MiserableI’ve written many blogs about happiness because each one of us deserves to be happy, and there are so many things we can do to make that happen.

Recently, though, I found an article in my local paper about a renowned family therapist who gives a different perspective: she asks how can we be miserable?

No surprise to me that the therapist,  Cloe Madenes, believes it’s really not that hard. All we have to do is to think only of ourselves, blame others for any problems, and criticize and tear people down instead of praising and thanking them.

We all know people who practice these tips, don’t we? Does anyone really have to be that way?

If you would rather be happy than miserable, why not read the article, “8 easy steps to make yourself miserable” and then do the opposite: give thanks for the many blessings of life, be adventurous and optimistic about the future, be generous and compassionate, and make deep connections with those around you.

Can we think of other ways to be miserable?  Or to be happy? I bet we can.  Now which path will we follow.

Photo by Helga Weber on Flickr.com

Maybe you think you’ll be entitled to more happiness later by forgoing all of it now, but it doesn’t work that way.

Happiness takes as much practice as unhappiness does. It’s by living that you live more. By waiting you wait more. Every waiting day makes your life a little less. Every lonely day makes you a little smaller.

Every day you put off your life makes you less capable of living it. -Ann Brashares,

Why is it that we so often wait for happiness, thinking it will skip through our door at some future time?  Maybe after we’ve graduated, or after we have a job, or after we’re married, or after we have children, or after we retire.  In reality, isn’t some measure of happiness almost always at our fingertips?  Don’t we only need to grasp it?

What brings you happiness today?

Last Friday I blogged about how important gratitude is in the lives of children.  Research shows children who are raised to be grateful for the world around them are, among other things, happier, most socially connected, and better students. 

Gratitude isn’t just important for children, of course.  Adults who kept a gratitude journal for just three weeks reported a variety of improvements in their lives including lowered blood pressure, an increased sense of well-being, and a surge in compassion and forgiveness.  There’s more about this in a wonderful article, Why Gratitude is Good, from Robert A. Emmons, by way of the Greater Good Science Center, and the article page is chock full of additional resources for you to enjoy, as well. (more…)

Greater Good Science Center.  Really?  I didn’t remember “liking” any such institution on my Facebook page, but now these interlopers were sending me updates. Just as I was about to send them to “unlike” purgatory, the link itself caught my eye.

Gratitude vs. Materialism

Okay, now I realized who they were.  GGSC researches emotional and social well-being and even better, finds ways to apply their findings.  The organization might want to rethink its name, but the headline intrigued me.  So off I went to explore.  Quite honestly if I wrote as many hours as I “explore” I might turn out three books for every one I actually do. 

As it turns out, this post was part of a blog by a sociologist, Christine Carter, who studies happiness and explains how her findings can help us raise happy children. (more…)

I’m taking a week long break from original blogs as I dive deeper into my book and still try to catch some of the most beautiful hours of late summer.  While looking back at some of my older blogs to share with you again, I came across this one written in April 2009.  It struck a chord.  Yes, it’s about a sunny spring day and spring blossoms, but the message and the song bear repeating.  I hope you enjoy. 

Late breaking edition: My apologies for the bad timing here, when many of you East Coasters are battening down your hatches for Hurricane Irene.  I scheduled this a week ago.  The joys of nature may seem far in the distance now.  “Earth’s lamentation” seems most appropriate though, doesn’t it?

What’s the payoff for a cold, rainy spring?  A sunny warm day when the world bursts into bloom.  We’re having one of those today, and I wanted to share it with you.  Here are some photos quickly taken in my garden along with the words to one of my favorite hymns of praise, written in 1860 by American Baptist minister, Robert Wadsworth Lowrey and later revised by Pete Seeger.  I hope you enjoy.   

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Phlox by waterfall.jpg

My life flows on in endless song 

Above earth’s lamentation    

Wood poppies.jpg

I hear the real, though far off hymn 

That hails the new creation  

Thumbnail image for Forget me nots.jpg
 

 Through all the tumult and the strife

I hear the music ringing 

Brunnera1.jpg

 

It finds an echo in my soul

How can I keep from singing?

    

I’ll confess profanity rarely bothers me. Maybe my tolerance comes from my father, who was an army staff sergeant during World War II and didn’t always remember to temper his speech later after I made my appearance. Or maybe I’m less bothered because on the radical streets of Berkeley, California, where my husband did his graduate education, profanity was a form of proletariat poetry. In neither case were these expletives heavily laden with anger. Profanity was just another form of expression.

Now, when profanity annoys me, annoyance is usually on one of two levels. First, that my favorite entertainers are substituting that hackles-raising “F” word for pauses or phrases they can’t seem to recall. That word-of-all-words has become an aging comedian’s, “you know,” or “uh huh,” or “am I right?” and as such I’m bored by the lack of vocabulary and creativity.  I cringe even more when profanity is a symptom of rage, and everyone in earshot is infected.

While I tolerate four letter words better than some of my readers, who are vocal about their dislike, I much prefer five letter words. Some of life’s very best can be summed up in five letters. Shade, books, music, happy, smile, lucky, faith, puppy, lover, quilt, buddy, kitty, youth, birth, and start as well as begin. (more…)

I’m glad I have a chance to write this post today.  After all, it’s pouring down rain outside, and I could be outside cleaning leaves from gutters, or repairing street lamps, or walking my silly beagle again.  Instead, Nemo is curled up in his basket at my feet, for which I am also glad, since Nemo thinks splashing in the rain is as much fun as chasing rabbits or baying at absolutely nothing in the middle of the night, just because he can.

And, of course, I’m also absolutely triple glad that yesterday, when I opened my computer, all the edits I had worked on until 11:00 the previous night had simply disappeared off my hard drive (where they’d probably never landed in the first place) and I had to spend the day reconstructing everything I had done instead of moving on to the five million other pressing projects I have in place. 

You might ask why?  Well, that’s a tough one.  But after wrinkling my pert little nose a time or two, I came up with something.  I learned a LOT about my brand new computer yesterday as I searched through the detritus of files I’d moved to it.  For instance, how would I have known that I had six files detailing the correct way to do a tracheotomy, had I not lost eight hours of work to the Computer Gods?  Now, just in case I ever need to do emergency surgery on a friend or neighbor, I can run home, start my computer, and know just where to look.

I also discovered there are “hidden” files on my computer.  We might ask ourselves why Microsoft feels it needs to hide anything on OUR computers, but I’m glad I don’t have to.  I’m afraid it would be a lot like asking BP why they have hidden the fact there’s an oil plume way down in the ocean that is not, as they want us to believe, unrelated to the massive amounts of BP oil spilling into our beloved Gulf of Mexico from an ill-equipped and monitored oil platform.  There again, I am glad I don’t have to hear that response.  Glad, glad, glad.

As a child, Pollyanna was one of my favorite movies.  I loved everything about it.  The setting, the acting, the story.  I ached for the unloved little girl who played the “Glad” game to deal with a difficult life.  Pollyanna could find that proverbial silver lining in everything.  She was brave, insightful, cute as a button, and able to change the way an entire town thought about life.  Not bad for a freckle-faced orphan.

The Glad Game was very different from the real game I watched being played around me.   Most people I knew were much more adept at finding things NOT to be glad about.  The dark cloud was the meterological event to concentrate on.  I fell in line, as did most of us, concentrating far too often on the things that were wrong with a nearly perfect day, or wishing a book had made it to a higher slot on a bestseller list, and not noting that I should be GLAD a book of mine had made it to any list at all.

There’s a popular movement that insists each of us should visualize what “can be,” and concentrate to make it happen.  We are supposed to do this consistently, with energy and  a significant commitment of time, and if we work at it hard enough, we will achieve our goals.  I’m all for having goals.  I’m all for working on them.  But maybe what most of us need even more is to be glad about the things we already have, to count our blessings, because isn’t there the possibility that if we don’t, when we reach that long sought goal, we won’t even notice?  We’ll just screw up our faces, tense our muscles, and start concentrating on the next one.

Finding and appreciating the ways we are fortunate.  Sound familiar?  Clearly it’s on my mind.  After all Fortunate Harbor’s coming out soon,  and what’s it about if not this?

As for me?  I’m glad I was able to reconstruct those missing edits in only one day.  I really am glad I learned some things about my new computer and operating system as I tried to bring them back.  I’m glad I mentioned my dismay on Facebook and got such lovely support and suggestions.  I’m glad I discovered that the editor who had sent them to me in the first place was not only willing to help, but approachable, warmly sympathetic, and quick to respond. 

Am I glad my edits disappeared?  Not on your life.  But I am glad, truly glad, that these days I’m teaching myself to find small positives in the midst of larger disappointments.  And, of course, I’m glad this was, in the scheme of things, a very minor event.  Those major events?  Well, I’m glad to say I’ll have something to work on for the rest of my life.

You may notice some subtle changes in the look of this blog.  We have switched the platform to WordPress, and now it’s even easier to comment than it was in the past, so why not give it a try?.  Just click on the red “comment” and you’ll see a place to add your own (and to read others) directly below the post.  Also be sure to set any bookmarks or feeds to the new address here: www.emilierichards.com/blog.  

While you’re commenting, why not tell us about a time when you found something to be glad about in a difficult situation?  These are the stories that feed our souls.

There are two kinds of people in the world.  Actually there are almost seven billion kinds of people in the world, but for our purposes today, I’ll simplify.  There are two kinds of people.  The kind who fall neatly into slots other people choose for them, and the kind who make their own slots.  I won’t complicate this by pointing out that at one time or another, we’ve probably all done both.  Let’s just pretend life’s easy to understand and go from there.

As loyal blog followers know, I spent most of the past two weeks in New Zealand watching one of my earliest novels being made into a film for the German television station, ZDF.  We won’t take up the question of why an American author flew to New Zealand to watch a German production company make a film of a novel originally set in Georgia.  Suffice it to say that the transition works well, and that New Zealand has enough gorgeous and diverse locations to make a gazillion movies, as well as a flourishing film industry eager to help.  What I really want to talk about is how often I noted people doing what they loved. 


E with Jim and Terri.jpgTake Terri and Jim, for instance.  Terri and Jim are originally from the UK–although Jim spent time in Jamaica along the way.  After a trip to New Zealand’s South Island, they went home and began to work toward the goal of moving back permanently to run a charter boat service.  It took more than a decade to make the dream happen, but now Jim and Terri ARE Kaiteriteri Boat Charters, offering spectacular cruises through the Abel Tasman National Park.  Their joy in what they do is catching.  Every detail is performed with enthusiasm and care, plus they serve the best picnic lunch I’ve ever had, which permanently endeared them to all on board.

Then there was James.  James is a runner, at least I think that’s what he’s called in filmspeak.  James does everything.  I noted him on the first day and the last, a young, energetic man who seemed to know exactly what to do and how to do it on time and with courtesy.  On the last day I overheard him in conversation with another member of the crew.  He talked about how his job was simply to do whatever needed to be done with no excuses.  Not ever.  Can you imagine a world in which everyone had that attitude?  I have a strong feeling we’ll be hearing from James again.  All of us.  Because I’m sure James has plans to move on in the world of film, and I’m sure he will. James isn’t afraid to try.

How many of us can say that?  I’m one of the lucky ones.  I “fell” into writing when the opportunity presented itself.  I adore what I do.  But I was never told to follow my dream.  I was told to be practical, to shoot for security, and not to step over boundaries because that wasn’t sensible.

I did step over boundaries, of course, and became a writer, even though I had a nagging feeling–and still do sometimes–that my typing skills might best be used for clerical work.  Still, had I not found a publishing niche so quickly, would I have continued working toward my goal?  I’d like to think I would have worked a decade for my dream, the way Jim and Terri did, but I’m not sure it’s true.

Do you have a dream you’re trying to fulfill? Go for it, and tell your children to do the same.  We’ll all be better off because you did.  After all, happiness and enthusiasm are catching.  I know it’s true.  I came home with both.    

2010.JPG
Sometimes all you have to do is look around.  Last night I did, and see what I found? 2010 in shells laid down by an invisible hand.  Not only that, but the light was exactly right for a photo, and my husband had his camera.  With this kind of divine prodding, how could I NOT think about what 2010 will mean to me and you?

For most people, a new year means resolutions. This year, before the stroke of midnight on the 31st, I decided against resolutions once again.  I’ve learned if I tell myself I can’t do something, I want to do it even more.  Too many “I will not” statements in my head, and I know everything will go straight downhill.  So why set myself up?  I don’t want to fail.  I may even give up “failing” for Lent when it comes around this year–or maybe I’ll give up abstaining for Lent, since that’s a discipline that goes downhill pretty fast, as well. 

The biggest problem with resolutions is that they often have the word “not” in them.  I will not eat dessert after dinner.  I will not forget to exercise.  I will not let myself get swamped at work.  This year I’ve decided on a different approach. It’s not a resolution.  And it’s not a negative.  It’s a Happiness List.

Since I titled my summer book Happiness Key, I’ve loudly beat the drum about happiness here on Southern Exposure   After all, I was writing about the key to happiness (you got that, right?)  Of course, I was thinking about happiness, reading about happiness, talking to anyone who would listen about happiness.  

All that investigation had to result in something, and here’s what I’ve taken away.  My insight isn’t profound or anything you don’t already know.  It’s simple enough.  The universe doesn’t make us happy.  We do that ourselves.  If we wait for lightning to strike, it might, in a cataclysmic burst of white light, send us somewhere we’re not quite ready to go.

No, in order to be happy, we have to know what makes us happy and be willing to reach for it.  Unfortunately this isn’t something we’re taught.  In fact many of us have been taught that reaching for happiness is selfish, even dangerous.  If we’re happy, we aren’t thinking of others. We should put ourselves last. We should fall into bed every night with a long list of the day’s failures and all the “shoulds” we have to accomplish tomorrow.  (In Gestalt therapy, this is known as “shoulding” all over yourself.)

This year I’ve decided to fall into bed with thoughts about what made me happy that day, and what I’ll do tomorrow to be happy again.  I’m calling this my Happiness List.

Is this selfish?  Thoughtless?  Sacreligious?  Subversive?  Here’s the good news.  Being with people I love makes me happy.  Doing things for them?  Happy.  Doing whatever I can for the world in general?  Happy.  Breathing fresh air, appreciating the gifts I’ve been given, sitting quietly and just letting the world flow around and through me?  Happy.  Nothing dangerous or selfish there. Just a whole lot of happiness, which in our culture is sadly underrated.   

Over the next days, I’m going to make a 2010 Happiness List. I’m not going to resolve to do anything on it, or even to think about it too much.  I mean, if I’m not bright enough to follow through, will constantly checking a list change anything?  But I am going to put my ideas on paper, and I am going to give myself permission to be happy.  I have faith both will make a difference.

How about you?  What’s on your list?  Want to be happy with me in 2010?  

iStock_000007693258XSmall.jpgNew Year’s resolutions.  I love them.  A clean slate, fresh start, brand new page to write a brand new history.  Every new year is a chance to reconsider life and make necessary changes.  There’s only one problem.  While we’re thinking about all the changes we need to make, and preparing for a new opportunity to fix what’s wrong, it’s easy to forget all the things we did right and all the things that WENT right in our lives this year.

My friend mystery author Casey Daniels introduced me to Manhattan’s Good Riddance Day in a recent post on The Little Blog of Murder.  On December 28th giant shredders are set up by the Times Square Alliance, and everybody who wants to can shred the negatives of the past year.  Letters from ex-lovers.  Rejection letters from editors (okay, I added that myself), disappointing report cards.  If the artifact can’t be shredded, then giant sledgehammers are available to pound it into submission.  How freeing to say goodbye to the negative to make way for the positive.

But what about all the good moments of 2009?  It’s so easy to concentrate on the things we didn’t accomplish.  What did we accomplish that made us happy?  What serendipities occurred that were simply gifts, deserved or undeserved, from the universe?  What good advice did we pass on?  When did we practice patience when annoyance would have been so much easier?  When did we NOT forget a loved one who needed us?  When did we NOT forget a stranger in trouble?

Here are a few of my own finer moments of 2009. 

Serendipities

Discovering that 20 of my older novels will be made into television movies in Germany.  This was truly a gift from the universe and completely unexpected.

After more than 10 years of open houses and regretful head shaking, finding the perfect (for us) cottage at Chautauqua Institution to enjoy in the coming years. Proof that even the craziest dreams can come true.

My husband’s six month sabbatical and a chance to spend some of it in Florida, where we both grew up, with family we rarely see.

Accomplishments:

A year of Southern Exposure and Facebook, and the discovery that both blogging and social networking are a wonderful way to make new friends and get new viewpoints.

Pushing deadlines back a bit to give myself room to breathe and enjoy life.

Introducing the world to the women of Happiness Key.

Reaching out:

A fact finding trip to Guatemala to visit social justice agencies trying to right the wrongs of decades.

Support for a number of causes including Child Fund International, Doctors Without Borders, Holdeen India Project.  

Now, what about you?  Are you concentrating on all the things you didn’t do this year, and all the things you want to change?  Why don’t you take a moment and list your 2009 accomplishments.  It’s not as easy to be happy with what you did, as it is to expound on the things you didn’t do.  Society trains us to be both modest  and negative.  So break the rules.  Take a chance and blow your own horn right here.  Trumpet those virtues.  Let us wallow in your good luck and enjoy it vicariously.

If you tell us something good about your own 2009 (click on comments at the top right to do so) I’ll enter your name in a drawing for an autographed copy of Happiness Key, whose four major characters accomplish a LOT over the time span of the novel.  Just tell us something good that happened to you or that you made happen in 2009 and do it by January 7th.  Or tell us a lot.

2009 is nearly over.  Let’s celebrate all the reasons we will hate to see it go.