I remember being 7 and looking up to my 10-year-old neighbor and thinking, “Boy, I can’t wait to be 10 and have all the privileges of a 10 year old.”
Years later in ninth grade, I remember watching high school seniors and thinking, “Boy, those guys have got it made, look at all the fun they’re having.”
Now, I did have a lot of fun in college, the first two years. But then I started thinking about how much better life would be when I had a job and was out on my own. And so it went, no matter what stage of life I was in, I expected happiness to be right around the bend. I’ve mostly lived a good life, no real complaints, but believed true happiness was just slightly beyond my reach. It was as if others had found the “secret,” but I had not.
Now that I am a grandfather, I’d like to share my experiences at attempting to find happiness with my grandchildren. I don’t believe in giving advice, because I might be wrong and lead others astray. And most folks, including me, shrink from statements such as, “I want to give you some advice.” I found something that works for me but, it might not work for anyone else. My special secret about finding happiness; once I discovered it, most things got easier. That secret is, there is absolutely no secret for finding happiness, and nobody else gets a lot more happiness than you do. They may appear to have more, but that’s just external, you can’t see inside their experiences. Once you accept this reality, that there is no magic formula and you get about the same amount of happiness that everybody else does, life seems easier. Also there will always be cycles; good times will be overtaken by some bad event. And, bad will be followed by joyful periods.
In our world there certainly are a lot of distractions that sometimes disguise themselves as happiness makers. The allure of expensive stuff like great cars, the right clothes (which, according to my spouse, I’ve never discovered), looking good, and vacationing in the cool places are good distractions, they make us feel pretty darn good — for a while, but soon the “happy buzz” slowly fades away, and you’re back to where you started.
I am all for having fun, and flying down the road in a new car, or going to the beach for a week, that stuff is fun, makes me smile. And, yes (except for dressing well) I’ve done a lot of it. And mostly, it distracted me from the thought that I hadn’t found real happiness yet.
It is easy to confuse status with happiness, but they are certainly not the same. Status is usually attached to material external things, like autos, clothes, or places that are looked upon as symbols of success. Status is what many people see as happiness, but is often about “how things look,” again it’s all external. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being successful, it can be extremely fulfilling. There is not a single thing wrong with owning nice stuff. So, if you really want that Mustang convertible, go for it. But be sure that you want it and not just the status of looking “right” when driving down the road. My experience with getting status symbols was that the buzz wears off quickly; that happiness disappeared shortly after I made the purchase.
I’m not sure anyone really knows what happiness is? But, joy can be every where we choose to experience it. Unlike most status symbols, it’s not expensive. You’re probably thinking, that’s just semantics — happiness, joy, aren’t they all the same thing? Perhaps, but joy can be experienced most days, and all it requires is slowing down and acceptance, it’s a lot like sunshine. Most of us en-“joy” the warmth of sunshine. And most all of us have more “good” in out lives than “bad,” but don’t slow down enough to appreciate all that “good.” Let’s just examine a few facts.
Fact number one, if you are breathing, nothing else, just breathing, you’re better off than most of the people that have ever been born. Scientists tell us that about 110 billion people have lived since humans first appeared on earth. So, 13 out of every 14 people that were ever born are already dead. So if you are not one of those 13, you’re doing great.
Another fact, if you have more than two dollars to spend per day, you have more than 2.5 billion people in the world. That’s about one third of world’s population that must exist on less than $2 per day. A diet soda in most “stop and go” stores in Yadkin County costs nearly that much. Next time you open a Coke or Pepsi, think to yourself, “I just spent what many people in third world countries have to spend on food, clothing, transportation and shelter for a whole day.”
For me expressing gratitude is a great way to grab a great big hand full of joy. Don’t just tip that person that served your food when eating out, sincerely look them in the eye and say “Thank you!” Another way to have some joy, write a personal note to the next person that does something special for you. Or jot down a few words to someone you are glad to have in your life; a friend, a relative, perhaps your doctor. Express gratitude and you will feel better, you’ll feel joy. Emails, texts, Facebook, tweets; all are effective at dissemination of information, an efficient way to communicate data and keep up with folks, but at best, a mediocre way to show gratitude or how much you care. Send a handwritten note, tell the people you care about or love, in your own scribbled handwriting that you are glad they are around.
Try to show appreciation and gratitude as often as you can, everyone likes to be appreciated. A better feeling yet is the joy you get from showing gratitude to others. Gratitude and joy are Siamese twins; one does not exist without the other. I get joy every time I express gratitude and, both are available in unlimited quantities. You can never run out of either. You will always feel joy knowing you’ve lightened the load of another. Or, you can go out there and figure out how to be happy. Good luck with that.
Rod Hunter lives in East Bend and is an avid hiker, biker, photographer, and nature lover. He is the past state chairman of the Sierra Club of NC. He volunteers as a court appointed children’s advocate for children in foster care and with Cancer Services Inc. He is a two-time cancer survivor. He has backpacked in Alaska, Arizona, California, Utah, Oregon, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Georgia, Virginia, and of course North Carolina.