Tag Archives: Personal

On Happiness

I’m teaching the culture part of a unit on sociocultural psychology. We talk about values and norms and the ways that people in different cultures remember, learn, and express what they know. We talk about learning how to behave in our own cultures and becoming part of new cultures. We talk about expectations. We talk about what it means to be happy.

Most of the time, happiness for me actually means contentment. It means feeling okay with and good about what’s happening immediately around me. Less “Wow, how awesome!” and more “This is really nice.” In the book How Emotions Are Made Lisa Feldman Barrett explains that there’s a difference between North American “happy happy joy joy” and East Asian tranquility and equanimity. We don’t all conceive of happiness in the same way and those differences are very important for the way we view the world. I was in the musical You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown back in high school and the closing number, “Happiness,” got me every time.

Though we sometimes forget it in the age of Instagram, Buzzfeed Top Ten lists, and selfie sticks, happiness is in simplicity.


I’ve been thinking about that a lot recently. Several times over the last few weeks, a conversation from half a year ago has returned to mind. I was with a friend who I’ve only seen once or twice since, neither of us speaking much that day. We were both concerned with and unsettled by the future. We were uncertain. Jobs, choices, change, moving, moving on. After some moments of silence, my friend asked, “What makes you happy?”

I remember it took me several seconds to respond. I remember the knot in my stomach and how I had to acknowledge it, experience it, and admit to it before I could let it go. I was not feeling happy in that moment and answering the question took time.

“Lots of things,” I replied, intellectually knowing this was the right answer even if I couldn’t quite feel it.

“Like what?”

“Oh, you know, things.” It took a moment, but there’s a lot to be said for state-dependent memory (and learning). Once the ideas came, they came quickly. “The smell of coffee. Sunny mornings with a breeze. Being outside. Books. Writing. Taking pictures. Being with friends and family. Intimate moments. Traveling. Learning new things. Delicious vegetables. Making food for people.”


That conversation has come back to me strangely often in the last few weeks. I’ve been experiencing a sort of mental shift, I think, one that started when I was in Europe at the beginning of April. Over the last month, I’ve grown more accustomed to the calm and quiet that my mind has found. Sometimes I find myself feeling okay in a situation or with thoughts that would have bothered me just weeks ago. This is good.

Maybe this is what it means to grow up. Maybe there’s wisdom in letting go, in observing, and in accepting today without judgment. There certainly seems to be freedom there. The only thing I know for sure is that a better version of myself is one who sees happiness in all the small moments that occur every day, and I’m glad to be there right now.

 

Lessons from Parks and Pools

Simplicity, patience, compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and thoughts, you return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.
Compassionate toward yourself,
you reconcile all beings in the world.

-Lao Tzu

After my run today, I stripped off my t-shirt and socks and jumped in the pool. I floated lazily, watching the rainbows reflecting off the tile. The run left me calm and quiet, reluctant to go back inside where I knew I would start thinking about the day ahead. So to postpone that moment, I jumped in the pool.

I love running down the beach in East Coast Park early on a weekend morning. I’ve always loved morning runs. The sun looks fresh and new, sparkly, not yet limp and dull, hanging heavy with the humidity that will roll in as the day grows later. I love how the sun turns green leaves a bright yellow. The breeze that picks up on the water every morning and afternoon is a pleasure to run in; it brings the smell of salt that reminds me of childhood summers in South Carolina with sand castles, the stickiness of sunscreen, and eating my cheese and lettuce sandwich in the water.

Today I passed by a huge tree that had grown sideways, the trunk halfway between parallel and perpendicular to the ground. Some of the branches had rooted themselves to the earth, too, and the tree created a fort, an igloo-shaped dome of branches and leaves. I stopped my watch and stepped inside, wishing immediately for a blanket, book, and 20 years ago when my sister and I would have happily made ourselves a home in there and passed the day away. We loved secret spaces to curl up with a story. I still do.

Catching rainbows in the pool, I realized that I felt perfectly content. Running is the time of the day where I let my mind drift wherever it wants to go. Increasingly, my mind has found tranquility. I’ve been spending more time feeling calm, more time experiencing equanimity. I have noticed a change in my behavior and general outlook. Some of this might come from practicing meditation, but I think more of it comes from feeling comfortable with myself as a person. Comfortable being wherever I am, with whoever I’m with, and doing whatever I’m doing. This is a new feeling that I’m slowly uncovering; it’s fragile but full of possibility. It has been a long time (my best guess is fall of 2015) since I’ve felt that who I am and who I want to be might just match.

It’s a peculiar thing to realize.

Shortly after ringing in 2018, a friend and I were messaging about the holidays and providing general life updates. I mentioned that one of my hopes for this year was to fall in love again. He wished me luck with that pursuit and we moved on to discuss more normal things like education, Donald Trump, and how to take proper care of plants.

I haven’t fallen in love, but it’s been a while since I’ve believed that I can. Coming back to that state of being has been a journey, a journey that I didn’t really know I was on. And now that I can see it, I’m happy to be where I am. What has been has been, what will be will be. This is what I’m doing today. And that is enough.

In the end these things matter most: How well did you love? How fully did you live? How deeply did you let go? -Buddha

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Titanium: A Commentary

You shout it out
But I can’t hear a word you say
I’m talking loud not saying much
I’m criticized but all your bullets ricochet
You shoot me down, but I get up

We all know that words hurt. We all know that words can beat us down and tear us apart. We do children an injustice when we teach them,” Sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never hurt me.” We’re lying and we know it.

Communication can be difficult because it requires us to step outside of ourselves and listen to what someone else is saying. We should only reply once we’ve truly heard them, but many of us do not take the time to listen.

I’m bulletproof nothing to lose
Fire away, fire away
Ricochet, you take your aim
Fire away, fire away
You shoot me down but I won’t fall, I am titanium
You shoot me down but I won’t fall
I am titanium, I am titanium, I am titanium, I am titanium

We are often the target of words that are not meant for us and have nothing to do with us. Words often say more about someone else than they do about us. These are the words that should not hurt, but we know that they do. We have a tendency to fixate on criticism, angry tones, words that have caused us pain. We remember them.

But we also bask in words of comfort. We save messages, notes, and letters that are meaningful to us and cause a smile, even (and perhaps especially) years later. We replay these words over and over in our minds, memorizing the most important things our loved ones have said. They give us courage when we lose our way.

If you’re made of titanium, can you feel those things?

Cut me down
But it’s you who has further to fall
Ghost town, haunted love
Raise your voice, sticks and stones may break my bones
I’m talking loud not saying much

Silence can be as deafening as painful words.(And there are indeed things we should not hear, things we should not be forced to listen to.) We fill silence by looking for things to do, things to say. We block others out when we turn their words to noise, when we cease to give them meaning.

Sometimes, we should also listen to silence. It has layers and textures. Sometimes it crackles. Sometimes it’s cruelly cold. But other times, it’s safe and warm. What does the silence between our words say to us? What does it say about us?

I’m bulletproof nothing to lose
Fire away, fire away
Ricochet, you take your aim
Fire away, fire away
You shoot me down but I won’t fall
I am titanium
You shoot me down but I won’t fall
I am titanium, I am titanium

I am not bulletproof. I have much to lose. If you shoot me, I’ll fall. I will hurt, I will break, I will mourn. I am human, only human.

I will fall but I will get up again. I’ll get up again because I have let myself feel, I have listened, and I have learned. I let you in knowing you might hurt me or that I might hurt you. I let you in knowing I might love you or you might love me.

Stone-hard, machine gun
Firing at the ones who run
Stone-hard, thus bulletproof glass

I no longer wrap myself in armour. I’d rather know and love than never know. Any authentic, meaningful connection with others requires vulnerability; we need to be and to feel.

You shoot me down but I won’t fall, I am titanium
You shoot me down but I won’t fall, I am titanium
You shoot me down but I won’t fall, I am titanium
You shoot me down but I won’t fall, I am titanium
I am titanium

I might fall. I might be wounded. I might miss how we used to laugh or talk or spend time together.

But if I fall, I’ll stand up again. Because that’s living. It’s a journey through a landscape of hills, valleys, and mountains. We pass through wild forests and neat gardens. Sometimes we know what lies around the corner and sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we find ourselves lost or confused. We lose our way.

Armour can be tempting when we’re afraid but if we are unwilling to shed the armour, who are we, really? There’s life and there’s living. We might have a life protecting ourselves, but the adventure is in living.