Choosing Happiness

Now that I’m finished with writing about my trip to Ireland, what’s next? I could just take a break and not write anything for a while. I’ve definitely done that before. But I don’t feel like that. I don’t really want to take a break. Something I do almost all the time is observe people. I’m fascinated by what makes people tick, as the saying goes. Psychology and Philosophy are two of my favorite things. So I’m a people watcher, and I listen to people’s words. What they say and how they say it. It reveals a lot about how a person thinks, and how they think is fascinating. This morning, I was thinking about happiness. What makes people happy and why? I had a conversation with a friend recently and he asked me, “What makes you happy?” I thought about this for a while. I knew the answer immediately but I was curious how he would respond to it. To the question of what makes me happy, I answered, “Nothing.” He gave me a look of surprise and said, “But you seem to be pretty happy most of the time, and yet you say nothing makes you happy. I don’t get it.” So I responded with this: “The word ‘nothing’ is derived from two words, no and thing. No thing makes me happy. I, make me happy. I’m happy because I’ve decided that I want to be happy. Period.

Now you might ask, “Aren’t there things that make you unhappy? Things that really make you mad? Sure there are. And when I say that nothing makes me happy, That’s not quite true. There are a lot of things that can make a person happy, or sad or angry, jealous, envious, joyful etc. All those emotions are stirred by lots of different thing. The problem is that feeling emotional about something is temporary. Someone says something that really riles you up. You get really angry and then after awhile you settle down again. Or you become really joyful about something but after awhile, that settles down too. So by that definition, no thing can make you happy. Because the happiness you get from things and from people is always temporary. Lasting happiness comes from deciding that you’re going to be happy. Is it that simple? No, not really. In order to choose to be happy it takes a certain mind set. So let’s explore that.

One of the reasons why people are unhappy comes from their prejudices. And believe me, we all have them. Prejudice can be about anything. We can be prejudice over people who drive expensive cars. We can have prejudices about race, politics, or about the choices people make. It goes on and on. If you give honest thought about what your prejudices are I’m sure you’ll realize some of them. I know I have. Choosing to be happy means in part, getting rid of prejudice. To shed the things that make you unhappy. To realize that most of the things that we care about really don’t matter. My mom was a worrier. She worried about everything, all the time. If you weren’t worried about something, she would worry for you. When she reached her 80’s she told me that she finally realized that she had wasted a lot of her life worrying about things that really didn’t matter. She regretted doing that. This is what I’m talking about. Being happy means getting rid of the things that get in the way of being happy.

This doesn’t mean you can’t get angry. There are plenty of things a person can justify being angry about. Look at our politics today. But being happy means that your base line is happiness. That’s your starting point, and that’s where you return after feeling other emotions. Realizing that all emotions are temporary and shouldn’t be clung to can help you shed a lot of emotional weight. In order to have happiness as a base line you have to let go of the things that get in the way of that. And you have to realize that no thing can make happiness for you. Let’s say you buy a new car. It smells great, everything is shiny and new, and it runs great. Four years later it’s dirty, banged up and repairs cost a lot of money. Your feelings have changed about the thing you used to love. All things and people cause emotions to arise and feeling them is fine. In order to be truly, lastingly happy we cannot cling to our emotions. Feel them and let them go and realize that because someone made you really happy today, and maybe they will make you really happy tomorrow, they are not where true lasting happiness comes from. It comes from inside yourself.

Depression can get in the way of happiness. And if you have depression, you can’t simply get rid of it because you want to be happy. But just like other illnesses, depression shouldn’t define who you are. When you are introduced to another person, are you introduced as the illnesses that you have or are you introduced by your name? A person can still choose happiness as a baseline even when they have depression. My wife did that. Sometimes her depression was debilitating. But she would rally herself and come back to a basic happiness. I’m not a doctor or a psychologist. I know there are lots of things about depression I don’t know. I only know about the things I’ve experienced with the people I know who have had it. And I know that not all cases of depression are the same.

I’ve told the story about one of my granddaughters who went to Honduras. There she met children in an orphanage who basically lost everything. No home, no parents, etc. And yet these kids were happy. They were so joyful that American teenagers would come so far just to see them. They played and laughed without a care in the world. How does that happen? They haven’t been indoctrinated into believing that they shouldn’t be happy. You can see it in all children. Most kids are pretty happy all the time. Sure, they fall and scrape their knees and cry, but soon they’re up running around again. They haven’t been convinced that happiness is not normal. Children don’t care about what color someone is or how many studs or tattoos a person has. They don’t care if you’re gay or care about your past. If you play with them and love them, they’ll love you back. True happiness. We are born with it. But as we live our lives, lots of things get in the way of our happiness. We can however, find it again.



Music is important. Yesterday, me, my wife and our friend Bill played music at my mother in law’s 90th birthday party. Several people there told us how nice it was to have music at the party, even though most of it was in the background. If pressed, most people could not put their finger on why it was important. Some might say, it added something. I agree. It does add something. Try imagining watching a movie or a TV show without the music. Music sets a mood. Today’s modern cars all have radios and CD players. They used to have cassette and 8 track players before that. Smart phones all have music capability. The Sony Walkman was one of the best selling music players of all time. I would be willing to bet that there are few households in the U.S. that don’t have some kind of music playing device. The invention of the affordable household radio was one of the most important things that happened to modern society. Before the radio, music in the home came from people playing instruments and singing right there in the house. With the advent of the electric radio you could now hear music from across the country and across the globe. It brought the entire world into your living room.
old radio

So the question is, why is music important? Music is emotional. It brings out our feelings in ways that we enjoy. Have you ever watched a couple dancing to a waltz? Or people dancing to Rock and Roll? They are thoroughly enjoying themselves. Watch a guitar players face as he or she cranks out a tune. Emotion pours out like water. Music is movement. Rhythm. Place your fingertips on your pulse. There is your rhythm. Everyone has music flowing through them.

We associate music with important events in our lives. Whenever I hear a Hank Williams song I remember my dad and how he loved the old country music. We remember the song that was played at our wedding. My mom plays the piano. Rock and Roll was an important part of my growing up. I loved music so much that I had to learn how to play it. My wife played trumpet in high school and she also plays piano and guitar and sings. Many of our friends are musicians. We are not content with just listening to music. We need to play. We need to feel the vibration of the instrument in our hands, against our bodies. We need to create. Music is important.

When I was a teen I spent my money on records. The vinyl kind. The record sleeve usually had information about the band, called liner notes. I would read every word. I wanted to know who the musicians were, who wrote the music, who the recording engineer was, where it was recorded, everything. When biographies were written about my favorite musicians, I read the books. I spent my youth concentrating on Rock music but as I grew older I started listening to blues and jazz and classical music as well. Today I’m interested in what is called “World Music,” which is just about any ethnic music from other countries. I play hand percussion with drums of African, Arabic, and Irish origins.
bodhran player djembe

Everyone has a favorite type of music. Most of the time, emotions associated with music are good ones that people feel safe expressing. Today’s Rap and Hip Hop appeal to a great swath of young people just as Rock music appealed to the youth of the 60’s. My dad was a country music fan and my mom enjoyed people like Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley.

Music is important because it brings out emotions that we enjoy. It’s safe. And it’s a distraction from the hardships of life. Put a good record on, crank up the volume and you can forget about your troubles for a while. So get to it! Brighten up your life with some tunes.