Because I’m Happy

BalloonsIt seems fitting to close out 2014 with recognition of Pharrell Williams’ “Happy,” the most played song on the radio in 2014. It also claimed the top spot on Billboard Magazine’s Hot 100 songs. You can only feel one thing when you listen to this catchy tune: Happy. How refreshing…Happiness and hope are remembered, not forgotten.

Amidst a chaotic world and turbulent times, it makes me happy to know that there are other people who crave – and encourage – happiness in their lives.

The volumes of research on the topic of happiness include Dr. Michael Fordyce’s happiness increase studies in the 1970s and the creation of the Fordyce Happiness Scale. Dr. Ed Diener of the University of Illinois is one of the most well respected (and cited) psychologists on the topic of subjective well-being. New York Times best selling author Gretchen Rubin has penned several contemporary books on the topic, including The Happiness Project. Today’s research has become more sophisticated. You can even participate in the Track Your Happiness research project that tracks your attitude towards life through your iPhone.

Think of the top ten things that make you happy. How much time do you invest in doing those things that make you happy? It’s time to create your list. It could include simple things. A hug. A conversation. Quiet time. Here’s a peek at my top ten list of the things that make me happy:

  1. My husband, Mark, gives me the freedom to be myself, and that makes me happy.
  2. Cherished conversations with my 94-year old Mom ground me.
  3. A solo walk in the park reminds me that I am part of a larger world.
  4. Quality time with people who I truly care about and who accept me for who I am is time well spent.
  5. Our two rescue cats bring me tremendous joy.
  6. Eating warm, fresh-baked bread (is there anything better?) helps me to stop and savor the flavor.
  7. Challenging, meaningful work keeps me engaged and interested.
  8. Contributing to charitable organizations allows me to help others.
  9. Gardening lets me create a beautiful environment and provides me with much-needed quite time.
  10. Singing out loud to a favorite song when no one else is around, well, that is so freeing.

As 2014 ends and 2015 begins, let me ask you this: What if you could share your happiness with others? What if you could share your support, care, even wealth, with people? You can. Something as simple as a kind word can bring a smile to someone’s face. And seeing that smile will make you feel happy. Speaking of happy…Happy New Year!

The Return of Excited Anticipation

ChristyWithSanta1957:8 copyIt’s Christmas morning. My older sister Marianne stands at the foot of my bed and whispers with great excitement, “Christy, it’s Christmas morning!”I reluctantly open one eye and stir a bit. The impact of her message fails to reach me. She moves closer. “C’mon, Christy. Get up! It’s Christmas morning!” Her words finally sink into my brain. Now both eyes are open and my feet hit the ground.

In the earlier days of my childhood, my parents made a brilliant move. They put up the Christmas tree in our basement. In our two-story home, having to travel two sets of stairs to reach our presents increased the anticipation.

Marianne runs ahead of me down the first set of stairs. We are excited to reach the living room floor. The anticipation builds. We dash through the living room, dining room and kitchen. We reach for the light switch to the basement. Now we have another set of stairs to descend and turn left to reach the tree. Before us stands the small tree, adorned with blown glass ornaments in all colors. Gracing the tree top is a molded plastic angel. Our eyes immediately go to the gifts under the tree. We crouch down and begin to find our gifts. We’re very talented at shaking them and guessing what’s inside. A doll? A game? A new outfit? To the left of the tree is an artificial fireplace constructed of red and white “brick” corrugated cardboard and a hearth that my Dad will plug in so the embers glow. I think it’s the coolest thing.

My parents have one rule for Christmas morning: We are not permitted to open our gifts until they come downstairs. My other two older sisters will come with them then. That’s when our neatly decorated basement turns into a chaotic scene, with gift wrap everywhere. We each receive a few gifts. At least one of them is something from my Christmas list. All is right with the world.

What would it take to have that same excited anticipation that we had as children? That sense of wonder and contentment? It is within our reach every day. Go out and seek it!

Happy Holiday, Mr. Berlin

BerlinPortrait1When I was growing up in the BPC era (Before Politically Correct), my young vocabulary knew nothing of Chanukkah or Kwanzaa. I only knew Christmas. Occasionally my parents would receive a card with the sentiment, “Season’s Greetings” or “Happy Holidays.” Most often, the card read, “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.”

Today, we celebrate many religious and cultural holidays this time of year. Some people think that the phrase “Happy Holidays” was created in recent years so that people could be more politically correct in their greetings (thinking that it covered all holidays).

It was a song, entitled Happy Holiday (no “s”) composed by Irving Berlin, one of America’s greatest song writers, and introduced in 1942 that popularized this greeting among Americans. At that time, America and many of its allies were engaged in World War II. This song helped to lighten the holidays with its upbeat tempo. Berlin’s most beloved holiday song, White Christmas, was also featured in the movie, Holiday Inn, that same year. A much more somber, reflective piece, the song was written for soldiers who were far away from home during the holidays.

No matter how you choose to extend your greetings to others this season, allow them to come from your heart. To all families – including our soldiers’ – who are away from their loved ones this season, I wish you a Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukkah and Joyous Kwanzaa from my home to yours.

A Holiday Guide for Introverts and Extraverts

During the holiday season, you are busy, busy, busy…attending or hosting holiday parties, meeting year-end quotas, buying gifts, volunteering, baking, cooking, and running lots of errands. Depending on your personal style, you are either energized or drained by all of the activity. Here is a simple guide to the holidays for introverts and extraverts.

Extraverts love being with people because they get their energy from others. For extraverts, the more people they meet or visit with, the happier they are. If they go too long without human contact, they feel like they are missing something. During the holidays, extraverts are in their glory, however, they have to be careful not to run out of steam.

Tips for Extraverts:

Get plenty of quality sleep between parties and get-togethers because you can get rundown.

Remember to chew your food and swallow it. You are so energized by others, you may try to talk and eat at the same time. Result: Indigestion. Don’t gulp. Sip. Don’t inhale food. Chew.

Come up for air. Your body needs oxygen to replenish and refresh. Take a moment to simply take a few deep breaths between mixing and mingling.

Introverts, on the other hand, can easily get “peopled out” this time of year. Introverts recharge by finding quality alone time. They would rather sit quietly at home sipping a glass of wine in private than being bombarded by too many outgoing people at parties and events. It requires a lot of energy and mental preparation for introverts to attend party after party.

Tips for Introverts:

Set a time limit. It may be easier for you to attend multiple parties and events if you give yourself a set time. Know how much you can take. Decide to stay for one hour or two. When you’re ready, leave.

Try a new zone. Every event has four distinct meeting zones: Receiving/reception zone, food zone, bar zone and sitting/standing zone. For in-home parties, there’s a fifth zone, and that’s the kitchen (food preparation zone). Instead of heading for that chair, try spending a little time in a different zone. See how it feels. Then try another zone. Movement gives you more freedom and control.

Scan the crowd for other introverts. If being with too many extraverts at the same time overwhelms you, find your tribe by looking for other introverts. They’re easy to spot. They are usually sitting by themselves or are doing less of the talking (because they can’t get in a word with extraverts).

How to handle the “Clash of the Titans.” When introverts and extraverts live together and go to parties and events together, they may experience a battle of the wills. The extravert wants to attend every party and stay all night, and the introvert doesn’t. Find a happy compromise by setting some ground rules before you leave for the event.

How many parties will you attend? (All, some, a few?)

How long will you stay? (A half hour? Hour? The entire evening?)

Will you stay together or separate at the event?

Should you drive to the event together or separately?

When you have a clearer understanding of what your personal style is – extravert or introvert – and respect and honor the person whose style is different from yours, you will get much more out of the holidays. You will have a great time because you are  prepared!


The Age of the Sage

1MomSmallThis week, my Mom turned 94. You heard me right…94! So far, she has outlived her husband by six years. She has outlived her mother by nine years. She has outlived every friend that she had from her younger days. And yet, she is as young at heart, interested and curious about the world as people half her age.

During the holidays at this time of year, people often ask “What are you thankful for?” For me, I am thankful for fully enjoying my mother in her twilight years. When I was younger, I didn’t give age much thought. My parents were simply my parents, always there for me, helping me when I needed help and supporting whatever I wanted to do with my life.Now, it’s time for me to be there for my Mom, to help and support her in the many things that she still wants to do at her age.

As an artist, my Mom is still painting and entering her paintings in local art exhibitions. As a cook and baker, she is still cooking and baking for herself and (thank goodness) for others who marvel at the fact that her culinary skills are in tact. As an avid reader, she reads every day – library books, magazines and of course her daily mail. As a faithful person, she says her prayers and rosary each morning, attends church every week and supports every special fund there is. As a natural caregiver, she thoughtfully provides and delivers meals to friends and family who are  recovering from surgery or experiencing the loss of a loved one. As the family matriarch, she knows everyone’s birthday or anniversary, and has a card ready to go in the mail when those important days come. When she hears of the upcoming arrival of a baby, she immediately gets busy knitting or crocheting a baby blanket.

My Mom is part of the “greatest” generation who grew up with traditional values of family, faith, honesty, loyalty and hard work. Each day, we lose thousands of this generation, and with them we lose their stories, their traditions and their caring nature. That’s why I am enjoying every minute with my Mom.

What sages are in your life that you can take the time to get to know better, to serve, or help? A parent? A grandparent? An aunt or uncle? A neighbor? A former teacher? Their history and experiences could enrich your life. Start the conversation today.