Saturday, July 21, 2012

Content and Happy

Mt. St. Helens, Washington, June 2012

Isn’t that what we all want? We simply want to be content and happy. It sounds so simple doesn’t it? But, why, then, are there so many people who are not content and not happy? I dare say, perhaps, the vast majority is not content and happy. I don’t have any statistics to back that up and I don’t plan to search for such figures. I’m simply making an observation of a fairly broad base of friends and family.

Sure, everyone has some moments of contentment and happiness, but why should it only be some moments rather then most of the time? I’ve repeated many times in the blog that life is all about choices. Everything we do is a choice. So, if we have the choice to be content and happy or not content and happy, why are we choosing to not be content and happy? Now, you may want to counter me on that question and say I’m not choosing to not be content and happy. Then why aren’t you content and happy? That’s the other choice.

Climb Every Mountain

I recently received a “Man to Man” newsletter from the American Cancer Society, a national support group for men with or survivors of prostate cancer, of which I am a survivor. Thus, the reason I received the newsletter, obviously. They cover some clinical issues, tips, Q’s & A’s and at least one uplifting story about survivors. In this issue the headline was “Prostate Cancer Survivor Climbs Mountains.” It tells about a survivor by the name of Gail Endres, a 65 year old guy (geez, just two years younger then yours truly). Gail joined a group of cancer survivors and their caregivers, led by the medical director of Mercy Cancer Center in Des Moines, Iowa, Richard Deming, MD, who founded a nonprofit organization called Above and Beyond Cancer. The group offers adventures to inspire cancer survivors and raises money to fight cancer.

Gail and 36 other members of the group recently reached the 19,000-foot summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa. But, what really caught my attention was his brief description of his climb to the base camp of Mt. Everest with 37 other survivors and caregivers in April 2011. He described the snow and mountains as incredibly beautiful. He went on to say that the people there are content and happy. “It’s amazing to see, compared to the way we live, things we have; we’re so spoiled. There they were with so few things and perfectly content.”

Why is it that we have so much, but we are not content and happy and they have so little and are content and happy? What do they know and practice that we don’t? Could it actually be that “less is more” when it comes to being content and happy? Why do we have such a huge problem with alcohol, recreational and even abuse of prescription drugs, debt, obesity, lower educational achievement then tens of other countries in the world and so many other indicators. It would be my guess that we probably drive more Mercedes Benz, BMW, Jaguars and other exotic cars then any other country in the world. We certainly live in larger homes. We have more selections of food, clothes, shampoo, cosmetics, cosmetic surgery, country clubs, pleasure boats, private aircraft, you get the idea, then any other country in the world. Even through this very difficult economic crisis (certainly far from the first) we’re still one of the wealthiest populations in the world (Canada just beat us with a higher household median income). What is our problem?

Mass Murder Vs. Content And Happy

Why do we live in a society where a 24 year old, apparently, intelligent young man, with no police record or record of any kind of violent behavior, loses it, goes into a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, terrorizes a theater full of people watching a new movie, shoots 71 of them, killing 12 of them? Why did another young man do the same thing at Virginia Tech and a couple teenagers do the same thing at Columbine High School, again, in Colorado? Obviously, they were not content and happy. And, of course, my heart goes out to all of the victims and their loved ones.

Of course, I’ve already started receiving the latest pile of  “ban guns” backlash and the attacks on the National Rifle Association. Of course, it’s the guns’ fault that this happened. As if, these atrocities couldn’t have been perpetrated in some other way. For example, if these perpetrators couldn’t have obtained guns that had to be targeted at individuals, perhaps they would have gone to their local farm supply store and purchased some fertilizer and a few other ingredients and cooked up some devastating bombs like they do in the Middle East and wiped out even larger numbers of people and had a higher body count. Have we already forgotten Timothy McVeigh and the Murrah Federal Building bombing in Oklahoma City with 168 deaths and many more injuries? Evil is evil. It exists. Accept it and deal with it. If someone wants to do some kind of heinous, destructive act like this, they will find a way. I guess we need to ban fertilizer, next.

No, I’m not condoning any of this, making light of the horror and I’m not making a stand one way or the other on the gun issue, other then if we ban guns we should also ban knives, drugs, alcohol, cars, trucks, backyard swimming pools, bows and arrows, etc., all of which have killed people accidentally and on purpose. Sure we can take this to all kinds of extremes, but all of these “weapons” kill substantial numbers of people and if you eliminate one, then another will become the weapon of choice for someone who is, obviously, not content and happy.

The problem isn’t the guns or any of the other items I listed. The problem is that there are too many people who are not content and happy and, obviously, some are extremely not content and happy. Now, I’m not sure I can make such a blanket statement as this, but I can’t think of anyone I know who is at least reasonably content and happy some part of the time, who is planning to mass murder large groups of strangers or even their family or friends. Do you?

Who’s (What’s) On (My) Candid Camera

I’m in the process of planning the upcoming retreat I coordinate annually for a group of professional speaker friends. So, I’m searching through cartons and cartons of old photographs looking for any photos I may have from past retreats and the people who were in attendance. This is the 25th year of this retreat and those who attend it are considered “veteran” speakers, which is another way of indicating “senior” or approaching “senior” status. So, many of the people who attended the early retreats are no longer with us. Memories are good things – even not such great memories – because they remind us of where we were once upon a time and how far we’ve come.

As I’ve been going through these thousands and thousands of old photos (my pre-digital days), I began to notice a few things. First, I noticed that there were photos that brought a smile to my face remembering the happy time the photo was taken. Second, I found photos of events that I had either totally forgotten (well, at least to my conscious mind) or details of events that have slipped away. Third, I found photos of things – old recording studios I’d built, offices, equipment I forgot I once owned, systems I designed, places I forgot about where this equipment was installed or used. Fourth, I found pictures of places. There were mountains, valleys, oceans and beaches, lakes, rolling countryside, sunrises and sunsets, winter snow scenes, spring, fall and others.

This is what I found most interesting. The photos of the places and the sunrises and sunsets and so on, equaled or exceeded the combined photos of the first three categories I mentioned. The photos I found of the sun rising taken from the 10,000-foot summit of Haleakala on the Hawaiian Island of Maui. I was above the clouds and in the foreground between the camera and the sun was the peak of the great volcano on the big island of Hawaii jutting above the clouds. That one series of photographs reminded me of the entire trip that began with two weeks in New Zealand visiting my friend/”brother” Brian Morris and his lady friend at the time, Linda.

I won’t go into any further depth, but I will say that during that period of time and certainly as I took those photos (and also looked at the photos of me scuba diving on a reef off the coast of Maui that very same day), a fantastic feeling of peace, contentment and happiness washed over me. Obviously, natural beauty of all kinds seems to be the most appealing to me. I’d prefer sitting on a mountaintop or a beach or overlooking a natural pool or lake to drinking beer, eating Doritos and watching a football game or any other professional or college sports event. There is where I am contented and happy. 

So, why would I choose to do something else (back to choices again)? Well, in an earlier life, I did it to follow the crowd. I’d go to Super Bowl Parties and such, but never because I really had a care who won the game, but because I wanted to be connected to my friends. Yes! I laughed. Yes! I had some fun. But, interestingly, I have absolutely not one single photo of any of the events like those that I attended. Why is that? I guess because while I laughed and had some fun, I really wasn’t experiencing contentment or happiness.

Your Turn!

Okay! So that’s me. And those are the people who massacre people for no apparent reason (actually there is . . . because, they are not content and happy). But, you’re not me. You’re (hopefully) not now or in the future, a mass murderer. You are you! You have the same choices that I have, my football loving friends have, the mass murderers have, the people in Nepal where Mt. Everest is and every other person in the world have. You can actually choose to be content and happy. But, do you know the choices you have to make for – YOU to be content and happy? It’s really not as hard as you think. Frankly, it’s too bad that our parents, grandparents, other family members, teachers, professors, religious leaders, employers, employees, co-workers and friends, who, for the most part, weren’t content and happy. If they had been, maybe we all could have learned to make the choice to be content and happy years and, maybe, decades ago.

Am I 100% content and happy? Straight answer – NO! But, I am content and happy a much greater percentage of my time (way more then 50%) then ever before and that percentage continues to increase. Every time I realize I’m doing something, whatever it may be, that drains my energy, enthusiasm and joy, I realize that it’s something I must CHOOSE to eliminate in order to become more content and happy. We are continually growing and evolving beings. If you relate to what I’ve said here and have only minor spurts of contentment and happiness, but crave much more, then you have some serious evaluations, considerations and choices to make. If not now, when? We only have so much time on this planet. Every moment we choose not to be content and happy is gone forever and that just doesn’t make any sense when all we have to do is make a choice.   

"The purpose of our lives is to be happy." Dalai Lama

"He is richest who is content with the least, for content is the wealth of nature." Socrates

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