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.

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Oh boy, A New Book!


I bought a book yesterday. That’s nothing unusual in my life as I have done that probably thousands of times. I can’t even imagine the amount of money I have spent on books but it’s money well spent as far as I’m concerned. I have learned more from reading than from any other source or activity ever. This book, with it’s irreverent title (see above) caught my eye. The first sentence inside the dust jacket says: “For decades we’ve been told that positive thinking is the key to a happy, rich life. But those days are over.” I had to buy it! It goes on to say, “-that improving our lives hinges not on our ability to turn lemons into lemonade but on learning to better stomach lemons.” Just from reading that much I knew this was going to be a good book.

Now I’ve only read as far as chapter four so I can’t give a complete review of the book but what I can say is that it reaffirms what I’ve believed for most of my life. That in order to be a whole person you have to accept the bad with the good. Humans are capable of the most selfless acts of compassion and the most heinous horrors imaginable. That basically means that most of us are somewhere in the middle of that spectrum. Concentrating on the positive all the time while hiding from the negative leaves a big part of our selves flapping in the wind like a ragged, dirty flag. The author says that pain and suffering are tools that can and should be used to teach us what not to do and how not to be. And they are just as important, sometimes more important than all the good, happy things about ourselves. And if we don’t embrace the ugliness inside of us all, we cannot be whole (my words). We only have so much that we can care about (the author uses the term, “give a #@%!”), and we will exhaust ourselves if we don’t choose the important things to give a #@%! about and discard the rest.

In the early Seventies when I was a teenager I read a book called, “Manchild In The Promised Land” by Claude Brown. It is the autobiographical story of the author’s life growing up in Harlem New York amid poverty, drugs, and violence. As a teen growing up in an average, white mid-western town I had no idea of life outside my bubble. This book opened my eyes to a larger world and basically showed how the author embraced his childhood as a major part of who he was. All the ugliness, crime, violence, drugs, etc, helped to make him a whole person. (As an adult, he became a lawyer.) The point is, our lives are not all laughter, and roses and happiness. There’s a lot of dirt mixed in. A lot of trash and just plain shit in there as well. And it all has helped to make us who we are.

The Buddha said that life is filled with suffering. And if you follow Buddhism’s Eight Fold Path, you can find a way out of suffering and reach enlightenment. Buddhism says that desire, clinging to desires or things, causes suffering. The way out of suffering is to rid yourself of those desires. But isn’t the desire to reach enlightenment simply another desire? In the Subtle Art Of Not Giving A #@%!, the author suggests that pain and suffering are tools we can use to become better people. Concentrating on the positive all the time and hiding from the negative keeps us from being whole. We need to find better ways of dealing with the negative aspects of ourselves and life in general because the negative is not going away. As the authors says, instead of trying to turn lemons into lemonade, we need to find better ways of stomaching the lemons.

I have been blessed with never needing or wanting a “self help” book, and this book defiantly falls into that category. But if you can get past the fact that the author uses the F word about a hundred times in the first chapter, You may like it. When you feel differently than just about everyone you know, it’s great to find a book or another person who lets you know that there are others out there who feel the same, it can be profound.