Category Archives: Happiness

Learning to Subtract

I’ve spent lots of time at home recently, with lots of time to notice baseboards that need cleaning, books that need rearranging, and a living room that needs adapting.  I knew what to do with the baseboards and books.  My living room had me stumped.  Without realizing other options exist, I went to the default setting for all parts of life:  I added.

First, I bought a new patterned rug to accent the wood floor.  That didn’t fix the problem.   Next, I put a beige throw on the brown sofa.  Still not right.  I added photos to a table and displayed art glass on the mantle.  No matter what I added, the room felt out-of-balance and unsettled.   I must not have found the right item to add.  So, I kept adding.

Nothing worked.

Last week I asked a friend for help.   “Do I need a smaller sofa?” I asked.

He paused and looked around.  “You have too much stuff in here, too much furniture.  Get rid of the antique table, the chair, and that plant.  Move these chairs to the corner with a smaller table.  The room will be lighter and feel bigger.  The sofa?  It’s the right size.”

Coulda had a V-8.  I didn’t need to add more stuff.  I needed to subtract.  The room had too much going on for anything to get the attention it deserved.

It was like when there are too many words,
too many crises, or
too many activities and busyness–
the eyes and heart don’t know where to focus.

As soon as my friend left, I moved the antique table from the living room into a corner of the dining room.  It has a place of honor now below an Audubon print and finally looks at home.  I moved the small antique caned chair into the foyer beside an ancient steamer trunk.

The tall plant from the living room is now on a landing at the top of the stairs.  I put the photos and art glass in other rooms.   The wingback chairs and a small table went in the corner by the front window.  All four rooms look better and, with my treasures spread around the house, I can enjoy them more.

When I finished, I looked around the living room, exhaled a deep breath, and smiled.

With less furniture, what remains receives more attention.  With less distraction, my heart feels more settled.  With less stuff, there is room to breathe.  Lighter.  Spacious.  Balanced.

It’s what I wanted all along.

Passport to Happiness

A friend found a yellowed paper in his father’s desk after his dad died.  It described his father’s approach to life.  Dad didn’t wait for happiness at a future time, nor did he expect it to be given to him.  He knew that happiness and joy reside within us if we choose them.  He chose happiness and joy.  Here is part of the foundation on which he built his life and the grace with which he faced an incurable cancer.

Passports to Happiness
We permit too many opportunities for happiness to slip by because we labor under two major delusions.  One of these is that we shall be happy when–
When we arrive at a certain destination;
When we can be with a certain person;
When our schooling is finished;
When we get a better job:
When we arrive at a certain income;
When we are married;
When the baby is born;
When we recover from our illness;
When our bills are paid;
When we own a new car;
When we move into a new home;
When some disagreeable task is finished;
When we are free from some encumbrance.

The second delusion is that we can buy a ticket, or pay admission, to happiness.  We seem never to learn that, wherever we go, we take our happiness or unhappiness with us; and that whatever we do; it is how much of ourselves we put into the doing which influences our happiness–far more than what the outside world contributes.

The only way we can insure happiness is to train ourselves to be happy in spite of, not because of, what life does to us.  When we succeed in doing this, we become wise and useful adults.

David Dunn, date unknown
photo by Mark Smutny

Resilience in Many Forms

As the California drought deepens, I am exploring the world of succulents.  It seems these plants are wired to adapt and survive, no matter what.  Knocked to the ground? No problem.  Separated from the rest of the plant?  Keep on growing.  Hanging upside down?  Sprout roots anyway.  Succulents are resilient in the face of drought.  They propagate easily.  They adapt to adverse environments, not only surviving but growing.

My first steps in transforming my gardens to be less water dependent were to ask questions and read.  I learned that a branch broken off a succulent will root without extra attention.  Just put it in soil and watch it grow.  I learned that an agave leaf, if left alone on slightly damp soil out of direct sunlight sends roots into the soil, drawing its sustenance from the mother leaf.   “All that is required for a succulent to root is viable growth tissue,” writes Debra Lee Baldwin in Succulent Container Gardens (p. 234).

Succulent CuttingsNext comes experimentation.   On a friend’s advice, I am putting cuttings from succulents I already own into pots that I’ll sprinkle among my other plants.  I discovered our dogs had knocked some branches off our plants.  Some had fallen to the ground and were starting to grow roots.  Another was hanging upside down with its broken end pointing to the sky.  It had grown roots eight inches long that dangled from its end.

I added these to cuttings from my favorite succulents, set them on a tray for a week to become calloused at the cut, then stuck them in pots filled with cactus soil.  As they grow, I’ll transplant them to bigger pots and put them in the front gardens.

DSC00736My new plants are doing well after just one week in their new soil.  When I feel blocked, frustrated, or limited by circumstances or people, my succulents inspire me.  I consider the aeonium branch growing roots while dangling three feet from the ground an example of tenacious, creative adaptation.

If my plants can adapt like this to new or adverse situations, so can we humans.   All we need is our own version of “viable growth tissue” and a will to keep growing.