"A governor, a senator and then me. I think I may be the comic relief," I quipped before my brief statement at the Fourth Annual Interfaith Dinner on Oct. 4. On the roster were Gov. William Winter, state Sen. Hillman Frazier, two bishops, two preachers, a rabbi, a retired FBI agent—and me. My Jackson Free Press story about a trip to Turkey with the Institute for Interfaith Dialog hardly seemed worthy of the honor.
While eating dessert, we watched a brief video on the Institute's work in the U.S. One clip in particular caught my attention. Dr. Jill Carroll from Rice University spoke about deliberately choosing to love. I don't remember her exact words, but I was left with the thought that loving can be an active choice, kind of like "active" listening. Both require conscious decision making.
It makes sense. Choosing to love, like choosing to listen, can take effort, but like everything that you have to work for, the rewards can be great. We can, perhaps, achieve world peace through actively choosing to love instead of knee-jerking into hatred.
It may be a big stretch. Joseph Latino, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Jackson, proposed in his talk that we play "pretend" by loving each other even when it doesn't seem feasible. I couldn't help but think, "Fake it 'til you make it"—a little phrase I've used to change my own negative traits for years now.
Usually, though, world peace is a little too broad and lofty a goal to wrap my tiny mind around. Making personal choices in my own sphere of influence is a lot easier.
Happiness is something I can choose. Some days I manage it better than others; some days I'm a dismal failure. Trust me, I never bounce out of bed with enthusiasm to face another working day—I find people who do truly annoying. Most mornings, I need a hit of caffeine before I can construct a cohesive sentence, much less be happy about it. But I know that if I wait for the spirit to move me to happiness, I might as well go back to bed. It's not going to happen ... ever.
I have great excuses for not being happy: I had a crappy childhood (the granddaddy of excuses for nearly everyone I know) and a bad marriage. Depression runs in my family. I've been laid off, cheated on and abused. My car is eight years old, my bones are 51, and my cats shed too much. My taste almost always exceeds my budget, and my appetite never matches my ability to burn the calories. My life could be a country song, and I could be a miserable wretch.
But I don't go there. I simply refuse to be miserable—at least when I have the presence of mind to think about it. It's something I had to train myself to do, though, and a big part of that was faking it 'til I made it. Choosing happiness meant that I had to learn to recognize all of the habitual negative chatter—all of the "I'm not good enough," "I can't," "She/he/they are better than me," "What will they think?" dialogue (I call it gossiping about myself)—that incessantly runs through my brain. It's not that I can stop the chatter—anyone who meditates can tell you that's impossible—but I don't have to take it seriously. It's not "mind over matter," or "positive thinking." To the contrary, I've learned that negative thoughts will always be with me—my default setting is a grouchy "no way," not a bubbly "of course." But I don't always have to give those thoughts weight and substance. I can choose happiness, instead.
That's a fairly esoteric conversation, I know, and it's not an overnight cure for misery. But there are things that all of us can do to choose happiness right now. First, come to grips with the fact that happiness is not a permanent state. Rather, it happens one brief moment at a time. Stringing together a bunch of joyful moments while making the miserable moments in between shorter is an excellent goal. Second, learn to distinguish between the things you can change (like yourself) and the things you can't (like everyone else).
There are many other things we can do in our constitutionally guaranteed pursuit of happiness (it's worth noting that only the pursuit is guaranteed). Take yoga or an energetic exercise class to find joy in your body and release those endorphins. Go for a walk and take the time to look around, noticing the beauty of your surroundings. Clean something thoroughly. Look for solutions instead of dwelling on problems. Throw or pack away items that have bad memories attached to them. Forgive someone. Count your blessings. Seek out happy people and stop hanging around depressed and negative people. Allow yourself to enjoy a treat without guilt. Laugh.
Anyone who knows me even a little will tell you that I'm no Pollyanna, but I know deep in my soul that misery and sadness are largely something we inflict on ourselves. We can choose to be happy. We can choose to love. If a cynical, sarcastic, know-it-all beyotch (that would be me) can do it, anyone can.
Ronni Mott is the operations manager for the Jackson Free Press. E-mail her with your favorite happiness tip at [email protected] The rest of the JFP staff will appreciate it.
This is a great piece Ronni. Now go out and do it.
Comedy is also a good cure for sadness and mere depression. This is why I try to be funny as often as I can, and listen to good comedians. Last night, I heard comedian D.L Hughley say the N word can't be banished because some white police officers won't have the words to command black males to exit the car anymore. "Get out the car, sir" is a whole lot different than what many are used to saying.
I also play with the grandkids for fun and cleansing. The care-free nature and wonderment of children touches my heart. Watching them grow up truly mesmerizes and makes me happy. Since they're only 7 I guess I have 6 or 7 more years before they start smelling themselves and really getting on my nerves.
Reading and sports are also ways to go on a journey beyond the moment. Even commenting on here may be therapeutic to me.
Finally, there is a phrase in the bible (can't remeber the book and verse) that speaks to meditating on good, wonderful and loving things. This goes back again to the truth that we are what we think. In other words, we are what we think about. Similarly or the same as fake it til you make it.
- Ray Carter
Choose to be happy. What a mantra. Great job, Ronni.
For me, pets are a source of joy, except when they whine or have an accident. LOL
Ray the verse you're looking for is:
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.
- Philippians 4:8
Thanks, LW. Ronni look over the so-called joke if it offends you. I didn't like it either until I visualized an officer saying it. My bad!
- Ray Carter
Ronni, how enlightening. This concept reminds me of a passage in Victor Frankl's book, "Man's Search for Meaning." He talked about being in a consentration camp. Someone maybe planning to kill you; however, they can not take away the positive thoughts you have about yourself, change your position or make you fall in love with them: It is only when one chooses to believe something different that change occurs.
TRANSLATION: What's REAL to the MIND is REAL!
Ray, no offense taken on my part. Hughley has a point to make, and good humor (at least to me) always has that edgy element of truth to it. You might wince, but you can't deny it.
L.W., love your line about pets. My friend Terry dubbed it "fur therapy." There are few things in life better than a Sunday nap on the couch with a cat blanket, as far as I'm concerned.
What's REAL to the MIND is REAL!
The trick for me, justjess, is to understand that what's real to my mind may only be real to my mind. Someone once wisely said: "After you've heard two eyewitness accounts of an auto accident, you begin to worry about history."