Tag Archives: Happiness

The happiness choice

“To begin with, you have to realize that you really only have one choice in this life, and it’s not about your career, whom you want to marry, or whether you want to seek God. People tend to burden themselves with so many choices. But, in the end, you can throw it all away and just make one basic underlying decision: Do you want to be happy, or do you not want to be happy? It’s really that simple.”

—Michael A. Singer in The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself 

What stunning changes happened around you this summer? Did long-married friends of yours separate? Did an unexpected flower blossom in your garden from a plant that appeared out of nowhere? Has a loved one injured herself or fallen ill? Did you receive an unexpected gift of money?

We like to believe that our happiness depends upon whether we would choose or not choose the changes: separation or divorce, unhappy; beautiful flower, happy; ill loved one, unhappy; surprise money, happy.

In fact, our happiness depends on whether we choose or don’t choose the happiness. 

As Michael A. Singer points out in his book, The Untethered Soulwe unnecessarily waste a lot of energy resisting:

“. . . you’re generally using your will to resist one of two things: that which has already happened or that which hasn’t happened yet. You are sitting inside resisting impressions from the past or thoughts about the future.”

We are so busy pining for the life we wish we had, that we forget to enjoy the life we actually have. 

No matter what happens, may you enjoy a happy summer.



The difference between happy and glowing: Giving

This past week I had the privilege of writing an article about a woman from my church. Jean volunteers for a long list of organizations, giving to others in different ways. As she bakes, delivers meals to seniors, quilts, and tackles her many other labours of love, she glows with energy and good spirit. When I asked her why she does all she does, she said, “It makes me feel good. I get back so much more than I give.”

Another friend of mine volunteers for Canadian Red Cross. He supports people in need in his own community, and he travels to countries in crisis around the globe. When he speaks of this work, he glows. “I get back so much more than I give,” he says.

I have heard that refrain over and over in my life, from people aglow with the joy of hands-on giving.

After my conversation with Jean, I thought about other people I know who have stable jobs and who probably give to charity, but who don’t give of themselves in a close contact way. They golf every Saturday, or they enjoy fine dining, or they spend most weekends at their cottage.

I would never say these people aren’t happy. If I were to ask them if they are happy, they would say yes. What is the difference then?

The difference is the glow: The merely happy people pass through life content; the others glow with a giving contact high.

The question then: Do I want to be merely happy, or do I want to glow?

Mud-splattered and glowing in Bolivia

Arlene – Mud-splattered and glowing on a Habitat for Humanity build in Bolivia



Habitat for Humanity: Ghandi was right

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

I’ve just spent the day carrying buckets of mortar, moving rocks, cutting rebar and shovelling dirt, and I feel fantastic.

Before I left to come to be part of the Habitat for Humanity build in Bolivia, I worried about how I would deal with the strain of the hard physical labour. And make no mistake, it’s hard physical labour.

Right now, I feel so energized after spending my day doing one small thing to make one small part of the world just a little brighter.

On Sunday night we met the family with whom we will build the house. They are a hardworking family with two children, but no matter how hard they worked, they just couldn’t manage to save enough to get a home of their own. They needed a little boost. Habitat gave them the hand up they needed.

Habitat has a “hand up, not a hand out” philosophy.

The family that will live in the house we’re building will build it along with us. When it’s done, they will have an interest-free mortgage that they will repay to Habitat for Humanity. That money will cycle back into more homes for more people. When homeowners help to build a house brick by brick—self-construction they call it—and when they pay for it themselves, there is pride of ownership and a feeling of accomplishment. 

The family we are working with is overwhelmed that a team of Canadians would come to volunteer their time to help them with their home. It seems fitting. They neighbourhood where we are building the house is called “Canada.”

No wonder I feel so at home.

People for good

You might have seen the newspaper ads by now. Small notices here and there encourage us to perform acts of kindness—for our own good. Because, according to the People for Good organization, when we do something good for others, we give ourselves a natural boost, and the high can last for weeks.

Imagine if we did something nice for someone every day. Maybe we have stumbled upon the secret to happiness?

Opportunities for good deeds present themselves to us every day. We just have to choose to act, rather than not. But if you’re stuck for ideas, they have some suggestions:  http://www.peopleforgood.ca/#GoodDeeds

Groundhog Day

Groundhog Day is one of my favourite movies. Clever writing and perfectly timed edits build a humorous, poignant, and challenging story that unrolls three of my favourite themes:
  1. Long-lasting happiness doesn’t come through material things or self-indulgence; it comes from making a valuable contribution to society.
  2. Life-long learning enriches the self and society.
  3. You can’t control other people’s actions or emotions.

At the beginning of the movie, Phil Connors (Bill Murray) is a self-centred, cynical jerk. Through an unexplained circumstance he finds himself living and reliving February 2—Groundhog Day—over and over and over. Every day after his clock radio clicks over to 6:00 a.m. and he hears the same Sonny and Cher song, he meets the same people and re-lives the same events, trying to figure out what he has to do to escape the repetitive loop. Goofing off on the job doesn’t do it. Eating every creamy dessert in sight doesn’t help. Suicide attempts don’t work. When he falls in love with Rita (Andie MacDowell) he tries to make her fall in love with him. He pretends to be something he isn’t. He plays tricks, and he pushes too fast, too soon.

  • Eventually, day after day, he begins to notice people he can help: women in a car with a flat tire on Main Street, a choking victim in the restaurant, or the homeless man in the alley.
  • Eventually, he decides to learn new things: he becomes an excellent piano player, a master ice sculptor, and learns to speak French.
  • Eventually, he evolves into a compassionate, interested person who allows others to be where  they are.

That is, of course, when the cycle breaks.

If I were to mention the three themes above in casual conversation, most people would nod in agreement. True, long-lasting happiness doesn’t come from a store. True, learning new things just makes life so darned interesting. True, we can’t control or other people’s actions or emotions.

But those commonly accepted rules aren’t so easy to live.

We act a certain way, even if it’s not an authentic way for us, to try to make people like us. We try to shape other people according to our expectations. We push them to quit smoking, get fit, wear different clothes, change their hair, get higher grades, quit drinking . . .

We come up with excuses to avoid new challenges. We’re too tired, too old, too young, have no time, no money, no proper equipment . . .

And no matter how much we know that material things or self-indulgence won’t bring us long-term happiness, we still pine for a new car, Häagen-Dazs Dark Chocolate, a designer bag, a 52-inch flat screen, the latest electronic gadget . . .

If you never watched Groundhog Day, or if you dismissed it as a mindless lark, I invite you to visit it, or revisit it, over and over and over. It seems the themes need repeating.

Photo © 2004 by April King

Crafting freely

Every morning I sit in the recliner in my family room and I write—longhand with pen and paper. I write freely without concern for grammar, spelling or misplaced modifiers.

My neighbours across the street have two young children ages five and three. In my chair by my window I look out at their picture window where the art of the two children is proudly displayed.

Their crafts change with the seasons: colourful autumn leaves become pumpkins, then sparkling snowflakes, then Valentine hearts, and then tulips. Like the scene in Notting Hill where Hugh Grant’s character walks through the market and he remains the same but the seasons change behind him, I sit in my chair unchanged while the seasons change in front of me.

Creativity inspires joy

When my children were young I worked for a time as a pre-school playgroup leader. Each week I prepared a craft for the children to create. I always provided a sample of how the finished product should look. No matter how clearly we explained the craft and how often we showed the sample, if there were twelve children in the group, there would be twelve distinctly different results. Each child, without self-consciousness or concern for what anyone else thought, took the basic ingredients and created something unique. Each child thought his or her version was perfect and exactly as it should be. Without exception, each one of those children waved the finished product in the air. “I made this!” The creativity and sense of accomplishment inspired uninhibited joy.

At that age, “not good enough” or “you should have done it this way” don’t apply.

Eventually, children get older and the challenges become greater. People around them give them suggestions on how to make their work better. When this happens, the children realize that what they’re doing does not meet the mark somehow, and they become self-conscious. They start to wonder if they measure up. They compare themselves with others and find themselves wanting. The “shoulds” make them feel they are “not good enough.”

Sadly, they often stop creating altogether.

Put blank pieces of paper and paint brushes in a room full of toddlers and watch them create with joyful abandon.

Hand out blank pieces of paper and paint brushes to a group of adults and count how many freeze with fear. “I can’t draw!” they say, or “I haven’t got an artist’s bone in my body.”

Adults find it difficult to create with abandon. There’s always someone around to judge. When someone points out a grammatical error in our writing we think, “Who am I kidding? I can’t write.” When someone tells us that a dog we drew looks like a horse, we think, “Who am I kidding? I can’t draw.”

I love that my neighbour children share their art so openly and freely. How many of us adults would put up our art in the front window for all to see?

I believe that creating is the secret to happiness. Boredom, depression and lack of fulfillment only find room in us if we’re not taking up that space with creative ideas.

Paint a picture, write a poem, or even just doodle on your napkin. Whatever it is, hold it up and say, “I made this!” and rediscover toddler-like joy in life.