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”

My Brother’s Keeper

As a high school English teacher, I have my students write essays on controversial topics to teach persuasive argument.  It has come to my attention throughout discussions regarding various issues on which they are writing, that many of the next generation of voters are startlingly selfish, uncaring, and downright hostile to the idea of helping others. Of course, it is not true of all of them, but many of them express this hostility openly, and it scares me. Is this a result of the current political climate, in light of such hot-button topics as the Affordable Health Care Act, the increasing deficit, or the bleak outlook of the economic situation in America? Are they simply regurgitating frustrations voiced by discouraged and over-stressed parents?

Apparently, these students do not believe in helping the poor, the elderly, or the disadvantaged in any way. This lack of compassion made me curious as to the cause. It seems to come down to a misguided sense of fair-play.  Kids, in my experience, seem to be concerned with fairness and justice; however, their ideas of fairness too often only include what is fair for them, not others, and only if the fair treatment is in their favor. In other words, they are not interested in getting what they deserve unless it is good.

Increasingly, I’ve seen a general attitude in America that has gone from the Individualism, which has always been a trademark of our society, to a worldview that states, “What’s mine is mine, no one deserves to share in anything that I have earned, regardless of help I have received to obtain it, and if you are poor, you deserve it because you are not ambitious enough to get what you need for yourself.” Oddly enough, most of these same students receive cars, smart phones, iPads, expensive wardrobes, and countless other luxuries from their parents without accepting any responsibilities, such as turning in homework, keeping a decent G.P.A., or treating others with respect. I have noticed that the students who work for their own things and receive less help from their parents have a similar disdain for anyone who needs help, as they see themselves as being able to provide for themselves already.

Discussion after discussion of these issues has led me to believe that it all comes down to a worldview of selfishness. These students believe that 1) the primary purpose for living and the highest good is to be happy, 2) they have no responsibility to anyone other than themselves or their families, and 3) the dignity, quality of life, or happiness of others is irrelevant to them. This shockingly cold and compassionless trend is quite disturbing to me. Call me crazy, but I think we are responsible for each other, and as unpopular as it may be to say, nobody makes it on their own. Sure, people vary in ability and ambition, and the choices we make, and the fortitude with which we approach the challenges in life, make a decisive impact on the outcomes we achieve, but we still had some help or advantage, which we owe to others along the way.

I do understand the sentiment of most Americans who think that things should be fair, and that there is something inherently right about those who work the hardest enjoying the results of that labor. However, this basic notion of justice has taken on an insidious life of its own that now resembles something more akin to radical Ayn Rand Individualism. When did Americans get so hateful? When did all human compassion disappear into extreme selfishness that is actually heralded as being patriotically American? I was raised to believe that we were a compassionate, humanitarian nation, who stood up for the underdog and welcomed the downtrodden and abused into a better life. Everywhere people are accusing others of expecting entitlements, yet they expect their own entitlements. Are we not entitled to certain basic things just by virtue of being born? We absolutely treat our children as if they are.

I believe all people are entitled to dignity, food, shelter, kindness, compassion, and medical treatment simply because they were born. They should be required to work in return for these things unless they are incapable. If they cannot, then they should be helped to learn how to acquire these basic necessities for themselves. If we can, we are responsible for helping them. At the very least, we are responsible for making sure there is a fair and reasonable path to these necessities. Why? Because they are our brothers and sisters, because they are God’s creation, because it is inhumane not to, because helping them is the best thing we can do for ourselves, our children, our country, the people we help, and for God.

Let me interrupt myself to attempt to dispel a myth. I believe America is the “Land of Opportunity,” but not equal opportunity. Anyone who believes that everyone has the same shot at success as anyone else, probably hasn’t looked at the situation of inner city kids. Do they have the same opportunity to attend a good college when their neighborhood school can’t keep a qualified teacher for more than a few months? When their K-12 education doesn’t even remotely resemble that of even the public school in the more affluent neighborhoods? Sure, there are scholarships and grants available, but will they qualify if this is where they got their education? Even if they were able to go, would they have the academic, social, and professional skills necessary to succeed? Of course, there are always the rare exceptions who manage to defeat the odds, not despite them, but because of the tenacity being underprivileged inspired in them. Unfortunately, this is not the norm. I’m tired of an America that worships the successful corporate executive, who inherited a business or the money to start it, had his parents pay for his Harvard education, which he was only allowed to attend because his grandfather paid for the new wing, treats his employees like commodities, puts profit above all else, moves his company to China to make even more billions of dollars, not because his business is failing, but because it is never enough. But we blame taxes for de-incentivizing him to hire Americans. No, I’m sorry; he’s just greedy. The love of money is supposed to be the root of all evil, but in America, it is cause for hero-worship and emulation.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think it’s fair that I have to go to work all day when I’d rather be doing something else, while someone else refuses to work and lives off of the system. Call me idealistic or naïve, but I don’t think it’s that simple. I think almost everyone would rather take care of themselves and have a sense of pride in their accomplishments if they had the skills they needed to do it. These might be technical, academic, social, emotional, medical, or psychological skills that they lack.

“Teach a man to fish,” they say, “and he will eat forever.” But do we teach him to fish? Or do we just tell him to go fish? This past week I was listening to a Christian radio talk show, and a representative of the Denver Rescue Mission was being interviewed. I didn’t catch his name, but in this interview, one of the employees, a former refugee from the Congo, described how he now heads up the branch of the mission that mentors refugees and helps them to get established in their new country. He explained that when political or religious refugees come to this country, they are given a small amount of money and pretty much are on their own to figure out what to do. They often do not speak English, do not understand our business system, housing system, they may not know how to get a bank account, fill out an application, or anything that they need to do to survive. When one of these refugees comes into the mission, they get a mentor to show them how things work in America, help them to learn English, and they provide them with long-term help in getting established here.  Don’t they deserve this basic help just on the merit of being a fellow human being in need? Many people think not.

Another service the Denver Rescue Mission provides is for people who are trapped in the “cycle of poverty.” They have one to two year programs where a person can focus on working on self-improvement without having to worry about paying rent or buying food. They are able to train for jobs, work on emotional issues, or whatever is keeping them trapped in poverty, so that when they are done with the program, they can be self-sufficient. It’s charities like this one, and other para-church organizations and secular charities who make a real difference in people’s lives and in our communities.

What scares me is that this trend among the youth toward self-absorption and disdain for helping others signifies a bleak future for this type of humanitarianism. Additionally, what kind of harsh and unkind world will we be living in if we allow this trend to continue? We can and should give what we can to these types of organizations, but perhaps the most important thing we can do for others is to teach our children to care about their fellow man again. Teach empathy, compassion, and kindness, and put less emphasis on getting a good paying job and a stock portfolio. Let them know that choosing a profession that helps people and makes the world a kinder place is even more admirable and worthy of praise than a six-figure income and five thousand square foot house. Teach them that if the world is going to be a place worth living in, then we must be our brother’s keeper. –Christina Knowles

“The Denver Rescue Mission is the oldest, full-service Christian charity in the Rocky Mountain region. Thriving today as non-denominational organization; no one is denied services because of gender, race, color, creed, national origin, religion, age, handicap, political affiliation, sex, sexual orientation, or marital, parental or military status.”

How can you help? Visit The Denver Rescue Mission online: http://www.denverrescuemission.org

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