How To Be Happy by Christina Knowles

Snagged from fastcompany.com
Snagged from fast company.com

As we start a new year, most of are thinking of new beginnings, fresh starts, or making changes of some kind. Why? Most of us just want to be happy. That got me to thinking about the times I have been really happy, and what makes the difference between those times and times of discontent. I noticed some things, many of which you may already do, and others you may want to try. As for me, I’m going to remind myself of these often.

  1. Don’t get upset at insignificant things; save your anger for righteous causes: Most things don’t really merit the damaging side-effects of anger. Learn to blow things off, unless they truly deserve anger. Righteous anger over injustice or cruelty can make a difference in the world. If it isn’t going to make a positive difference in the world, let it go. One way to mitigate anger is to change your perspective by putting yourself into the metaphorical shoes of the people making you angry. When you understand where someone is coming from and what motivates him, it’s a lot easier to let go of anger.
  2. Do something nice for someone when it is completely not your responsibility: A generous act of kindness means the most to others and to you when you know that doing it is in no way your responsibility. Cooking dinner when it’s your turn—you’re supposed to do that. Cook dinner when it’s someone else’s turn, and it means something. It also creates a pleasant feeling. But make sure you do not expect or even want something in return. That kind of destroys the whole concept.
  3. Be grateful for what you have. The old saying goes: “It’s not getting what you want; it’s wanting what you get.” It’s so easy to be discontent when you think of all that you need or would like to have—even non-material things like a relationship or more time. Try to stop yourself when you think of these things and focus on what you now have that you didn’t have before. Notice how far you’ve come and realize you will probably have those things someday anyway.
  4. See yourself as a member of a community: Everyone needs to feel like she belongs to something bigger than herself. For some this is a church family; for others it is a local charitable organization. Still others join book clubs or Cosplay groups. When you connect to people with similar interests, you develop meaningful friendships that can alleviate loneliness, add meaning to your life, and give you a break from stress as well as something to look forward to.
  5. Spend time each day doing something you enjoy: Don’t wait for the weekend to have some fun. Take a little time, even in the busiest day, to treat yourself to something you love. It may be taking the time to get in a workout, reading a chapter of a good book, watching a favorite TV show or movie, or taking a quick nap. Never get so busy that you neglect taking a moment to relish your life.
  6. Do meaningful work or make your work meaningful: Face it. You probably spend most of your time at work. With this in mind, you need to make your work matter. You will enjoy it so much more if you believe the work you do is important—and not just for paying the bills or important for improving the company’s bottom line. If your work is meaningless, either find a way to make your work improve the lives of others or find work that does.
  7. Don’t think you are more deserving than someone else: The quickest way to unhappiness is to become bitter and jealous, thinking you deserve what someone else has. Don’t compare yourself to others or elevate yourself over anyone. Be humble. Humility leads to gratitude and gratitude to contentment.
  8. Realize that everything changes and look forward to it: You can’t stop change. Embrace it and know that every change is a chance to make things even better.
  9. Find something to laugh at every day: Laughter is good for your health and state of mind. Don’t take things so seriously, and find something that makes you really belly-laugh often.
  10. Don’t just laugh: Express yourself emotionally whenever appropriate. Don’t hold in your feelings. Cry when you need to and express anger and disappointment in kind, thoughtful ways. Show love when you feel it. Feeling your emotions gives depth and beauty to life.
  11. Think about what you say and how you will say it before speaking: Few things cause such damage as careless words. You can save yourself a lot of heartache with a few carefully chosen words or deciding words are not necessary at all.
  12. Don’t lie—ever: Yes, easier said than done, but lying is not only unethical, it can cause a lot of stress. If you make a habit of not lying, you never have to worry about it coming back to haunt you or about it having unintended consequences. Also, when you are totally honest, you are allowing people to really know the real you. Being known by another person, and being accepted anyway, is necessary to happiness.
  13. Don’t gossip: Even innocent and seemingly harmless gossip can end with serious consequences. Your gossip will come back to burn you when you least expect it, and it hurts people you probably never meant to hurt.
  14. Truthfully compliment someone every day: Consciously notice good things about others, including those you may have conflicts with, but especially those you want to keep loving, and then let them know that you noticed these good things. Not only does this make those you compliment feel good, it makes you like them more. When we look for the good in others, we will find it, and we will realize their value more often. It also makes us happier to see the good in others, rather than focusing on their faults.
  15. Spend some time in nature as often as possible: Even city lovers benefit from listening to nature’s sounds, breathing in fresh air, and feeling the earth beneath their bare feet. Connecting to the earth can be a spiritual experience for some, creating inner peace, calming stress, and lowering blood pressure. Spending at least twenty minutes a day in the sunshine helps prevent cancer and lifts the mood as well.
  16. Take care of yourself: Mind and body. Eat delicious, nutritious foods, exercise your body, get plenty of sleep, and use your brain. In addition to physical exercise, exercise your mind by reading, solving puzzles, riddles, or problems. Learn something new or memorize a favorite quote or poem. Keep a vocabulary list of definitions of interesting new words and use them daily. Being healthy, mind and body, contributes to happiness.
  17. Enjoy the arts, even if you aren’t talented: Read and write poetry, watch dance or dance yourself, view and make visual art, go to a play or act in a local theater production, listen to music or make music yourself. The arts make life more beautiful, and creating anything artistic naturally leads to joy.
  18. Give to charity throughout the year: We often think of donating at the end of the year either for tax benefits or because everyone is having their end-of-the-year drives for contributions, but organizations need help all year long. Giving is much more meaningful if we research and support organizations that represent our personal convictions and passions. As an animal lover, I find it rewarding and important to give to no-kill shelters and animal rescues. I also like to give to organizations that help the poor in my own community, such as the Springs Rescue Mission, the Salvation Army, and the local Red Cross shelter. My husband and I support National Public Radio as sustaining members because its presence and content is important in our lives and that of the community. We also give to various charities that help the community and to fundraisers we find worthy. Giving throughout the year, helps others, makes you a part of a larger community, gives a sense of belonging, and reinforces the values you claim as your own. Charity gives a sense of identity that corresponds to the ideals you hold dear, makes you more of the person you aspire to someday be, and gives you a sense of joy seated in the idea that hope continues to exist in the world, despite the tragedies and pain you also endure.
  19. Love an animal: Few things imbue such a sense of satisfaction and tranquility as sharing your life with an animal that loves you in return. Giving and receiving love from an animal actually makes your heart bigger and kinder. Caring for an animal has been shown to create empathy in sociopaths, purpose in the elderly, and kindness and gentleness in bullies. Personally, I can’t imagine being truly happy without a dog or a cat to share my home.
  20. Cultivate meaningful relationships: We are social beings and not complete without relationships. Make time to develop at least one or two relationships with people you value. Even though we can have friends who remain dear without proximity, to have a life-enhancing, close relationship with a person requires time together on a regular basis. Choose just a few people who are important to you and devote some time to them at least a few times a month. The time is well-spent. True friendship brings a great deal of happiness. Don’t be fooled into thinking that you don’t have the time to cultivate at least one relationship. In your old age, these relationships will be what you fondly cherish, and you will likely wish you spent even more time on them.
  21. Enjoy your own company: One thing is certain—you will always have yourself, so it is imperative for happiness that you enjoy time alone. You need to love and like yourself If you don’t, you need to figure out why and fix it. Time alone can refresh you in important ways; it allows an opportunity for introspection, self-expression, self-improvement, and lets you know who you are, so that you can identify what you need to be happy, and when you know who you are and what you need, you can more easily share that with others, not only for your benefit, but for theirs. Truly knowing and accepting yourself gives you a strong foundation that can keep you from sinking in the shifting sands of change and even tragedy. Liking yourself and enjoying time alone can be the basis for happiness that comes from the inside out.

I’m not saying that happiness should be the most important thing we aspire to. I’m sure there are loftier ideals; however, the same things that are good for the world—other people and animals—are the same things that tend to make individuals happy, so why not? Go ahead, be happy. –Christina Knowles

UPDATE: Check out Part 2 of “How to Be Happy”

The Dog That Taught Me How to Live Again by Christina Knowles

Mulder flowersEveryone knows I’m a dog lover, but not many know that I owe a big part of who I am to one special dog. I’ve tried putting these feelings into words so many times and have given up every time, but it is long overdue, so here goes. Mulder Pitman-Knowles passed away in May of 2008 at the age of fifteen, and broke my heart in a way I didn’t know was possible. I put off writing this memoir to honor her because I was afraid, afraid to feel the emotions again, the grief, the gut-wrenching loss. You may, but I hope you don’t, think that that is an over-dramatic reaction to the death of a pet, but Mulder was not a pet. She was my friend, and I loved her as much as any other friend I’ve ever had. I know some people won’t understand what she was to me, but those of you who have had the privilege of loving and being loved by at least one extraordinary animal, will know what I mean.

You see, Mulder unexpectedly changed my life. She saved me, really.Mulder window

I adopted Mulder in 1994 from the Humane Society, or rather, she adopted me. The week before, I took my kids there to look at the animals, and we saw an adorable little male beagle. He was sweet and friendly, but he was a stray, not owner-surrendered, so I had to put my name on a list and wait five days to see if the owner came for him. When I called to check five days later, they said I could come and pick him up. I was so excited and had already picked out his name, Mulder, after the main character on my favorite TV show, The X-Files. In nervous anticipation, I followed as a staff member led me in to the dog holding area, but she couldn’t find the male beagle. She told me that the one I wanted must have mistakenly been given to someone else. I was terribly disappointed, but just then I saw the most beautiful beagle I had ever seen. The staff member told me she was a female who had been owner-surrendered because she was “un-trainable” and hated cats. The cat part turned out to be true. I didn’t care what her previous family said; I knew this was supposed to be my Mulder. She immediately came to me and laid her head on my bent knee and gazed at me with her huge soulful eyes. It was like we connected instantly. There was an intelligence and wisdom in those eyes, and I knew she was meant for me.

Scan 36I was a little anxious when I took her home because my ex-husband (current at the time) did not want a dog in the house. We had a golden retriever, Clancy, that he wanted basically for hunting, but he insisted that the dog be kept in a small dog run because Clancy had a thing for digging holes. It broke my heart, and every day I would let him out all day until my ex came home from work, but then one day, a man I hired to paint the house fell in love with Clancy. Every time this painter took a break, he would chase Clancy, then roll in the grass, wrestling him. This went on for a week, and on the last day, I asked the man if he wanted to take Clancy for his own. He had ten acres in the forest, and he was thrilled at the offer. He promised to never lock him up. I cried my eyes out as I said goodbye to my golden retriever that day, but I knew I did the right thing. I couldn’t live long without a dog, and I never wanted to put another dog through what Clancy experienced, so I talked my ex into letting me get a small dog that we could keep in the house. My ex agreed to let Mulder live in the house as long she didn’t do anything wrong-ever; however, he insisted on locking her in a kennel at night or whenever we left the house.

I don’t know why her previous family thought she was un-trainable because Mulder was house-trained within a week; she learned to sit, lie down, and stay in the first week as well. Right away she was “my” dog. She followed me everywhere. We ran three miles every morning, rain or shine; she did whatever I said, but listened to others only when she wanted to. She curled up on my lap every evening, and she knew exactly what she could do when my ex wasn’t around. When he wasn’t home, which was most of the time, she could sleep on the furniture or the bed, and she had free run of the house. As soon as she heard the door open in the evening, and he walked in, she would jump off the couch and take her place on her pillow. He never knew because she was so good. She never chewed up anything that wasn’t hers. She wouldn’t even touch a toy until I told her it was hers to play with.Scan 34

During those years, Mulder was my solace. My ex-husband was manipulative, controlling, angry, and intolerant. Nothing I did was correct, but Mulder thought everything I did was right. She accepted me with no make-up on, wearing old sweatpants, and she was okay with whatever I wanted to do—going for a run, snuggling on the couch while I read, sitting on my lap watching TV. She was good with my kids too. I remember one year my daughter wanted to make a calendar of Mulder pictures. She dressed Mulder up in a different costume for every season and took pictures of her. Mulder was not happy, but she didn’t complain once.

Scan 37 Scan 37 Scan 38

In 2004 I left my ex-husband and filed for divorce. By this time, I was pretty beat down from seventeen years of being screamed at, seventeen years of being told to change who I was, seventeen years of being controlled like a child, used, humiliated, and devalued. I was tired of walking on eggshells just to make sure he didn’t get upset. He was okay with the kids. I was always the target of his anger.  I told him I wanted fifty-fifty custody of the children because I knew he would never give me full custody without a fight, and I couldn’t afford a lawyer. I told him he could have virtually everything we owned if I could just have Mulder. I was so afraid that he would try to keep full custody of the kids or take Mulder away from me just to get back at me. He didn’t want the divorce, but he agreed.Scan 35

I bought a townhouse with a little yard for Mulder, and we moved in before I even bought any furniture. The custody agreement ended up being one week on, one week off, so every other week, it was just Mulder and I. Mulder was never locked in a kennel again, but had free rein throughout the house and was allowed on all the furniture. It was then, these times alone with Mulder, that she made me realize what kind of life I wanted, the person I wanted to be, and how to live and love the way we are meant to. She loved me unconditionally, she never expected me to be anything other than what I was, she listened to me quietly, she comforted me when I cried, she never judged me, she never screamed at me, or told me to change. She showed me how peaceful and calm a home could be, how to look forward to coming home, how to love without selfish expectations, how to accept people exactly as they are. She healed me and made me strong. She looked up to me and found me worthy. She made me realize I never had to settle for less than unreserved love and acceptance ever again.

When I met my soul-mate, Randy, Mulder’s approval was paramount. Mulder loved Randy instantly, and Randy loved her. Mulder accepted Randy into our home with surprising ease. Because of this, I knew he must be a good person. Randy and I lived there with Mulder for two years, blissfully happy. I remember when Randy first moved in after we married, he asked if he should put up his slippers, so Mulder wouldn’t chew them up. I was so insulted that he would assume she would do that! I told him Mulder never chewed up anything that wasn’t her own personal property.Scan 40

She did get into mischief once in a while though. She was an avid rabbit hunter, and she was fast. More than once, I found her eating her kill, much to my dismay. She also learned how to open the cupboard where we kept her treats. One time she pulled them out and dumped them on the kitchen floor and ate her fill. I came home to the remnants of broken treats on the floor. And Mulder loved Christmas, particularly the stockings. She got excited when we hung them and even knew which one was hers. I’m not making this up. Ask my husband. She would be so excited on Christmas morning when her stocking was full. She’d go straight to it and jump at it. But one year, a week before Christmas, while we were gone, Mulder found her bag of treats and toys in the closet, the ones that were to go in her stocking. She obviously knew they were meant for her because they were dog treats and toys. Anyway, she dragged the whole bag out of the closet and halfway down the stairs when, apparently, guilt overwhelmed her, and she abandoned the entire bag on the stairs and hid in the bedroom. We came home, found the bag on the stairs, contents spilling out, but no Mulder to be seen. I called and called her, and finally she slowly emerged, head hung low, and tail down, completely ashamed of herself. Of course, I just thought it was adorable and wasn’t upset at all, but she so wanted to please me and couldn’t stand disappointing me. She just couldn’t contain her Christmas anticipation. I’m the same way. That is one of my fondest memories of her.Scan 39Scan 41

It was because of Mulder that I was ready for someone like Randy in my life, someone kind, easygoing, loving, and honest. So many times I’ve seen people enter into the same type of relationships over and over because they haven’t worked out their issues or figured out what they want, what they need. Mulder taught me I was enough. If I was to let someone into my life, it would be only because they added something, but that I was just fine by myself, and I knew when I fell in love with Randy that, just like with Mulder, I never had to be anyone but me ever again. I would be loved and accepted just the way I was, and I could be that way for someone else in return. There never had to be any yelling, name-calling, any manipulation. No lies and attempts to control, only complete honesty and respect. Mulder showed me I deserved that and how wonderful and peaceful life could be. She taught me how to live again.

That sounds like a lot to learn from a dog, but then Mulder wasn’t just any dog. She was my friend, she loved me, and I loved her. I had loved her before, a lot, but after I left my ex and moved out on my own, we bonded so extensively, probably because of the trauma I had been through, and because she was the only one there for me. I’m glad she was the one there for me. I miss her all the time. I will be forever grateful to her, and I will cherish her memory in my heart always. I love you, Mulder, and thank you.—Christina Knowles Mulderold

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