What Makes Me Happy

“Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be,”  Abraham Lincoln is credited with saying. I agree wholeheartedly. While I certainly understand sadness and depression, having spent some time in that desolate territory, I do not wish to pitch my tent and dwell there.

Some days and seasons are hard to live through.  Sometimes you have to recognize when you’re in a situation that’s over your head and you need help. Sometimes you need a listening ear, even perhaps a professional counselor, to sort through all the mess and confusion.

But research has shown that people who focus on happy thoughts and put a smile on their face, even when they’re feeling down, are just happier folks.

Today I’ve been thinking about some things that make me happy. Here are a few, in no particular order:

A child’s laughter

A good belly laugh

Dancing

The aroma of lilacs

Learning something new

Being able to say something in Spanish or French (the latter, I’m not tres bien at…imagine that accent “eggu” over the “e” in “tres”)

Laughing at myself when I do something silly

Doing something silly just for the heck of it

My kitty stretched out on my lap with her paws extended over her head,  in a posture of complete relaxation

The ditties my husband makes up and sings to me in his slightly out-of-tune voice

Seeing my children do something kind for someone

The smell of molasses cookies baking

Cooking

Making a dish for a neighbor or someone who’s sick

Having a conversation with what would be considered an old person

Reading a good book

Reading a trashy novel every once in a while

Getting a letter from a friend

Hearing someone giggle

A thought-provoking quotation

Cartoons (both printed and animated)

Taking a mental health day from work

Puttering around the house

The smell of laundry fresh from the dryer

The feel of folding clothes

Finding mates for socks (the washer usually eats one or two)

Going on a scavenger hunt

Playing volleyball

Taking a walk and stopping to smell a flower or look at a beautiful tree

Good conversations

Meeting interesting people (I gravitate toward musicians and artists)

Trying to figure out what makes people tick (although this is often frustrating)

A beautiful, sunshiny day

Watching snowflakes outside my window

Hiking, especially in autumn

The crunch of leaves as you walk through them

Radnor Lake

Walking on a trail in the woods by myself

Wine with a good friend

Babies after a bath, with their flyaway hair (and hooded towels are just too funny)

Finishing a project and feeling like I’ve given it my best

Drawing, coloring, painting

Enjoying an art show

Reading the Psalms, pondering the Gospels, trying to fathom what in the world the apostle Paul meant by some of his writing

Speaking or writing words of encouragement to lift someone’s spirits

My family having a good discussion around the dinner table

A humble author

Watching TV with our entire family (seldom happens; we don’t have many shows we all like, nor are we all home at the same time)

Seeing positive developments in my children’s lives

Holding hands with John

Hearing Daniel say “I love you” as he signs off the phone

Having lunch with a friend

Watching Julie take pride in keeping her car clean

Laughing together at a joke

E-mail jokes from Jim and Gail

Knowing I’ve listened to someone else and tried to understand that person’s point of view without telling my own story

Singing

Making music on the piano

Finally enjoying singing in Latin at church (it took a while for me to get there)

Watching people in my congregation…especially during baptism and Communion

Hearing our children’s and youth choirs sing

A little Bach, a little Beethoven, some Three Dog Night, Elton John’s early music, The Eagles, Mozart, Norah Jones, Latin music, classical guitar…oh, there is so much good music and great musicians, this is just a mere sampling

These are just a few things that make me happy or bring me joy. There are many more that I can’t think of at the moment. Oh, one joy is knowing I’ve got food in the crockpot for dinner and I won’t have to think about it later in the day when I’m tired. This happens about once in a blue moon. 😀

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Love and Lilacs

I  nearly missed it. A glimpse of grace among all the random events of a crazy day.

Yesterday morning when I walked into my office, the aroma of lilacs hit me as soon as I opened the door. I breathed in the divine scent and saw a blue water bottle filled with lilac sprigs sitting on my desk.

Suddenly I was transported to my mamaw’s house in Kermit, Virginia, and I felt like I was eight years old. Mamaw Leonard had a huge lilac bush in her side yard, next to her white painted clapboard house. As a kid I ran around barefoot in her yard.

I spent many pleasant hours at Mamaw’s house in my childhood. I remember being fascinated by the way she lived: she had no indoor plumbing, so there was a chamber pot sitting under her bed. Behind her house was a weathered gray wooden outhouse, and outside her creaky screen door was a rusty old well pump with a long handle that I used to love cranking up and down.

Mary Maggie Leonard was my grandmother’s name. Her face was leathery and wrinkled, and I remember when she kissed me, I instinctively drew back because she had brown juice around her mouth from dipping snuff, but then when the deed was done, I loved her sticky kiss and the strangely sweet smell of her breath.

My dad, mom, and I used to go visit my grandmother every Friday night. In the wintertime her living room was unbearably hot because of the woodburning stove which glowed from the coal she used to heat her 4-room house. I can see her living room in my mind: a tiny room about 10 by 12 feet,  withher rocking chair sitting beside the stove and an antique sewing machine with a black iron foot pedal placed near a window. On the wall hung a sepia-toned portrait of my dad as a 19-year-old Army private in World War II.

Funny, I remember Mamaw’s rocking chair and the screened door that slammed loudly, but I don’t remember what kind of couch she had. Probably a bristly maroon worn-looking overstuffed couch that later sat in our basement.

I remember sensing that my mom didn’t want to go to my grandmother’s, and she would be strangely quiet and I just knew she hated being at Mamaw’s house. I think she felt like Mamaw clung to Daddy too much, and it also irritated her that Mamaw sounded kind of whiney when she talked. My mother was an outgoing, positive person, and she got impatient with people who were “sad sacks,” as she called Mamaw.

Now I understand why Mamaw sounded the way she did. She led a hard life. When she was 13, her mother died, leaving her as the oldest of five (?) children responsible for cooking and supervising other household responsibilities because her dad, a farmer, needed her help.

Mary Maggie Blessing married James Campbell Leonard, who worked for the railroad in their mountain valley. They had six children, four girls and two boys. One of their twin daughters died from diphtheria at 18 months. Papaw Leonard contracted tuberculosis and died when my dad, Walter Paul Leonard, was only 9.

Mamaw was left with four children to raise (the oldest, Kate, was married by that time). She worked hard as a farmer, selling milk from her prized dairy cow and vegetables from the garden to eke out a living. She also worked as the postmaster at the Kermit post office.

When I was born, she was in her 70s. I remember hearing about her getting struck by lightning once when she was down near the wellhouse. It threw her to the ground and left a scar where it blazed up her arm.

Somewhere along the way, Mamaw had an accident that cut a tendon on the ring finger of her right hand. Her finger was permanently curled into her palm, and her knobby fingers were swollen with arthritis. Still, she had a smile for me every Friday night and freshly made molasses cookies waiting.

So…the smell of lilacs takes me back to Mamaw’s house. And I feel grateful for my friend Doug, who brought me the lilacs after I posted a simple comment on Facebook under a picture of a lilac bush blooming outside his bathroom window: “Bring me some lilacs if you get a chance. Lilacs are my favorite scent…they remind me of my grandmother.”

Thank you, Doug, for helping me remember.