In Search of Happiness

   imagesCA4WYXBXApparently in this world, there is a treasure sought after by man that is more precious and desirable than gold but as elusive and unattainable as the Holy Grail. I’m speaking of “happiness”. Just take a stroll down the self-help aisle at Barnes and Noble and you will be blown away with the seemingly endless plethora of “How To” books on the subject. To underscore my point, I just typed in the words “finding happiness” in the search bar in the book section of Amazon.com., which resulted in 5,140 results – amazing, right?

Here are just a few of the titles: 21 Ways to Finding Peace and Happiness, The Happiness Solution, How to Be Happy, When Am I Going to Be Happy…and so on, just make up a title and I’m sure you can find it on a book shelf.

So what is going on? Has this been part of the human condition since the beginning of our existence? Has “happiness” always been a pipe dream? Am I happy? And what does that really mean to me anyway…hmmm.imagesCA02VTN3

Upon deeper reflection, I believe that happiness isn’t so much a state of being as it is an emotional reaction to my surroundings. In other words, when I hold a newborn baby, see a hummingbird land on my feeder or experience any number of life’s simple joys, I get a feeling or sensation that I have come to equate with “happiness”. However, I can walk in the house and turn on the news and hear about a mass shooting and quickly be overcome with emotions of sadness. So, in my experience, happiness is more of a fleeting emotion that comes and goes throughout thappiness-quote[1]he day and is in direct correlation to external stimuli.

People often ask me, “are you always this happy”? And of course, the answer is “no”. I have emotional ups and downs just like everyone else.  So what are they really asking? I think maybe what they are observing is that I am generally “content”. Now, contentment to me is a state of being that is with me whether I am sorrowful over a loss of a loved one, or rejoicing with a newly married couple. In my experience, contentment is static and is not related to my emotional ups and downs. So have I learned to be content or am I just wired that way? I suppose upon further analysis, the answer would be a little bit of both.

What do you think? How do you define yourself when it comes to “happiness” or “contentment”?images[2]

I’m excited to read your comments. Click on the “Leave A Comment” icon below to join the discussion!

INSOMNIA, 9/11 and LOVE

The older I get, the alison sleepmore I struggle with insomnia. The more I struggle with insomnia, the more questions I have about everything. . .the universe, my place in it, God. . .the typical unknowns that no one has all the answers to.

In my most recent battle with the shut-eye, the minute my eyes opened I was roused with this well-known inspirational verse bouncing around in my brain. “And these three remain, faith, hope and love . . .and the greatest of these is love”. Really brain? Ok, I’m game..let’s do this. So I’m pretty sure I’ve got a significant grip on what “faith” is. Spiritually speaking, faith is belief in things not seen which are based on an inner revelation rather than physical proof. “Hope” seems pretty straight forward. . .to wait expectantly for a certain outcome. Then comes the big one, the one that remains, outlasts hope and faith . . .the one thing most of us desire to have in our lives more than wealth, wisdom or fame . . .”LOVE”.

It is difficult for me to slap a one liner definition on the end of love. What is love? I know how I “feel” inside when I love someone. I know how I feel when someone loves me. I also find it rather easy to point out what love isn’t. If love is one thing, I’m sure that it could be defined as “selfless”. When we truly love someone and they are needy or hurting, we give of ourselves without any consideration for our own needs or wants. In my opinion, love is always an action verb, otherwise it is just another word in a poem that rhymes with ‘above’.

After pondering that love is the greatest thing we could aspire to, my thoughts went to another verse that expounds even further on the importance of love. “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” Wow! Now that is some serious sacrifice. I could give everything I own away to the homeless man on the corner, but if I don’t have love, I have ZIP. Even more seriously, I could be burned as a martyr for my own beliefs . . .but if I go up in flames while hating my neighbor, I’ve missed the boat and my sacrifice is meaningless. That is heavy.

And then the epiphany . . .

I immediately began to think about the biggest modern-day example of such a martyrdom. On 9/11, nineteen hijackers boarded U.S. airplanes. Each hijacker had tremendous faith in Allah, the one they call the one true God, the one they prayed to every day since they had been taught to recite the Koran. Even with such great faith, no doubt, their faith was equally matched and perhaps surpassed by their hope for great reward in the after life. The verse sprang to life for me. This is a picture on a very grand scale. Easy to recognize because of the enormity of the crime and the obvious evil associated with the deed. Faith? Yes. Hope? Definitely, yes. Love? Their hearts were so blinded by hatred for you and me, and every other American, including their Muslim brothers and sisters who were working in the towers that day, that they gave up EVERYTHING …for NOTHING!

So, what is there for me to learn from this middle of the night interruption to my much-needed beauty sleep? If I have a lot of faith and hope…who benefits? It seems that both of these are more for the edifying of one’s self. If my friend is depressed and really needs me to spend time with her, the fact that I have hope and faith are not really helpful to her in that instance. She needs action . . .she needs my love, displayed by showing up, hanging out and listening and holding her hand.

I also realize that when someone tells me how awesome the sermon was last Sunday but in the very next breath tells me how they absolutely hate the President of the United States or how they can’156431_4055687387395_648010028_n[1]t stand their sister and never talk to her anymore…etc., I immediately feel a disconnect. It seems so inconsistent to me, therefore I have a hard time respecting anything else they have to say. Once again, I grapple with this question. If faith and hope are not completely enveloped in love, then what purpose do they serve? Apparently, a whole lot of nada.

After tossing and turning for over an hour, my mind was finally able to rest with a fresh respect for the beauty in the truth of  “. . .and the greatest of these is LOVE.”

Spring Awakening

 Beauty Beyond the Traditions. . .

During this wonderful time of the year, I find myself being thankful for a multitude of blessings. Every morning when I open the shutters it seems there is another colorful blossom to greet me. Although my nasal passages do not approve of the seasonal delights, my other senses are overjoyed. My husband and I have been taking great joy in the brightly colored cardinal who has been frolicking outside our office window. Soon after our cherry tree released its pink blossoms to float like pink snow to the ground, the white azaleas that line our front and backyard bloomed overnight. Spring in Charlotte, is definitely a sight to behold.

April not only ushers in a time of beautiful flowers and lush green grass, but a time of spiritual renewal and reflection. It is at this time of year that I become especially thankful for the diversity of my friendships and the blessing I receive from viewing this most holy week from two different perspectives. Leading up to Passover, my Jewish friends are busy preparing for company, bringing out special plates and cookware, cooking flourless cakes, making matzoh balls and many other Kosher delights, while setting the stage to reenact a tradition celebrated for thousands of years. In fact, the very same tradition that Jesus, as an observant Jew, repeated at the Last Supper in the upper room.

Fortunately, and much to my delight, my Jewish friends have invited me several times to enjoy this amazing feast and celebration. For me, a protestant Christian girl from Oklahoma, having the opportunity to enjoy Passover has made the Old Testament story of the exodus from Egypt leap off the pages (kind of like the difference between seeing a movie in black and white on an 18 inch TV versus viewing it in 3D in an IMAX theater.) Before this experience, my view was more aligned with Cecil B. DeMille’s hollywood version depicted in the motion picture epic “The Ten Commandments.”  Experiencing the “several thousand-year old” live version, has been much more impactful and spiritually moving.

When I was a little girl (brought up in a non-religious home) this particular weekend was all about that magical morning when I would awaken to find what the Easter bunny had left me. Of course the jelly beans and chocolate bunny propped upon the green crinkled grass delighted me, but it was the stuffed soft furry animal that accompanied the basket that brought me the most joy. As I grew up and began to seek for truth and develop a strong desire to know God, Easter took on a different meaning. I was only about eight years old the first time I saw the movie “The Robe”. In the movie, as Jesus was being nailed to the cross and the Roman guard was gripping his scarlet robe in his arms, my heart was aching causing my eyes to release rivers of guilt and sorrow. Traumatic and emotionally jarring as the scene was to my young psyche, the truth was, the message gripped my soul and I remember at that moment, I was forever changed.

Today, my spiritual journey has taken me to an unexpected place of peace and love not ever captured on the big screen or outlined in a few verses of Times New Roman text. Converging two different worlds of man’s story of who God is and all that concept entails, has reduced me to a single human emotion. . .love. . .and for that, once again, I am truly thankful.

Happy Spring Awakening to all of you!

I

The Gift

Red and Yellow, Black and White. . .We Are Precious in His Sight

We all feel blessed when we recognize our parents passed on their wonderful talents and gifts through their DNA, such as the ability to create beautiful art, sing an aria, perform amazing athletic feats or to solve intricate mathematical equations. But one gift I am especially thankful for was not part of my genetic make-up, but rather a gift my mother gave me – unknowingly, by her life example.

When I was ten years old, my mom moved our family to a very small rural town in Oklahoma. It was the summer of 1969 and although the schools had been integrated, the town itself was still segregated by law. Black residents were not allowed to live on the north side of the train tracks, forcing them to exist in a part of the city which had no indoor plumbing or running tap water. Soon after we arrived, my mother landed a job at the hospital as a purchasing agent. After a few short weeks, she became close friends with a co-worker in her office. Her name was Cora, she was a single mother of a little boy. . .she lived with her parents and several other family members in a little three room house on the south side of the tracks. My mom’s best friend was black, and even though it was 1969 and she had a good job with good pay at the hospital, she was not allowed (at that time) to be our neighbor and enjoy a simple thing like an indoor toilet.

That summer between my 5th and 6th grade year, as well as the next, Cora’s mother offered to take care of me while my mom worked full-time. My days were filled with chasing chickens around the yard, learning how to dance (soul-train style) and doing typical kid stuff (playing tag and hide and seek). I remember the first time I had to use the outhouse – I pinched my nose together with my thumb and index finger and looked around at the four wooden walls. Light was streaming in through cracks and holes – time and weather had left – in the gray wood slats. I prayed no peeking eyes were staring in at me. As soon as I was finished with my business, I pushed the door open and ran out to play with my new friends. . .quickly forgetting the unpleasant odor, no trauma or anxiety, just childish acceptance of my new surroundings (amazing how the world looks through a child’s eyes). Although my presence was certainly a spectacle in the neighborhood, I was never made to feel different or like I stood out (which I definitely did). I became part of the family…and I have wonderful memories from that time in my life. Early in the 70’s, the city managers finally passed a new (much belated) law allowing anyone, regardless of race, to live wherever they wanted. Cora, and her sister, moved into a lovely, new apartment just down the street from us. My mother was elated.

Later in life, I realized my mother had given me a unique and precious gift that would stay with me for the rest of my life . . .the gift of color blindness. As I entered into adolescence and adulthood, the gift would not only serve to broaden my horizons and social outlook, but would actually blossom into a rather quirky personality characteristic – I possess a stalker-like attraction to anyone from a different country, who has a unique accent, different language, culture or religious background. Early in our marriage, my husband worked for a Dutch company, so I studied Dutch for several years. Much to my amazement, I was able to converse with some of the wives when they came to the United States. Now he works for an Italian company, so I have spent many hours listening to “How To Speak Italian” CD’s while driving in my car . . “come stai, molto bene, grazie!”

Fortuitously, my job as a fitness instructor has allowed me to interact with people from all over the world – which for me, is so friggin cool! Just two weeks ago, I had three ladies from Russia, two ladies from Japan and two from Israel in one class – truly fantastic. My class – which is done in a circle – is just a small representation of our world today. I feel so incredibly fortunate to work in an environment where my so-called “box” is daily expanded. If I had not been given the gift at such an early age, perhaps I would be striving hard to pull them into my narrow space, but because my mom was a very open-minded, accepting person, I find myself enveloped in a world of nuance, cultural beauty and colorful celebration. Now, it is up to me and the rest of us, to make sure this type of societal color blindness,  is passed on to our children. For this gift I have to say…merci, grazie, gracias, spasibo, danke and finally, THANK YOU!!