Category Archives: Joy

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

Homemade Yogurt or Hang-Gliding, hmmmm…

I was bored.  I thought about hang gliding that day, but the closest place was too far to make it home for dinner.  My criteria for an alternative were that whatever I did had to teach me a new skill, be something I’d never dared before, not cause injury, and get me home by 6:00 p.m.  Instead of taking a road trip, I tried two Do- It-Yourself projects that had intimidated me for months.

My first project was to make Greek style yogurt.  The recipe looked too easy to be true, as in, “if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.”  It turned out to be both easy and good.  This recipe used four cups of milk, ¼ cup nonfat dry milk, ¼ cup Greek yogurt, and fermented in the oven for seven hours.  Super cheap.  Super easy.  The hardest part was figuring out how to keep the oven at a mere 100° for seven hours.  Goldilocks-like, I discovered using a heating pad and leaving the oven light on were just right.   The next morning, we ate fantastic yogurt with bananas and crunchy granola for breakfast. Find the recipe at http://www.americastestkitchenfeed.com/do-it-yourself/2012/02/how-to-make-greek-style-yogurt/

My second project was to make vanilla extract.  This was even easier to make than the yogurt. Last year I met a woman who does this, bought some of her homemade vanilla and have enjoyed it ever since.  All it takes is good quality vanilla beans and some vodka.  My source recommends vanilla beans from Mexico and potato vodka.   My vanilla extract is taking its two month rest in the pantry now.  It will be ready to sample in late March. Find the cookbook that got me going at http://www.americastestkitchenfeed.com/do-it-yourself/2012/08/announcing-the-americas-test-kitchen-diy-cookbook/

I was so pleased with myself after these projects that I finished the day by making granola, filling the bird feeders, cutting roses for the kitchen table, and harvesting limes from the tree in my backyard.  Periodically I stretched out on the sofa and read.  I intentionally did none of my ordinary tasks for an entire day. It was glorious.

My day felt wasn’t as exciting as hang gliding would have been, but it was nevertheless different, new, and productive.  I learned new skills, pushed through the intimidation factor, enjoyed the world’s beauty in roses and good food, and pampered myself by doing only what I wanted to do.

The day was so far outside my usual routine that it had the desired effect: I awoke the next morning refreshed, excited and full of stories to share.

My tip for the day is that the next time you need a bit of newness in your life, a break from routine and stress, or an antidote to boredom, remember what I gained from yogurt and vanilla extract.

  1. Try something new that pushes your boundaries in some way.
  2. Learn a new skill.
  3. Experiment.
  4. Risk making mistakes.

By the time you finish your endeavor, you will have taken a trip to someplace you’d never been, your boredom will be gone, and you’ll have new memories to laugh about and celebrate.

Theodore Roosevelt and MacGyver

Theodore Roosevelt has been my inspiration this month.  I have been frustratingly limited by new health issues since October, which has provided ample time for reading.  In Doris Kearns Goodwin’s new biography of Teddy Roosevelt and William Howard Taft I found this gem:

“If you are cast on a desert island with only a screwdriver, a hatchet, and a chisel to make a boat with, why, go make the best one you can. It would be better if you had a saw, but you haven’t.”*

Teddy Roosevelt said this was one of the most important lessons he learned during his years serving in the New York Assembly.  When first elected, he wanted to work only with men like himself and considered everyone from a lower social station boorish, illiterate, and repulsive.  After a series of legislative debacles, he adapted, learning to work with people of all stripes and circumstances with whom he found common purpose.  Politics is not the art of the perfect but of the possible.

So is life.  We take what we have and with it make something better, needful, or beautiful.  In our work and personal life, we are like Teddy Roosevelt at the turn of the 20th century. If you’re a T.V. buff you might say we are like MacGyver, the good-looking guy who solves crime, saves the innocent, and escapes danger with stuff like twine, an emery board and a light bulb. In less than ideal circumstances McGuyver solves every problem in fewer than 60 minutes. http://www.tv.com/shows/macgyver/

Part of the joy of life is to look at what is and see what can be.  I know it’s hard and frustrating, and sometimes downright depressing.  We can wish for more money, “better” colleagues, a less frustrating boss, more time, better health, a less dysfunctional family, or the presence of  loved ones who have died.  It would be better if we had a saw, but we don’t.  So we build the best boat we can with what we have.

That’s an outlook worth celebrating and the basis of a life worth living.

Every one of us can be a Teddy Roosevelt or MacGyver.  The basic question is whether we want to stay on the desert island or not.  If we want to get on the water, we set aside our frustration, negativity, paralysis, and limited thinking.  We look in new ways at what we have to work with. Remember, boats don’t have to be perfect or match our original plans to be sea worthy. You may not have every tool you want, but go ahead and make the best boat you can.

*The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism, by Doris Kearns Goodwin, Simon & Schuster, 2013, p.85.
**Photo by Lori Waselchuk for the New York Times