On NOT Being “Humor Challenged” … Seriously

“…the Spirit prays for us with groans too deep for words.” ~Romans 8:26b

If the Spirit prays with groans too deep for words, then I’m okay with my moans and groans about writing on the topic of “happiness.” Writing is for me a spiritual practice … writing letters to the Divine in my journal is a prayer practice for me.

I often moan and groan until an opening occurs and what is too deep for words emerges … wisdom flows from my pen as though from the still, small voice within. The Divine doesn’t always speak to me this way, but I have experienced these transcendent moments enough to trust that my moans and groans are leading me to a deeper place of awareness. Being in league with the Spirit isn’t a bad place to be.

And so, while I moaned and groaned about writing on the topic of “happiness” for my writing group, I trusted something deeper would emerge. And it has and continues. Here’s the latest!

Growing up, my family dubbed me the weird, serious one. They reveled in joke telling and laughing uproariously. I didn’t get some of their jokes, didn’t find some of them funny, and couldn’t join in their merry-making.

I inevitably forgot or messed up the punch line of most jokes I attempted to tell. My family happily reinforced my thinking about myself as “humor challenged.” That presented a dilemma

If you have been following my blog posts on happiness, you have probably guessed that my memoir, A Long Awakening to Grace, is not a tale of “happily every after.”

“Be kind to your readers. Color your darker moments with humor to lighten the heaviness of your story,” those of us writing memoirs are taught.

As you might imagine, that unsettled me. How could a “humor challenged” woman prone to melancholy make her less than “happily ever after” story funny?

“Comedy comes from pain.” ~Kevin Hart

According to Forbes, Kevin Hart, was the highest paid comedian on the planet last year. That makes him pretty popular. And he makes people laugh by making fun of himself and finding humor in painful situations in his life … like his fear of the dark and absurd reactions to his mother’s death.

I’m no Kevin Hart, but fortunately for me, I have good friends and many of them find me funny … not for the jokes I tell … I gave up on jokes a long time ago. They find my  comments about the absurdities of life and my wry comments, usually made at my own expense, funny. Sometimes they even laugh uproariously.

If you have ever experienced that side of me, just know that is a sign that I feel really safe with you.

And fortunately for me, I had a good editor. After reading my manuscript, she would not accept my perception that I am “humor challenged.” Hmmm. Had she noticed something in my writing that would at least give my readers a chuckle.

Hey, I’ll take a chuckle anytime.

But, since satire had never automatically flowed from my fingers before, the tongue-in-cheek humor that emerged as I wrote about “happiness” filled me with happiness. 🙂 I noted it as the presence of the Transcendent.

Then, last weekend, some bonafide funny words popped out of my mouth in a phone conversation with a friend I hadn’t talked with for awhile. She was excited to hear that I have finished writing my memoir and that it will be published in 2018. I told her:

“My memoir is in three parts:

The first part is: ‘I’m a mess.’

The second part is: ‘I’m getting my act together.’

The third part is: ‘I think I’m getting the hang of this now.'”

We both chuckled. Later she sent me an e-mail.

“It was so delightful to talk with you this afternoon.  I can hardly wait until your book is published!  Please keep me in that loop so I can get an early copy.”

You, too, could be “in that loop.” All I need is your e-mail and permission to add you to my list. You could send me a message on my contact page. Or, if you haven’t already, you could sign up to receive notifications through my blog. Just saying.

I never cease to be amazed and in awe at the way Spirit works in my life. Today I’m grateful to know that I am seriously not “humor challenged.” My editor confronted me several times with this truth. She will be happy that I finally get it. Groan! Forgive me. Sometimes I can be a slow learner. 😉

Happiness: How I Missed the Mark

As I mentioned in my previous posts, I moaned and groaned with the other women in my Cincinnati Writer’s Group as we came to our gathering to share what we wrote about “Happiness.” Today, I am quite happy that we chose to write and share on this topic because it has led to an important awakening in my life.

After contemplating Gary’s profound piece on Transcendent Happiness, I realized that my moans and groans related to my 1950s-60s socialization.

Missing the Mark (sin in the original languages):

The promise of “happily ever after” portrayed in co-dependent ballads that I loved as an idealistic, naive young woman: (think Johnny Mathis’s “Voice of Romance” … Misty, Chances Are, The Twelfth of Never) and musicians who made my heart be-bop (think Ricky Nelson, Elvis Presley, Tommy Sands) tripped me up.

“Happily Ever After”

I actually believed that “happily ever after” was how life was supposed to work. Somehow I missed that it is a MYTH! I missed the mark.

When my life didn’t work according to my expectations, I wrestled to make sense of it.

At first, I made myself the problem. “What’s wrong with me?” I tried to whip myself into shape with a long list of self-sabotaging messages. More “Missing the Mark.” 

When I learned about misogyny and sexism, contributing to women’s low self-worth, I reasoned that life was unfair. True, but knowing that didn’t help me hit the mark.

Eventually I found a more productive route. Focusing on “What am I doing wrong?” produced a lot of fruit. There was indeed a lot I was doing wrong. I made a concerted effort to clean up my act.

The tongue-in-cheek perspective in the next paragraph that appeared in my original treatise on “Happiness” makes me happy because it flowed from my fingers automatically … a sure sign of the Transcendent engaging me. 

Not everyone in my life liked my journey from “dysfunctional” to “more functional.” I can’t say from “dysfunctional” to “functional” because I’m not functionally perfect, though a very dysfunctional part of me wishes I were.

Pay Dirt

 

“The whole idea in life is growth. I mean you stop growing, you stop asking questions, you lose your curiosity. That’s not a life you want to live.” ~Goldie Hawn

Gary’s writing on Transcendent Happiness made me curious about my moans and groans. That opened my eyes to how off-center and out-of-balance my 50s-60s mindset throws me … how much I still carry that longing within me for “happily ever after” and how far from the real treasures in life that obsession takes me. Knowing how I miss the mark when it comes to the topic of happiness, I think I can let go of “happily ever after” once and for all. What a relief.

The Comparison Trap:

“Aggregate happiness has not risen in countries where incomes and educational levels have risen. There is much evidence that people compare their income with other people and, if others become richer, they feel less happy at any given level of income.” ~World Happiness Report

 

The same can be said for “happiness.”

“When I compare myself or my life with others, that is a sure sign that I have moved too far away from engaging or allowing myself to be engaged by the Transcendent.” ~Linda A. Marshall

I think my friend, Pat, who described her true happiness as having a sense of peace even when things around her are not going well is on to something significant. She attributes her peace to her relationship with God and the Holy Spirit working through her…what I believe Gary was saying in different words.

For me, I much prefer to focus on The Pursuit of Meaning. That leads me to be right on the mark … growing in consciousness.

Thank you, Gary, for opening my eyes a wee bit wider and my heart to the true treasures in life: my blessings as well as the strength, resilience, and wisdom that can flow from adversity when I am open to receiving it. That is “happiness” I can embrace.

Transcendent Happiness

As we gathered, the female’s in my writing group groaned about our topic of “Happiness.” Our lone gentleman just smiled.

Gary, one of the deepest and most reflective men I have ever met, noted that on July 4, 1776, our Declaration of Independence named the pursuit of happiness as our inalienable right.

And then on April 10, 2017, 240 years later, Gary received this from Sounds True, “Your experiences matter. And how experiences change your brain profoundly affects your happiness.”

Sounds True was advertising a Rick Hanson masterclass. Hanson has written many books including Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence and offers several masterclasses through Sounds True.

Hanson is a psychologist with a special interest in neuroscience’s research about our brain’s neuroplasticity and how we can rewire our brain to get our emotions back in balance. He says that happiness is far more than a positive feeling that comes and goes. It is a skill that you can develop. Bridging neuropsychology with the great contemplative traditions, Dr. Hanson helps people learn to let go of negative experiences to make space for positive thoughts and feelings.

When Gary received this advertisement about Hanson’s masterclass, he asked himself, “Am I happy? Do I need to take this class?”

He began to write his reflections on these questions and after three drafts, felt happy with his result.

Personally, I think “I felt happy with the result” is an understatement.

Gary realized that he is and always has been a happy person. He hadn’t known that in quite the same way and that led him to ask, “What is the source of my happiness?”

His answer was profound. “I am happiest when I am ‘Engaging the Transcendent.” He went on to share the various forms in which he engages the transcendent.

You can read what he wrote here.

How would you answer Gary’s question: “What is the source of my happiness?”
In what ways do you “engage the transcendent?”

 

Female Happiness

My Cincinnati Writer’s Group is made up of five women and one man. All of us are, well shall I say, striving to be wise elders. I found it interesting that when we gathered, all of us women were groaning about our topic “Happiness.” None of us found it easy to write about. What troubled me was what seemed to me our “giggles and rolling eyes of shame.”

Our one lone gentleman just smiled.

Isabelle in front row wearing pink top has moved to PA. Current group from left to right starting in back row: Jenny, Kate, Lynn, Jeanne, Linda, and Gary.

This is the fourth in my series on “happiness” and what follows are some of the things I found in my research which may account for our female discomfort and possibly ameliorate shame:

When asked “Overall, how satisfied are you with your life these days?” by World Happiness Report researchers, those citing high levels of satisfaction attributed it to “having a partner and a family life.” These are crucial factors in Western countries because of the decreased importance we give to the extended family.

Living alone was cited as a potent source of misery as was compromised health.

  • Four of the five women in our group do not have a partner. Three live alone.
  • Two of us singles are caregivers — one for an aging parent and the other has a disabled adult child living with her.
  • The partnered woman just returned from a disappointing visit to her children and grandchildren. Their busy lifestyles meant that she spent a lot of time alone. Even when they were together, her family members’ noses were often in their electronics.
  • Three of us singles have recently experienced a significant death of either a parent or a sibling.
  • One of us singles is currently experiencing some health challenges requiring a change in lifestyle, adding to her stress.

Two of us female singles are still in the workforce. Happiness research reveals that for adults, income is a more important contributor to happiness than education. People in well-paid roles are happier.

My research further revealed some interesting facts about the gender pay gap, a significant source of inequality for women. The American Association of University Women, a leader on the issue since 1894, reports that the gap has narrowed considerably in the last one hundred years. They attribute the narrowing since 1960 (when I graduated high school) largely to women’s progress in education and workforce participation and to men’s wages rising at a slower rate.

The gap is, however, still sizable, is worse for our sisters of color, and doesn’t seem likely to go away soon. In 2015, women working full time in the United States typically were paid just 80 percent of what men were paid, a gap of 20 percent. At the rate of change between 1960 and 2015, women are expected to reach pay equity with men in 2059.

But that slow progress has stalled in recent years. If change continues at the slower rate seen since 2001, women will not reach pay equity with men until 2152. No one living today will be alive to see it.

The World Happiness Researchers compared 2005-2011 with 2012-2015 and found that happiness inequality has increased significantly. And people living in societies where there is less inequality of happiness are happier. If I am reading their findings correctly, it seems that the issue of income inequality so prevalent in our country and across the world is a significant factor contributing to inequality of well-being.

Needless to say, the gender pay gap and income inequality in general have lifelong financial consequences. While we in our group don’t dwell on it, none of us single women experience financial security. We have all been creative in juggling our wants and needs with our purse strings.

My conclusion: The women in my writing group and women in general have nothing to be ashamed about regarding discomfort with the topic of “Happiness.” My admiration for the resilience of all women has only increased with my exploration and reflections on the topic.

Do you have a different reading about the World Happiness Report’s findings on “inequality of well-being?” If so, would you be willing to share it?
Have you ever experienced shame or being chastised for not exhibiting the requisite amount of “happiness?” If so, how did you feel and how did you handle it?
How have the findings of the World Happiness Report and AAUW researchers affected you?

 

Gross National Happiness

After choosing grappling with writing about my own happiness or lack their of and deciding on this safe way to write about the topic for my writing group, I found the following enlightening data:

In the 1970’s, Bhutan’s King Wanchuck defied the trends in developing countries who were focusing on their “Gross National Product,” their economic success and prosperity. He found this dehumanizing and decided to focus on “Gross National Happiness.” I thought that was a novel and interesting idea.

In 2012, the Center for Bhutan Studies defined eight general contributors to happiness:

  • physical, mental, and spiritual health
  • time-balance
  • social and community vitality
  • cultural vitality
  • education
  • living standards
  • good governance
  • and ecological vitality

I was pleased to note that for their top indicator, physical, mental, and spiritual health, I am reasonably sound. Even though I have had two life-threatening illnesses, my most recent medical tests have had glowing results. The slight weakness in my heart would be improved if I did more than exercise my fingers at the keyboard most days. 

That same year, the U.N. General Assembly declared March 20 as World Happiness Day, recognizing happiness and well-being as universal goals and aspirations in the lives of human beings around the world.

Good for you, United Nations!!

In April of 2012, the U.N. began publishing annual World Happiness Reports based on the question: “Overall, how satisfied are you with your life these days?” Researchers measured happiness on a scale of 0 to 10 (from “extremely dissatisfied” to “extremely satisfied”).

I’m not prepared to answer that question in this post. You’ll be hearing more from me on this topic in the future.

How would you answer that question?

These researchers identified three key factors accounting for the huge variation in happiness:

  • Economic = income and employment with well-paid, white-collar jobs providing work-life balance, variety, and autonomy happier than blue-collar workers.
  • Social = creating strong social foundations through education and family life. In Western countries where less importance is given to the extended family, having a partner is crucial.
  • Health = physical and mental.

They found the following potent sources of misery. I am grateful that I do not fall into any of these categories:

  • mental illness (depression and anxiety disorders)
  • poverty
  • low education
  • unemployment

 

 

In 2012, the United States ranked 23rd on a 50-country  happiness index. Hmm, that’s interesting. We found ourselves far behind:

  1. Iceland
  2. New Zealand
  3. Denmark

Even Singapore, Malaysia, Tanzania, and Vietnam ranked higher than the United States.

 

The 2017 report researched 155 countries. We moved up in the world. The United States rose from 23 of 50 in 2012 to 14 of 155 in 2017. This time we trailed behind:

  1. Norway
  2. Denmark
  3. Iceland
  4. Switzerland
  5. Finland
  6. Netherlands
  7. Canada
  8. New Zealand
  9. Australia
  10. Sweden
  11. Israel
  12. Costa Rica
  13. Austria

Researchers gave a special role to the measurement and consequences of inequality in the distribution of well-being among countries and regions for their 2017 report.

Interesting and enlightening, don’t you think?

They found that people are happier living in societies where there is less inequality of happiness.

Makes sense to me.

Disturbingly, they found that happiness inequality has increased significantly in most countries, in almost all global regions, and for the population of the world as a whole. (comparing 2012-2015 to 2005-2011).

That’s sad to hear.

The researchers began to change the way they looked at happiness. They found that these measures of human welfare are better than analyzing education, good government, health, income, and poverty separately:

  • generosity
  • a healthy life expectancy
  • having someone to count on
  • perceived freedom to make life choices
  • freedom from corruption

I can see how the first four contribute to better human welfare. I found “freedom from corruption” interesting and wonder what the researchers meant by that and whether there is any link to it and good government. I wonder where the United States will fall when the 2018-2020 reports are published? I wonder if anyone I know has been included in their research data. Has anyone reading this ever been asked by a researcher, “Overall, how satisfied are you with your life these days?” No one has asked me, except maybe my writing group.

Norway’s rising to the top over Denmark, which had held the top spot for several years, is not attributed to an increase in finances. Instead, it is what they did with their money that mattered. They emphasized the future over the present. Because they have high levels of mutual trust, shared purpose, generosity, and good governance, they found decisions about what to do with their money easier. I found that piece of information very interesting and enlightening.

What do you think about King Wanchuck’s idea of measuring “Gross National Happiness?”

What about the findings of the World Happiness Report affected you the most?

How have these findings changed the way you view the topic of “happiness?”