Monday, June 02, 2014

Forum: What's The Secret Of A Happy Life?

Every week on Monday morning , the Council and our invited guests weigh in at the Watcher's Forum, short takes on a major issue of the day, the culture, or daily living. This week's question: What's The Secret Of A Happy Life?

Simply Jews : I have asked SWMBO, and her answer was unequivocal: you (meaning I) are happy, and you better remember this. So I do.

Eternal compliance is the solid base of happiness, it seems.

GrEaT sAtAn"S gIrLfRiEnD : Using every trick in the book to keep the boys chasing after that Laffy Taffy?

Enhancement drugs like botox, phentermine and aleve. Copious amounts of vodka spiked with Diet Ginger Ale (Canada Dry only please) along with a brisk 30 minute walk EVERY day - rain or shine.

Pursuit of the latest fashions and haute couture, communication devices.

Of course, all that stuff tends to fade away if the ancients are to be believed (jury is still out on that - heck, from a personal perspective - they've always seemed to be wrong about everything else).

Methinks accepting X as your personal Lord and Saviour and striving to lead an Xian life is key. Xians are not perfect LOL - yet we are forgiven.

Virginia Right!: For me, I am fortunate to be a happy person in general. Things don't get me down, or if they do, not for long. I know a lot of people that have to work a lot harder than me to be happy.

I suppose you have to first start with being happy with who you are. Change the things that are obstacles to happiness if you can, but leave some imperfections to add color to your soul. And to keep you humble. Be happy in your imperfections, they add character.

If you think you would like to do something, jump in. Be brave. Dance like no one is watching often. Laugh a lot.

But I think more that anything, you need a close companion, spouse and best friend all in one. I have had that for 31 years and counting. And with that in my arsenal, everything else can fall apart and I am still going to be happy.

And have a hobby. Or several. You MUST have the diversion to balance the load. For me, it is playing and writing music. But you don't need talent, just a desire to do something you love as often as possible.

Liberty's Spirit : So what is the secret to a happy life? Live your life. Simply live it. Enjoy it. Revel in your children's successes. Figure out how to help them through their failures. Support those that you love. Find ways to grab at every minute of everyday. Don't put off the important things. Stand up for what you believe in. Do what is right and honest. Don't be afraid to alienate anyone who isn't a positive influence in your life. Have patience. Have self-respect. Be kind. And above all BE BRAVE.

Ask Marion : The secret(s) of a happy life are:

Finding your purpose (hopefully something bigger than yourself); we all have one… or a few
Following your heart and doing what you truly love or have a passion for (one and two usually end up being the same thing or related)

Enjoying the journey, which includes finding the good in the people, what you have and where you are each day, no matter the circumstance(s)

Saying what is on your mind and the truth and doing what needs to be done, no matter what and definitely regardless of whether it is popular

Ignoring the naysayers and negativity

Listening to what God is telling you

Learning to let go and forgive (yourself and others)… the toughest one for me
Liking yourself

Did (or do) I do all these things, or even do the ones I did well or consistently enough? Hell NO!

Do I wish I could have a do over? Hell YES!

I look back at the saddest and happiest moments and events of my life, and other than the deaths of family members that I had no control over, both the happiest and saddest times of my life were when I did the best or worst job of following my credo.

If I could give a young person some advice, the younger the better, I would tell them:

Find your connection with God (a higher power)

Listen to everyone’s input, the more information the better, but in the end follow your heart… the little voice inside.

Do something that scares you every day; fight your daemons
Make a bucket list of 100 things when you graduate from high school, and a second one if you graduate from college, and keep them and work through them throughout your life.

Follow your heart; the people who are happiest and often do best in life… including financially are those who followed their dreams, not their parent’s dreams, not their counselors direction, nor chose the a career based on the money they could make.

Speak-up for yourself and others; never believe that anyone else will fight for you or your dreams and definitely they won’t fight as hard as you would.
Take some me time everyday, even if just 15-minutes, to breath, to reflect, to clear your mind of the negative, to pray, to be grateful, to be happy!

Surround yourself and fill your life with things you love and that inspire you… photos, trophies, books, favorite movies, flowers, music, pets, a garden to work in, people you love and that inspire you, volunteer, and own at least one extravagance that makes you happy… a car, a piece of jewelry, a painting, a crazy expensive pair of shoes, a rare edition, an antique, a boat, gold, a revolutionary war rifle or document, a collector doll, whatever does it for you.

And on a side note, I believe that we often make our own lives more difficult or dimmer than they need to be. Outlook and attitude are half the battle. My husband, daughter and I were part of the volunteer cast of the Glory of Easter and Glory of Christmas at the Chrystal Cathedral for 14-years, a great source of happiness and joy. One year several volunteers with an array of special needs from a local independent living facility joined us as part of the cast. At dinner, provided by other volunteers between shows, the subject came up about what they all did for a living. One gal told me she rolled the silverware into a napkin for the trays and then put them into bins at a buffet-style restaurant. Most of us would complain about boredom or the repetitiveness. She said she loved her job because everyone needed silverware and by rolling them in the napkins, she saved them time and was helping to give good service. Each of them had jobs, and jobs that might cause many of us to complain, but each of them were grateful and actually loved what they did.

My father died far too young at age 63 after a pretty tough life, and he was much better at doing the things above than I have been. One of the last things he said to me, just days before he died of colon cancer, was: “It wasn’t enough!” It is a statement that haunts me daily and more so the older I get, for I’m sure I will feel the same way. I’m driven as it is, a type A driver personality, and part of me feels that I need to accomplish more for the time my dad missed. But I’m working on enjoying the journey, forgiving myself for the things I didn’t do and at letting go. Yet although I think I understand the basic formula for a happy life… getting there is harder than it seems.

 Bookworm Room :When I was growing up, my parents were not happy people. I always thought "small wonder." Daddy went from Berlin ghetto; to orphanage; to aliyah to Palestine (which to him, was exile from his beloved German homeland); to five years with the RAF in the Mediterranean theater during WWII; to the Israeli War of Independence; to immigration to a strange land he never fully understood and in which he never really made a living.

My mother went from a childhood of ridiculous wealth in Europe; to near-poverty in Tel Aviv, where her unhappily married parents had a rancorous divorce; to 3 1/2 years in a Japanese concentration camp; to the Israeli War of Independence; to immigration to a strange land she never fully understood, all the while married to a man who couldn't support her in the style to which she'd become accustomed as a 10 year old -- or indeed, to any style that was greater than a scrabbling working class economic existence, even as my parents aspired to a rarefied, upper-class European lifestyle.

In our house, happiness wasn't what was on the table. Instead, we dined on depression, despair, and economic envy.

For all that, I still had a pretty happy childhood. I was loved, fed, and sheltered. Those are the basics. I quickly came to terms with the fact that I would always march to the beat of my own drummer, so I found happiness in eccentric pursuits such as books, antiques, and anglophilia. I always had a "best" (and sometimes "only") friend, and that was quite good enough.

I've had very happy intervals in my life. I loved living in England (Margaret Thatcher's England), where I discovered that the acid-tongued bookworm was actually a party animal who loved to dance all night and, when not dancing, to spend the night talking with friends. My friends drank, and I got a contact high, no alcohol required.

I was happy at law school. I never fully understood what the heck I was doing with the whole legal thing (and indeed, didn't for years after graduation), but I loved my fellow classmates. Just being around them made me happy . . . and sometimes they'd go dancing with me.

Adult life came along: work, single nights out with groups of friends or uncomfortable dates, more work, more uncomfortable dates. The occasional unrequited love. (Sigh.)

Eventually I met the man I determined to marry, and my life took a turn I had never imagined. Suddenly, I found myself living in the quintessential suburban home with one husband, two children, two dogs, and with responsibility for an increasingly difficult mother. This was not how it was supposed to me. I somehow imagined myself dancing through life, not folding laundry, driving carpools, cooking inedible dinners, nagging children, cleaning the house, etc.

I should be unhappy, right? And indeed, there are days when I am feed up to here and beyond. But I've decided that being unhappy with the lack of pleasures in my life is cruel not only to my family, but to me. So I work hard, really hard, at defining myself as a happy person.

First, I routinely count my blessings (what some people call gratitude). Maybe I'm not dancing and going to parties and dating the charming men who seem to live only in romance novels, but I've got it pretty darn good.

I live in a beautiful part of the world, in one of the nicest neighborhoods imaginable, in a lovely, comfortable house. I have two children who, while they can be excessively teenager-y, are also loving, moral, decent human beings, with whom I have a great relationship about 90% of the time (which, as I see it, is pretty darn good odds for a parent/teenager relationship).

My mother may be increasingly unhinged, but she always remembers that she loves me. And I have two of the best dogs in the whole world. They don't do tricks, but they live by my rules and think that I am the sun, the moon, and the stars combined. What an abundance of blessings.

But counting ones blessings isn't enough. That's just a balancing act: for every bad thing (or irritating or frustrating) thing, I've got two good things.

My newest goal is to turn just about everything in my life into a blessing or, at least, a positive. I stumbled across this idea when I was talking to my mother back last week when she was still compos mentis. (She seems to have slipped a few cogs in the past few days.)

She was, as always, complaining. She complained about the high quality home in which she lives, she complained about the nurses who work hard to keep her healthy, she complained about the aides who wash her and dress her, she complained about the other residents who still manage to like her, she complained about the weather, she complained about her pain, she complained about being old, she complained about imminent death, yadda, yadda, yadda.

I was exhausted just listening to her. I finally said, "Look, Mom. You cannot change your circumstances. You're no longer able to live on your own, you won't get younger, and you'll suffer joint pain. Those are givens. What you have to do is change your attitude."

Wow! Did I just say something that profound? Yes, yes I did! If you cannot change your circumstances (and assuming your circumstances aren't a concentration camp in Nazi Germany, Siberia, or North Korea), you have to change your attitude.

Changing ones attitude doesn't mean bouncing around giggling, "Oooh, there are dead rats in my basement. Isn't that just wonderful?" No. It means thinking deeply about the lessons you are learning or the benefits you are getting from things that you'd normally find less than thrilling.

Traffic tickets? Expensive and humiliating, but also, perhaps, the universe sending you a reminder that you're tootling around in a two-ton death machine and really ought to be more careful. Taking that lesson the right way may mean that I don't kill or maim someone in the coming weeks or years.

Irritating teenagers? Well, I may be middle aged, but patience and forbearance are still virtues, and I apparently still need to work on them. My children are my classroom, not my prison wardens.

Dirty laundry? Perhaps I can find a way to make things less boring and more fun. And indeed I did. After years of trying to make my shirts look like the ones on the shelf at the GAP, I have found a new way, one that somehow satisfies me at a visceral level. It seems that, while I'd been folding them the right way for the GAP all those years, I'd been folding them the wrong way for me.

That dishwasher? I challenge myself daily to see how fast I can go. It turns out I like the same "beat the clock" game that toddlers do. (Except for my toddlers. My kids never wanted to play beat the clock. They wanted to play "there's no way in Hell you can make me do that task, ever." I hated their game, but I'm enjoying mine.)

So, what's the secret of a happy life? Telling yourself you're going to be happy. Looking at the world through rose colored glasses. Counting your blessings. Trying new approaches to old chores. Reminding yourself that no one else but you can make you happy.

   Well, there you have it.

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