Doing The Happiness Rag

It is obvious if you pay attention to the world at large, that great numbers of people are unhappy. Maybe you are unhappy. All the negative things we see happening all around us prove this out. According to one website, people change jobs an average of 12 times over the course of their working career. Another website shows the 2018 divorce rate in the U.S. to be at 50%. Out of 195 countries in the world the U.S. ranks 18th on the World happiness scale so you would think that overall, we’re a pretty happy bunch. But are we? Every time I look at any news media I see unhappiness. Shootings, robberies, war, a 50% divorce rate, and crimes of all kinds. Our prisons hold more prisoners than any other country. Are we happy?

I know I’ve written about this before but it bares repeating. Happiness has little to do with outside circumstances and almost everything to do with how we react to those circumstances. I’ve had some pretty crappy jobs over the years. One job had me shoveling carbon that was used as a filter material for chemical laden water. It was a dirty, toxic, hot, all around miserable job. I had to dress in a hazmat type suit which was horribly hot, crawl inside a metal tank through a tube which I could barely fit and shovel this filtering material out and into barrels for processing. It was not what I thought of when a grade school teacher asked my class what we wanted to be when we grew up. Not even close. One day in the middle of shoveling I contemplated the work. It was good hard labor. It kept me in the best physical shape of my life. I was lean and strong. The pay was good. And I needed that job to pay the bills and hopefully work toward a day when I didn’t have to do it any more. There were actually a lot of positive aspects for doing something Mike Rowe calls, a dirty job. While my co-workers bitched and complained about it all day long, I kept my mouth shut. While a cleaner, easier job that payed as well would be desirable, there were a lot of reasons to appreciate what I was doing. (It was at this point when I meant to click the preview button to check my writing here and I actually clicked the publish button instead. I reacted very negatively, with much swearing, and fist pounding. I was unhappy.)

An example: My wife Ann had depression and anxiety. There were many times she felt the crushing weight of these illnesses and yet she was a happy person. Because she chose to be happy. Now I’m not an expert or even know much about mental illness. So I’m sure that I can’t speak to those issues. But I did know my wife, rather well at that. We talked about these things. She wanted me to be as informed about her depression and anxiety as I could be. And I wanted that as well. Not only were we married but we were best friends. I was the one she turned to in her darkest hours. In spite of all the things that could have gotten in the way of her happiness she decided to be happy. To enjoy her life to the fullest extent possible. Mental illness aside, she was a lot happier than many people I knew. And it was due mostly to her attitude.

There is a story that goes like this: When John Lennon was a child, one of his teachers asked his class what they wanted to be when they grew up. He answered that he wanted to be happy. His teacher suggested that he didn’t understand the question and he replied that she didn’t understand life. Whether or not this is true, I can’t say. But it does say something about life. Whatever you “do” in life, happiness is the foundation of all of it. Maybe you clean toilets for a living, and maybe you’re the CEO of a successful company. But if you’re not happy, what difference does it make what you do? Success cannot be measured by how much prestige, or wealth you gain. It can only be measured in what it brings to you in personal satisfaction. Happiness. How you see the world around you, whether or not you look for the positive aspects, can mean all the difference between misery and happiness.

I know I sound like a self help guru here but it really is up to us to make ourselves happy. Outside circumstances have an affect on us, this is true. How we react to those circumstances makes all the difference.

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Anniversary

I’m a little depressed this morning and I’ve been trying to figure out why. I think now, I know the answer. The two year anniversary of my wife’s death is just a few days away, and this has got me down. I think of her often, at least every day, sometimes more. But this anniversary has got me thinking about all the changes that have happened since she got sick. None of the things that happened because of her illness were welcomed, however some of them have turned out alright. This is what I’ve been thinking about.

As soon as we found out she had cancer, she started chemo treatment. As far as that goes, it went pretty well. The only real side effects were losing her hair and being tired. She took a leave from work to do the six months of treatment. Losing her hair was devastating. She had thick, long, lustrous red hair, of which she was very proud. A statement of her personality, her individuality, her stubborn determination to prove to the world things only she knew were important. After shaving her head to prevent the fallout, I had her shave my own. I wanted to join with her in this un-welcomed adventure as much as possible. It only took eight months from discovery until the cancer took her life. Those months consisted of doctors, nurses, lab people, drugs, treatments, clinics, hospitals, friends, family, funeral directors, and a funeral. It’s all such a blur that I have a hard time picking out individual moments.

I tried to go back to work after all that and found I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t concentrate on my job, nothing about it was right anymore, nothing about it was good. So one day I called my boss and told her I wasn’t coming back. I know she wasn’t happy with me, but that goes along with being in charge. I became just one more thing she’d have to deal with. Now it became my job to deal with these changes the best I could. No one prepares you for losing a loved one. There’s no instruction book. Kind of like raising children. You’re doing it, day after day but when you look at it you can’t understand how you did it. I don’t know where the inner strength came from and I still don’t know why some days I don’t just collapse. I have known people who suffered the loss of their spouse and a year later they were dating and on their way to getting re-married. I just, I can’t even imagine that.

I have found that when great amounts of change are thrust upon me I somehow find a way to deal with it. I don’t know any other way. I usually plow through and then look back and wonder how I did that. Most times there’s no answer. I’ve been asked how I handled the stress. Honestly, I don’t know. I wish I could write a book to help others deal with losing their loved ones but I wouldn’t have enough material for a single page. I made a few podcasts on the subject but when I listened to them I realized they didn’t really have that much content, not much to help anyone. So this is where my head is at today. Thinking about the last two years and asking how I managed. And I get no answers. You can say all kinds of things like, stamina, inner strength, conviction and it’s all just bullshit because some days I feel like falling apart. Where’s the inner strength on days like that?

My wife Ann, had depression. She had hopeless days when nothing felt like it would ever get better. I don’t have those. I always somehow know that things will improve, but I don’t know how I know that, I just always have. So this too shall pass. I may take a break from writing while this anniversary passes and I may just write like a maniac. I’m not sure how this will go. But I’ll leave you with a picture of Ann and I hope it brightens your day.

Happiness


My wife Ann who died of cancer in 2017, was a happy person. She had depression and anxiety throughout her life and endured much suffering because of that. And yet she was happy. I have known others who have had depression and anxiety but I can’t speak for them. I only know what I’ve experienced myself. I know that Ann was happy against all odds, against debilitating depression. Against fear inducing anxiety. Even dying from cancer didn’t take away from the happiness she felt. It was obvious to those who knew her that she didn’t want cancer, didn’t want to die so young. But throughout the whole ordeal of CT scans, MRI’s, biopsies, PET scans, lab work, chemo, and radiation she maintained a calmness, a ready acceptance of what was next. Knowing she was going to die from this, didn’t change her attitude. She would be happy.

It wasn’t always like that for her. She suffered for years being unhappy. Family issues, a failed marriage, and many other things caused her much grief. Somewhere along the way she realized that happiness, true, lasting happiness doesn’t come from outside of yourself. Owning things, having money, friends, family, situations, none of these things brings lasting happiness. They bring you a high. Like taking drugs gets you high. But like drugs, the high you get from a new car, or from praise, or from having money doesn’t last. It wears off and leaves a hole where it once was. It leaves you wanting more. This is something she came to know. Something she embraced. If she wanted to be happy, she’d have to do it herself.

The self help industry, for an industry is what it is, is huge. It’s a billion dollar industry. Books, magazines, DVD’s, websites, You Tube videos, all there to tell you how to improve, how to be happy. Most of them however, are only telling you how to get high. Choose this diet, get the sculpted body you’ve always craved, buy this new car, wear this make up and look twenty years younger, believe in this religion, buy my book for the secret to wealth and fame, etc, etc. Not that any of these things are bad, in and of themselves, but what they are selling you is a high. Diets are healthy. I could stand to lose some weight. More than a few pounds, actually. But it won’t make me happy. I can be just as miserable weighing twenty pounds less. So why do we seek these temporary highs? Because many of us don’t know where else to look for happiness.

We make the mistake of thinking that happiness comes with achievement. If I could just lose twenty pounds I’d be happy. If I could just get that job promotion, I’d be happy. If I could just get that new car, that face lift, that new hair style. Then I’d be happy. Some of us spend our lives seeking that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow thinking we’ll be happy when we find it. If I could just win that lottery my troubles would be over. All we end up doing however is trading one set of troubles for another. We prove to ourselves every day, that these things will not make us happy and yet we keep running after them like a hamster in a wheel. Someone once said that the simplest explanation is usually the right one. And yet we don’t believe it. Happiness has eluded us for so long that we feel the answer has to be complicated. And so we run, and seek, while holding the answer to what we seek in our hands, and not seeing it.

We need to realize that only we can make ourselves happy. All by ourselves. Ann decided she was going to be happy, even though she was dying of cancer. Each day she was happy for one more day of life. One more day to be with her friends and family, one more day to enjoy a sunrise, or a good conversation. She was happy just to be. This is a lesson all of us should learn. To be happy simply to exist.

One of my granddaughters has been to Honduras a couple times for mission trips. They spent time at an orphanage with the children there. These are kids who have lost their families, their homes, basically everything they had. And they are some of the happiest children she has ever met. They are happy just to be alive, just to be. They have no material goods, no parents, none of the things that the rest of the world values. And yet they are happy. How do children know the secret to happiness? They haven’t yet been indoctrinated by what the world sells as happiness. They haven’t been told that they shouldn’t be happy. They haven’t come to believe that their inner joy is not enough.

But it is enough. Our inner joy, even though it is attacked by depression or anxiety is still there. Ann found it. Even though the world tells us that we can’t be happy unless we are striving after something, our inner joy is still there. We just have to realize that it is and find it. And it doesn’t cost a thing. We have to realize that the things we find value in, if they are external, are not valuable. The things that are valuable, like love, happiness, and joy are things we already have. We need to find them.