Thursday, December 4, 2014

Constant Craving - Happiness

Again, we're looking at another chapter of Marilyn Meber's book "Constant Craving: How to Make Sense of Always Wanting More".  She's 72 years old and that says a lot.  

Chapter 6 - Hungry for Happiness
(Skipping the anecdote at the beginning)
Can a Happy Person Be Content?
"Contentment is a stew of being that is characterized by not wanting more than we have.  A contented person is basically satisfied with life's circumstances.  On a spiritual level, we, like the apostle Paul, can be content with life knowing we have a transformed soul and God has sovereignly ordained our circumstances.  Because we trust God, we can be content to leave it all to him.

"But on a human level, being content with our circumstances and having no desire to change them can at times be incomprehensible - simply beyond our understanding.  For example, I wonder how a pig can be content to snort around in garbage and wallow in the mud?  That is incomprehensible to me.  Why?  Because I'm not a pig.  Pigs, however, were meant to find contentment in that environment.

"Then how can a human being be content to live in a filthy environment with rodents scurrying around everywhere?  That's equally incomprehensible to me.  Why?  Because it's not my idea of contentedness.

"Yet, as incomprehensible as that is to me, the apostle Paul ives in a jail cell with rodents scurrying around everywhere and said he was content.  He is statement reminds us again that contentedness is and inside job; it comes as the pig lives out the destiny for which it was created, and it comes to you and me as we share Paul's trust in God's timing and sovereignty.

"Now let's talk about the word happy.  We know it is an adjective that describes a feeling.  And we know that feelings are never constant; they can change dramatically or unexpectedly.  So is it possible to be content and also be happy?  Of four it is, but happy moments come along as additions to the state of contentedness.  While he was imprisoned,  Paul experienced moments of happiness when he received a supportive and loving letter from the outside.  being happy was a bonus to the contentedness he already felt.

"So, can a happy person be content?  Actually, no - at least no without some groundwork.

"Let me explain: a person experiencing the feeling of being happy without the grounding of contentment is only going to continue living a craving-for-more- existence.  That's why i'd never for the the guy who is only happy (referring to the anecdote at the beginning of the chapter).  If he has no foundation of contentment, he will blow around the universe in search of more happy feelings.  he's got the order wrong.  He must first find contentment; then he can enjoy the happy moments that come and go throughout a lifetime.

Difffering Definitions of Happy
"It would seem that answering the question 'What is happiness?' should be simple.  After all, everyone wants it, experiences it, and recognizes it.  But the fact is, there are thousands of books on happiness, and most start their discussion with the question 'What is it?'  Almost all find happiness difficult to define.  Why?  Because everyone experiences happiness differently.

"We know happiness is a feeling based on an experience; that experience may make one person happy but not another.  We also know the feeling of being happy is relatively brief elevation of mood that for one may be slurping ice cream while for another it's organizing a closet.

"Recently I read about another example of differing happy feelings in the story of a Pennsylvania man whiz refusing to take down a twenty-four-foot-tall illuminated cross he built in his front yard.  The cross builder says its seize demonstrates his religious conviction, but officials say the cross violates local ordinances and shines into neighbors' windows.  The cross builder says the size of the cross represents the size of his faith; just looking at it makes him happy.  The neighbors, however, don't share his happy feeling.

Happy Connectedness
"As I was watching a TV account of conjoined female twins, I had to reeducate myself to remember that conjoined twins are babies whose embryos did not separate completely during fetal development.  The result is the birth of two babies who remain physically connected to each other when they leave the womb.

"The twins in the TV report are fused at the shoulders; they have two heads with separate, fully functioning brains but only one trunk, two arms, and two legs.  Because they have separate brains, they have differing thought processes as well as differing personalities.  Both twins are effervescent and charming; one is a little more outspoken than the other, but their mother says they usually live in harmony with their differences.

"At the time of the televised report, they were just turning sixteen, going to a public high school, talking and giggling on the phone.  They like boys, play on a softball team and are taking driver's education wight eh anticipation of getting a driver's license.

" In spite of all those normal teenage activities, the twins are obviously physically challenged, and there is not clear-cut medical precedent to follow as they develop into adulthood.  As  result, their future well-being is medically uncertain.  Nevertheless, both twins are certain about one thing: they do not ever want to be surgically separated.  When asked why, each said she loves knowing the other is there.

"To know they will always sleep together, laugh together, eat together and cry together is a source of enormous comfort to them.  I was jolted as they both looked into the camera and one said, 'Doesn't everyone long to be connected to someone she loves?  Well, we are naturally connected, and we make each other happy.'

" What was startling to me as a viewer of the show was that I could not imagine their connection produced happiness.  My thought was, 'You only think you'r happy because you've never known anything else.  We almost always choose the familiar to the unknown.'  And yet, what right do I have to decide what constitutes their happiness?

The Drive to Feel Happy
"My reaction to the conjoined twin's statement reveals one of the problems with searching for a definition of happiness: we don't always agree on its source.  That lack of agreement leaves us with a definition that usually begins, 'Well, it's that certain feeling when ...'

"Though we may not experience happiness as a result of the same experience, the human race is still highly driven to feel happy.  All philosophies since Plato discus the primary purpose and intention of life as the search for happiness.

"Seventeenth-century philosopher Blaise Pascal said all person seek happiness.  It is the motive of every action of every person.  Nineteenth-century researcher Sigmund Freud also stated that the purpose and intuition of life is to be happy - and ideally to become increasingly more and more happy.

"Thomas Jefferson not only felt that staving for happiness was important; he believed the 'pursuit of happiness' was our nation birthright.  As such, it was written into the American Declaration of Independence in 1776.  He believed the main business of the state was to provide for the happiness of those governed.

"The craving for more happiness ranks right up there with the drive for more romance.  Both cravings cane relentless drivers; we will go to almost any length to satisfy those urges.  If we agree with Jefferson, the drive to achieve more happiness is more than human craving; it's a civil right.  (Perhaps that makes it more commendable than the craving for more romance.)

What Makes Us Happy
"So far, in an effort to answer the question 'What is happiness?' we can only say, 'It's not clear.'  We know it's a feeling that produces pleasurable elevation in mood, we know it does not last indefinitely, and we know that what makes one person happy does not make another happy.  We also know that for centuries great minds of written about who the pursuit of happiness is on of humanity's greatest 'more' cravings.  That's a lot of hot air and black ink devoted to a subject no one seems able to nail down!

"To adde ven more ink to the illusive and ill-defined subject of happiness, I'm going to make a few suggestions of my own, based on seventy-two years of living, searching for, and experiencing happiness-producing moments.

"To begin with, I love to laugh.  laughing makes me happy.  A good joke makes me happy and can elevate my mood again and again because I can keep telling it to myself.  When I was a child, there were three jokes I told myself at night after my mother read to me, prayed with me, a tucked me into bead, and then turned out the light.  These three jokes never failed me.  I told them to myself in the same order, always leaving the same last joke for my heartiest laugh.

"We lived in a small house, so my parents would hear me telling myself the jokes, chuckling at first and then finishing with a great guffaw at the end.  Dad would say, 'She just told the fish joke.'  Quiet would then descend upon my bedroom, and soon I was asleep.

"Not only do jokes make me laugh, I make me laugh.  I do and say some really dumb things.  of course I have a choice in how to respond to those dumb things: I can be disgusted and chastise myself, or I can laugh and say, 'Bless your heart, honey.'

"Recently I locked myself out of the house.  I encouraged myself with the fact that I had hidden a house key in a sandwich baggy and slipped it into a crevice of the brick wall on my patio.  smiling at my brilliant preparation for just such a lockout, I scanned the wall for the crevice and the tip of my baggy peaking out.

"Nothing.  After scanning several more times, I gave up and called Luci on my cell phone.  (Fortunately it was in my pocket.)  'Do you have any idea why I can't find my bagged house key in the crevice of the patio wall?' I washed her.

"Without skipping a beat she said, 'You decided not to leave it there because the baggy poked out.'

"'Really?  Do you know what I did with it?'

"'Yeah, its in your garage on the third shelf where you hide things.'

"'Wow, I don't remember having a shelf devoted to hidden things.'

"'Well, you do.'

"I found the key behind the Weed B Gone.

"'Wonder why I would hide the weed killer ...' I mused to myself before adding, 'Bless your heart, honey.'

Enlarging Our Potential for Happiness
"In two previous books I've authored, I'd Rather Be Laughing and Choosing the Amusing, I suggest the establishing of a laugh-lifestyle.  Laughter and the ability for choosing the amusing rather than self-defeat is a deliberately chosen attitude of the mind.  In fact, there is a direct correlation from our attitudes to our ability to experience happiness.  One of the most crucial attitudes we can develop is on of gratitude.  A grateful attitude in itself produces an elevation of mood.  When I see my circumstances throughout the lens of a grateful mindset instead of the 'I'm not getting what I want' mind-set, I feel better; I even have the potential to be happy in spite of circumstances.

"As I write this, we North Texans are just crawling out of an especially severe winter.  There were four days when most of us dared not leave our homes because of ice and snow.  On the fifth day following our confinement, I inched toward the grocery store for relief from peanut butter sandwiches and shared a moment of happiness with a woman who looked at me over a pile of fresh tomatoes and with a teary voice said, 'These tomatoes make me so happy!'

"I experienced many other moments of gratitude during that snow-and-ice storm; my pipes didn't freeze, my electricity didn't go out, my furnace continued to function, my phone work, and even the beat (the computer) in my home office remained vigilantly alive and well.  I was grateful.

"My encouragement that you develop an attitude of gratitude may be so family that you simply respond, 'Yeah, yeah. I've heard that before.'  But I suggest we all (myself included) hear it again.  Keeping a 'gratitude list' may sound corny, but it redirects our mind and lifts our mood.  Write up a list of everything for which you are grateful: the big stuff and the little stuff.

"Here are a few sources of gratitude on my list today: the side door no longer sticks, I located more of my favorite hard-to-find vanilla loose-leaf tea, birds are singing again, the new water filter makes the water taste better, my lamp throws light perfectly on my book.  And at the top of this list is the greets source of my gratitude: Jesus loves me.

"Hopefully your lists go on and on.  If they do, we enlarge our happiness potential.

Expect Less, Get More
"Another attitude I suggest we look at is our level of expectation from the events in our lives.  I've often heard it said, 'Expect more and you get more,' but I think if we expect less, we get more.  I know this sounds counterproductive to positive thinking, but let me explain why I think this way.

"Let's assume you had  high expect ion for your family vacation.  But on the second day, two of your children come down with stomach flue, which quickly spreads to everyone else in the family.  In addition to that, you have a flat tire, ruin the tire driving on it, and your spare is flat.

"No one is happy.

"How could lowered expectations for this trip have helped you happiness potential?  You know sickness is always a possibility, so while hoping against it you prepare for it anyways, packing medicine for the trip.  When the flue erupts, you and your family are grateful for your provision.  Your car's tires are showing signs of ware, so you make sure your spare is aired up and ready to go before you leave, and you also carry a can of flat-fixer.  Plus you bring along the Old Maid cards to play while you're waiting for the flat to be fixed, increasing the happiness of your children because you inevitably picked the Old Maid card.

"Expecting less does not mean we prepare less, we try less, or we are less determined to live out our potential.  It means less can become more, and when that happens, it produces happiness!

"Since our craving for more happiness is a well-documented universal preoccupation, it may comfort us to know there are ways happiness can become a more frequent and less elusive experience.  It is often a choice based on a wise and knowledgeable reasoning.

"In his excellent book The Law of Happiness, Dr. Henry Cloud says only 10 percent of our happiness is due to personal circumstances; 50 percent comes from our internal makeup, and the rest is determined by us.

"That being the case, I recognize my deepest happiness can only be found in the God who created us to know him, love him, and trust him in all things.  As Pascal wrote, 'Happiness is neither outside or inside us.  It is in God, both outside and inside us."

I apologize for the length of these.  I know I have trouble staying with articles past a certain length.  For some reason my attention span is much better with books.  Another reason, I'd encourage you to buy/borrow this one and give it a good think.  The excerpts I've chosen have been particularly impactful for me.  I pray that these thoughts of Marilyn's will be helpful and inspiring to you!  Grace to you all.

Song for the day:
The Wexford Carol

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