Blue Moon

I’m fond of saying, “People who are good at math shouldn’t be allowed to teach it.”  If that strikes you, like lightning, as the absolute truth, this metaphor’s for you.  If not, you may just have to bear with me a minute.  Here’s what I think I’m trying to say:  People who are good at math, those to whom it comes easily, are simply not equipped to communicate mathematical processes to those of us who don’t speak number.  If the English language made any sense, the word “innumerate” would not mean “uncountable;” it would be the opposite of “illiterate,” which would not mean “unable to read and write;” it would mean, “literature deficient.”  Oh!  Maybe we should just coin the word “illiteraturate.”  But, I digress (shocking, I know).

So, in effect, what I’m saying is this:  the “illiteraturate” shouldn’t be allowed to teach the “innumerate.”

In fact, as an adult, I had the good fortune to re-enter college under the wondrous tutelage of an Algebra teacher who chose to teach math precisely because she wasn’t good at it.  She wanted to spare other “innumerate” students from the pain of being taught by math whizzes.  The math whiz approach is similar to trying to teach your child to drive by thoroughly taking them through the intricacies of disassembling an internal combustion engine.  In the same way, you probably shouldn’t ask people who “speak happy” to explore and communicate the effects of speaking happy.   If you really want to observe the effect of taking happy actions on happiness, you might get more bang for the buck if you have people who aren’t that great at being happy to test drive activities meant to enhance happiness.  If that’s true, I have to admit that I was a great choice to test drive that effects of the Happy LIFE’s “happy habits.”

Now, don’t get me wrong.  Overall, I’d have to say I break even on the happy/sad dichotomy.  But, I’m pretty sure plenty of people break way more toward the happy side than I do.  Sure, I know how to have fun – a lot of it – but I have sometimes found myself serving in the ranks of the unhappy.  In fact, I’m pretty sure I once served a two-year hitch under the command of Major Depression.

So, it’s taken me by surprise that that The Happy LIFE is having what seems to be a profound effect on me.  The “Gratitudes” phase, which was the last of the five “happy habits” of the Happy LIFE has been, interestingly, the first one that I’ve carried on past the first 21 days – and I think it may be changing my life.  In all honesty, when the Happy LIFE started, the naïve, idealistic part of me (which is inexplicably still hanging on after more than a half-century) was open to giving all the happy activities a try.  What the hell, right?  Yes, I have a fairly large sappy sucker side.  But, then the “dark side” popped up immediately.  That (hopefully smaller) dark part of me kept whispering – a little snidely, I must admit, “Oh, good Lord, this is just a load of happy horse piles.”

And, that dark little side might have won out because it can be very persistent, telling  me I’ll look foolish, that people will think I’m a dope for buying into it, that it’s a waste of time.  If I hadn’t been asked to take on the Happy LIFE as a work project, I’m not sure I ever would have gone this far with it – and I would never have learned that, with work, it’s possible to recognize and overcome our inherent negativity bias by actively focusing on and retaining the good things in life.

The other night was the blue moon and it was the end of a remarkable day in my Happy LIFE, presenting me with gifts that may indeed come only once in the proverbial blue moon.  I’d had an inexpressibly excellent dinner with friends and as, things were winding down, I happened to catch movement from fellow diners across the room, who were also getting ready to leave.  It was a young couple and their small daughter, about two years old, was standing beside the booth and waiting patiently as her parents gathered their things.  Our eyes happened to meet and, because it’s my habit establish eye contact and smile at people when that happens, that’s what I did.  Except, with kids, I tend to give it a little extra, making solid eye contact to say, “I see you.  I know you’re in there, the seed of everything you’ll ever be, smart as anything and able to understand and communicate more than we adults can usually believe or handle.”  This little girl got it, even from several feet away, smiled around her “passie,” looked pointedly down at her feet, and back up at me, clearly “saying” how much she liked her shoes.  I gave her the thumbs up, nodded, and mouthed, “Yes, they are very cool shoes.”  The little girl went stock still, as if in surprise, but only for an instant.  Then, she looked down at her shoes again, looked back up at me as if to be sure we’d really just had a moment and, when I again gave her the thumbs up and mouthed “Cool shoes, very cool,” her smile got even bigger.  She even swayed from side to side a little, in that way only small children can do when they are bursting with pride in their abilities.

And, as her parents passed to leave, I said, “That’s quite a little girl you have.  She was so patient as you got ready to leave – and she’s very proud of her shoes.”  Her mother, who was thanking me in passing, stopped in her tracks and started laughing, saying, “Oh, wow.  She LOVES shoes!  And she really loves that pair.”  I said, “Well, she managed to tell me that without a word, across a room.  She’s very special.  You’re doing a great job.  Keep up the good work.”  The mom laughed again and said, “Well, as a matter of fact, we’ve got another one on the way.”   I congratulated her and told her that I had no doubt the next one would be just as special.

Before the Happy LIFE, I’m not sure I could have “heard” that child so clearly or had such a delightful interaction with complete strangers.  Without the Happy LIFE, I don’t think I would have been able to believe what an even more wonderful world I can see.

Critically Happy

If we’re going to have a chance of flourishing as a society, we’re going to have to agree that critical thinking is, well, critical.  As we move into the Babel of perception that the Internet is creating – with its Google “search bubbles” keeping the information we see narrowly confined to the context of information we’ve searched for in the past – we are going to come unmoored from a shared reality.  I just read (but may not believe) that more people are convinced the conspiracists’ versions of the JFK and Bin Laden assassinations and the 9/11 attacks are real than believe the mainstream media’s versions.  In fact, one person of my Facebook acquaintance recently seemed to have posted that information as “proof” of a bit of clearly manufactured news he’d posted as factual and then vehemently defended after having been roundly burned by those pointing out the easily discerned falsity of his post. 

If we lose our ability to think critically at the same time we’re all being enclosed in bubbles made only of what we want to believe or already know – in conjunction with special effects technology that allows the complete shattering of the notion that seeing is believing – we may not be able to believe even the evidence of our own eyes. 

Somewhere between the whole-hearted acceptance of utterly unexamined nonsense and the scientific extremism of “if it can’t be measured, it doesn’t exist,” there must be a middle ground.  As far as our shared understanding of reality is concerned, if we ever hope to create a path toward the Happy LIFE, the middle ground is where we’re going to find it. 

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Willingness

The beginning of change, of charity, of service, and of compassion is a willing heart. 

 It’s the willingness to be helpful that causes us to reach out a hand. 

It’s the willingness to be humble that allows us to share our accomplishments with those without whom we could not succeed. 

 It’s the willingness to be honest that frees us to acknowledge – and more importantly to learn from – our mistakes. 

It’s the willingness to fail that leads us to success.

It’s the willingness to love others that helps us be ourselves. 

 It’s the willingness to believe in something far larger than ourselves that keeps us on the path toward creating a more equitable world.

 It’s the willingness to honor others’ beliefs that allows us to flourish as an open society.

 It’s the willingness to listen that allows us to understand.

 It’s the willingness to risk heartbreak that enables us to love.

 

Compassion Courts

Today, as I’ve traveled along the path of gratitude on my way to the Happy LIFE, I’ve been thinking about how grateful I am that I’ve never succumbed to addiction in a way that landed me in jail.  If you could be convicted for being overweight as proof positive of a food addiction, I’d be in the slammer for sure.  How lucky am I that my circumstances never put me at sufficient risk to discover that a substance other than food (or cigarettes, back in the day) has the same nearly irrepressible sway over my better judgment?  And, I really do think the difference between me and many of the people who find themselves on the skids comes down to the luck of the draw, mainly in the form of being born to parents who were fortunate and functional enough to provide decent nutrition, appropriate clothing, a stable home along with a focus on education, hard work, common decency, love and affection.  All of those things also likely came together to provide me with robust physical health and at least a semblance of mental health. 

My generation was lucky, too, at least when it came to the relative danger of the illegal “drugs du jour” and I can’t help but be grateful for that as well.  Back then, the drug scourge consisted primarily of marijuana, powder cocaine, heroin, LSD and a few pharmaceuticals.  As much devastation as that era of street drugs caused compared to the 21st century’s underground pharmacopeia, today’s law enforcement, penal and social systems might consider those the “good ol’ days.”  An old friend, who is an addiction counselor, told me years ago that he thought cocaine had the most destructive power when it came ripping someone’s potential apart – until crack came along with an exponential increase in its ability to tear up lives.  Then, along came meth, which upped the ante and raised crack by another factor of ten.  My generation may have faced a barrage of potential addictions that were largely unknown and unfathomable to our parents but this generation is faced with addictions of mass destruction that are largely unknown to us.

Between addiction and mental illness, I learned today, we have the root cause of the incarceration of 60% of women, and 30% of men, in our state’s jails.   However, slowly but surely, “drug courts” are being established to prevent our jails from being filled with the addicted and mentally ill at the expense of our ability to incarcerate violent criminals.  Cutting to the chase, our judicial and social agencies are working collaboratively to help non-violent offenders who are able and willing to help themselves – but only those who request access to the services it provides after they’ve served their sentences.  Violent criminals, no matter what their mental health or addiction issues, need not apply.

These drug courts provide the support to get addicts off illicit drugs and get the mentally ill on licit ones.  As strongly as I believe we, as a society, are over (and often unnecessarily) medicating heartache (and a host of other temporary, adaptive responses), I believe just as strongly that some people have chemical imbalances in their neurochemistry and need to be and stay on some high-powered psychoactive meds.  The alternative is for them to be in and out of jail, eventually losing their ability to secure either work or housing, at which point they end up back in jail where they are more expensive to house than if they were out in the world, living in subsidized housing and working as productively as possible.

So, today, I’m grateful to live in a time and place where our community leaders are working to find a more compassionate – and cost effective – way to support people who find themselves where, but for the grace of God (and lack of exposure), might have gone I (or you).  If the butterfly had flapped its wings differently, who’s to say I (or you) wouldn’t have ended up trying to keep body and soul (and an addiction) together by committing crimes like shop lifting, writing bad checks, theft and so on – all the things that people who are living on the edge might do to keep from falling over.

I greatly admire the people who’ve found their way back after falling over the edge.  And I’m very grateful to the people who’ve shown the compassion to help them do it.