My 2018 Year-End Reflection or Learning to Give No F**ks by Christina Knowles

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So often, it seems, that we imagine we will have time to be happy later, time to relax and do what we want to do some day. Maybe we are waiting for retirement, but sometimes retirement never comes. Maybe we are waiting for a new job to make our lives more bearable, a new schedule to give us time to spend nurturing relationships, or to make more money to make our lives more enjoyable or less stressful, but what we don’t realize is that waiting will never end unless we just stop. Just stop waiting to be happy. Happiness can be found right now in every day.

That was an excerpt from my 2015 year-end blog—a year where I watched loved ones suffer with illness, a year where I struggled to find balance and peace amidst chaotic situations. Yet, I still felt good at the end of that year, having learned the secret of happiness. I had the epiphany that living in the moment, being aware and thankful is where contentment can be found, and realized that happiness is often just a choice. I wish I could say that since then I’ve been totally awake, that my life has achieved that balance I spoke about, but it has not. At least not completely. Shortly after that, some major tragedies struck, and I lost my footing for a while. However, I am progressing from one year to the next. I’ve had some bumps in the road, but now I’m picking up speed.

For example, 2018 brought me a new level of self-awareness that, in and of itself, has been an epiphany of sorts. I may not have perfect balance or peace at all times, but I know who I am, what I want, and what I need to work on in greater clarity than ever before. This past year has been a year when I learned a great many things about myself and about those around me. I faced great sorrow and great joy, which is usually the case every year it seems.

2018 was the year where I learned how to live without my sisters, or maybe, it was when I learned that sisters don’t have to be blood-related, and I was about to lose a third sister. I watched in fear and anxiety as my best friend of the past 13 years packed up and moved across the country, embarking on her new journey. I flew out to see her when she’d been gone barely two months. She’s always been a kind of guru to me, and while there, I sat on a huge rock, staring into the vast Pacific Ocean and learned to feel at one with the universe. We laughed until we cried, and we sat in silent meditation together each day, and I wondered how I’d ever get through life without her physical presence each week, but I also realized how our friendship had shaped me and helped me grow throughout all these years, and really prepared me for this reality.

I leaned more heavily on my book club friends and found them to be warm, generous, kind, and loving. They taught me, and still teach me daily, that there are good people all around me, and no matter where life leads us, there are friends to be made and fun to be had.

There were other struggles in 2018. It was a year when I stood up for myself and found a depth of strength and resilience I never really knew I had. I also found an inner peace that overflows to cover any negative circumstance, and I learned that nothing is good unless I think it so, and thinking it makes it thus.

It was the year when I examined myself and found me wanting, and loved myself unconditionally anyway, and as a result, I committed to my self-improvement without judgement. Looking at yourself honestly and still loving yourself is the most comforting of experiences. It equips me to work on myself with no stress or anxiety. But honestly, it also helps when you’ve learned “the subtle art of not giving a fuck.” I read the book by this title, authored by Mark Manson, and took it to heart. I’ve learned to say, “I don’t care what they think,” and mean it. It doesn’t mean I knowingly annoy people or hurt them; it just means that I do what I think is right according to my own ethical standards, and no one else has to agree with it. I care what I think, and those closest to me. That seems sufficient to me.

2018 was yet another year when my husband, the love of my life, was my rock and gave me strength to face every day amid all the changes coming my way. Together, I think we both became even more open-minded. I thought I was open-minded before, but as many of us do in the face of this radical and vitriolic political climate, I became more and more closed off to the concerns and reasoning of the “other” side. Throughout the year, I read many books that I found particularly helpful in showing me where I might be wrong, and to reconsider the truth of my opinions. I have distanced myself from political parties and have gone back to looking at individual issues, and I’ve tried to see things from the perspective of those who disagree with me. I still retain most of my political views, but I’ve recommitted to seeking truth, instead of confirmation.

On the lighter side, I did some other awesome things this year like taking a psychology/nutrition/health class, a class on dying, and an online Spanish class. I read 77 books, spent more time with my wonderful daughter, built an awesome patio with my husband, and threw a fabulous party with my numerous friends. I’ve spent less and less time at home doing work that should be done at work, and more time pursuing things that make me happy. I’ve made some strong relationships and connections this year, and I’ve tried to give of myself and to be open to helping others without over-stressing myself with busyness.

All in all, considering the major changes I and the country have undergone this year, it was a year of general peace and personal growth, and I look forward to using the tools I’ve gained this past year to make a choice for peace and joy every day of 2019.

Happy New Year!–Christina Knowles

Originally published in 2018

Bad Advice by Christina Knowles

follow your heartWith all the graduations and weddings this time of year, the world is rife with “good” advice.  It seems everyone has an aphorism or two to share. But are these common aphorisms comprehensive truths? Or are we so used to hearing them that we don’t really bother examining them? Here are some suggestions that many people take as some kind of universal wisdom that really should never be followed:

  1. In college, major in something that will lead to a good career. Students are so brainwashed into becoming marketable that they need very little encouragement to throw their dreams and passions in the wastebasket in order to please some corporate exec who will use them up and spit them out. Don’t do it. Follow your passion, and you will be automatically “marketable.”
  2. Go to college right after graduation. Kids feel the pressure from parents, teachers, and colleges as early as their freshmen year in high school to choose a career, check out schools, and apply for scholarships. Geez, not only do you have no idea who you are yet, you certainly have no idea who you will be in two years. Go out in the world and find out before wasting $50,000 unless you’ve known since you were two and it’s never changed.
  3. Get a good paying job. Hey, there’s nothing wrong with making bank if you are doing what you love, but do what you love first, and then decide what kind of lifestyle doing what you love can support. A good paying job is a prison that will enslave you into wasting the next 40 years if you are not careful.
  4. Establish credit. Sure, don’t ruin your credit, but don’t go around thinking you have to get a loan and pay it off to build up your credit. That just enslaves you to debt. The best credit is built by NOT having debt and paying bills on time, bills like your rent and the utilities.
  5. Put your kids first. This is a modern idea. In past generations, adults took care of their kids’ needs, and didn’t really lose sleep over their kids’ wants. You know what? It worked. Kids became self-sufficient, hard-working, considerate, unselfish people instead of entitled, self-loathing people who can’t figure out why everyone is not trying as hard as their parents to make them happy. They learned to make themselves happy.
  6. Buy a house instead of renting as soon as you can. Buying a house is a better deal than renting if you know you are ready to settle down. But buying a house too soon is another trap, designed to keep you from following your true desires. When you are young and unattached, don’t be in such a hurry to tie yourself down.
  7. Wait for marriage. This is an old fashioned idea that most people have given up. There is a lot of baggage tied up in sex, and incompatible sex partners make miserable life partners. Do you really want to take that chance? By all means, don’t jump in bed with someone on the third date, but if you are considering marriage, take a test drive around the block first.
  8. Marriage is hard work, so stick with it. Marriage is supposed to make life easier, not harder. I’m not talking about throwing in the towel as soon as the honeymoon is over, or giving up because one of you is going through a hard time, but if sharing your life with someone is really that much work, why bother? When you are happily partnered up, life is sweet. When you are miserable, and going home is worse than working a 12-hour shift, move on. Life is too short.
  9. Wait for the kids to get older to get divorced. There is a common misconception that it will be easier on the kids, the older they are. Not true. Young kids are way more resilient. They will adapt and forget what it was like living with both of you at the same time. Older kids and even young adults hang on to the past and resentments much longer, and as an added bonus, love to manipulate the situation for their own benefit. Also, when you are in an unhappy relationship, you probably aren’t doing your best parenting.
  10. Save for your kids’ college. What? You’re getting old, and you don’t have much time left to get that mortgage paid off and prepare for a few leisurely years before you die. Your kids have their whole lives to pay for their education, and they probably have more time left than you. An added bonus is that kids tend to get a lot more out of their education when they pay for it themselves.
  11. Stay out of the sun or use sunscreen. The sun is really good for you in moderation. A half hour a day provides you with much needed Vitamin D, lowers blood pressure, alleviates depression, and gives a general sense of well-being. Conversely, sunscreen causes more cancer than sun damage. Just don’t overdo your exposure. If you have to stay out in the sun for a long time, wear a hat and a light weight long-sleeved shirt.
  12. Shelter your kids. Protecting your kids from reality is not helping them. Keep them safe by letting them understand the real world and how to protect themselves without scaring them. Expose them to different ideas and diverse groups of people while keeping lines of communication open. Answer their questions honestly. By answering uncomfortable questions in a direct and forthright manner, you give yourself the opportunity of influencing your child while they are actually interested in what you have to say. You will also earn the reputation of being someone who tells the truth and that can be trusted.
  13. Take “You-Only-Live-Once” to mean “Die-As-Soon-As-Possible.” The trend of risk-taking for entertainment is nothing new among the young, but lately, it seems people aren’t outgrowing this behavior. Jumping out of an airplane on a motorcycle may make you feel alive, but you won’t actually be alive that long if you indulge in this type of hobby. Adrenaline junkies also tend to get cancer and heart disease sooner, that is, if they live long enough. We weren’t meant to live in the fight or flight mode full-time. So, if you only live once, shouldn’t you try to make it last a while?
  14. Save all your money for retirement. Saving for a rainy day is always a good idea, but spend some of it on the now. What if you live frugally, putting off all your traveling and fun for retirement, and you never get there? What if you die two weeks before retirement? You can’t take it with you, and to be honest, you can’t save enough to matter anyway. I mean a nice nursing home will suck that retirement account dry in a matter of months. The best retirement plan is to be out of debt, own your house, and have a modest income coming in, so you don’t have to work until you’re dead. If you have to go in to an assisted living situation, you may as well have spent your money while you could enjoy it, and let Medicaid take care of the years when you can’t.
  15. Don’t Go to Bed Angry. This has got to be one of the worst pieces of advice I have ever heard—like your relationship’s really going to be better off after staying awake fighting all night? The more tired you get, the more stupid things you will say to regret in the morning. Just go to bed mad, and when you wake up, you probably won’t even remember that you were angry the night before. If it was really that serious, you wouldn’t be able to solve it one night anyway, and at the very least, you will have had some time and space to calm down.

So next time you reach for that age-old (worn out) wisdom that you’ve heard so many times that you think it must be fact, look at it from a different perspective and just do what you want. And however hypocritical it may be, I’ll offer my favorite bit of advice from notable French author, François Duc de La Rochefoucauld: “It is more easy to be wise for others than for ourselves.” –Christina Knowles

Year End Reflections by Christina Knowles

Once again I sit here reflecting on the year that is coming quickly to a close. As all years do, 2015 brought its share of joys, heartaches, and problems, and with them life-lessons and growth. Looking back on this year, the things that stand out to me most are the tragedies and illnesses of those close to me, and though these stories are not mine to tell, I have learned from them. I’ve learned about the value of love, loyalty, and to prioritize time with loved ones above all else. With that in mind, I’ve had my own issues with which I have dealt.

The biggest personal event in my life this year was probably experiencing a stress heart attack last summer. It was minor, and I have been given a clean bill of health, but nevertheless, it was the catalyst for making several changes that I knew I needed to make for some time, but like most people, I had to come face-to-face with my own limitations before accepting them.

As a result of this event and of the tragedies and illnesses of those close to me this year, I have finally “lightened up.” I no longer work every night at home on schoolwork. I grade almost all my papers at school, I do most of my planning at school, and I simply eliminated anything that was not essential or directly related to my students’ success and learning. I work my butt off at work, and I still work my butt off at home, but it’s different work. It’s my work—creative work that I choose. I spend my time doing what I think is important because my time is not guaranteed to last.

So often, it seems, that we imagine we will have time to be happy later, time to relax and do what we want some day. Maybe we are waiting for retirement, but sometimes retirement never comes. Maybe we are waiting for a new job to make our lives more bearable, a new schedule to give us time to spend nurturing relationships, or to make more money to make our lives more enjoyable or less stressful, but what we don’t realize is that waiting will never end unless we just stop. Just stop waiting to be happy. Happiness can be found right now in every day.

So instead of detailing all the things that happened this past year, I’ll just say that some of it was good and some of it was not, but I learned from it all, and what I learned is that my life is in my control, and I don’t need a specific set of circumstances to start living it the way I want to.

All in all, I am happy with how this year turned out, happy with what I did with the time allotted, and that’s a good feeling. This year I learned to prioritize my life, find more balance than I ever had before, and do things that give me and those I love the most benefit from the time we have. Time won’t slow down, and I probably won’t either, but I can decide what is worthy of the minutes of my life. And the funny thing is that all of those things that I was waiting on to change, don’t even need to change anymore because I have changed. I love my job again. I love my home-life. I love where my career is going in both teaching and writing. I love my life again. I’m not waiting for anything to get better ever again. I’m making what I have better and enjoying every minute of it. Happy New Year!—Christina Knowles

How to Be Happy, Part 2 by Christina Knowles

HappyEveryone wants to be happy, right? Well, at least most of us do. A few months ago, I published a blog called, “How to Be Happy,” which has been something I’ve really been considering lately. When I first decided to write a blog about being happy, I just went with my own life experiences and gut feelings, but recently I’ve been reading books, articles, research studies, and watching lots of documentaries on the subject, and I’ve learned about some things that make a lot of sense.

In my last article, I mentioned things like being part of a community, being grateful, not getting angry over insignificant things, doing meaningful work, being humble, laughing, being honest and thoughtful, enjoying time alone, eating right, spending time in nature, enjoying the arts, giving to charity, loving animals, and cultivating relationships. After studying the subject in more depth, I found that many of these things I noticed that made me happy were found to be true in cultures around the world, but there were also some things I didn’t mention that I think are quite profound. For one thing, things like our job, income, and life situations have little to do with how happy we are. As long as we have enough to eat, a warm shelter in which to live, and have moderate security, external sources have little lasting effect on happiness. But there are some things that we can do, in addition to what I wrote in my last article, that can have a great impact on our happiness. Here is what I found:

Do something different—Studies show that people, even the ones who think they like routine (like me), benefit from changing things up and doing something completely outside what they normally do (Happy). Novelty and experiences make us happy, and are often the source of our best memories. I really do need to work on this one.

Help people—In my last blog on this subject, I mentioned giving to charity, which does make you happy, but now I am talking about doing something more tangible. Instead of merely giving money, which is helpful, physically do something to help someone. I think it makes a person even more happy because giving money is too easy, but getting your hands dirty feels like you did something bigger, something personal. Helping people always makes you feel good, but only if you don’t expect anything in return. Expectations lead to disappointment and bitterness. But knowing how you made someone feel because you were willing to give up actual time to help him always leads to happiness.

Do things that create flow—Flow is that elated mental state caused by letting go of the mind and just experiencing an almost unconscious state of action that seems effortless (Happy). It’s that feeling of being in “the zone.” Runners experience this as “runner’s high” when they reach a point where they feel they can’t go on, and then endorphins kick in, and they feel like they could go on forever. I’ve experienced runner’s high and a similar feeling while figure skating. I also felt this while writing my novel. After hours of writing, it seemed like the book began writing itself. It was effortless. I’ve heard chefs on the line experience this flow. Anything that you enjoy and do for an extended period of uninterrupted time can become like a zero-point focus, totally absorbing, and all worries and conscious thoughts seem to let go, and you become completely at peace. Apparently, many people achieve this through meditation, but I’ve never been able to properly meditate. Maybe someday.

Exercise—Exercising releases endorphins, making us healthier and happier over all. Exercise often leads to experiencing flow. It makes us healthier, which also adds to contentment, and it can be fun—at least, I’m trying to convince myself.

Sleep—Everyone knows that lack of sleep makes you irritable and unhealthy, but getting enough rest makes you mentally healthier. Some psychologists believe that dreaming is necessary to sanity, but it is commonly known that a lack of sleep can cause depression, weight gain, emotional instability, and an inability to think clearly. Having enough sleep is important to maintain health and happiness. I could definitely use more sleep.

Don’t work too much–This is the hardest thing for most of us, I think. I know I work almost all the time–days, nights, weekends. There have been numerous studies that show countries whose people work 30 hours or less per week, have the most happy citizens, or Gross National Happiness. According to the latest studies, Japan is now the least happiest country due to overwork. They are literally working themselves to death (Happy). I’m sure Americans are not far behind. If you think about it, this one issue can affect all the rest. If we are busy working, trying to pay to keep up a lifestyle that will never make us happy, then we don’t have time for community, volunteering, exercise, sleep, relationships, etc. We won’t have time to do the things that will actually make us happy. But we have to work 40 hours just to survive. For many of us, our jobs require unpaid hours at home just to keep up. It’s a conundrum.

Realize that everything and everyone is connected—Whether we believe we are connected transcendentally, spiritually, or just through energy and commonality as Einstein realized, we affect each other and everything around us (I Am). When we war with each other, hate, steal, treat animals with cruelty, destroy our environment, we are doing this to ourselves. The same is true when we do good. If we realize this connection, we are less likely to harm each other. This makes everyone happier.

Don’t believe in artificial constructs—like the economy, success, and competition. I mean really, what is the “economy?” It’s something we created that seems to enslave most people and elevates a few. Money, the stock market–it only exists because we made it important for survival. It is completely artificial in itself. Success is defined by marketing companies, television and movies, corporations, and school boards. And competition? Isn’t it natural? Doesn’t it provide motivation? Make us feel happy when we win? Not really. Don’t buy into the idea that these constructs are natural and good, and that these are the things we should be most concerned with. People who do, often live with regret and waste most of their lives. Sure, we have to live in the world in which we were born, we have to survive in this system, but we don’t have to buy into the idea that these are the primary areas in which to strive. These things never lead to happiness.

Don’t compete—Human beings are always better off sharing, cooperating, and quite often, compromising. It makes us happier, so why are we so competitive? Our personal selfishness is always reinforced in our culture, as is standing out, being number one, and crushing the competition. But competition leads to stress and disappointment most of the time. It always leaves someone feeling bad.

But standing out—or better put, feeling special, is usually pleasant. Well, the best way to feel special is to be loved, and competition is not good for loving relationships. According to Thom Hartmann, author of The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight, in Aboriginal and indigenous cultures, cooperation is given a much higher value than competition and “competition beyond certain boundaries is considered mental illness” (I Am). He studies cultures and animals to determine what is natural to us and what is a societal construct. He asks if democracies or hierarchies are more natural. He found that not only do animals rely on cooperation to survive, nature never takes more than it needs, or it dies off, as Darwin also realized. I think there is certainly a lesson for us in this. Even Darwin talked more about love and cooperation among mammals than “survival of the fittest.” Often the fittest is the one who will cooperate. Darwin also said that sympathy is one of the strongest impulses of humans (I Am).

Be empathetic and compassionate—We all share the ability for empathy. When we witness heroism, something touching, or empathize with someone going through something particularly emotional, we experience “elation” (I Am). We recognize this feeling of innate compassion for fellow beings as love and as good. This feeling makes us happy even while at the same time, we may be sad. This altruistic impulse is natural and inborn in every human, and the evidence overwhelmingly shows this tendency in other mammals as well within their own social groups, and sometimes even outside it. I prefer this “human nature” to that of the ruthless competitive “nature” that began as a flaw in childhood and was reinforced by our society. Compassion even makes us healthier, while competitiveness makes us sicker in the form of stress-related illness.

Think and be positive, and act positively—I’ve always scoffed at “positive thinkers.” I’ve never believed that we could change physical matter merely by thinking it into existence; however, more and more scientists are exploring this as a potentiality. I’ll wait for the evidence, but even if positive thinking cannot alter a physical situation, it certainly has an effect on how we perceive it—whether we take it as good or bad, and of course, our emotions in dealing with it. Acting positively will affect how others act toward us, which can positively alter our circumstances as well.

Finally, live in a way that causes the least harm to anyone or anything—If, every day, in every interaction, we consider what harm we may cause and choose the least harmful, the whole world would be a better place. We cannot avoid harm—just by existing, we cause harm to our environment. We eat plants and some of us eat animals, we live in houses, we drive cars, and produce waste. We get careless, and we say hurtful things or treat others with unkindness. However, we can choose the least harmful in every interaction with our world. We can plant gardens and use natural ways to keep pests away, we can refuse to consume meat that was raised inhumanely, we can use environmentally friendly materials and not take more than we need, we can conserve, and not waste. We can be responsible and kind. If we lived like this, how could we not be happy?Purpose

I’ve heard that our purpose, if we have one, on this planet is not to “be happy” and maybe it’s not, but it seems that we are driven to pursue it. What if being responsible, kind, and loving human beings was our purpose, and precisely because it is our purpose, it also makes us happy? Not the fleeting excitement of a new toy-kind of happiness, but joy, the deep, soul-contentment of being who we should be, who we are capable of becoming. —Christina Knowles

Sources

  • Happy. Wadi Rum Films, 2012. Film.
  • Happy Photo. yhponline.com. Web.15 May 2015.
  • Purpose Photo. Hippie Peace Freaks. Facebook. Web.15 May 2015.
  • I Am. Tom Shadyac. Flying Eye Productions, Homemade Canvas Production, and Shady Acres Films, 2010. Film.

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”

Is There Hope for the Human Race? by Christina Knowles

Snagged from www.vox.com
Snagged from http://www.vox.com

It has been a depressing week. Refugee children from South America continue to suffer, the Israeli-Hamas conflict is far from over, even though they are experiencing a temporary ceasefire, the Ebola virus is spreading across many African countries, tensions are rising as the radical Sunni threaten the Kurdish region, Robin Williams tragically committed suicide, Lauren Bacall died as well, and protests and riots erupted in Ferguson, Missouri after the unarmed Michael Brown was shot by the police, and then the militarized police force moved on protestors with armored vehicles, assault rifles, and tear gas. And that’s just what I can think of off the top of my head. Like I said, a very depressing week.

Snagged from www.vox.com.
Snagged from http://www.vox.com.

One might wonder if there is even any hope left for the human race. This week I asked myself that question. It would seem, if one were listening to the news, that everything is spiraling out of control, and we are on a fast trip downward toward annihilation. But is everything really getting worse? Or is this just the perception we have from an ever-increasing saturation of instant news coverage via cable news, Twitter, and Facebook? Although I am thankful for social media for its ability to provide a platform for the average person to report what they see, rather than relying on our somewhat (understatement) biased news sources, are we letting our access to hastily reported news prejudice us against our own futures? Perhaps.

Snagged from www.vox.com.
Snagged from http://www.vox.com.

Let’s look at history to get some perspective. According to longevity expert, Sharon Basaraba, “From the 1500s to around the year 1800, life expectancy throughout Europe hovered between the ages of 30 and 40” (Basaraba). Today our life expectancy has more than doubled since that time. Obviously, advances in medical care and hygiene make our world a better, safer place. We have vaccines, regulated hospitals, and most developed countries enjoy clean water. We also see improvements in food and environmental protections. Prior to the 1950s, corporations could dump toxic waste without fear of penalties, poisoning fish and water sources, as well as the surrounding agriculture. Since then food inspection and labeling has advanced, and even twenty years ago, people didn’t take the idea of avoiding GMOs and eating organic seriously, but today it is widely accepted. Okay, but what about all the violence and terrorism in the world?

According to a 2011 Huffington Post article, statistics show violence is down worldwide, despite global conflicts. “The rate of genocide deaths per world population was 1,400 times higher in 1942 than in 2008.

Snagged from marginalrevolution.com
Snagged from marginalrevolution.com

“There were fewer than 20 democracies in 1946. Now there are close to 100. Meanwhile, the number of authoritarian countries has dropped from a high of almost 90 in 1976 to about 25 now. Rape in the United States is down 80 percent since 1973. Lynchings, which used to occur at a rate of 150 a year, have disappeared.

“Discrimination against blacks and gays is down, as is capital punishment, the spanking of children, and child abuse” (Seth Borenstein). But despite the data, most people I know believe violence is at an all-time high. Why? Because we hear about it, see it in graphic detail on the evening news and on our Twitter feed.

And what about civil rights? Although there are human rights violations daily all over the planet, more countries now have civil rights laws than ever before. Minorities and women in our country enjoy much more freedom and less prejudice than in the early 20th century although there is obviously a long way to go. Accommodations for the disabled have come very far. We’re seeing the right to marry for homosexuals granted in more and more states all the time. Working conditions are better thanks to unions and the 40-hour work week, there are no more sweat shops, at least in most developed countries, and there are child labor laws to protect the young. There are fewer injuries on the job and education is more available than 100 years ago, although rising costs of college are beginning to turn the trend back the other way. But weren’t people just happier in the past?

Not necessarily. Some people argue that we are in a recession, and people tend to be less happy in economic down-cycles. However, other research shows that people today are more likely to follow their dreams and opt for an emotionally fulfilling career over money, as long as they are somewhat secure. Perhaps because not many jobs today are secure, there is actually more perceived freedom to follow your dreams. Another reason people may be happier is because they are healthier or because they have more freedom to be themselves. Shana Lebowitz reports that a study in 2013 by The National Institute on Aging found that people are indeed happier than the same people were when they were younger, probably because people tend to get happier as they age. The study also found that people born after the Baby Boomers are happier than the Baby Boomers themselves (Lebowitz). As an English teacher, I read a lot of old books, and people do just seem nicer, more sensitive now, than portrayals of people hundreds of years ago. I have noticed that children seem less respectful; however, children also have gained more freedom and autonomy, which would explain a greater freedom to express themselves, especially in negative ways.

So are we truly spiraling the drain? Or is it just our perception?

I guess I am trying to say that although things seem horrible—and they are sometimes, as bad as it is, we do seem to be learning something. We are progressing even though we don’t hear about that on the evening news. All it takes is a little research to put things into perspective. I know we all expected to be driving hover cars and colonizing the moon, while reading about eradicated disease and something called war in the history books, but change is slow and we can’t see something grow while we are staring at it. So chin up—there is hope for the human race after all.—Christina Knowles

Sources:

Basaraba, Sharon. “Longevity Throughout History: How has human life expectancy changed over time?” April 21, 2013. Available: http://longevity.about.com/od/longevitystatsandnumbers/a/Longevity-Throughout-History.htm Accessed: August 15, 2014.

Borenstein, Seth. Huffington Post. “World Becoming Less Violent: Despite Global Conflict, Statistics Show Violence In Steady Decline” October, 22, 2011. Available: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/22/world-less-violent-stats_n_1026723.html Accessed: August 15, 2014.

Hoegen, Monika. “Statistics and the quality of life: Measuring progress – a world beyond GDP.” Edited by Thomas Wollnik. Available: http://www.oecd.org/site/progresskorea/globalproject/44227733.pdf Accessed: August 15, 2014.

Tabarrok, Alex. “Long Term Trends in Homicide Rates” June 1, 2011.Available: http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2011/06/long-term-trend-in-homicide-rates.html#sthash.JQAecZHp.dpufhttp://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2011/06/long-term-trend-in-homicide-rates.html Accessed: August 15, 2014. 

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