Angels Among Us ~~ Julie

In my memoir, A Long Awakening to Grace, I write about angels who appeared in my life. Some were there to teach me lessons. Some were there to give support during rough times. And some were there to show me that despite what I thought about myself, I was worthy of being loved. If you look back and reflect on your life, I’m sure you will be able to identify angels who attended to you in some way.

This is the first of a series I will be blogging about to feature those who contributed in some way to my awakening to grace … who appear in my story as an angel. Wherever possible, I look forward to re-connecting with every one of them in person.

Julie first appears in my life in 1999, during my awakening to grace, and in my memoir on page 240 in the chapter titled, “Summoning Courage.” She is there through page 259 in the chapter, “Fire Walk.” She was the nurse who showed up to give support during a rough time. And she went above and beyond. On two of those days, she stayed two and a half hours beyond her twelve-hour shift to minister to us. I was grateful she was a compassionate human being as well as a skilled nurse.

Julie & Linda

A few years ago I reconnected with Julie at the Neon Theater where her talented son was unveiling his film, “For Francis.” I hadn’t seen her for about fourteen years and wasn’t sure I would recognize her. But a relative of hers helped me find her and it was great to see her again and to let her know that I was following up on her suggestion.

In 1999, on the second occasion Julie stayed beyond her twelve-hour shift, she came to see how we were doing. While listening to my daughter tell a portion of our story, Julie looked at me and repeated three times, “You need to write a book about this.”

I’m not sure what went through my mind at the time, but this was not the first time someone had suggested I write a book. Compliments were scarce in my family growing up, but both my father and my brother told me on different occasions that I was a good writer and should write a book. I had no idea at that time what I would write about.

When I was in seminary, my professors praised my concise writing and the depth of my thinking. One of my academic papers was published in two University of Dayton journals. The one that thrilled me the most was, “Explorations: Journal for Adventurous Thinking.” I loved being thought of as an adventurous thinker. These experiences showed me that I had the capacity to write a book, but I still wasn’t sure what the topic would be.

I must have tucked Julie’s suggestion in the back of my mind because ten years after she made that suggestion, I took my first faltering steps in writing the story of my life. It was clear to me by that time that I had a story to tell.

Julie

Now, eighteen years after Julie’s suggestion, A Long Awakening to Grace has been published and launched out into the world. I recently had brunch with Julie to show her the culmination of her suggestion and to thank her for planting that seed.

Julie went home afterwards and read the book that day from start to finish. The next morning I received an e-mail from her that meant a lot to me.

I couldn’t put it down. I was mesmerized. Wow! I hope I can be that courageous a woman who can tackle obstacles with such grace in life. You, Linda, are a force! ~Julie Beck

In addition, her comment about my writing was music to my ears. She said that my words transported her right back into the hospital setting where she entered our lives. That is just what every writer wants to hear!

Julie and her husband have been going through their own rough time with health challenges. If my book gives her even a smidgen of the support she gave to us eighteen years ago, then I have fulfilled an important purpose for publishing and sharing my story.

Thank you, Julie, for being an angel in 1999 and for the suggestion you made about my writing a book. Writing my memoir gave me a whole new perspective on my life, helped me make sense of it, and was transforming. I am grateful to see that reading it made a difference to you. It is my hope that my journey will help and inspire all who read it.

Deciding to Change

This post was originally written on September 4. It is a bit dated. I’m late in posting it because when I returned from my trip to the MDF conference in San Francisco (September 7-10), my experience there was more pressing. Then I had computer problems and my September 11 post was finally able to be delivered on October 9. I hope to be back on track now. Thank you for bearing with me.

The television program commemorating the twentieth anniversary of Princess Diana’s death on August 31, “Diana, In Her Words,” portrayed Diana maturing before our eyes. At first shy and reticent, she peered through her eyelashes as she held her head down, a close-lipped smile spreading across her face.

Later, with her shoulders back and her head held high, her eyes glistened as she flashed broad smiles.

During her interview for the program which was used this year to commemorate her death, Diana reflected on the moment she decided to change. Instead of succumbing to the self-defeating behavior issuing forth from her fear and jealousy, she resolved to focus outward on the downtrodden, making advocacy for them her life’s work.

She decided to align her efforts with a purpose larger than herself.

 I remember the moment I decided to change.

“… I felt ripped apart, like a fraud living a double life. I hated the incongruity …. It needed addressing, and I felt ready to face the challenge. I felt ready to make a change. And a big change was what was called for.”  ~excerpts from A Long Awakening to Grace.

 

“Unnerved at first, I felt as though I had been dropped into an alien world.” Page 125 of A Long Awakening to Grace

“It is in facing your conflicts, criticisms, and contradictions that you grow up. You will remain largely unconscious as a human being until issues come into your life that you cannot fix or control and something challenges you at your present level of development, forcing you to expand and deepen. It is in the struggle with your shadow self, with failure, or with wounding, that we break into higher levels of consciousness.” ~Richard Rohr

Almost thirty-three and a half years later, I am eternally grateful that I made that decision, took the steps to change, and stayed with it when the going got rough. I would not trade where I am today for where I was in April 1983. I learned that in that so-called “alien world,” I received the life-giving nurturance I needed to blossom and thrive.

As I listened to Diana reflect on her life and as I reflect on my own, I wonder ~~

What in your life do you need to change … or have you found the need to change in the past?

What step is the still, small voice of wisdom within encouraging you to take … or did encourage you to take in the past?

If you have decided to make a change, in what ways are you wiser today than you were when you took those first faltering steps? 

What change could you currently pursue that would lead you to higher levels of consciousness?

Exploring questions like these are the kinds of conversations that fuel my enthusiasm for life.

The Voice Inside

August 31, we observed the 20th anniversary of Princess Diana’s death. My daughter and I watched a couple of the many television programs commemorating her life. I found myself paying close attention to “Diana: Her Own Words” based on the interviews she gave for Andrew Morton’s book, Diana: Her True Story.

“Everyone who wills can hear their inner voice. It is within everyone.” ~Mahatma Ghandi 

What struck me most as I listened to Diana reflect on her life was the number of times she referred to “the voice inside.” Throughout, her inner voice of wisdom spoke to her powerfully and humbly. Despite all the hoopla that surrounded her, she noticed and observed the wisdom that lived within her. She did not always heed the wisdom revealing the truth aligned with her soul.

I suppose I took note of this part of Diana’s story because I could relate. I, too, did not always heed the guidance coming from my inner voice of wisdom. I paid more attention to outside influences than to nudges from my soul. It is in that juncture that true suffering is born. It is part of what contributed to my awakening to grace being so long.

“I took note of this unmistakable warning–the first time I had received such an unambiguous message from the still, small voice of wisdom within. The next day I tried to give expression … I was unable to advocate for myself. Sadly, I possessed little relationship with my depths, my inner voice of wisdom. … I didn’t know myself or the importance of choosing a path in alignment with my soul.” ~excerpts from A Long Awakening to Grace

Just as Diana did, I tried to make the best of the wrong turns I had taken in my life. I discovered that if I kept my heart open and trusting, I would learn valuable lessons along the way.

  • All is not lost when we take a wrong turn.
  • There are treasures to be found in our suffering and in our search for the meaning of our life.
  • In silence and stillness, and sometimes in our dreams, we are more likely to hear our inner voice of wisdom.
  • Contemplative writing often results in wisdom flowing from our pen. (We can experience wisdom flowing from any form of meditation or artistic expression.)
  • In nature, if we pay attention, Divine wisdom and guidance often emerges.

“If you have a deep desire to move forward, a way is being prepared for you.” ~Bryant McGill

It was speculated that Diana was looking for a new way to move forward in her life when she died at thirty-six. And while we will never know the extent of the life lessons she learned in her short life, it was clear to me as I watched this program that she had already learned a few valuable lessons. Perhaps the intensity of her experience forced her to learn more quickly. I have no doubt that if she had lived, she would have grown in her ability to trust her “voice inside.”

Fortunately for me, I had many more years to learn to listen to the still small voice of wisdom within me … to glean the treasures from my life experience…treasures I share in

 

Noticing

 

On Monday I had an opportunity to notice how I am being affected physically and mentally by the threats to the protections put in place after the 2008 financial crisis and to the Affordable Care Act. I can’t afford to lose what I lost in 2008. My daughter can’t afford to have another healthcare crisis if she is no longer covered by health insurance.

As a responsible person, a major focus in recent weeks has been consulting with financial and estate planning experts to once again make sure everything is in order. With my daughter’s changed circumstances … moving in with me and no longer being able to work and live independently … changes need to be made. As a single woman, I find it difficult to make these important decisions alone.

 

Spiritually, I know my daughter and I will be fine no matter what the future holds. I have experienced miraculous gifts of grace in the past, but as my memoir attests, my awakening tends to be long. And, it seems, I have been caught up in fear and dread again. I’ve been afraid to tap into my savings, including investing the money I’ve saved to publish my memoir. We might need it to deal with an emergency in the future.

During lunch with a friend on Monday, something had shifted. She is serving as a caregiver for her mother and is in a similar situation as I. She is single and needs to make decisions related to her mother in the same way I need to make decisions related to my daughter. She needed a listening ear. She said our conversation was very helpful.

And our conversation was helpful to me, too. It gave me an opportunity to notice a difference in myself. It was as though the light had burst through the dark clouds that had been hovering over me. I felt totally present to her, a contrast to my experience of myself in recent weeks.

My stomach has been tied in knots, I’ve lost sleep, and most noticeable to me, I’ve had difficulty with holding information in my mind and with word retrieval. But while listening and responding to my friend, I held onto what she shared and words I felt proud to utter and she found helpful flowed easily from my mouth.

And what could this difference be attributed to?

“But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear  not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” ~Jesus of Nazareth in Matthew 10:30-31

Over the weekend, I received a gift of grace. Just a reminder that I am really not alone and that I never know who will show up and offer just what I need at just the right moment. I felt as though a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. And what a difference it makes in the way I move through life … in the way I was able to respond to  my friend.

I can let go of all the fear and dread because my daughter and I are being cared for and carried by a power greater than our own.

Thank you, Universe, I needed that reminder. As You know, I learn best through experience.

🙂

 

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?”

 

Merriam-Webster Happiness

The question at the end of my last post: What words come to mind when you hear the word “happiness?”

Pat wrote: Peace

According to Merriam-Webster, happiness is the state of being happy.  Don’t you just love definitions like that?!?

Happy is followed by a very long enumeration of synonyms:

  • cheerful, cheery, merry
  • joyful, jovial, jolly, jocular, joyous, jubilant, overjoyed
  • thrilled, elated, exhilarated, ecstatic, euphoric, exultant
  • buoyant, radiant, rapturous
  • gleeful, delighted, blissful, blithe, beatific, sunny
  • pleased, satisfied, contented, gratified
  • carefree, untroubled, lighthearted

Interesting that “peace” is not among them.

A happy person is described as being in good spirits … in a good mood.

Happy people are:

  • smiling, beaming, grinning,
  • in seventh heaven, on cloud nine, walking on air,
  • jumping for joy, tickled pink, happy as a clam,
  • over the moon, on top of the world.

It was Merriam-Webster’s description of “happy” that influenced me as I contemplated writing my essay on “happiness” for my writing group.

It is a rare occasion for any of Merriam-Webster’s words to describe me. I am an introvert and we are notorious for our discomfort in jubilant, jumping for joy crowds. A quiet evening at home holds more attraction than a room full of merry, exhilarated party-goers.

My “awkwardness” insecurity rose to the surface. Where do so serious-natured introverts fit into the “central mandate of the American character” to pursue happiness by doing the “Next Big Thing?”

How to write about “happiness?” I mulled that over for a couple of weeks, and then I was saved. A television program featured a segment on the 2017 World Happiness Report.

Aha! I had a way into the topic! Much less threatening to write about a country’s happiness than about my own or lack thereof. And my research project began.


What feelings are generated in you when you read Merriam-Webster’s list of synonyms for “happy?”

How would you approach writing about the topic of “happiness?”

Carol suggested highlighting the unexpected benefits pointed out by Shawn Achor, happiness researcher and author. Now there’s a guy who pursues happiness!

Not a bad idea, Carol. Why didn’t I think of that? Must have been that “awkwardness” brain fog. 

 

Happiness

Happiness was the topic chosen for the April meeting of my Cincinnati Contemplative Writing Group. Of the six of us, four of our essays referred to the pursuit of happiness enshrined as a right in our Declaration of Independence:

My essay turned into a research project. I will expand on this topic in my next few blog posts. This is my first installment:

I found a 2013 Time magazine article written by Jeffrey Kluger titled “The Happiness of Pursuit.” He points out that Americans have made the pursuit of happiness into a central mandate of our  national character … “an almost adolescent restlessness, an itch to do the Next Big Thing.” Even though there is no guarantee we’ll achieve happiness, we are free to go after it in almost any way we choose.

Kluger points out that the kinetic nature of our modern world is making achieving happiness harder than ever. He cites a 1972 survey showing that only one-third of Americans describe themselves as “very happy” and a poll showing that Americans identifying themselves as “optimists” has dropped from 79% in 2004 to 50% in 2013. In our lifetimes, more than 20% of us will suffer from a mood disorder and 30% from an anxiety disorder. By the time we are eighteen years old, 11% of us will have been diagnosed with depression.

This gap between our optimistic expectations and our reality has, according to Kluger, spawned the vast happiness industry that has become big business.

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.

Interesting that in our group of six, only one of us professed to currently being and always having been a happy person. Other terms used to describe our views on happiness included:

  • superficial
  • egocentric
  • uninteresting
  • highly overrated
  • fleeting
  • ephemeral
  • elusive
  • momentary
  • over-used
  • pressured expectation

Except for that one “happy” person in our group, we seem to be following the trend noted in Kluger’s essay.

What words come to your mind when you hear the word “Happiness?”

In what ways have you pursued happiness?

Where do you see yourself on the “optimism” continuum?

How would you write about this topic?

I look forward to reading your comments. More to come on this topic in future installments.

And by the way, did you notice I changed the name of this blog? 

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