Tag Archives: Progress

Do You Let Yourself Be Happy?

“Folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be.” –Abraham Lincoln

Hello friend,

This week, I was at the library with my daughter. After we had found her books, she wandered over to the Wii games, which are next to the movies. As a lifelong movie lover, I couldn’t help but stop and browse. It didn’t take long, of course, to find a few that got me excited and longing to watch. Then I caught myself in my daydream, had a good chuckle, and thought, “Yeah, right! When am I EVER going to find a couple of consecutive hours to watch a movie???”

That clarity about the reality of my life and schedule comes from years of experience being me. I definitely place strict boundaries around the few things that are my highest priorities and don’t allow anything to interfere with them. Because of that, the other things that are only somewhat or fairly important to me tend to get left off the schedule entirely. I don’t like that so many things that I enjoy have fallen by the wayside–and that other things that I am curious to learn have not been explored—but I have never been able to come up with a solution that sits right with me. I am just so protective of my big loves.

Because of my strict adherence to my highest priorities, I am definitely hanging out with my kids as much as possible every day. I am getting in a workout before they wake up every day. And I am sneaking in a little writing time every day. The love, challenge, wellness, and sense of fulfillment I get from this combination of priorities allows me to maintain the very high level of Happiness that has been a part of my identity for the last twenty years. But is it enough?

Are my strict boundaries and elimination of other categories of joys effectively limiting my happiness?

That thought freaks me out. The very last thing I want to do is limit my own happiness.

A few years ago, I read an article that got shared around social media about a palliative care nurse who listed what she came to believe to be the “Five Biggest Regrets of Dying People”. It was great fodder for journal entries, because of course I wanted to check in with myself to be sure I was not going to have those regrets. In one form or another, I have asked you about the regrets in these letters over the years, things like daring to be authentic, not working too much, staying in touch with loved ones, and having the courage to express your feelings. Those were all very clear to me.

But there was one regret on that short list that seemed to elude my grasp: I wish I had let myself be happy.

“Let myself.” There was something just vague enough about this idea when I was processing the others that I decided to leave it alone. I didn’t address it. But somehow, the idea has stuck with me all this time. I haven’t forgotten it. Or, maybe, it hasn’t let me forget it. In any case, it is time to face it.

How does one let oneself be happy? Or, perhaps it is better addressed from the other end: How does one KEEP oneself from being happy? 

I tend to think of Happiness as something you choose. You have to make the decision and keep making the decision. I am sure that sounds oversimplified and perhaps naïve, and maybe I will cop to that. I definitely think it is a choice—that concept is simple—but I think the choice itself is a complicated one.

Happiness has some layers to it. Everyone has a different idea of what goes into it. I once wrote to you that my version of “Happiness Stew” consists of Authenticity (living your Truth), Connectedness (to the Divine and/or loved ones), an atmosphere of Progress and Growth, a pervasive attitude of Gratitude, and lots of “Good For The Soul” activities. A few years later, that recipe still sounds about right to me.

So, given those ingredients, how do I imagine either letting myself be happy or keeping myself from being happy?

In some ways, I think each of these ingredients can play a part. Of course, living authentically—being unapologetic about who you are and what your soul calls you to do despite what others expect from you—can grant you the freedom to do more of the things you love and truly find your tribe in the world, both of which can play a huge role in your happiness. Living a life that does not honor your calling would make true Happiness a challenge. I have certainly tried hard on this one throughout my adult life, and I have reaped the benefits in my heart and soul in proportion to my authenticity. I have concluded that fake is ultimately unhappy.

Having that feeling of being connected to others and to something greater than yourself tends to give our existence a deeper meaning and value, which can lead to, at worst, greater satisfaction, and perhaps greater happiness. Isolating yourself would certainly seem to take away that “meaning” aspect–or at least change the meaning—and potentially diminish your happiness. On this front, I can admit to some successes and some failures, or at least doubts. I have definitely felt connected to the Divine, a feeling very much shaped by my spiritual and scientific worldview. With people, though, I have been more hit-and-miss. Much like my priorities mentioned at the top, I have kept almost all of my attention on a small number of people, mostly my family. Those relationships have been richly rewarding, but I cannot help but feel I have not cast my net wide enough and reached out to all of the people that I could have in an effort to truly find my tribe when it comes to like-minded adults, in or out of my career interests. That is a potential stone unturned when it comes to how certain I feel about letting myself be happy. For the moment, I will just say that my suspicion is that I could be happier if I could find that tribe.

Continually learning and stretching your limits—the atmosphere of Growth—provides that edge that keeps life interesting and engaging, which are, again, crucial.   On this Progress front, I feel like I have done pretty well most of the time. I have spent a great deal of energy on trying to expand my mind, expand my knowledge, and expand my empathy. There are still many more books to read, skills to learn, and places to visit, but I have been pretty consistent with my efforts and feel greatly rewarded every time I lean into my growing edge.

The “Good For The Soul” activities—the things that make you feel full of peace and joy and love–is another aspect of the Happiness Stew that I have been keen on trying to maximize. Running through the sprinkler, snuggling up with a good book, tickle fights with my kids, and writing this letter to you are just a few of the many ways I try to sprinkle my life with the good stuff, the stuff that just feels right. I do think Happiness is possible without a full schedule of these activities, but they certainly put the cherry on the sundae of Life. Prioritizing them in my schedule—and being fully engaged in them during their time—is truly a way of letting myself be happy.

Conversely, I can see how consciously choosing to deny yourself these treats and smiles would be regret-worthy later on. I have always fancied the idea of learning the guitar, as I would appreciate the challenge but then, even more so, I would have so many good-for-the-soul moments in playing songs and singing. I smile even as I type these words to you about playing those songs. I can see how I might be legitimately denying myself a greater Happiness by choosing to not begin this learning. That prospect makes me shudder.

Despite the importance of all of these Happiness components—Authenticity, Growth, Connectedness, and Joys–I can’t help but think that in the end, the single most important contributing factor in the degree to which you allow yourself to be happy is the presence and pervasiveness of Gratitude in your life.

After all these years, I find it to be no coincidence that the year I began writing in my journal every day was the year I began my life of uninterrupted happiness. Of course, I would love to make the direct leap from Journaling to Happiness—or even to advertise that all happy people journal—but I think that would be a bit of an oversell. No, the real link I claim is the one between Journaling and Gratitude. I have always said that the beautiful thing about the clarity I gained when I started journaling is that it made obvious the countless gifts in my life. Suddenly I was so much more thankful for it all—truly, the whole thing—and so much more aware of each individual gift that I had not recognized as such before. It was only after spending some quality time really soaking up all of that gratitude and the implications of it that I realized fully for the first time that the deep, enduring Happiness that had enveloped my entire existence was due to this newfound, profound gratitude that I had been feeling.

I also realized that I got to choose that gratitude. I had to keep cultivating it, consciously and intentionally. I recognized that the best way for me to cultivate it was through my daily journaling. I found that it had become my habit to write about my many blessings, and that writing always seemed to put me in a mindset to notice more and more blessings. It snowballed, and suddenly I was seeing gifts in places I had not noticed them before. As my recognition grew, so grew my gratitude. As my gratitude grew, so grew my happiness. Soon both were so entrenched that I could not imagine either ever leaving me.

And they haven’t. In twenty years.

So, have I let myself be happy? In so many ways, I would have to say it is more like I made myself be happy. I chose myself happy. Every day. Every journal entry. Every “Life is beautiful” tagline at the end of each entry as a reminder. For a while, I chose those words, chose to find the blessings, chose Gratitude. After that, though—I think as a reward for my choosing—it was all there was to choose anymore. That, for me, is Happiness.

How about you? Have you let yourself be happy? Open up your journal and write yourself through this rich and rewarding topic. Probably it is easiest to begin with your own recipe for Happiness. What are the core ingredients? Does my recipe ring true to you? If not, what will you add or subtract? Is Happiness a choice? Okay, now that you have defined the main ingredients of a happy life, try to determine if you are getting your fill of each. In what aspects are you doing very well? In what aspects are you falling short? On a scale of one to one hundred—with 100 being Supremely Happy—how happy are you? How does that compare to the other people in your life? Now look at the main issue of the day: How happy have you LET yourself be? Is your rating as it is because you have held yourself back? In what areas of your life have you sabotaged your Happiness potential? Have you let Fear hide your light or keep you from making connections? Have you stayed too much in your comfort zone? Have you followed the pack instead of the beat of your own drummer? Have you denied yourself your good-for-the-soul activities, thinking they were too childish or self-indulgent? In what other ways have you stymied your happiness? Are these things enough that you can envision “I didn’t let myself be happy” as one of your deathbed regrets? Are these things you can change before they get to that point? What step can you take today to allow yourself to be happier? Will you make that move? I hope so. Leave me a reply and let me know: How happy have you let yourself be?

Let go,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you today, please pass it on. Share Happiness!

A New Year’s Question: How Do You Want to FEEL This Year?

DSC_0784“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” –Henry David Thoreau

Hello friend,

Happy New Year! Here we are again. Every year around this time, the millions and millions of people who have set resolutions for the coming year begin their quests to live better. They are going to the gym, quitting sugar or alcohol, looking for a new job, going back to school, reaching out to old friends, starting a journal (right???), or just being more patient. Whatever it is, people are starting something or quitting something in the name of improving themselves and being happier. That is definitely something I can get behind!

So, what about me? What is my big resolution? I am terrible at this! I really am. I have never really made resolutions. The last few years, though, have found me very contemplative around the holidays and looking ahead to the vast potential of the coming calendar cycle. It has been a fertile period for my mind to stew about what needs to be added to my life, how I need to get better, and what habits I need to develop to make my dreams come true. I want to advance the cause, after all, and what better time to check-in and refocus than the start of a new year?

I have come around to the practice of allowing my thoughts about this to radiate around one basic question: How do I want to FEEL this year? I think that for most people, the process of resolution-making at New Year’s begins with thoughts like “What do I want to DO this year?” or “What do I want to STOP DOING this year?” I can see how those thoughts could be effective for the majority of people, but I have found over the years that, as with most things, I don’t seem to fit in with the majority on this one.

When I base my thoughts around the DO THIS or DON”T DO THAT resolutions, they just don’t grow roots in my heart and soul. They don’t resonate. They feel like orders to me, and anyone who knows me knows that I don’t take orders very well! I cannot be put in a box. When I focus on how I want to feel, though, it allows me a range of DOs and DON’Ts that I can flow betwixt and between throughout the year, changing course as my intuition directs me toward the feelings I have deemed most desirable. It also keeps pushing me until the year ends, because as I complete one goal, the feeling I want still demands to be felt. Thus, I must press on to the next thing that will conjure the feeling. It is the right mix of demanding yet still flexible that suits my personality.

So, what do I want to feel this year? Well, the easiest answer for me every year is fit and healthy. I would like to heal up some injuries still lingering from last year and free my body to do all of the activities that free my soul. For the first time ever, feeling fit and healthy this year is also going to include a weight loss component. Although I have some initial plans for how that is going to work involving nutrition and different exercises, I will be open to the ways my body reacts. If I follow the feeling, it will keep me on the right track. The healthy feeling will be an easy one for me to chase and stay honest about.

The other feeling that has been pressing on my mind as I enter the New Year has proven to be tougher to pin down. The part that is clear is its source. Over the past several months, I have been feeling increasingly pent-up regarding my progress toward the life of my dreams. I have not been making it happen, and that drives me nuts. More and more nuts every day. I am trying to be realistic. I don’t expect all of my wildest dreams to come true this year. But I need to know I am taking real, measurable steps toward those dreams. I cannot be stalled. That part, I have found, is key for me. It is not enough to hit one of my goals and then stop for a while to revel in it. That is how I get the pent-up feeling that currently courses through my veins. The drumbeat of my soul’s calling never stops, so I must never stop marching to it.

What is the name of this feeling that I want to keep feeling, though? What do I call this thing that I want my goals and plans to revolve around? Bear with me here, because I know that writing myself through it will help me find clarity (which is exactly why I journal every day).

I want to feel like I am really advancing my dreams, making big progress toward the big rocks that I want/need to move to find any career peace and satisfaction. I want to end this uncertainty about whether I can succeed in making a living doing the things that I love. I know what I want my career to look like; I just have to make the vision a reality. So, there is a lot of doing to do. The excuse-making and procrastination have to be shut down hard. I must make those tangible steps. Things like getting coaching clients, writing jobs, getting through volumes of The Journal Project, and compiling a list of posts for a potential book based on Journal of You.

Okay, so is accomplishment a feeling? Maybe that’s it. I’m just dying to be doing my thing more often and reaching people. I want to feel like I am making a difference. Yes, now that strikes a chord in me! I want to feel like I am making a difference. I want to be making a positive impact on lots of people. Right now, I am not, and that is very discouraging. I want to get in the action! I’m pent-up. I need to get engaged. That would make me feel useful and effective. That would release some of this tension that I’ve been carrying around for too long. It would be a big weight off my shoulders. I would LOVE that! So, maybe that’s it. Maybe, in the end, what I really want to feel this year is relieved.   I want the relief of setting down my burden, a burden that amounts to not living my dream and not living up to my potential. If I could feel the relief of setting that burden down, it would be a wonderful year, indeed!

How about you? What is the feeling that would make this the best year for you? Open up your journal and think about your goals, dreams, plans, hopes, and resolutions for the coming year. Write them all down. Now think about the ways each of these achievements would make you feel. What are the feelings that come up inside you? How much do they change depending upon the plans or resolutions that you are thinking about? Do your biggest dreams elicit completely different emotions than your standard resolutions or plans? Is there anything you want to feel in the coming year that has not been stirred by your current goals and resolutions? Why do you think your plans have left that important feeling out? Is it something you feel to be unworthy of or too much to ask for? What do you think of my method of starting with my desired feelings and setting my plans and goals from there? Would it work for you, too? Do you make New Year’s resolutions every year? Why do you think you do or don’t? Do you make them often at other times of the year as well? How good are you at sticking to your resolutions or goals? Which types of resolutions do you have a good record with? Which type do you bail out of or fail at quickly? What is it about the goals themselves that make you more or less likely to succeed? Is it the feelings they will generate? What is the most important thing you plan to do this year? Leave me a reply and let me know: What will it feel like to live your best year? 

Your life is now,

William

P.S. If this made you consider your journey through Life in a different way, please share it with someone you know.

The Birthday Question: Am I Any Closer To My Dreams This Year?

DSC_1153“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.–H. Jackson Brown Jr.

Hello friend,

It’s my birthday weekend! In the midst of celebrating with my family and the accompanying sugar coma, my birthday tends to be a contemplative time, too. I think a lot about how my life is going, highlights and lowlights from the previous year, and what more I want to do before my time on Earth runs out. One thing I never really wonder about anymore is how happy I am. I haven’t had to question that in many years. I am aware of it, of course, because of my daily journaling, but it’s pretty clear to me that my happiness runs deep. With that question not weighing on my mind, I have found myself this weekend pondering a different idea. The issue I really want to settle up with myself on is this: With all of my passion and my blog posts about getting people to identify their dreams and take steps to live them, have I moved any closer to my OWN dreams since my last birthday?

Hmmm…that’s a tough one. Well, maybe it’s not so tough to figure out, but it is almost certainly going to be tough to accept the truth of the answer. On first blush, I would say that I haven’t moved anywhere, that my dreams are just as far away on this birthday as they were on my last. After all, I am still not making any money as a writer. Or as a speaker. Or as a coach. Okay, this exercise is already depressing me! It can’t be as bad as it looks on the surface. Or can it? I actually feel better about where I’m headed than what the surface says, so there must be something to be found with a deeper look.

Because I need to hear some good news after that dreary peek at the surface, I am going to start with the positives. First and foremost, my passion for my kids and to be the best father I can be is going quite well. I am working completely around their schedules, and we are getting tons of quality time. That is my biggest win by far. I’ll take it! That one is sort of in a separate category, though, different—but should it be???—from my career aspirations and the other drumbeats of my soul. So, I am claiming it as a definite positive but keeping it in its own discussion for now.

How about the rest of those hopes and dreams? Well, at my last birthday, I was early in my first class in my new pursuit: Life Coaching. How has that venture progressed? On the positive side, I worked very hard for several months, learned a lot, and greatly improved my coaching. And I loved the work and the difference it made in people’s lives. Yeah! On the downside, as Summer approached and Life got busier than I wanted it to, instead of doing my usual routine of trying to do everything but not having enough time to do anything well, I actually made the conscious decision to put my training and business start-up on the back burner while other things took center stage. Even though I know what my next class choice is—I even bought the textbook already—I haven’t felt free enough to pull the trigger on enrolling yet. So, on the Coaching front, I am mostly giving myself a failing grade because of the way I am currently stalled. It is disappointing.

I guess that when trying to determine how well I have done in a year in my big dream areas—my big rocks–it takes a multi-dimensional perspective. It is not just about where I am in relation to the goal. I must also take into consideration which direction I am heading and how much momentum I have going that direction. With the Life Coaching, for example, I actually made a lot of progress from where I was a year ago, but right now I don’t feel so good about it because I am essentially stalled out, carrying no momentum in the direction of my goal.

How about my big dream: writing? Well, one thing that is conclusively positive is that I have worked consistently hard at getting these letters out to you each week, building up the library of posts nearer to the level of potentially creating a book out of them one day. I quite like some of them, and I definitely feel like Journal of You is going in the right direction. Yeah!

My other major writing project—what I call “TJP”, short for The Journal Project—is a different story altogether. This labor or love has sat dormant for much of the year due to time constraints, which truly pains my heart on a daily basis. I am miles and miles from my goal. That stinks! On the other hand, I have been more diligent about it in recent weeks and am ever more determined that it is a worthwhile endeavor. So, while the position is terrible, the direction and momentum are trending positive, which somehow makes me feel pretty good about it. (As it turns out, I find that the direction/momentum thing holds more sway over my attitude than does my actual proximity to the goal. I could be right near the goal, but if I am not feeling myself going passionately that way at the moment, I don’t feel good about my situation. But even if I am only at the beginning of a long haul—and TJP is a very long haul—if I am rolling and believing, I am loving that situation.)

I have tried so hard to be single-minded on these priorities and not allow for distractions and laziness to creep in. My dreams don’t suffer those well at all. Time is of the essence, and I hate when I am not on task. However, somehow a wildcard entered my life this year and threw everything for a loop, stealing time and energy from the other big rocks that I have mentioned (it reminds me of the old Allen Saunders quote “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.). My skincare business seemed to just fall into my lap, and I have been wrestling with it ever since. On the one hand, I am resentful of it for stealing that time and energy from my more obvious dreams. On the other hand, I can’t help but see that it has the potential to return all of that time and energy—not to mention income and fulfillment—back to me in the future. So, it is a tough one for me, as I am not at all a compromiser and hate to see my other priorities get sacrificed in the least. And where am I with this one anyway? Well, it was not at all in my life on my last birthday, so by default you could say I am way far into it and doing well. In reality, I have a long ways to go before I feel I am doing well with it. And while I am headed in the right direction, momentum is tough to come by. The jury is out.

So, am I closer to my dreams here on my 43rd birthday than I was on my 42nd, or am I just a year closer to the grave? Maybe some of each. On the Life Coaching front, I am actually closer but am feeling further away. On my writing, I am closer, but not nearly as close as I hoped I would be. Depending upon one’s perspective, my glass could easily appear either half-full or half-empty. The results of my wildcard may determine to a great degree which view is correct, but I am going to go with the positive side anyway. Though the big results are not there yet, it has never been more clear to me that I am working on things that speak to my soul and are going to be of service to others. That means the world to me. And even though I feel the frustration and deep disappointment of leaving important pursuits out of my schedule, I am comforted by the fact that the tasks battling for my time and attention are things that I love to do. So, yes, maybe I am a little bit closer to my dreams on this birthday. I will just keep following my heart, one grinding step at a time. Surely my dreams will materialize along the way if I just keep going. Right???

How about you? How much closer have you moved toward your hopes and dreams in the past year? Open up your journal and give yourself a little Year in Review. Relative to your biggest dreams and the life you have imagined, where were you one year ago? Were you only beginning to consider your dreams, or were you already living the dream? What has happened since? Have you taken any bold steps or a giant leap of faith, or have yours been baby steps? Have you taken steps backward? Toward which dream have your biggest strides been made? How many different “big dream” categories do you have? Does it make any sense in this crazy-busy world of ours to have more than one thing that you are really passionate about and want to give your time and energy to? How willing are you to put one of your dreams on the back burner to pursue the others? How long are you able to neglect one of your big dreams before it starts to affect you, before you start feeling guilty or antsy or depressed? In relation to your big dreams, where do you think you will be next year compared to where you are now? A lot closer? A little? “Further away” is NOT one of your choices! Dreams give us hope. The pursuit of our dreams gives us life. It is my deepest hope that you are in hot pursuit of yours. Are you? Leave me a reply and let me know: Have you closed the gap on your dreams this year?

Don’t ever stop,

William

P.S. If this post resonates with you, I would greatly appreciate it if you would share it with your family and friends via social media or old-fashioned word-of-mouth. My hope is to positively impact as many people as possible every week, and I need your help to do that. Thanks in advance for your support.

Racism in America: How Far Have We REALLY Come?

DSC_0061 2“Racism is still with us. But it is up to us to prepare our children for what they have to meet, and, hopefully, we shall overcome.”   –Rosa Parks

Hello friend,

Last weekend, there were two pretty amazing stories in the news. First, it was the 50th Anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights March in Alabama, which was a significant moment in the Civil Rights Movement. That event fifty years ago–and those days of Jim Crow and the blatant, overt forms of racism that were commonplace and accepted in so much of this country— usually feels like a million years ago to me. I am thankful for that.

When I hear the words and see the deeds of so many old, raised-to-be-racist folks, I often have the thought, “Not that I wish them ill, but just the same, it will probably be a good thing when this generation dies off.” I like to see my generation as significantly more progressive, open-minded, and inclusive. Then I see the current generation of kids—my nieces and nephews and other students of mine—and how much more they are exposed to in the media and via the Internet. It seems to be the norm for them to have knowledge of—even if they are not always close with—historically marginalized people. Whether that is White kids having more Black friends, or high schoolers finally being willing to come out as gay, it feels as though we are on a one-way track to equality and acceptance in the current generation of young people. I love it!

But then comes the second amazing news story of last weekend. This was the one out of the University of Oklahoma, where the members of a fraternity, in a party bus and dressed in formal attire with their dates, were filmed while gleefully chanting a song about never letting a Black person—their word choice was not as politically correct as mine—into their fraternity, including a line about lynching. And this is where our seeming express train to equality and social justice jumps the track. What the heck?!?!

I first saw the video last Sunday and was completely floored by it. Of course I was outraged, too, but I was just so totally stunned that this would be happening in a group of college students from the current generation. It disturbed me greatly in that moment, but I also happened to be very busy right then and thus moved my thoughts past it out of necessity. It was two days later, driving alone in my car, when the topic re-entered my life via a talk radio program. Suddenly, the scab that was forming over my initial reaction was violently ripped off. Out came the emotions that had gone dormant in my busy-ness. In an instant, I became so sickened at the thought of this incident and the vivid image of the merry, fist-pumping, tuxedo-clad leader of the hate-filled chant. My gag reflex kicked in hard as a wave of nausea swept over me, and I very nearly had to pull the car over. Then tears came to my eyes in the sheer sadness of the whole thing. I was truly devastated at the thought of young people still living this way. Then I was smacked again with the realization that other people have to exist in their world as the targets of such hateful and narrow-minded people. The final straw was the thought of my own children—each half-Black and half-White—becoming victims of such blatant ignorance. It is a terrible thing to have to consider, to put it mildly.

So, when something like this happens in my country—and yes, I know this is only one incident and that many examples from the headlines of recent months, from Ferguson to New York City, could have been chosen—and my rose-colored glasses are ripped from my eyes, I have to wonder, “How far have we really come?” Seriously. Despite all of the outward signs of progress and of living peacefully amidst difference, how far could we really have come if a bunch of White, educated, middle-and-upper-class, college-age people are chanting gleefully about excluding and lynching Black people?

Like I said, I normally go through the world with rose-colored glasses on. Sure, I am aware of so many of our societal shortcomings, but I also tend to see people as inherently good, and I tend to be naturally inclined toward looking for the ways we are collectively moving forward. I am an optimist and a believer in our greatness. So when something like this blatantly racist chant finds its way into my consciousness, it is a real gut-punch. As I said, it makes me physically (and psychologically) nauseous. And beyond that, it just really makes me sad. Then I start to question my optimism. It is a quick path to me feeling very disillusioned. Are all of my assumptions about people incorrect? Have I given us—especially the younger generations—too much credit? Are we still mostly a bunch of ignorant, closed-minded bigots?

In my moments of disillusionment, it may be hard to see, but I really do my best to grasp for a more forgiving, positive outlook. I have to cling to that outlook in order to keep going. I know that there are an increasing number of examples of inclusivity and social justice in our society today. I also know that, despite the fact that kids may be exposed to a few more things from the Internet and the media earlier than we would like, they are also getting to see a lot more examples of diversity than we were as children.

I guess I just have to be cognizant of the fact that the influence of those aforementioned old, raised-to-be-racist folks isn’t going to just magically disappear simply because Hollywood has become more progressive. Those old bigots had children and taught them what they knew, and now those children have children. And even though awareness in general has been raised and political correctness is a force, those things do not automatically demolish generations of racism passed down. Bigotry is a learned thing. That racist chant on the party bus did not sound like something those students just made up that night. They learned it the way generations before them learned it. I am reminded of the funny-but-wise comment by the comedian Denis Leary: “Racism isn’t born, folks. It’s taught. I have a two-year-old son. Know what he hates? Naps. End of list.”

Perhaps it is best to admit from the outset that what we see as America’s greatness was built on a foundation of racism. Our early and enduring relationship with the American Indians and the African people brought here as slaves set the tone for a difficult and obstacle-filled path to equality and social justice in this country. There are traces—and sometimes full-blown imitations that reveal themselves in viral videos—of those attitudes and injustices that remain today. It is not an easy skin to shed.

But despite these challenges passed down from our ancestors, I also see the signs of real progress. I see people who were raised to be racist but instead have chosen to walk the path of inclusion and respect. I see people who, for all their ancestors taught them, should be swimming in bigotry, but they have chosen to be accepting of difference. And I also see amazing teachers who are showing us all what it means to go beyond mere acceptance and move into celebration of difference. I go on my Facebook feed and see friends who daily share such wonderfully uplifting stories and educational articles on social justice from multiple viewpoints. These are our teachers! See them as such. And finally, I see myself in the mirror and know that every day, in every interaction, I have a chance to teach Love. If I can lead with Love, I believe that we will be a step closer to becoming the people I KNOW we can be. I am ready to take that walk together.

How about you? Where, in your opinion, are we as a country on this path out of our racist roots and toward a model of equality and social justice? Open up your journal and think about your relationship with the issue of race. Ignoring your true feelings and opinions, how were you actually raised to feel about and treat people of other races? What were you taught? Were you more influenced by your parents and family, or by society at large and the messages in school or the media? How big of a disparity was there between the message at home and the one from society? On a scale of one-to-ten, how racist were your parents? Was their racism directed mainly toward one particular group, or was it spread pretty evenly? On that same one-to-ten scale, how racist are you? This is probably something that doesn’t come up in regular conversation—or that you might not dare to admit the answer if it does—so your journal is the perfect confessional. Did you score yourself more favorably than your parents? If so, do you think that is because you had better influences in society as a whole, or did you simply not like what you saw in their attitudes and determined to do better for yourself? Would you say you are more or less racist, on the whole, than your siblings and friends? How about compared to the average American citizen? What is the most overtly racist thing you have ever done or said? How do you feel about that now? What is your reaction to something like the Oklahoma fraternity video? Do you think things like that are more commonplace in this country than we realize, or is that really an abberation? Leave me a reply and let me know: How far have we really come?

Teach Love today,

William

What Makes You Happy?

DSC_0405Hello friend,

Making snow angels.  Running through the sprinkler.  Taking photographs.  Surfing.  Playing “Keep-it-up”.  Building a snowman with my kids.  Skiing.  Visiting my parents and siblings in the house where I grew up.  Writing this blog.  Holding hands with my wife and kids when we are walking somewhere.  Sledding.  Yoga.  Hiking along a mountain stream.  Reading.  Snuggling.  Just being at my family’s lake cabin.  Doing “Steamroller” across the carpet or grass with my kids, just like my Dad used to do with me.  Hitting a tennis ball.  Flying a kite.  Swimming.  Tickling my son.  Writing in my journal.  Having a dinner date with just my wife and talking about our hopes and dreams.  Ice skating.  Paddling my kayak on a quiet lake.  Swaying in my hammock. Working on my book.  Sitting by the ocean. Learning something new.  Teaching.

These are my happiest moments.  These are the activities that bring me the most unbridled, unadulterated joy.  These are the things I am willing to take time out of a busy schedule for, because I deem them to be “Good for the soul”.  They make me feel pure and centered and serene and light and alive and joyful.  They just feel right in every part of my being.

I got to thinking about these activities and the feelings they produce in me.  Does the mere doing of them—and the frequency with which I do at least one of the items on the list—dictate my level of happiness?  I tend to think of myself as the happiest person that I know.  I could be wrong about that, but I think it nonetheless.  In any case, I am happy and don’t want to trade places with anyone.  But is it all about the snow angels and the Steamroller?  Is that enough to explain my happiness?

I decided that what those activities do for me is necessary but not sufficient to justify my happiness.  That is, I need them, but there is more to it.  They certainly produce Joy, Peace, and Love, which, I think, are kind of a deal-breaker trio when it comes to living happily.  But what else does it take?  Is there a short list or equation that can actually explain not just joyful moments, but true, deep, ongoing HAPPINESS?

I checked it out.  One of the most commonly quoted happiness recipes (attributed to a variety of sources) is: 1) Someone to love, 2) Something to do, and 3) Something to hope for.  That sounded pretty good.  The philosopher John Locke went simple with, “A sound mind in a sound body.”  He is onto something there, I thought, if you expound on the “sound mind” part.  Aristotle said, “Happiness is a state of activity.”  That didn’t do it for me at all.  Mohandas Gandhi, who is on the short list of my all-time heroes, said, “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”  I liked that one, too, but I still wasn’t sure I had it yet.  So, I went with one of my other all-timers: my wife.  At lunch today, I asked her what she thought the short list of happiness components should be.  After a moment of thought, she came up with: 1) Contentedness, 2) Self-assuredness, and 3) Peace.  That is a solid recipe (I think I’ll keep her on my all-time hero list!).

With those wise folks as my jumping off point, I decided to take a crack at a simple recipe of my own Happiness Stew.  Here is what I came up with:

  1. As a base, pour in one gallon of Authenticity (a la Gandhi): living your Truth
  2. Fold in four cups of the Connectedness of your choice:, To a Divine Source, To family, To friends, To everything (whether you feel that is Divine or not)
  3. Blend well with an atmosphere of Progress/Growth by continually learning and stretching your limits
  4. Garnish with as many “Good for the soul” activities as you can swallow

Enjoy!  (That should actually be part of the recipe, too.)

Now, what is your recipe for happiness?  Get out your journal, and go for it!  There is no single right answer that applies to everyone, so you have to look deep into yourself to find your unique recipe.  Is it a mix of the ones I mentioned, or none of the above?  Is it way more complicated than I am making it sound?  While you’re at it, process this quote from Abraham Lincoln: “Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”  If he is right, you have an awesome responsibility on your hands!  Finally, make out your own list of “Good for the soul” activities, the things that make you feel happy at your core.  I would love to hear what you come up with, so leave a reply and get the conversation started.  Trust me, just making the list will put a huge smile on your face.  I guarantee it will be worth your time.  What are you waiting for?

Be happily you,

William