Well, to be honest, I have been missing in action around here for some time. No excuses other than time flies and it's easy to put things off or ignore what needs attention. That in no way means I haven't had things swirling around in my head that should have somehow made it to this page. So here I am again. Maybe some of what I'm thinking today will resonate with you.
It's been said by some that I am "the proverbial happy camper". My inclination is to hunt for the silver lining and I've been known to find some bizarre glimmers of hope even when in a dire situation. I recall sitting in the waiting room before my first radiation treatment and my sister and I were engaging in a little "gallows humor" by wryly opining that there might be a chance I'd glow in the dark when they got finished with me. We both laughed at that notion and for a moment we could forget why I was there in the first place. A moment of levity and humor can help take the sting out of almost anything.
But the real truth is that I am as subject to dark nights of the soul, endless self-analysis and moments of pure self pity---just like many of you who will read this blog post. As much as I would like to characterize myself as a happy camper, I know that it takes a lot of effort and tricks on my part to pull myself out of the doldrums and get to that happy place. It doesn't just happen naturally, although I confess if you do the tricks long enough, they start to become more natural to you.
I've been thinking about those tricks and methods I use on a regular basis. What has worked for me? Are there things I do for myself that I think someone else might find useful in their journey to a happier place? The truth of the matter is we live in a difficult world and we can use all the help we can muster to figure our way through a tangled and Byzantine path. Indeed, whole books have been written on living a happier life, dealing with adversity and just achieving a sense of peace.
My intent today is certainly not that grandiose or meant to be a complete guide to that mythical place called happiness. It is meant to be a starting place for you to begin unraveling the tangled mess to something that works for you. Not everything I suggest will work, but maybe one little trick, one idea will prod you to take the first step.
First, I believe it's important to look at what you surround yourself with on a day to day basis. Do you fill your head with negative information? Are you saturated with compelling news stories that make you worried and afraid for your personal safety? Do you spend too much time dwelling on things that you cannot control? These are not strategies that will take you from misery to happiness. In fact, they are a guarantee you will get more of the same. So inventory what you put into your head. This is not a suggestion to eliminate the nightly news or to never keep up with what's going on around you. The idea is to take it in measured doses and then stop when you begin to obsess about it or fret too much.
Second, finding joy in your life takes a bit of effort sometimes and you need to realize that it can be right under your very nose and you will miss it. If you stay focused on negativity, the good, positive things that are there for the taking will elude you. Start right in your own backyard.
Yesterday I was walking through the family room and happened to walk over to the back door. It is all glass so I was looking out in the backyard not expecting to see much of anything that isn't always there. I stood there looking for no more than a few seconds when I noticed a flash of red feathers go streaking through the back flower bed. Moments later I saw that it was two birds who were obviously searching for bugs among the plants. They put on quite the show as they flitted and swooped among the plants, pecking and hunting for the tiniest morsel of buggy goodness! I couldn't help myself and literally laughed out loud when I saw them. It was such a small moment of unexpected joy, but it made my day!
Third, finding the unexpected nuggets of joy make involve taking you out of your back yard. Some extra effort may have to be put forth on your part. I was looking on Facebook the other day when I noticed some photographs posted by my niece while she was visiting in Yosemite National Park. She and her family were spending a leisurely moment taking in the grandeur of Glacier Point and I must admit the view was breath taking. It was one of those moments that will stand out in their memory with or without the photographs to refresh their recall of the majesty. When you travel and observe the beauty of the world around you, that's a fantastic way to lift your spirits and find some inner peace.
But you may be saying to yourself, "I don't have the money or the time to go to Yosemite." What do you do then? The eternal pessimist would go into a blue funk (a state my father used to mention) and then wallow there for a while. If you are determined to not go there, the simple solution is right there in your hometown. Every place, no matter how dismal or mundane has its places of beauty or historical value. Do you live near a body of water? A lake, river or ocean? For many of us, watching the action of the water is in itself a soothing and calming remedy for a troubled soul. A few minutes spent in quiet contemplation can help erase a month's worth of misery and turmoil. How about a trip to the zoo? Or a botanical garden? Those are places that typically don't cost much to visit or may even be free. The thing is you have to put forth the effort to find them and take advantage of what they can do for you and your need to find some respite to quiet your mind.
A sunny day at Pensacola Beach near Ft. Pickens
I happen to live within a 20 to 30 minute drive of the Gulf of Mexico. Not only is it a body of water with never ending movement, but it also affords the most fantastic views of sunrise and sunset you could ever imagine. The icing on that cake is that we have the world's whitest sand on our beaches. It isn't called SUGAR sand for nothing. We can take a beach chair, a picnic lunch and my camera and we are privy to a lifestyle that many will never know. And it only takes a few minutes to get there and a bit of gasoline. It's worth every penny, too. Watching eagles and ospreys on their nests and the turtles come to the surface of their little bayou to watch what I am doing is an amazing thing to see. It reminds you of your place in this world and compels you to be grateful for things available to you, big and small. That little piece of paradise that is only a few miles from my house is there day and night. Any time I get too self absorbed and too focused on things that take me down, I can hop in my car and drive to that place that will make those negative things fade away.
Are you looking at me? Or am I looking at you?
I guess I could go on with more things like turn off the TV once in a while. Step away from your computer and give your brain cells a rest. Put your phone down or better yet, turn it off. You have voice mail for a reason so if someone calls with something you really need to know, you will get the message. Just maybe an hour later than they planned for you to get it. But that hour you spend doing something to restore your sanity, to bring peace and calmness to your soul is far more important than being the first to hear some juicy bit of news.
The thing is, those opportunities for us to renew and restore our sense of happiness really are there for us to find and use. But they won't come in search of us. We have to open our eyes, ears and hearts to find them. Those lovely cardinals who were dancing among my flowers in my back yard did not issue an invitation for me to watch. In fact, I am pretty sure they were totally unaware of my prying eyes. It was up to me to pause long enough to even realize they were there. But oh, the reward that was mine for lingering just a moment or two longer at that door to see their light hearted display. It was just the tonic I needed to make me realize (once more) that the world really is NOT all bad. For we humans tend to have short memories and we need to be reminded again and again of this fact.
So I challenge you to look for ways to bring some oomph to your life. A little bit of joy to make you smile and remember the good things that are a part of your life. Not every day will be a stellar one. Not everything that you have to deal with as part of our life story will be easy and without pain. But to balance out the bad parts, you can and should look for ways to pull yourself back toward the center. I can't guarantee you will end up as a happy camper, but I can tell you that what you find is worth what effort you put forth to get there. There is a saying I hear a lot lately: the definition of insanity is to do the same things over and over and then expect different results. Maybe what you need is a change of direction, a new plan and then you might get the results you are after.