Are We The Captains Of Our Happiness?

My Journal Cover

 

In a word YES, we are the captains of our happiness.  I’m not going to offer up platitudes here about life handing you lemons and you mix up some lemonade.  There is value in sucking on the lemon for a while.  Identifying, then unloading negative emotions clears our mental outlook.  That said, what I am going to offer up are a few actions which help me get back to happiness after swallowing the lemon whole. 

As we travel through life, our time on Earth is fraught with lots of gloomy events — a serious illness, a job layoff, an economic downturn.  The list of negative life events and negative people can go on and on.  Even something as simple as the weather — rain, a snow storm, a sunny day are occurrences we can’t control, yet may effect our outlook. What we can control is our mindset. 

I will quote this truism, known as the Serenity Prayer.  For me, it proves a potent reminder of the power of acceptance.  

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”  

Engaging in what I call mind-spinning, worrying about what may come, drains us of energy and leads to nothing.  Whatever is going to happen will happen whether we worry about it or not.  Better to not worry about it at all.

This morning I re-visited my gratitude journal from seven years ago.  Looking back at my life including my strengths, skills and accomplishments put me in a state of confidence, which led to a blissful feeling.  Over the years I learned a gratitude journal can do wonders for shifting my mindset to one of positivity, abundance and happiness.

For anyone seeking happiness, start journaling daily, listing what is good about your life.  Whether it’s a beautiful sunrise or sunset, the sighting of a blue bird in your yard, a child’s laugh at the grocery store, even a rain shower or a postcard view of a winter storm.  Anything from what appears to be a minor, trivial thing to an awesome event, write it down.

Take inventory of your personal assets.  I’m not talking about your material assets.  As mentioned above look at your abilities, skills, strengths, those assets.  That’s the stuff that got you this far and will take you through the remainder of your journey.  Hopefully, you are still growing, expanding those assets.  If not, cultivate curiosity about the world around you.

For many of us, we often associate happiness with occasions like buying a new car, shopping for a new outfit, taking a dream vacation, getting a promotion.  That brand of happiness is momentary.  The new car smell wears off, the outfit becomes last year’s style, the dream vacation but a memory.  And promotions?  Well, it’s lonely at the top. 

It’s recognition of the everyday simple things, which provide a feeling of well-being.  We can view our lives as one of scarcity or one of abundance.  What we need to survive is basic food, clean air and water, shelter, clothing and a good night’s sleep.  Everything else is an abundant life. 

While I don’t want to hang my happiness on someone else’s happiness, it makes me feel light-hearted to do a good deed for someone.  Volunteering for a favorite cause or just helping someone out through a chance meeting provides a shot of happiness.  Recently, at the entrance to a building, I encountered a frail woman using a walker as she approached a car at the curb.  Thinking she may need a hand getting into the car, I stopped and asked if I could help.  Just then two young men stepped out from behind a thick column.  I hadn’t seen her entourage. Their wide smiles and thank you’s for stopping lifted my spirits.  And, all I did was offer assistance.

Along with not depending on someone else’s happiness to define your own, refrain from comparing yourself to others.  In our social media world that is sometimes difficult to achieve.  A number of people have mentioned how they only put positive aspects of their lives on Facebook as they want FB to be a fun place to visit.  The downside to that view is other people begin thinking you have a lemonade life.  No one is without a few lemons.  It is a wonderful life, but no person has only good times.  Keep that in mind when you feel the urge to compare.

If there is one truly important lesson I learned as a caregiver, it’s take care of yourself.  In order for the good times to out weigh the negative, put some self-inflicted joy in your life.  Do what makes you feel happy.  Get out for a walk, join a gym, take a class, lose yourself in art, create a network of friends, meet someone for coffee or lunch, tour a museum or arboretum, get a massage, a manicure.  I recently learned my supplemental health insurance policy covers gym memberships 100%!  Now that’s a benefit to be happy about.  A local college offers a 60 minute massage by an advanced student for only $20.  Look for the happiness perks in your world.

No one is going to create happiness for you.  As the Dalai Lama says, “Happiness is not ready-made.  It comes from your own actions.”  We are the captains of our happiness.

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KISS

When I decided to write a blog, I searched online for other retirement blogs. One of the blogs I encountered is earlyretirementextreme.com. This guy retired in his thirties and lives on $7,000 a year. That’s his half of living expenses. His wife kicks in her half adding another $7,000. So, the two of them live on $14,000 total. Although he insists he has a great life, living below the poverty level isn’t my idea of a fun time. He lives in an RV (I like my 2,300 square feet). He has a garden (me, too). Fixes a lot of his own broken stuff (Martin handles a lot of broken stuff for us). Reading about his life, however, does bring to mind a very important principle about life and retirement, in general. Using a sort of negative sounding cliche we’ve all heard from time to time describes it best for me…Keep It Simple Stupid (KISS). The KISS principle was originally used by a Navy engineer who believed most systems operated most efficiently if kept simple in design. So goes our everyday life. At least that’s what works for me and that’s what I believe will continue to work best.

So when people continue to be incredulous about our early retirement and how we did it and are doing it, I now think KISS. Living a simple life isn’t living a life of denial. It isn’t living a life of poverty. It isn’t living a life in austerity. It’s living a THOUGHTFUL life. For example, today I had the pleasure of having my fifth grandchild with me all day. He’s four. Rather than plopping him on the couch to spend the day staring at the boob tube and feeding him junk, I thought what can we do that won’t cost a bundle and will be lots of fun.

What I don’t grow in my own garden, I buy in season from local farmers and freeze myself. Today in South Carolina strawberries are in season. My favorite place to buy strawberries is, where else, but Strawberry Hill, USA. A family owned fruit farm of several hundred acres of strawberry fields, peach orchards and blackberry patches, Strawberry Hill also offers up giant antique John Deere tractors for kids to sit on, farm tours and a family run cafe with a 1950’s feel and homemade ice cream to boot. Go another six miles down the road and you’ll find Cowpens National Battlefield where one of the decisive battles of the Revolutionary War was fought and a Junior Ranger Program promises badges, medals and education for kids of all ages. And, best of all, it’s free, though we usually push a donation through the slot of the box in the lobby. So, with a little thought I was able to pick up field fresh fruit at a bargain price, which will taste as great tonight with vanilla ice cream as it will next winter from the freezer and I entertained a four year old who went home with badge, Junior Ranger certificate and coloring book not to mention the big smile as he proudly handed strawberries to Mom. All for little money.

As I write this, I’m looking out the window at my beloved garden with flowers opening by the second, sipping a glass of white wine (yes, I write under the influence) and looking forward to Martin making fajiitas with beef smoked on the Green Egg, onions from the veggie garden and all the other fixings. Later, we’ll eat the fresh strawberries on ice cream and listen to the whippoorwill make his mournful call, bringing memories of Hank Williams singing on the record player at my parents’ home in New Jersey. The simple things in life.

So, whether you want to retire early or you want to retire at all, the best advice I can offer is to Keep It Simple Sisters and brothers. Keep it simple.