The Many Ways to Happiness

Grafton sky 2When I was a child one of my favorite occupations was to rearrange my mother’s pantry shelves. I delighted in doing this. It seems to me that I was born with a need to accomplish. In many ways, this has been a source of my happiness and a way of making myself feel good. I can remember when I was a young mother that time spent in the kitchen helped to heal any disappointment or dismay. Baking cookies for my children did wonders for my spirits and helped keep me cheerful. Even simple tasks like the ironing I did then were useful to me in lifting my spirits.

I learned long ago that whenever my spirits need lifting I have a choice. Beyond dwelling on whatever it is that may be bothering me, I can seek happiness or I can stop and look around me for something to be grateful for or to enjoy. When I do I have taken a significant step toward being kind to myself as well as making myself feel better. But there is more: I can keep reminding myself to take note of the many things to appreciate that surround me. My happiness is made up of small smiles harvested daily.

While the link between accomplishment and happiness is still strong within me, this other link is even stronger: the opportunities to notice what makes me happy. It functions for me whenever I notice whatever is beautiful around me; it is delivered in the joy I receive when I walk with Stephen in the mornings and listen to the birds twittering and chirping around us. When I get a phone call or an email from a friend I haven’t seen or heard from for a while, my heart fills and I smile. I feel happy when I read the morning newspaper and find interesting stories from it to share with my husband.

It is truly said that happiness does not work as a goal. If for instance I buy something I have wanted, it may make me happy for a little while yet that kind of happiness does not last. Not unlike taking a drink of alcohol or indulging in sweets, the good feelings gained this way dwindle soon. This diminishment is one of the stimuli for addictive behavior. Once the good feeling is gone it is normal to wish for more in order to regain or prolong it. This experience leads many people to practice self-destructive behaviors.

However, the happiness that comes from the appreciation of what is given is not addictive nor can it be sought. It comes from the practice of awareness, of noticing some small joy or gladness that comes to us as a kind of gift. It also helps to have an understanding of what makes us feel happy so that we can take extra care to notice it when it is given to us. I must open my eyes and ears to notice the beauty around me in order to appreciate it. I need to remember to look out the window to see the lovely sunset when it glows there. This kind of happiness lasts beyond the experience and nourishes me always.

A New World to Hear

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I remember my great grandmother’s ear trumpet. It was a long instrument, flared at one end. She held the small end to her ear. I also remember a black box the size and shape of a thick brick that had a cord running from sitting on a table that must have been an early hearing instrument. My grandmother wore a case the sizes of a slim cigarette pack clipped to the front of her dress with a cord connected between it and a button in her ear. There was a dial on the box she could turn on and off.

My dad used to say she turned it off when she didn’t want to hear what was being said. I remember as a child thinking how handy that must be. Aids to hearing have come a very long way since then. As people age, much like the normal need for eyeglasses to address a lessening of vision, so too there is a need for aids to hearing. Unfortunately these are extremely expensive compared to eyeglasses. Hopefully one day this will change.

Because of the deafness that seemed to run in my family, I was not surprised when my own hearing began to diminish. I found I needed to have the TV on louder. It was helpful to watch movies on DVD with subtitles, especially when the actors had British accents. If Stephen spoke to me and I was in the other room I had to get closer to him to hear what he was telling me.

Ambient noise interfered with my understanding of words; parties were less fun. My children noticed and suggested I get hearing aids. Still, I wasn’t sure I really needed them, or so I thought. Then as luck would have it I was gifted with a set. My daughter offered me her late mother-in-law’s hearing aids. I am very glad I said yes. It has been an adventure for me to use them. I find myself marveling at sounds I have not really heard before, or not for a long time.

I remember my mother telling me that when my grandmother put on her new hearing aid and went outdoors she said, “What’s all that noise?” It was the birds chirping. She had not heard birds for many years. My ears have not been that bad. I have been able to hear more or less, just not clearly. I notice the difference with the aids: without them, it’s like I have water in my ears. With them when I turn on the sink faucet, I hear splashes and ripples. When I unwrap paper it crackles. The stove timer sounds shrill. I hear sounds I didn’t before.

In the past when I thought about getting hearing aids I felt somewhat uncomfortable. I expected them to be clumsy, perhaps difficult to manage. None of this has proved true. Today’s aids are quite different from those of my grandmother’s or even of recent times. They are virtually invisible. I am very grateful to my daughter for her thoughtfulness, and I look forward to learning more about the new world I am hearing. As I have come to appreciate the clarity I get from wearing eyeglasses, now I enjoy the adventure of listening to a new and different world.

 

The Importance of Mental Focus

Crystals5When I began to meditate I noticed that I was much more aware of the contents of my mind. The longer I practiced meditation, the better I became at following my thoughts. This ability has grown for me over the years, and I am very grateful to be able to be aware most of the time of what I am thinking. The reason this is so important is that it enables me to monitor my mental focus.

The importance of mental focus cannot be overstated. Certain habit patterns are built into the human psyche. They are intrinsic, an inborn aspect of our consciousness. They are intended to function as a kind of safety mechanism for keeping us alive. One of these is the “fight or flight” response. As you may know, the human body is programmed to react to any perceived threat with the appropriate input for what it believes is required.

I have read statistics to the effect that much of our modern high blood pressure as well as other stressful conditions of the physical body have come about as a result of this built in response to perceived danger. This particular response was useful in the days when death in the form of an enemy or feral beast lurked behind any bush or tree. It was important when the crocodiles in the river were patrolling for breakfast. It was helpful when the early settlers of any new homeland encountered its dangers.

Now for the most part it is not only unnecessary to modern life but actually harmful. Yet in times of perceived stress our bodies continue that response. The perceived stress could be a need to get somewhere on time or to dodge someone’s criticism as a result of inadequate preparation. It is seldom a response to a true threat of death or physical harm.

One of the main ingredients of this response is that our minds have a built in tendency to notice what is wrong. This can be very helpful if, for instance, you wake up in the night and hear sounds you know are not normal, or you suddenly notice that your child is very quiet and might therefore be up to some mischief. However, as a general rule, consistently noticing what is wrong can lead to a focus upon it that prevents us from seeing what is right and good.

When I practice actively looking for all for which I am grateful, I am much less apt to be focused on what may be wrong. If there is real danger or a need to notice that something is amiss, I know I can and will. However for the most part when I focus on that for which I am grateful, I am much less focused on the negative thinking that can lead to any number of difficulties. The key to success is being mindful of the direction of my thoughts. That way I can reinforce my positive focus or change the direction of my thoughts if I need to.

Photo and Text by Tasha Halpert

The Blessings of Simple Pleasures

Queen Ann's Lace with BindweedThe Blessing of Simple Pleasures,

by Tasha Halpert

I was fortunate in that I learned fairly early in life to practice my attitude of gratitude. There were two experiences in my life that prompted me to do this. One came in the form of a telephone call from a friend and teacher telling me to be grateful and to say this prayer of gratitude daily: Beloved Lord I do greatly thank Thee for the abundance that is mine.” When I protested she said sternly, “You have much to be grateful for–a roof over your head, food to eat, people who love you, now do as I say and repeat that prayer at least three times daily.” Because I respected her, I did as she suggested.

That was the beginning. Then I encountered mysterious woman at a spiritual gathering who told me a little about myself and then said, “Never take anything for granted.” Her words gave me pause and have resonated in my life ever since. At the time I did not know that my entire life would change radically within weeks. And while it changed for the better, almost everything in my life as I knew it then disappeared to be replaced by new and different circumstances. Nothing could have prepared me for that, however I was blessed to move through it to a new life for which ever since I have been grateful.

That was a great many years ago; and much time has passed with many experiences lived through. As I have moved through them I have grown in the expression of my gratitude. Nowadays when I turn on the shower on a cold winter evening and climb into its warmth, I give thanks. Although they may not live close to me, there are many who do not have the luxury of hot water from a faucet. When I cuddle my clean cotton sheets and the warm covers on my bed around me, I think of, and send a prayer for those who are homeless and have little to comfort them in the cold.

An attitude of gratitude as we are often reminded by teachers from Oprah to Eckert Tolle is one of the pillars for the foundation of a happy life. My own personal experience has proved this to be true. I have also learned to realize how important it is to be grateful for that which at first seems less than fortuitous. However in general I prefer to focus on those things that bring me joy rather than those that do not, even while being grateful for those as well.

Small and simple pleasures–a phone call from one’s child or grandchild, the wagging tail of a treasured animal companion, the smile of a neighbor encountered unexpectedly in the supermarket, or the friendly help of a stranger in locating a hard to find item–these lovely, serendipitous experiences provide a splendid symphony of joy. As I live my life, it plays in the background as an accompaniment to my everyday doings. Listening to it I am reminded again and again to be grateful.

Seeds of Joy

           Joy does not require anything of us. It may come as a gift of conscious acceptance of what is or is not given, or it may come as an unexpected breeze that blows through us–the sigh of an angel looking benignly down upon us wishing us well. Joy cannot be bought or sold, yet it can be spread and shared as well as flow through or be bestowed upon us.

          The seeds of joy grow easily in a grateful heart. The practice of gratitude is one of the most if not the most important of all spiritual exercises. When we remember to be grateful for whatever good we have, it will increase. When we are grateful even for that which is difficult for us to endure, it becomes easier to tolerate. As I accept what is given with gratitude it can reveal its lesson and its purpose in my life.Image

          Joy, like happiness, is a byproduct of our attitude toward life. It cannot be sought, yet it can be cultivated. Joy essentially seeds itself in our lives when we feel good about ourselves and what we are doing. It is watered by love and fertilized by sharing. When I have good news, I can call my friends and tell them. When I feel joyful, I can smile at the world. It does not matter and I need not care whether anyone smiles back.

          If I smile at the world without expecting anything back, I actually increase my returns because what goes around eventually returns to me. My joyous gift is made even more powerful because I have not looked for a payback of any kind. An unconditional gift generates a joy that opens my heart to a kinder, more loving energy that in turn increases my happiness.

          Thicht Nhat Hahn the well known Zen Buddhist teacher suggests we smile often. He recommends a gentle, simple turn up of the corners of the mouth, a bud of a smile as he calls it. I can do this whether I feel like it or not at the time and it can bring joy to the heart regardless of the circumstances.

          Joy does not need any special circumstances in order to manifest. Joy can come even in the midst of sorrow as a simple lift of my heart and the recognition that life goes on and I will too. As I am able to welcome change and all the potential it brings for my personal growth and happiness, I can also let go of the clouds of doubt that could obscure that potential.

          Gratitude is like sunshine, blessing all it shines upon. Then as I am grateful for my blessings, the seeds of my joy grow and flourish. As I consciously work to accept with gratitude whatever gifts each day brings, I can discover these gifts for what they truly are: the lovely colors of my life woven into a tapestry threaded through and through with joy.