The headlines are enough to make even the most relentless optimist despair. Those of us who are trying to ignore world news still find it seeping in around the edges while we stand in lines at the grocery store or bank or post office and listen to the conversations around us. So, as we hurtle toward Samhain at what feels like warp speed, I would like to suggest that we take the next two weeks to be intentional about harvesting some happiness before we enter into the time of spiritual (if not physical) rest and renewal that comes with the shorter days and longer nights of the winter quarter. [If you are living in the southern hemisphere, you can put this post away for another six months.]
Something has been shifting in me since I passed what I assume is mid-life. It shifts in fits and starts rather than in a straight line. I take two steps forward and one back, one forward and two back, three forward and two back…you know how it works. I think I am inching toward transformation, but sometimes it is hard to feel totally confident about that.
My guess is that most of you have wrestled with this shift to some degree because most of you grew up in a western (hemisphere)-northern (hemisphere)-first-world-success-oriented environment…and were enculturated by its values. And one of the assumptions of those cultural norms is that we all have weaknesses and we need to spend most of our life eliminating our weaknesses. Of course, because we are trained into cultural values from infancy, they are hard-wired into our psyches. This makes it very difficult to step outside them and observe them (and question them.)
So we focus for the vast majority of our waking hours on what we don’t do well in order to develop our weaknesses into strengths so that (someday) we will be ‘good’, ‘useful’, ‘responsible’, ‘mature’, ‘well-differentiated’ human beings. Which, if you stop to think about it, is a sure-fire recipe for unhappiness.[And we wonder why the headlines are enough to make even the most relentless optimist despair.]
I have noticed something (again) recently (or as Yogi Berra said, “It feels like déjà vu all over again.”) I have noticed that when I spend more time thinking about my strengths (my gifts, the abundance with which I bless the world, the skills that come as easily to me as breathing), I am happier. Not only am I happier, I am more productive, more generous, more loving, kinder, gentler, funnier, wiser, and (I suspect) both more self-differentiated and more integrated. People actually enjoy being around me more. This should not come as a surprise although every time I notice it, I am surprised by my surprise.
As I was driving alone across Colorado, Nebraska and Iowa on the way to Minnesota, I had a lot of time to think and one of the thoughts that popped into my head as I was watching the sunrise one morning is, The universe is constantly making strengths stronger. Science has a name for this process; it is called evolution. Evolution is always rewarding what functions well; always celebrating what works.
The gifts and blessings are renewed constantly, encouraged, reinforced, broadened and deepened. Things change, yes, absolutely, but creation doesn’t take what doesn’t work and start tinkering with it to improve the species. Evolution-Creation-The Power of the Universe builds on strengths. The new ideas (the mutations) that are beneficial get to keep on keeping on, the other stuff drops away. (Humanity meddles with this a lot, but the universe keeps working around us in ways large and small to build on the strengths and let the weaknesses shrivel and disappear.)
We humans might want to consider paying attention to this.
Which brings me to happiness.
Having been a Christian all my life, and having been a parish minister who preaches the scriptural wisdom of Christianity for over three decades, I have spent a lot of time pondering (and proclaiming) the idea that we do not live for ourselves alone and that uncontrolled hedonism is no better than any other addiction. But I am going to crawl way out on the heretical limb here and say that — on the other hand — suffering for the sake of suffering is idolatry of the worst kind. Being miserable does not make us better people.
In fact, quite the opposite. Rejecting or ignoring or undervaluing the blessings of our unique life is (to put it in theological language), spitting in the face of G-d. [And if you don’t believe in G-d, it is even more pointless.]
If the universe rewards gift and strength by increasing them, why are we not doing the same? Why are we not following our passion, our joy, our delight, our happiness? Isn’t that a reasonable way to discover and honor that divine imprint within us? If Appreciative Inquiry is right (and I believe it is), we are going to grow in the direction of the questions we ask and the attitudes on which we focus. I would posit that the world would be a much better place if we all focused on the joy and wonder in our lives rather than the places we ‘should’ be improving.
My 21-day Art Journey taught me more than I can even begin to process. I have shared some of the pithier lessons (Harvesting Color, Harvesting Texture, Harvesting Line), but one of the things it affirmed for me is that creating fiber art energizes and happifies me (to use the Quaker term). My hours are full of beauty rather than full of self-judgment. And (you could have guessed this, right?) when I am less self-judgmental, I am also less other-judgmental. Which can only be a good thing.
So, for the next two weeks, I am inviting you to join me in lifting up the things that inspire and delight each of us, celebrating the gifts and blessings that are the true harvests of our lives. I started this two days ago, so I have a little jump on you, but I invite you to take a moment either when you wake in the morning or before you sleep at night and list an alphabet of your personal strengths and gifts. (I mean saying out loud – or writing it down if you are afraid someone might overhear – “I am Audacious, and Bright, and Courageous, and a good Dancer…” and so on.) Every day. Every single day.
Let’s do our own bit to happify the whole world.
And here is a prayer-poem to get you started, if you would like:
who delights to be revealed in
every atom of the Great Shalom,
shape me in the nine embodiments
wisdom of laughter,
confidence of kindness,
inspiration of growth,
generosity of hope,
desire of courage,
patience of curiosity,
potential of dream,
yearning of love,
wonder of compassion.
Let it be so. Let it ever be so.
Text © 2015, Andrea La Sonde Anastos
Photos © 2015 Immram Chara, LLC
NOTE: Several new smaller pieces from the 21-Day Art Journey will be going up in my Etsy shop in the next week. I invite you to go see them — especially if you didn’t share the journey.