know these actions will help me feel more joy when I choose the right response.

Peace, Joy, Love,

The Joy in Taking Risks

There was a young married man that struggled to earn enough money to pay the living expenses for his young family. His job as a sales representative just did not pay the bills. His wife made a budget. They cut back to just the basics for living. Shopping at second hand stores. Eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for months, but it wasn’t enough. With their four-year old son and another one on the way, something had to give. His wife took odd jobs at home, to avoid daycare, but they both knew it was a matter of time before the bills would catch up with them.

The young man became depressed. He tried exercise, sports, support groups, but nothing helped. The key was still not enough income to cover the household bills.

Part of the problem was his unwillingness to leave his current job. It was comfortable. It was easy. Going to another job or another career was too scary. It was like taking a step into thin air. The fear of falling kept him stuck.

Finally, there was an opportunity that presented itself. It was cleaning windows. He hesitated to try for three reasons: First, he knew nothing about cleaning windows, Second, he felt it was beneath his status with his higher education to stoop to cleaning windows, but the biggest reason, was the windows reached 24 feet off the ground.

To help him decide he took out his wallet and looked at a picture of his wife and son, and then put it back in his pocket and told the manager he would take the job. He worked from 3 a.m. to 8 a.m. cleaning the windows on a ladder. Then he drove to his day job before going back to clean windows until dark. It took him three days to clean all the windows and in the end the manager paid him.

In that instant something switched in the young man. He felt euphoric. He had done something he never did before. He completed it. He got paid, but most of all he found something he really enjoyed doing. Who would have thought, he said to himself, that washing windows would be fun.

The young man went from depression to joy almost overnight, and he stayed that way for many years. He found out through taking a risk, he moved from feelings of depression to feelings of joy.

“When we avoid risk, we court depression,” says Julia Cameron in her book Walking in This World. “Depression is emotional quicksand. Once we get stuck, it’s hard to pull free. Our struggles exhaust us and depress us further. It is easier to avoid depression than overcome it, and yes, we avoid it by taking risks.”

It’s scary especially if one is skirting with depression because of avoiding risk. It took the young depressed man years before he took a risk out of his comfort zone and depression to risk something different like window cleaning. It was a risk that pulled him out of his depression and filled him with confidence and joy.

So how do people help their depressed selves to take risks that lead to more joy?

Here are three ways to help you take more risks.

Baby Steps

There is a movie starring Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfuss called What about Bob? Where Bill Murray was so fearful and depressed about everything in life that he felt paralyzed with fear. Cocky psychologist Richard Dreyfuss tries to tell Bill Murray about “Baby Steps,” the idea of doing small actions to overcome fears or accomplish goals.

While the notion of “baby steps” disintegrated into hilarity in the movie, the philosophy is real and in Japan is known as the Kaizen, Sino-Japanese word for “improvement”. It’s philosophy is rooted in the two-thousand-year-old wisdom of the Tao Te Ching, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” and is used as a business productivity tool as well as personal development technique.

The idea in Kaizen is explained in the book One Small Step Can Change Your Life. The idea is to lower the “fight of flight” mechanism in the brain by accomplishing small, almost insignificant movements toward a goal that over time you see significant progress toward your goal or risk. Tip: When you think the action toward a goal is small enough, think smaller.

I know a painfully shy woman who wanted to go dancing. It depressed her that she stayed every night after work. So, she decided to take small steps toward her goal of dancing. She read about for a while, she studied the different places. She talked to people that danced and finally she went to a dance hall, but didn’t dance. She stayed a short while, then left. The next week she went back and stayed longer but did not dance. Finally, she went the next week and danced a few dances. A long story short, she now invites guys to go dancing with her and she goes a lot.

Find “Your People”

Imagine being around people that talk about “apples and oranges” but you like to talk about dogs. You try and fit in with their conversations. You put one a fake self. Say and listen to topics you dislike. You feel a your neck muscles tense, but you smile and nod your head. It’s hard to find common ground where you don’t “connect,” maybe it’s a work setting, maybe it friends that you have nothing in common with anymore. Talk about depressing.

Maybe you’ve grown or maybe the dynamics of the work or social setting has changed. One woman rejoined an organization she had belonged to years ago. She found the culture of the club had changed it wasn’t what she remembered it to be. She left after a few months. She felt depressed being in that circle of “friends”.

It’s okay to accept that not everyone will “get you.” Seek out people that do connect with you. Ask someone to coffee, join or create a Meetup, talk to lots of people. Eventually, you will find yourself in conversation with someone where your shoulders relax, your neck tension leaves, you laugh and smile in conversation. The conversation moves from small talk to deeper conversations to something more meaningful.

These people can help you take risks; hold you accountable; share their experience; connect you to people that can help you.

If you are a writer, start a Shut Up & Write in your area. You to talk to a lot of people before you find the ones you can call your writer buddies that keep you honest and hold you accountable. They are ones that can help you, support you, and be there for you as you step out of your comfort zone and risk being vulnerable.

Motivational speaker Jim Rohn said “You’re the average of the five people you spend most of your time with.” If those people are risk averse, chances are it will be tough to try and risk something new. If they are doers, you’re more likely to be a doer. Find “your people” that are doers.

David Burkus, another motivational speaker claims research shows social influence includes way more than just five friends. His book Friend of a Friend . . .: Understanding the Hidden Networks That Can Transform Your Life and Your Career. He says we may find much more growth by connecting with former friends, associates, or friends of friends we met instead of cold calling to find new connections. Who from the past do you wish you reconnected with?


A Medal of Honor recipient who spoke to an audience of 300 high school students about his courage under fire told that he was more fearful at that moment than any time in his life and the only thing that made him step out from his safe position to go save his buddies was love. “I loved those guys and it was love that pushed me to do what I did.”

Love is a powerful force. It pushes people to do stupid things but also brave things. To the young window washer take a risk to do a job he never considered, he looked at a picture of his wife and son to draw strength to push himself. To others it was to finally loving themselves enough to push pass the fear and try.

Love, don’t underestimate its power to effect positive change in one’s life. It moved a young dad to risk trying something new and brought him great joy.

Just a few ideas to encourage risk, that effects change, and brings joy.

Peace, joy and love to you.

Joy in The Little Things

My mood ranked near an all-time low when my wife and I drove to see our middle son’s family for a Sunday visit.

“I don’t think I can do this today,” I told her as I pulled up in front of their house.

Karen offered me words of encouragement to go in, but I started the car and pulled away from the curb. I felt so sad, a sadness I could not understand. She continued her soft tones, her words of encouragement, and as she spoke, I felt there was more to her words. I could tell from her tone she needed to see the granddaughters for her own health and wellness.

I drove around the block and parked in front of the house, again.

I’m glad I did.

My sullenness changed the moment I set my eyes on the 16-month old granddaughter in blue jeans and suspenders. She flashed me a smile every time she looked at me while eating a cupful of blueberries one at a time. She didn’t say anything except “more” meaning more blueberries. I felt joy in that moment like never before.

Now I’m not the doting grandfather this makes me out to be, but in that moment seeing that toddler just did something to change my sour disposition.

Karen noticed my mood change, too, and she was thankful it stayed our entire visit and even after we left.

What is it about observing a person, place, thing or situation that automatically changes a person from one mood to the next? What triggers it? For me, I’m a sucker for a genuine smile. I love creative clothing — kudos to my son for his choice in dressing her in suspenders, but there was more to it that I couldn’t put my finger on and maybe I never will.

Even the next day I smiled at the thought of that granddaughter, and I realized I needed to remember more moments that bring joy to my heart, catch them and hold them dear like a precious stone.

I looked back at other days and if I thought about it, I could find specific people, places, things or events that brought joy to me. It didn’t have to be a big event or one that costs lots of money.

No, more often it was something little or simple that sparked joy in my day.

For Christmas a daughter-in-law gave me a memory book titled One Line a Day: a five-year memory book. I wrote a memory each day starting January 1. I started writing about people, places and events that happened that day, like I was writing a news article, but this didn’t bring me joy.

I changed my one line a day memory book after spending time with my granddaughter. I now find at least one thing in my day that gave me joy.

My one-sentence memories could be as simple as a smile from a crossing guard, a tree bursting with golden leaves, or a three-inch thick sandwich. I know a sandwich is a stretch but it brought me Joy.

It doesn’t matter what or who it is that sparks my joy or how large or small the event, I will write the memory of the joy in my memory book and just maybe on my really blue days I can look back through the book and ignite the joy once again. I know the memory of our granddaughter in blue jeans and suspenders will always bring a smile to my face.

Joy in The Now

When I first married, I felt such joy, peace and love in my spirit. I thanked God for bringing Karen into my life and a part of my life. It was a time of new beginnings and the world felt so ripe for our new venture.

Two years later those feelings of joy of living disappeared, replaced with anxiety of responsibilities. We bought a house; we had our first son; we experienced too much debt and not enough income, too many things to worry about.

Suddenly, I wasn’t sleeping. Fearful thoughts settled in my brain like a bad cold: Will we lose our house? How can I make more money? Is our son okay? Can we get the roof leaks fixed by winter? These and many more ruminations constantly plagued me.

Each day I felt more negative emotions building. We prayed. We held each other. We took solace in each other’s company, but it wasn’t enough.

Then one day I stood in our backyard among our six walnut trees and something strange happened. Just that moment standing among the green and gold leaves waving in the Fall breeze I felt an immense peace of mind almost euphoric. Suddenly, all my negative emotions left me, replaced by a strong warmth and peace.

I recognized that I wasn’t worrying about the future. I wasn’t dwelling on past mistakes. I thought of only the present moment. I didn’t do it consciously. It just happened.

We still had money troubles and a child to raise, but for the time I stayed thinking only of the present, I felt like I was in heaven on this earth, feeling I can only describe as joy.

It would be years later I’d learn about mindfulness, about the dangers and evils of trying to control a certain future or dwelling on the past.

Most times the thoughts that stay with me are scary like “What will happen when my job is gone for good?” I envision all sorts of terrible scenarios. Thoughts that made me afraid. Thoughts that made me upset about something I did or did not do or have. Thoughts about goals and accomplishing these goals. My meditation helps me clear my focus and just think about the present moment and I’m filled with an incredible peace of mind. It’s funny sometimes I hear a tiny voice say, “Welcome back.”

Through meditation, I never noticed how much my mind pulled me into negative emotions of the future or the passed or how much I resented a person’s opinion on a topic. I became aware of just how these thoughts control my thinking. It was like traffic on a road, the thoughts zip by, slow down and sometime stop long enough for me to really look at what I’m thinking.

When I concentrate on what is in this moment and I appreciate all that I have this moment Joy comes to my heart no matter what my fears, regrets or annoyances.

I realize that I still need to face my responsibilities, but constant dwelling on them wasn’t healthy either. Research shows better decision making in the present moment (Debiasing the Mind Through Meditation: Mindfulness and the Sunk-Cost Bias).

The present moment is not easy place to stay. It is like a tightrope, a narrow window of timelessness. It take lots of practice for me to stay present and not let the thoughts about what happened in the past or what might happen in the future shake the joy I feel in the present moment.

Many books discuss the present moment. Some of my favorites include, The Way of the Peaceful Warrior, by Dan Millman and The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. The one book that really stands out that surprised me is The Biophilia Effect by Clemens G. Arvay. Translated from German, it offers evidence to support the benefits of being in and around nature. I’ve always felt a sense of peace being around trees. I feel most in the present moment when I gaze at trees or a tree. Strange, I know, but I feel such peace in this activity. This book attempts to show empirical evidence of these benefits.

Beside books, phone apps offer help to get to the present moment. My personal favorite is Headspace. It helps clear thought traffic from my mind, too. There are others but ironically, one that will remain nameless caused me more stress with its billing than the benefit received from the app.

May we all find joy in the present moment no matter what our worries. We deserve the break.

Friends Spark Joy

Ever feel that spark of joy when you see a certain someone? It could be a coworker, a friend, a casual acquaintance. It doesn’t matter who. You just feel yourself smile inside and your muscles relax in your neck and shoulders. Something about that person makes you feel joyful inside.

Science shows that people in our lives matter when it comes to feeling joy. The friendly interaction with other people releases 0xytocin, a hormone secreted by the posterior lobe of the pituitary gland, into our system which calms the “fear center” in our brain” and helps decrease stress, anxiety or depressive thoughts. The Oxytocin secretion by the brain also boosts the serotonin, what’s been called the “happy hormone.” All of this leads me to joy.

Lately, I wondered about the people in my life that spark joy in me. Who do I come in contact with that brings joy to me and others? What is it they do that makes me feel joy?

I reflected back on my friendships and conversations and came up with my top ten ways people spark joy in my life:

  1. They are comfortable in their own skin.
  2. They speak with a passion and confidence about life.
  3. They speak with openness and honesty.
  4. They present themselves in a positive manner.
  5. Their conversation flows with mine.
  6. They smile a lot.
  7. They make me laugh.
  8. They speak in uplifting or calm tones.
  9. They forgive.
  10. They listen.

After looking at ways people make me feel joy, I reflected on those “people” traits that make me feel nothing or defensive:

  1. They point out my faults
  2. They catch me in a mistake
  3. They speak with sarcasm
  4. They present a defensive body language or wording.
  5. They say negative things about others behind their back.
  6. They voice their opinions without prompting
  7. They intimidate me, whether or not it is real or just in my head
  8. They tell a lie
  9. They converse in a negative manner
  10. They speak in un-meaningful conversations.

This “joy” checklist is far from complete and contains my judgement on what people bring joy to my life.

What are your top ten things in a person that spark joy in you?

Joy in Music

I sat at my desk last night reading and listening to music on Spotify when a song came on I haven’t heard in years. The song “Ooh La La” by Faces piped through the speaker and just made me smile. My spirit soared.

I started connecting joy and music and wondered why I never thought about music as a way to help me raise my mood. Was it just me or is there a stronger connection for everyone?

It turns out science found there is a connection between music and raising one’s level of joy and happiness in life. 

Research scientists found that listening to music, one finds enjoyable, releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain associated with rewards such as food, drugs and sex. 

The study from The Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital – The Neuro at McGill University revealed that even the anticipation of pleasurable music induces the dopamine release in the body.  Dopamine is sometimes referred to as the “feel-good” hormone.

It perplexes science because music has no tangible benefit. The intense degree of pleasure associated with listening to music remains a mystery. Music has no clear biological value like food or sex, drugs, money, or no addictive rewards like gambling, alcohol, or nicotine, yet music consistently ranks among the top ten things people find highly pleasurable, according to the research article The Rewarding Aspects of Music Listening Are Related to Degree of Emotional Arousal by Mitchel Benovoy, Gregory Longo, Jeremy R. Cooperstock, Valorie N. Salimpoor, and Robert J. Zatorre

The McGill University study asked participants to listen to instrumental songs, that they did not associate with some life experience, that made them feel good. The participants came up with a wide field of songs in this playlist.

The researches monitored the recipients’ levels of dopamine, found people that listened to music they found enjoyable raised their dopamine level.

So, if you ever need to boost the joy and happiness in your life, you don’t have to look any farther than your music station, CD, or SpotifyPandora, or Amazon Music Stations. It takes only 15 minutes listening to a music list that you love to give you that natural high.

According to the research article, The Rewarding Aspects of Music Listening Are Related to Degree of Emotional Arousal by Mitchel Benovoy, Gregory Longo, Jeremy R. Cooperstock, Valorie N. Salimpoor, and Robert J. Zatorre

The McGill University study asked participants to listen to instrumental songs, that did not associate with some life experience, that made them feel good. The participants came up with a wide field of songs in this playlist.

The researches monitored the recipients levels of dopamine, found people that listened to music they found enjoyable raised their dopamine level.

So, if you are ever need to boost the joy and happiness in your life, you don’t have to look any farther than your music station, CD, or Spotify, Pandora, or Amazon Music Stations. It takes only 15 minutes listening to a music list that you love to give you that natural high.


Money can buy happiness, but happiness is also free

By John Baxter

There was on a comic strip that has stuck with me the last 40 years. The first frame showed a young man sitting at his office desk saying, “I only make $25,000 a year. If I could make $50,000 a year, then I would be happy.”  In the second frame the now middle-man explains, “Now I make $50,000 a year and I’m still not happy.” The last third frame shows that same man standing, pointing his finger to the sky and saying, “But! if I made $100,000, then I would be happy.”

The research shows money does make you happy. According to the psychologist at Purdue University and the University of Virginia, the ideal income for the optimal, peak happiness is now $95,000 a year and after that much money, the degree of happiness starts to decline. 

That much money is earned by less than one percent of the world. Does that mean the other 99% of the world’s population is not happy?

When you can’t have the money to make you happy, what works to make people happy if they don’t have money?

Try these ten to raise your level of happiness:

  • Kindness: Studies show being kind to people even in little ways or volunteering to help raises one’s level of happiness.
  • Friendship: People with strong connections to friends and family, people they can talk and laugh with are happier, healthier people.
  • Time: Finding time for yourself is another proven method of raising one’s happiness level.
  • Exercise: Endorphins improve our mood through exercise. Regular exercise has shown to have many benefits and making use feel happier is one of them. But, not just any exercise. Choose an exercise you enjoy. I personally love swimming laps. I feel so good after that. What would be your form of exercise?
  • Nature: Have you ever sat and watch the rolling ocean waves, the swaying trees in a breeze or looked out at a vast expanse like hills, valleys, oceans or sky. Or, maybe you prefer watching a small bird flying, a flower about to bloom, or some other nature’s flora or fauna.
  • Fun: Don’t underestimate fun. When was the last time you had fun? What were you doing?  I like dancing. I would take myself to a place to dance.
  • Acquaintances: According to an abstract in the  Personality and Social Psychology bulletin studies show that even short interactions with acquaintances can boost your happiness level, so get out and smile at people.
  • Now: Stay in the “now.” The only thing we have is the present moment. Looking back at the past can bring on regrets or longings. Looking toward the future can bring on fear, anxiety, and stress. The present is all we have and where peace and contentment can be found.
  • Sleep: Ever not get a good night sleep and wake up feeling wonderful? Yeah, me neither. A good night’s sleep is a mood changer for the better, according to research.
  • Meditation:  Does your mind control you or do you control your mind? Meditation can help reign in your thoughts with just a few simple techniques.
  • Music: Belt out one of your old favorite songs (no breakup songs) or listen to your favorite music. Studies show it raises your wellbeing (happiness level.)

Notice that none of these have to do with money. Almost anything can be done for free to raise one’s level of happiness.

We’ll  look at these and more over the next few weeks to find out what makes people happy.

More later,