Tag Archives: happiness

Generosity of Spirit

“The love we give away is the only love we keep.” (Elbert Hubbard)

Note: This blog series investigates twelve attributes I see as conducive to recovery from PTSD (and other past stress) which has become part of our ethos or basic belief system. November investigates gratitude.

An old man I call friend has survived multiple wives afflicted with Alzheimer’s Disease. He told us of his gratitude through the process as his wife and friend of over thirty years slipped away, gratitude for the years shared and for his opportunity to care for her through their ordeal. When I grow up, I want to be so grateful.

Grateful people are happy. At least, that is my observation. Unhappy people are ungrateful.

Generosity seems to be the key to happiness through gratitude.

“Minds, nevertheless, are not conquered by arms, but by love and generosity.” (Baruch Spinoza)

Sometimes, the mind to be conquered is my own. When I feel I need a little love, may I remember the power of generosity to give love away. There lies the way of happiness.

And, happiness, according to some, is the meaning of life. (I will leave it to you to find such quotes. Quests are good for the soul.)

This is just my opinion, of course, but I believe there are two basic views of human existence: #1) our world is dangerous and stuff is scarce; #2) our world is gracious and stuff is abundant. How we live our lives depends upon which view we choose.

Traumatic events tend to nudge or shove us toward view #1, a theme of danger and scarcity. We expect bad things to happen, people to be dangerous, things we need and want to be hard to get. Naturally, we are unhappy and our unhappiness perpetuates our belief.

Funny thing about belief and this self-perpetuating phenomenon. When we approach view #2, a theme of grace and abundance, we notice it in our lives. When we feel fortunate, we believe in abundance. When we accept the grace of generosity, we feel blessed. When we feel loved, we love others.

My old friend has a favorite saying when asked how he is. “Never had it so good.”

That always gives me pause, and I admit (often reluctantly) that the same is true for me. I am blessed. Feeling so, I become a little nicer, more inclined to share love, to give it away freely. It always comes back to me.

Is that all there is to life? If we are generous, we become happy?

Well, there is this little problem of waking with a feeling of dread, and feigning happiness just does not work. So, which comes first, feeling loved or giving love?

That’s your problem. Do a little work to discover your answer. Look to others for advice, if you wish, but look inside yourself, also. Look deep inside. What evidence can you find in your heart?

War and other trauma may scar our brains and hearts, but love leaves tracks there, too.

Happy tracking.

Gratitude Untied

Mornings bring the blues and Veterans Day is no exception. I sit here writing about gratitude and feeling sad at the same time. How is this possible?

Note: This blog series investigates twelve attributes I see as conducive to recovery from PTSD (and other past stress) which has become part of our ethos or basic belief system. November investigates gratitude.

“I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.” (Helen Keller)

Strange thing, gratitude, when we feel it at the grace of less fortunate.

When I see my grandchildren born to a daughter conceived after I came home from Vietnam, I am grateful beyond measure for my survival.

Then I remember more than 58,000 names engraved in black granite and over 150,000 wounded comrades. I think of the hurting souls in my combat PTSD group, my friend’s hot flashes from hormone treatment for Agent Orange induced cancer, my brother-in-law and the husband of a friend both also lost to Agent Orange. I remember my Khmer friends and wonder if they survived “The Killing Fields”, and I think of a former student killed in Iraq.

My gratitude slips away like a poorly tied knot…from pulling it too tight, I suppose, from trying to own this gratitude thing.

There are those who belittle gratitude: “Gratitude is a sickness suffered by dogs.” (Joseph Stalin)

Well, I like dogs. I trust them more than I trust people, and I would rather emulate most any dog than a lot of people—people like Edward Gibbon who said, “Revenge is profitable, gratitude is expensive.” He also said, “The courage of a soldier is found to be the cheapest and most common quality of human nature.” Yup, I like dogs better.

Would you believe that scientists actually research gratitude? “Social scientists have found that the fastest way to feel happiness is to practice gratitude.” (Chip Conley)

Practice? So, gratitude is not a thing loved by all, especially arrogant despots. Gratitude is not a thing that can be owned—or a thing at all—but a process I can practice.

Yes, I will have this thing called happiness, and if gratitude is the way, I choose to practice gratitude.

Oh. How do I do that? How does one practice gratitude so that one might become happy?

I am a mess. When I go inside to look at myself, I see messy tracks for which I am not grateful. Still, I must look inside, honestly, to track my feelings. Such a dilemma.

One key is service to others. Yesterday I began writing this blog on Veterans Day, a day when I had no obligations before 6 pm. Today, on the other hand, I must go to work. Service. Today I have the opportunity to be useful, to be relevant.

Not only do I have the opportunity to develop programs to help teachers teach our young people in Yuma, but today I get to serve others in very specific and personal ways. A young Marine veteran is coming to get advice on her academic future, on her major, on her career. I don’t give the advice, but I serve as the connection for her to get to the advisor. That allows me to think about her needs instead of the mess that is me.

Later, today, I get to help a student teacher struggling with academic language in his second tongue so that he may finish his major writing assignment standing between him and his certification. I have the privilege of helping someone, and that is something that not every old veteran has.

I am grateful, again. For this guy, the process of gratitude is finding ways to be helpful to others. Practicing gratitude is searching for ways to serve, tracking opportunities rather than my own mess. May you find your own ways of getting outside yourself so that you may unleash the power of gratitude to lead you to your happiness.

Happy Tracking.

Happy Holidays

Now, before you go all righteous and reactionary on me, take a chance on my sincerity. What I mean is that I wish you happiness all of your holidays throughout your year, and I mean it for each of you regardless of your faith. So, if people take offense at my wishing happiness, well…what happens to the happiness I wished for you?

As a voluntary part of my job, I attend meetings of the AWC/NAU-Yuma Science Club, and at this Monday’s meeting we watched a brief TED Talk video.

The idea is that happiness precedes success.

In 1969 my brand new Cougar wore a front plate with Snoopy wearing a Green Beret and claiming, “Happiness is a Green Beret.” I still have it somewhere.

In 1970 I was sure happiness was that freedom bird landing on American soil.

By 1973, I believed happiness was attainable as soon as I finished my PhD in Genetics.

Okay, so three items in a series can determine a pattern. We have established a cultural norm of believing happiness is attainable through success. It’s kind of like believing health can be attained through diagnosis of disease. You know what? Knowing that I have PTSD does not make me healthy and knowing that I am sad does not make me happy.

Success does not produce happiness of any duration or stability. Happiness produces success. Researchers in Positive Psychology have the evidence.

So, I spent most of the past year describing signs and symptoms of Combat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and now I am saying that all this work has been wasted?

No. Recognition of a problem is the beginning of solving it; however, if we remain stuck in the symptoms, we never achieve happiness.

What if happiness is not the goal but the cure?

Yes. What if the health of Veterans and their families is not the requirement of happy and productive lives, but the consequence?

“I could be happy if I just wasn’t mad all the time.”

“I could be happy if the VA wasn’t so slow and stupid.”

“I could be happy if politicians weren’t so crooked.”

Another pattern.

Yesterday my wife noticed a halo around the moon and asked me to explain. It seems the sight of a large light ring around a high morning moon made her happy. I think she noticed the halo because she was happy, but that is not the point. Happiness is a dance with reality: sometimes Nature leads and sometimes we do. The important thing is to dance.

Dogs like to dance—figuratively. At least my Yellow Lab loves to interact with Nature. That is why Nancy was fortunate enough to notice the moon. Today she is at the store very early to beat the senior savers on first Wednesday, so the happiness of walking our dog is mine.

What makes you happy? Nothing, really.

Okay, how is it that you are sometimes happy and sometimes not?

If the answer is pointing outside yourself, then you are to blame for giving your happiness away.

The video suggested five daily activities that could generate the happiness that leads to health, wealth, and wisdom. (Yes, I paraphrase creatively.) Gratitude (Write 3 new ones each day.); Journal (1 positive memory each day); Exercise (if only to remind ourselves that behavior matters); Meditation (giving us time dedicated to NOT multitasking); and, Kindness (1 conscious act each day). The speaker, Shawn Achor, claims that 21 consecutive days of practicing these five actions will lead to habits of happiness.

Here is my wish for you today: Take a holiday from unhappiness, negative criticism, cynicism, guilt, shame, sadness, and dread. Try gratitude, memory, exercise, meditation, and kindness for just one day. Okay, try it for seven days and then come back to read my blog next week.

Happy Trails…