Choose Happy

I’m working on happy, and for the most part, I am succeeding.

But lately, I have been trying to quell the noise that rattles around in my head. And by “noise,” I don’t mean just the self-talk. It is the noise of constant news from a society that often feels very broken and misguided.

I am trying to convince myself that change is on the horizon. Big change. It has to be. We just don’t know how long it will take to get there and how far away it might be.

And so, I pull inward where I can think and reflect and revise and pray. I hold on to the good moments of the day, the thoughts of positive actions, and the random acts of kindness. I remember what I am here for and whose I am.

And each time I am presented with the choice to be happy or not, I choose to be happy. Sometimes, I choose the better of two options, and it feels like a compromise. But most times, I choose happy. Either way, I am moving in a positive direction.

Happiness is a choice we make at various times throughout the day. When presented with the choice, choose happy.

Courage

I am at that point in my family life when my children are starting to wander farther, stretch their wings, and take on more responsibilities and adventures of their own. As I send them out into the world, I often think about advice I would like to give them. What I wish for them is the same thing I wish for everyone: the courage to take on the challenges they will face. And so, as you head out into the world, this week and in the weeks to come…

I wish you the courage to pursue your passions with persistence. Now, pursing one’s passion doesn’t mean being irresponsible. It’s important to go after what you want in life, especially if it matters to you. If your passion doesn’t [yet] allow for financial stability, you can still pursue it around the work that does bring the paycheck. Or better yet, you might work to figure out a way to weave your passion into your gainful employment.

I wish you the courage to be true to yourself. But in order to be true to yourself, you need to know who you are. That knowledge requires connecting with your very core. If you can connect to who you are on the core level, you will be able to connect with others in the most authentic way. And if you connect with people who know who you are on the deepest level and are okay with your core identity, the rest will fall into place.

I wish you the courage to stand up for the causes you believe in. I wish you the courage to step in when needed and step up when challenged. The causes you truly believe in will connect with your core identity and help to strengthen it. And hopefully, they will promote justice and freedom and peace—maybe on a personal level, but maybe on a global level. Either way, if you stand up for the causes you believe in, you will promote your authenticity and make way for a better, brighter world.

And finally, I wish you the courage to stay in the present. In this day and age, it is so difficult not to focus on the future at the expense of the present. And it is also difficult not to get caught up in electronics and devices and social media, so much so that you don’t enjoy the here and now and the experiences that are right in front of you. But if you don’t focus on the present, you may miss out on a valuable moment with those who mean the most.

As you head out to start a new week, don’t forget your courage!

Time for Action

Dear Elected Officials,

Today is Ash Wednesday in the Christian calendar and also Valentine’s Day. It is a day to celebrate renewal, rebirth, and love. The perfect confluence of holiday and holy day.

And yet, here we are, once again shocked and bewildered by a mass shooting in a U.S. high school. We are listening to horrific accounts of students scattering to escape gunfire; hearing parents’ fear as they talk of receiving panicked texts from their children; watching the post-shooting press conferences as law enforcement officials talk of casualties. Here we are. Again.

And there you are, sitting on the floor of the House and the Senate, collecting your donations from corporations and organizations promoting their agendas. Lining your pockets with blood money. Living out your days of public service in affluence at the expense of our most vulnerable—our children—while you refuse to consider that the real problem with our county might just be a government that is sponsored by corporate interests.

Senator Chris Murphy stood on the floor of the senate, visibly shaken by the most recent news, and delivered a brief message before he moved on to business. He said you are all responsible, but then he ended with the statement, “We will hope for the best.” What?

Seventeen more lives lost, and you are going to “hope for the best”? Seventeen young people who will not make their contributions to the world. Seventeen what ifs. These were young people with their entire lives ahead of them, young people with great promise. They were everything to their families, just as your children are everything to yours.

Perhaps one of these students was to be the  brilliant mind to find a cure for the very cancer that could now take the life of your grandchild. Another of the victims would promote an innovative and workable idea to create lasting peace in the most intensely war torn regions of the world. One could have developed a system to recycle and purify the Earth’s dwindling water supply. And another would figure out a way to reverse brain damage.

We will never know what might have been. We will never see what these young people might have contributed to our society. Because they didn’t make it to their high school graduation.

Yes, Mr. Murphy, you and your colleagues are responsible. You cannot “hope for the best” while you sit on the senate floor and do nothing. In this case, “hope” is not an action verb. “Hope for the best” all you want, Mr. Murphy, but hope without action is for cowards.

It’s time, Senators and Congressmen, to take on the work of the people who elected you to office. It’s time to protect the right to life of the children already born. Risk the disdain of those around you and take some action. If you step out of your comfort zone and do rather than hope, you might just change the trajectory of our society.

{photo used with permission of my talented daughter}

Do One Thing

On Wednesday, at the height of our most recent snowstorm, I went out for a walk. There is nothing to calm the soul and settle the noise of the world like a walk in a snowstorm. The falling snow muffled the noise in my head and pushed me toward a greater focus, allowing me to think.

I have been working on clearing out my head space, so I can more confidently forge a path toward my goals. It’s a journey, though at times it tends to feel like a journey of a million miles.

The first step is to simplify. I don’t just mean simplifying my environment by sorting through the things I own. I mean working to simplify my approach to the goals I have set for myself—those known goals that I am purposely working toward, and those goals that will evolve and become evident as I move down this path.

I have decided my approach will be to Do One Thing. I will start with the first step. It might be a big step, or it might be a teeny-tiny baby step. But any step will be one step more than the last. After each step, I will re-evaluate. If the first step didn’t turn out the way I’d planned, I will try something else. Regardless of whether I step or misstep, I will Do One Thing more, and I will be moving toward my goal, taking risks, and no doubt, learning more about myself in the process.

Because if there is one thing I have discovered in life, it’s that it’s never too late to become who—and what—you are supposed to be.

Bread

My daughter was recently telling me about an experience she had at school. Her English teacher was talking about his experiences when he was younger. He told the students that there was a time when people started to realize that bread was not good for them, and bread companies almost went out of business.

“Can you imagine if that had happened?” he asked them. “There would be no bread anymore.”

“What do you mean there wouldn’t be any bread?” my daughter responded. “People would just bake their own bread.” Because that’s a simple solution.

But then she realized that her classmates were looking at her as if vines were growing out of her head and traveling down her back. “No one bakes bread,” they told her definitively.

At that point, I imagine she shrugged, puzzled, and went about her business. She turned to a friend and quietly said, “My mom bakes bread all the time….”

That afternoon, as she told me the story, I could only chuckle. “I have to agree with your classmates. No one bakes bread anymore.”

This was one of those moments when my daughter realized that even though she might think our family is completely normal, maybe it’s not. And it was a moment for me to recognize that my kids might be a bit sheltered.

So what if my kids live a sheltered life? If “normal” means we don’t eat home-baked bread, I’d rather not be normal!

 

Painfully Obvious

Yesterday morning, I awoke from an odd and somewhat unsettling dream. At first, I wasn’t really aware of what was unsettling, only that something wasn’t right. The dream was one in which I was interacting with people—one, a friend from childhood who I hadn’t seen recently, and the other, a woman I knew of but had never met.

I was sitting between the two of them. The woman to my right was wearing a bright sweater—striped in bold blues, yellow, and teal—and I noted that it was knit from the same yarn I had used to make a scarf. This fact intrigued me, and I got stuck on the bold colors and the coincidence. I listened as she talked, and I responded, but through our conversation, I never looked directly at her. Somehow, I just knew who she was.

As I looked back on the dream, I realized that I was unable to look at either of these two people, unable to see their faces. It wasn’t that they didn’t have faces in my dream. It was that I couldn’t look at their faces. This one small but important fact made the dream very unsettling.

As I moved through my day trying to process this strange dream, I came across an article in the New York Times that discussed Smartphone addiction and its effects on us and on our children. Sherry Turkle, a social scientist, “found that children now compete with their parents’ devices for attention, resulting in a generation afraid of the spontaneity of a phone call or face-to-face interaction. Eye contact now seems to be optional” (Popescu). If we are not making eye contact, if we are not looking at the people we are interacting with, we are not fully experiencing the moment, the conversation, the relationship.

And this article brought me back to my dream. No doubt, the dream emerged from the stress of adjusting to the hectic schedule of a new teaching assignment added to my other responsibilities. The need to juggle so many different pieces often takes away from my ability to be in the moment, experiencing interactions and relationships as fully as I might. This juggling ties me to my computer and keeps me connected to technology.

If we pay attention, our dreams can tell us things we didn’t already know, but sometimes they hit us over the head with the painfully obvious. The other night, I had one of those dreams and I woke up confused, but as the day wore on, I began to see how this dream fit into my life and the message I needed to gain from it.

I am a creature of habit. I do things because they work in some important way. Or maybe because they have worked at some point in the past, in some other iteration of my life. Perhaps, if I were to really examine what I have been doing, these things might not be addressing my current needs. They might not be feeding my soul. Maybe it’s time to reevaluate and restructure in important ways that will permit me to grow with the changes in my life.

And maybe it’s time we all recognize that by not interacting with others—over dinner, over the phone, standing in line, etc.—we are doing our children a disservice. It is up to us to teach them how to interact with us, with each other, and with the strangers they will encounter on a daily basis. Perhaps it’s time we recognize that technological connection is minimal and human connection… it’s everything.

Positivity Post: Lack and Limits

It seems more and more that society has a distinct focus on “lack.” So many people focus on what is lacking in any given situation that they look right past all of the good and positive things about life. The focus on lack spreads and begins to permeate all aspects of our lives, and we end up living a life in which we are merely skimming the surface of what is possible.

Society is caught up in consumerism, and as we look around at what other people have, we see what we don’t have. In an effort to keep up with others and maintain social status, we feel a need to go out and buy the things that are missing from our lives. The more we have, the more we need. And while we think this “stuff” will fill the void we feel, ultimately, it only adds to the problem.

I believe this is how we are getting it wrong. If we begin to open our eyes to what is around us, we will begin to appreciate what we have and be more available to live in the present moment. For example, if we focus only on how cold the winter is or how short the days are, we will miss the beauty of the snow and the colors of the first morning light as they dance with the gray scale of the winter landscape.

 

As we focus on material possessions, lack begins to spill into other areas of our lives, affecting our very ability to be happy. We bring that focus to our work, our home life, and our relationships. If we focus on all the things that are missing from our lives, we will not be happy. Friends and family members are unable to be who we want them to be; our job is not fulfilling; our location will never be as urban/rural/warm/cool [fill in the blank] as we want it to be. In short, we cannot be satisfied with what we have because we are too focused on what we don’t have.

As an agent of positivity, I am putting forth a challenge. For one week, work to stifle your focus on “lack” and begin, instead, to focus on what is present in your life. Take the time to really look around you. What is working? What is happy? What do you consider to be your blessings? What are you grateful for?

Start there. Focus on the good. Tell people how much you appreciate them by focusing on their good traits. Take a few moments to play with your pets. Recognize the beauty in the little-kid hand prints on your refrigerator. Really study the variations of color in the sky as the sun goes down at the end of the day. And reflect on what was good about the day.

Perhaps if we take time to really see what we have—all we truly have around us— and be present with our blessings, we will not have to search so hard for some elusive who-knows-what. And with all that extra time and positivity energy, the possibilities that open up in your life may just be limitless!