Monthly Archives: September 2014

Thank you very much!

thank-youHere’s what I’m  thinking. You’re thinking that I’ve been so busy with my “Happy” course that I haven’t had time to write the blog. And perhaps you’re thinking that I’ve become so happy and have found so much meaning in my life that I can no longer find it in my heart to write about being shallow. Of course, that was always a possibility when I signed up for the course. I knew from the “get-go” there was a chance, however slight, that this course could, once and forever, change my inner being, my worldview. Perhaps alter the very core of my existence in this universe of ours. And it might. If I could only get started on it. You see the course is now in Week 3 but unfortunately I’m not. I’m here in the “big city” doing other stuff and since I’m relatively happy anyway, my initial excitement for the course, and for gaining a better understanding about how to be happy and find meaning in my life, has waned. Even so, I still read the emails of encouragement they send to me each and every week so I know that right now, at this very moment, they are talking about the importance of being kind to others which, coincidentally brings me to the thoughts that have been swirling around in my mind for sometime now. Yes, I do think about what to write before I actually get to the writing.

So last week I’m at a concert and there, sitting a couple of rows ahead of me, is a woman I used to work with. When I say “used  to” I’m talking about quite a long time ago. To put that in perspective, when she turned around and enthusiastically waved to me while simultaneously mouthing my name, a momentary feeling of terror descended upon me as I desperately tried to remember why she looked vaguely familiar. Quickly gathering my composure, I returned a somewhat more subdued wave and smile to her in an effort to prevent the interaction from moving to the next step. Which, as you know, is a more personal, close encounter. Being only a row or two apart, and with the start of the concert still several minutes away, I instinctively knew there was a chance she would decide to come over to renew our acquaintance and “catch up” as people are often wont to do under circumstances such as these. And that is just what she did.

Now I am the first person to admit there’s nothing wrong with getting a compliment. I even know how to respond when I get one because, at some point in my life, someone whose name will forever escape me, taught me how. The thing is, compliment exchanges usually go something like this:

Complimenter: What a lovely dress!
Complimentee: This old thing? It’s been hanging in my closet for ages so thought I should give it a last walk around the block. Can’t believe it still fits.

And that’s not the way to do it. At least not the way I was taught. What you are supposed to do when you get a compliment is just say “thank you very much” and apparently that will make both the giver and the receiver feel better. Perhaps even happy. It’s just that most people don’t. But what if thank you very much just doesn’t work? Because sometimes it doesn’t.

As I continue to struggle with remembering who my long, lost friend is she comes right up to me, looks me straight in the eye and says: “I can’t believe it! You look exactly the same as you did when we worked together”. To which I wanted to reply “So how come no one told me I looked so old back then?” because even I find it very hard to believe that in the thirty years since we worked together (and I only surmise we did work together because she not only recognized me but also knew my name) I haven’t changed, not even one tiny little bit. How can that be so? I mean, as far as I can tell she must have changed quite a lot since I can’t even remember who she is. Surely neither she nor I had the deep-set wrinkles we currently have. Or the extra pounds. Or the little gray hairs that no matter how hard you try to hide insist on sticking straight up from your otherwise sleek hair. And if I did look back then like I do now, I certainly wish someone had told me.  Maybe I could have done something about it.

But I didn’t say what I wanted to say. I didn’t say any of those things I was thinking. I simply said “Thank you very much. And without even a break in the tempo, added: “And so do you”. Because it was the right thing to do. It was my way of being kind to others. And you know, as I write this, I have to say I’m feeling just a little bit happier about the whole thing.

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Don’t Worry! Be Happy!

smileyI’m about to embark on another learning journey. Surprised? Me too. But if you have been following me for some time you’ll know that, not too long ago I attended Harvard where I completed a course that explored the rather esoteric concept of justice. Ok, to be fair, I didn’t actually attend Harvard. I took that course online with maybe a hundred thousand or so other people, give or take a few. But I passed and now my Harvard certificate is proudly displayed in a most prominent spot on my office wall. Don’t believe me? Then you haven’t been reading this blog carefully enough. Shallow people know there’s no shame in exploitation when no one gets hurt. And honestly, is there any harm in people expecting you to be just a little smarter than you really are? Or happier? Because you see, for my next foray into the world of academe I will become immersed in the exploration of the “science of happiness”. You heard me right. I’m going to learn how to be happy.

The funny thing is most of the time I am happy. Which doesn’t mean I’m never grumpy or sad or temperamental or just plain ornery. There are times when I am all of those things. Like when I’m driving, minding my own business and some lunatic decides the speed limit is slightly more than double what I am doing. And passes me. On the inside. Or squirrels eat my car, which, if I can be so bold to say, hasn’t happened since we have managed to successfully evict them from the garage. Which has actually made me quite happy. Unless they come back. Which will make me all of the above. Or my hair goes curly in the rain. Yeah, that’s probably the proverbial straw. Yet all of these aside, I’m usually pretty happy. So you may be wondering why exactly I would devote the better part of the next three months learning about happiness.

First things first. I’m taking the course from Berkeley and, besides Harvard, who doesn’t want to go to Berkeley? Let’s face it. Anyone who grew up in the 60s, and I know quite a few people who did, feels a little tinge of nostalgia at the mention of the name. I mean Berkeley. Man, that’s where it was at. Berkeley. The epicenter of  the cultural revolution. Who doesn’t want to groove to that beat? And what better place to go to learn how to be happy? Although, if this were the sixties, I suspect that you wouldn’t have to take a course to figure out how to get happy at Berkeley.

And I gotta say, after seeing the course syllabus I’m pretty excited about what’s to come. Because not only is this course about learning how to be happy, it’s also about discovering how to live a meaningful life. Now that I’m thinking about it, maybe it would have been better to have taken this in the sixties but since there’s no age limit on enrollment I’m guessing it’s not too late. Besides, there are readings and lectures, quizzes and practice exercises so surely something’s going to stick. But to be totally honest, my excitement for what’s to come is coupled with just a little bit of skepticism as I consider the implications of taking a course that talks about “measuring happiness” and provides a list (and you know what I think about lists) of “eight essentials when forgiving”. Do we really need to take a course that instructs us on how to forgive? I’m starting to wonder if the course about being happy could already be making me a little sad.

But despite my reservations I do think this course will be worth my time. As you know, every once in a while I have some trouble coming up with ideas for this blog. The truth of it is, I have an inkling that, if nothing else, I won’t find myself with that problem over the next few months. And you know what? That’s making me happier already!

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