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Posts tagged ‘Happiness is My Choice’

Happiness is My Choice, 14

With all the noise and clatter of today’s world, the incessant advertisements and social pressures, the still small voice of the authentic self—our souls—can be easily drowned out. We are sensual beings, experiencing the world through our skins.

Red Maple. © JustHavingFun

Listening to birdsong can lift my heart if I allow myself to pause, and recognize the miracle that it is. Birdsong is a gift. How can it be? A creature the size of my fist has the power to fill the air with song! Birds have a syrinx, a special organ to produce that multi-note trilling. We don’t have them. Do we lack?

What about the cricket song symphony of a summer’s afternoon? How is it that stridulations of an insect’s limb or wing, multiplied by a thousand, can blanket the air with sound? If I stop what I’m doing, I realize they are singing. It’s only in my silence that I hear their songs.

What message do the lightning bugs encode in their evening travels? I’ve watched them shape the dark with Morse code-like flashes. Their travels define a unit of space, their paths as distinct as a fingerprint; their flashes stutter a secret pattern as they fly through the night. To think as a child I trapped them in jars, quieting their dialogues forever.

And flowers, oh the abundance of flowers! Colors, textures, scents, foliage. From early spring to the beginning of winter, these bursts of color elicit deep sensations.

Hydrangeas

Hydrangeas. © JustHavingFun

When I desist from my busyness and resist the lure of my phone, screen, kitchen, and bed, I turn to the sky. The moon in her brilliance, the clouds in their majesty, the rustling of the wind in the trees gain my attention. My soul gets nourished by nature’s caress. My authentic self can breathe a bit deeper and savor the sensations.

Happiness doesn’t come from things. Rather, it’s events, experiences we share—or not. I relish simple pleasures like breathing deeply in fresh air, feeling heat prickles when I enter my car in summer,  the sound and feeling of snow crunching underfoot, the breeze ruffling the fine hair on my arms—things I notice when I’m not distracted.

I recall the scent of peonies and the fuzz on that juicy peach tickling my nose. The sounds of trains rattling down nearby tracks stitch through the night’s darkness. And the succulent sourness of a fresh-cut lemon puckers my lips. These pleasures have been described in ancient literature and we can still relate to them. They rely on nothing save our senses taking in the beauty of the world. They  speak to my soul, refreshing it, and bringing it back safe to this body for another day.

Simple pleasures? Yes.

Universal? Yes, oh yes!

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Happiness is My Choice, 13

Waves Lapping on the Shore, ©Batya7, JustHavingFun

Writing this piece, on the eve of Passover, is the last thing most Jews would think is important. As Jewish holidays commence after sundown, the daylight hours before the Passover seder are easily the busiest for many Jews. The house has been searched top to bottom for chametz (i.e., leavened products). Ordinary year-round utensils are stored away and new ones designated for Passover use have been brought out. The whole house is topsy turvy. A yearly chaos, hated yet beloved.

Many preparations need to be performed during the day before the seder: calling friends and family to wish them a happy holiday, making sure the children have matching socks, last minute purchases because yet another guest is coming. And the cooking!

I used to spend the entire day before the seder cooking and preparing. I felt like an artist, carefully selecting my ingredients like colors, figuring quantities like determining to use a fine paintbrush or a trowel. My palate consisted of chicken and vegetables for the golden soup, and tan matzah balls to accompany it. Romaine lettuce provided the green. Red was the beef tongue I prepared, a delicacy saved for twice a year. Wine and grape juice provided rich burgundy and purple colors.

All of the busy-ness gave me so much pleasure. Then sunset would fall and I’d light my holiday candles, singing the ancient blessing. The men would come home from synagogue about an hour later, and we’d start the seder. The children would participate, the youngest saying the mah nishtanah. We’d all groan about the amount of food to eat at midnight and the late hour the seder would finish at. Somebody would retire to the sofa and fall asleep, inevitably. Strangely, I’d look forward to the washing up ritual, making sure the kitchen was in order for the next day’s festive noon meal, although ordinarily I dislike cleanup. I was very much “in the present” at those times in the past, not blindly participating in the ritual, but appreciating the ability to do what I was doing.

Wavelets, © Batya7, JustHavingFun

I’m not preparing a seder this year. I will be a guest. I will not have the same pleasures as previous years; I expect I will have new pleasures. I can enjoy another’s family customs and make new memories. I can be in the moment yet feel the echoes of years past lap against my mind like wavelets upon the shore.

I could choose to dwell on what I don’t have—but rather, I choose to enjoy what the present provides. If I live in the negative shoals I will only bring sorrow and misery to my life. I choose happiness, being present in the current day. I choose to open my eyes to the beauty that is every day and grab at the chances for being open to miracles. For isn’t each day a new miracle?

Redemption is near. Until then, I choose happiness.

Happiness is My Choice, 12

Expanded, ballooned, swelled—that’s how my heart behaved when I heard the announcement. Increased, surged, rose—that’s how my joy reacted upon learning the news.

One of my oldest friend’s oldest daughter just got married! I held this child when she was four hours old and now she and her beloved stood under the chuppah/marriage canopy as her parents did before her. I danced and hugged. My heart was full.

Other friends just became grandparents! The first grandchild, a girl, was born to their firstborn whose wedding I was privileged to attend last year. I delighted in the family’s joy at the wedding and blessed the new couple for a long, happy married life. Their well-being became my heart’s desire, their future as precious as that of my own children. Now the joy continues.

So why am I so happy some might wonder. Others might be jealous, blasé, or worse, bitter. I am grateful to have a heart that sings when others encounter happy tidings. Why not be happy for my friends? Their fortune, their gains, the fruition of their dreams does not detract from anything that is due to me. I am not losing anything or threatened.

Quite the contrary. The Creator wants us to be happy so He gives us opportunities to be happy. We need to recognize these opportunities and grab them with gusto! When we are happy with our own lot, the world looks brighter and everyone else’s good fortune rains upon us as well.

Ben Zoma says:
Who is rich?
The one who is appreciates what he has…
(Talmud—Avot 4:1)

Don’t I deserve happiness? Of course I do! That is the way Man is meant to live. Hashem gives me all I need; my needs will always be met. I know that everything coming to me will be provided… but sometimes it doesn’t feel that way. My wants are not always in concordance with my needs. I need shelter, clothing, nourishment, health. I have all that. Maybe I also want that vacation trip, a newer car,  relief from bills, and the ability to eat anything I want when I want without consequences. (The former three are within the realm of the possible and the latter is a pipe dream for sure!)

So how do I stand it—no, bask in it—when others around me “get” something and I don’t? Reframe the situation.

Others receive no gifts that are being withheld from me. Others get what they deserve. For whatever reason, I am not destined at this moment to receive that same gift. That doesn’t mean I will never have the new car or the means to go on vacation. I understand that if I do what I need to do in this world to be a kind, moral, and righteous person, I will be showered from Above with all that is coming to me.

Sharing joy in the blessings my friends experience enlivens me and wraps me in the surety that there is a Presence for Good in the universe. It binds me to my people. It creates good will. Sharing someone else’s happiness grows and grows. When we can view the world with eyes focused on the bounty available to us, we can only increase our own happiness and satisfaction with our lives.

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Happiness Is My Choice, 11

Windowsill

Looking up and outside all I see is possibilities.

Sitting on the sofa, glancing outside: the window blinds are open, sunlight illuminates the plants on the windowsill, the sky is blue, and  a mug of coffee steaming on a coaster — life is good.

I woke up. Yikes, those birds are loud!  Look! It’s a whole hour earlier than I’d planned to wake up. Better turn off the alarm clock so it doesn’t startle me later. Don’t want the toes to be cold; slide feet into the fuzzy slippers. My knees creak as I walk across the room. The mirror catches my eye. My hair looks like the rooster’s pride!

I woke up.

I woke up.

The furnace clicks on and the blower purrs warm air. An unseasonable freeze grabbed the region last night. I’m warm and decently clad. Heat some water for the coffee. Breakfast choices? I’ll settle for oatmeal, my old favorite.

Thank you G-d for starting my day with comfort and optimism. Did I ever thank you for the color green? Thanks. And thank you for hair I can simply tame with the pass of a hairbrush.

Happiness is My Choice, 10

There’s a lot to be said about the practice of contemplation and self-improvement. In these days between the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, and the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur—the so-called Ten Days of Repentance—we turn our thoughts toward our actions and character traits which have allowed us to act in a particular manner. This period is a time for appreciation of our freedom to use our wills for good or for selfish ends. We don’t flagellate ourselves when we find ourselves lacking; rather, we contemplate the means to change ourselves for the better.

I liken this week to an employee performance review. Like the yearly progress assessment, we review our success in achieving goals set in the previous season and we formulate future goals. Where do I excel? How can I parlay this strength toward future endeavors? Where can I be better? What tools can I use to improve what is sub-par? Have I failed utterly in any area? What is taking me off track? And if I just can’t proceed in that positive direction yet, what is holding me back? On Yom Kippur, we give a full accounting to the Boss and state how we may improve ourselves toward fulfilling the Company’s goals.

Rather than castigate and flagellate myself for perceived imperfections, I can choose to look at this annual review as an opportunity to learn more about myself. Others may quake in their shoes, fearing punishment and retribution, but I choose to take the opportunity to reboot myself as it were, and get a fresh start.

Rabbi Ezra Schwartz reminded us on Rosh Hashanah that we are not bad people. We just need improvements.

Improvements. This thought makes me … happy. Otherwise, I would be so despondent all of the time, wallowing in guilt and unhappiness for my failures and inconsistencies. If I could not take the opportunity to move on from today into an improved tomorrow, I would feel like the executioner’s sword was inching closer and closer—sure doom—defining my fate. We have so many characteristics that make us who we are. Some are expressed at the wrong times, others are not expressed often enough. Our characteristics are many, like the seeds of the pomegranate which—once you find them and use them—can be a delight for the eye and palate.

Instead of facing severe punishment, we are given a chance to take our measure accurately, and alter the pattern. The Hebrew word middah (מִדָה) literally means “a measurement,” and also refers to character traits. How poorly clothing would fit if the tailor could not make adjustments to the pattern. So, too, we are given the ability to contemplate the pattern and adjust the reality. We are given a new chance at life, forgiveness, and our eyes are opened to our true characters!

Yeah, it’s scary facing our shortcomings. I don’t like admitting where I’ve failed, fallen short, not risen to the moment or shown the darker side of myself. but rather than quake with trepidation, I’m calculating, building, planning, adjusting. I’m using my Ten Days of Repentance to adjust the template and shift the pattern.

Hope! Everyone gets a second chance; not everyone can use it properly. I’m taking this opportunity to increase my internal awareness and assess how good it can get. This is my choice, leading to happiness.

For all of my friends and not-yet friends, I wish you a meaningful period of contemplation, leading to a fulfilling Yom Kippur/Day of Atonement, to be sealed in the Book of Life for a good year!

Happiness Is My Choice, 9

What difference does it make

What difference does it make? – Peanuts © Charles Schulz

I could have put my pedal to the metal and sped up when being asked to slow down. I could have seated the guests on the right, facing a painting, instead of the left, across from the bookcase. I could have sliced the dessert lengthwise instead of widthwise. I could have worn my hair styled in a fancy manner instead of wrapped in the bohemian scarf. I could have done many things just for spite, control, or defiance.

For some reason, all of these mild requests irked me and had me thinking to do the opposite of whatever the request was. My back arched and my fur bristled. “Who do you think you are?” my inner control freak screeched.

A well-meaning person made a request of me and I bristled internally with hubris: “I’ll darned well do it my way!”, “Harumph! Who are you to tell me what to do?”, “No, I’m not going to kowtow to you”, and “Who asked you?” I could have worked myself into a fine tizzy, gotten angry, spit out unkind words. What was happening? What set me off like that?

Do I have ODD: Oppositional Defiant Disorder? No. It’s more simple than that: I felt irritated.

Irritation, a feeling of not being in control, led to arrogance. My way or the highway. Conceit, pride, haughtiness, and egotism all raised their crusty, creaky voices to get a piece of the action. Hauteur, contemptuousness, smugness, disrespect, and self-importance yammered for attention. My self became more important than you, her, him, them, and those others. My yetzer hara, the “evil inclination,” the nether self, that lying, poisonous snake coiled in the pit of my gut, took over my brain and implanted insanity.

Oh dear reader, don’t think I’m a saint because I identified the snake. He still lashed and slashed. I recognized the beast, then let him feast anyway. I fumed; he gnashed and snarled, gurgled and fussed. I stewed in smug self-righteousness… until it tired me out. I don’t want to be that person. Happiness is my choice. Lest I let the beast and chaos rule, lest I get into an accident or hurt someone’s feelings, I needed to oust it. I needed to choose what to do, how to respond.

But the first step was recognizing what was going on.

I’m not normally offended or offensive. I’m typically calm and not snide. I want my life to be pleasant and placid. I choose to surround myself with good: good intentions, good wishes, good feelings. I want to have the pure joy you get from recognizing someone else’s good fortune, taking pleasure in the beauty and good surrounding us. I want to dance at weddings, reveling in the gladness. I want to spread smiles and good cheer. I have the discipline to put myself in a place to harvest joy.

What difference does it make?
—Charlie Brown

I consciously remember good events and minimize the not so nice. I find ways to allow others their faults and let them have a “pass” when they’re not filling my expectations. I’m easy, pretty unflappable. The world will keep turning if I am not in control. Let it be. Irritation pushed me down a short slide into the maws of unhappiness. It erected a barrier between me and my serenity.

I can’t allow anything to exist between me and serenity. If I do, I get detoured from my daily connection with the One, the Source of All Good. I can put that snake down by refusing to succumb to its venom. All joy beckons me because I recognize the illness causing my discomfort: a false sense of reality. I’m not so important that my will matters above all. Does it really matter whether they sit here or there? Charlie Brown had it right: What difference does it make?

Next time the evil inclination bites me, I’ll know what to do: I’ll drive slower, let the guests choose their own seats, slice the dessert as each wants, and wear my hair as I please.

Happiness is My Choice, 8

My happiness, serenity, contentment, appreciation, and ability to give depends upon my attitude. Any challenge I am given is a loving nudge from G-d saying, “Hey, you need to work on something to refine your character and here’s a chance to do so.” He only gives us good. How we view situations changes agitation to mere irritation, anger to understanding, stress to an opportunity to practice patience, and adversity to a chance to grow.

What is my attitude toward things that happen in life? Where does it come from?

The people I surround myself with influences my attitude greatly. When I’m with an impatient crowd awaiting a bus that is wildly off schedule and late, I can pick up on that irritability, anger, stress and go along with the crowd, start to feel twitchy myself. Where is the bus? Harrumph, I can huff and puff while looking at my watch every two minutes. Each glimpse at the watch face without the bus appearing hikes my anxiety higher. How dare they? I’m going to be late. Mutter mutter. I’ve even heard people complaining about how much time it takes to pick up wheelchair-bound people, delaying the bus further. Grumble grumble.

I am stronger than my surroundings, however. I can choose to channel the anxiety, fear, disappointment into thoughts that bolster my spirit instead of feeding the snake of ill-humor. I can focus on the good even though the situation discomfits me. To those who grumble about wheelchairs, let them never suffer the helplessness you feel when you are dependent upon others for transportation, the lack of autonomy and diminution of the ability to travel. I remember with great gladness how my ability to walk was restored to me after an injury that rendered me incapable of even bending my leg! What a wonderful thing that people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to travel unassisted can now travel by public transportation!

I choose to wait patiently at the doctor’s office as a gift. Fuming will not make the appointments move any more quickly. Anger and annoyance won’t get me into the exam room any sooner. I sit back glad that I have doctors to watch over me, happy to have health insurance coverage. Or, on a more esoteric note, I’ll contemplate why dogs are hairy and rabbits are furry while I’m waiting. Look at my fingernails. Compose a blog post. Ripple my abdominal muscles. Ponder why Pluto was demoted from planet status. Wonder what the world will look like in 2100. Etc., etc.

Changing ones attitude requires being aware what attitude exists in the first place.

When I surround myself with kind, thoughtful people who act in a genteel manner, I become more like them. I remember to say please and thank you. I give smiles readily. I greet people with a glad face. I act respectful and feel respected. I absorb attitude from those around me. I gravitate to people who exhibit their happiness in spiritual ways. Being around them makes me feel uplifted. I feel hopeful and get sparked that I can better myself.

I ask myself when I do something or react to something: Is that the way the person I want to be would act?

Did you ever imagine yourself to be the Queen?

The person I want to be is kind, soft-spoken, friendly, respectful, pleasant, loving, disciplined, ladylike, calm, and giving. Benevolent, even. By envisioning and trying to live like that person, I take on her characteristics. Therein lies one aspect of my happiness. It’s all in my attitude. I’m not being handed troubles; rather, I’m given challenges from the One Who has my best interest at heart.

I can make happiness my choice.

55+ Happiness Quotes to Make Your Life Better

Today is another day to think about happiness. Especially #30.

J'adore Journey

IMG_9056

  1. “Science of happiness lies in our understanding. The secrets of happiness lie in our capacity to expand our heart.” – Amit Ray
  2. “Whoever is happy will make others happy.” – Anne Frank
  3. “The moments of happiness we enjoy take us by surprise. It is not that we seize them, but that they seize us.” – Ashley Montagu
  4. “Let us never know what old age is. Let us know the happiness time brings, not count the years.” – Ausonius
  5. “Action may not always bring happiness; but there is no happiness without action.” – Benjamin Disraeli
  6. “If you have not taken the time to define what happiness means to you, what have your spent your whole life pursuing?” – Bo Bennett
  7. “When we recall the past, we usually find that it is the simplest things – not the great occasions – that in retrospect give off the greatest glow of happiness.” –…

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Laughter

sloth - Thowra_uk

“Hi there. Ain’t I such a cutie pie?”
sloth” by Thowra_uk, used under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Nothing fills the soul with pleasure the way a good belly laugh does! 

Memory 1: A close friend accompanied me to a lecture one evening several years ago. On the way home, I decided to stop at the supermarket for milk. We walked through the aisles toward the very furthest corner at the back of the store where (naturally) the milk was kept. On the way we passed the greeting card display. So we did what women do; we paused to look at a few.

You wouldn’t ordinarily think that greeting cards would be a source of great amusement.

However, some are good for a giggle. Maybe you’d get a few chuckles over a good quote from a “Shoebox” card by Hallmark. Or perhaps Maxine would get you grinning. I’ve dwelled over a few funny cat cards to be sure.  ….. sooooo … (pause for the punch line) …

greeting cards

cards” by Tom Magliery, used under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Luckily for us, few people shopped at that particular store at that particular time on that particular date or 9-1-1(1) would have been inundated with calls to rescue the two middle-aged ladies who were rolling on the floor(2) laughing for over an hour!!!

That was a great belly laugh!

spoon

“Speak into the microphone!”

Memory 2: My sisters and I had only one first cousin (our father was an only child and my mom’s sister had only one child). Needless to say, family was small but precious. It was the night before our cousin’s wedding and we four girls went out for coffee and cake without the parents. No bachelorette party but something nice. We were reminiscing, swapping stories, teasing our cousin about marriage, comparing lipstick, etc., and all of the things girls talked about in those days. We were jolly but not outrageous. I remember playing the interviewer, holding up my spoon as if it were a microphone, and asking an interview question around the table. The bride and my sister #2 said something into the “mike” and we were laughing. When I held the “mike” to my sister #1, she was laughing so hard that she burst into tears! At that point, the rest of us lost it and started howling laughing, too. For years afterward, the phrase, “Speak into the microphone,” would propel #1 into paroxysms of tears and laughter.

Now, that really was a great belly laugh!

Have some joy this week.

PS – Doesn’t that little sloth just make you want to smile until your face hurts?  Cuuute!

**************
1. American emergency contact telephone number. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/9-1-1
2. Only in the idiomatic sense; but afterwards, our sides ached from the laughter as if we had been rolling on the floor!

Happiness Is My Choice, 7

Heather Garden early May, Fort Tryon Park

Heather Garden early May, Fort Tryon Park

Death is imprecise and scary. It’s an unfathomable mystery. Yet I think it holds a lesson on happiness. I’ll tell you in my sideways fashion, ending with flowers.

I think we can learn about happiness from comments made about the deceased, rather, and incorporate them into our lives to live a happier life.

Funeral on the Corner

A life well-led impacted many others, bringing goodness, kindness, and happiness into the world.

Why is this on my mind? A funeral was held on the corner across from my building today, and the turnout was large. An elderly man passed away, the founder of one of the synagogues. His coffin was borne out of the sanctuary that he helped establish and set out before the mourners. A microphone and speaker conveyed the comments made by one after another.

I regret I never got to meet this man. From the comments made by rabbis, community leaders, people who knew him,  I gleaned he was kind, charitable, gave attention to people in an undemonstrative way, and did hidden good deeds. Certainly his sons and sons-in-law who spoke had appreciated and given honor to their father during his life and told him how much he was loved. But here, in front of the community, they wailed how much more they should have appreciated the father. They weren’t posturing for the crowd. These heartfelt words rang out to alert us all how much we must act to cherish people in their lifetimes. No amount of love or regard is too much.

So there is a lesson how to gain happiness: cherish others, give love, appreciate.

What is love? Rabbi Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler said, “We don’t give to someone because we love them; we love them because we give to them.” I think there is some sideways corollary here about acquiring happiness. We gain happiness not because we are pleased with something, but we become happy because we do something to make a pleasant situation happen.

Here’s simple example: I like to look at flowers and plants. Yesterday I attended a tour of the Heather Garden at Fort Tryon Park. It added to my happiness because I consciously had in mind that I was going to appreciate the beauty and glean as much as I could from the experience. I wasn’t going just to go for the sake of going; I prepared myself for the experience of enjoying the garden. My appreciation of the garden fed my happiness.

Another: How do I get happiness in relationships with others? I thank them, they like being appreciated, it creates good will. Next time they deal with me there will be a kernel of kind regard for me. Simple equation. Be nice, get nice back. That’s a good basis for happiness.

I’m learning about happiness from everything around me, even funerals and flowers. Attitude has everything to do with happiness. I can choose to be happy.

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