I ran across this quote by Mark Twain the other day: “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”
It takes most of us a long time to “find out why.” Unfortunately, I was in my early 50s before I finally figured it out. I always assumed that my goal was to advance as far up the ladder with my company as I could and to provide an enjoyable life for my family. That was the goal of my parents and of our extended family, thus it became my goal as well. Only in my 50s did I realize that my life on this beautiful planet went beyond that simple goal.
We have all heard many times that money cannot buy happiness, but a recent study contradicts that emphatically. It shows that over the last few decades people are more inclined to say that having sufficient money in their savings account relieves a lot of financial pressure and makes life easier. That has been the case in my life, and I don’t know anyone with sufficient financial resources who is unhappy unless they have health problems. On the other hand, I know several who lack those resources and struggle daily as a result.
The only bone of contention I have with the study is that it cannot acknowledge the degree of happiness that financial independence brings. Personally, I believe it only gets you on the first rung of the ladder. Other things allow you to advance upward, such as sustained health for yourself and for your loved ones; having a significant person in your life to share your life with; and having an extended group of family and friends that are involved in helping you live a robust, yet relaxing lifestyle.
Some say that as we grow older we gain a “crystalized intelligence” that will continue to get better as we age, and that we will often become more agreeable and less prone to anger. Scientists haven’t been able to pin this down but they think that older people are able to control their emotions better and focus on how to make life happier.
Now we get to the “find out why” in Twain’s quote. When we eventually get past the desire to collect as many “things” as we can to prop up our feeling of self-worth, and after we have travelled to the many places we thought would add adventure to our mostly dull existence, we come to realize that something is missing. It took me a long time to think outside the bubble of my life where the question was always, “What’s best for me?” As I got older, I thought about what I could do for others. My wife and I live a comfortable life and can help. We have decided that we want to help those people in our lives who need a helping hand. We have all heard the old axiom, “It is better to give than to receive,” but I doubt many of us felt that to be true, especially if your life has been a series of financial struggles.
As a younger man, I could donate to charity by having my employer withhold a generous amount from my bi-monthly paycheck and each year I could look with satisfaction at the amount. After I retired, that option wasn’t available, so I had to figure out another plan. Now when December rolls around, we sit down and write checks to our favorite charities. The satisfaction derived from this effort definitely lowers my stress levels because we know that we are helping people who are, perhaps, unable to help themselves.
Yup, it took me a long time to find out why I have been placed on this earth. I am confident that a lot of us never figure that out. If I had asked my parents that question, they would have responded, “to raise you two boys,” and they would have been content with that answer. I remember my mother calling me about a year after my father passed away in 1986 and saying, “Tommy Joe (she never called me Tommy), I want to let you know that I have $50,000 in the bank.” This was Dad’s goal in life—plus a Lincoln Continental sitting in the driveway😊. That was it, no higher motivation, no helping the sick or poor, no helping the sad looking Vietnam veteran sitting at the stoplight with a cardboard sign pleading for money to buy food. This is the way it was back in my hometown all those many years ago. There was no safety net if your life took a rapid turn for the worse, so people weren’t inclined to help.
But in my many yearly trips back home, I have seen that change, not because the people there are now wealthier, but because they have become more enlightened. They too, have come to realized why they have been placed on this planet, and they know it’s not just to accumulate $50,000 in the bank. You may think I’m being critical of my parents and the people in my hometown during that time, but you would be wrong! I’m proud of my hillbilly heritage, and my core values came from those fine people, but it’s difficult to visualize a higher purpose in life when you’re struggling to put food on the dinner table. I probably have an ulterior motive in my enlightened attitude: “I’m not looking for a hole in the ground, I’m looking for one in the sky.” —Keen Mountain Boys.
Two weeks ago, my wife and I were walking one of our favorite trails and came upon a fellow standing by his bicycle taking a break. As we approached him, he started a conversation, so we paused to talk with him for a while. He informed us that he rode this trail on his bike every day and wanted to know how often we walked it. I informed him that we walked it every Wednesday, and then I pointed out in a friendly manner that the trail was three miles long, but for him to get the same cardiovascular benefits as us he would have to bike 21 miles. A one-mile walk was equal to seven miles of biking. In retrospect, it was probably impolite for me to make that point, but I did, and he didn’t seem offended. During our conversation, I also glibly told him about the monthly walking challenges I have with my three granddaughters. He responded that at his age (he appeared younger than me), he no longer wanted to create challenges in his life. That caught me by surprise because challenges to me are part of what makes life interesting. Reminds me of a quote often attributed to Glenn Campbell (the singer): “I can still jump as high, I just can’t stay up as long.”
Come to think of it, my life is full of challenges: writing this weekly missive, getting 10,000 steps daily, getting 7 hours of sleep each night 😊, lifting weights—I could go on, but the list would be way too long. I can only imagine how boring my life would be if I didn’t have daily challenges. Some are a lot tougher than others, but they all dance to a tune that make my life taste like a piece of pecan pie with a big ole slab of vanilla ice cream on the top. 😊 “Challenges are what make life interesting and overcoming them is what makes life meaningful.” —Joshua J. Marine
New Word for the Day:
Philomath: a lover of learning, a student or scholar. One of my granddaughters is a philomath. I just love learning unfamiliar words. I hope wherever you are on this wonderful planet that the people you love return that wonderful feeling in abundance. —Tommy
⚽ The English dictionary doesn’t give a particularly good distinction between joy and happiness, but I think it should. I believe joy is related to a particular event in your life. For me, it would be throwing a “Ringer” in horseshoes or having the power generator fire up every three months without me having to work on it. In other words, for me, it is normally a singular event.
Happiness is a totally different animal. That is something that covers you like a warm blanket in the dead of winter and allows you to sleep the entire night without waking up. It is something that stays with you until something happens that brings you back into the constant ups and downs of normal life. Mostly, I think terrible things stop the “happiness train” and that can be many things; health problems for yourself or someone you care about, deaths, financial problems, or family problems like drugs and alcohol.
I have been on that “happiness train” for almost 28 years and there have been a few times that it screeched to a halt. But sooner or later, it came back to life and continued on its journey with my wife and I onboard. A friend (Reese) told me recently that life for him has been like a bus ride with people getting on, riding for a while, and then getting off as new riders got on. What we all know is that as we get older people get off and fewer and fewer get on. Finally we get to the end of the ride and only a few people are still on the bus and only a few of those were on it from the start.
My “happiness train” is still chugging along, some getting off and some getting on and all of us bringing happiness, or joy, to each other in some way. Yup! I prefer happiness to joy because it lasts much longer.
An old German Proverb goes, “When a man is happy, he does not hear the clock strike”. Now, that dog will hunt! 😊
⚽ By the time we die, most of us will have spent a quarter of a century asleep, of which six years or more will have been spent dreaming—and almost all of those dreams are forgotten upon waking. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night, head for the bathroom, and upon returning to bed, pick up the same dream again even though I purposefully try to avoid it. Most of them are nonsensical and I ignore them but occasionally they are meaningful and leave an impression. Last night I had a dream about my dearly departed sister-in-law (Mary Ann) and that will stay with me all day.
So, I don’t think all dreams are a waste of time, although I do think most are. From everything I have read about them, they are believed to serve a purpose in rebooting our brain to re-energize our cells. I do know that when I fail to get enough sleep I tend to make poor decisions, at least that’s what I’m blaming it on 😊. I have also discovered that I can sometimes determine what I’ll dream about by thinking of whatever is on my mind as I drop off to sleep. It doesn’t always work, but often it does. I was once asked if my dreams were in color or black & white? Honestly, I don’t know. If they are in color, they’re not very bright, because that never seemed relevant to whatever the dream was about. I believe the only time I don’t have dreams is when I go to bed dead tired.
Truth be known, I probably don’t get enough sleep each night, hovering somewhere around 6.5 to 7 hours. Doctors want all of us to get from 7 to 8 hours, but I only get the maximum about once a month. I like to think that I’m an “Early Riser”, but deep down I know that I’m not. I go to bed at midnight and get up at 7am. My daughter gets out of bed at 4:30am to get ready for work. She needs to look exactly right before she gets in her car to make the daily commute. She’s a true “Early Riser”. Walter Dwight said, “Early risers, as a rule, are a notably arrogant set.” My daughter isn’t arrogant, she just wants to look her best before going out her front door 😊.
⚽ I have had 20 homes in my life, my wife only seven. Of those 20 homes, I spent 17 years in one and 28 at my current residence. Most of my moving was during my 20s and we were always renters, not homeowners. It often gives me pleasure to trace the course of my life thru the places I have lived. I remember the very first time I moved in my life. I was nine years old and living in “Page” coal camp. A house about 50 feet away was being vacated and it was much bigger and better than the one we occupied, so we were told we could move into it. I believe the rent was about $20 each month. Well, the big day arrived for the move and we began transferring everything in our old home to the new home. It took all day and what seemed like a thousand trips to get everything moved. I remember being surprised that we had that much stuff. My family and I certainly enjoyed living in that “upgraded” home. Compared to homes today it wouldn’t have been such a great upgrade, but life is all about what you’re used to having, especially when you’re nine years old 😊. I remember Mom being so excited and that transferred to my brother (Jerry) and I. It had a finished basement for Mom’s washing machine and rinsing tubs and a shower for Dad to use when he came home each day from the coal mines.
I had a lot of fond memories while living in that house. I wanted to be on the high school football team in the 9th grade and P.L. Williams, the coach, came to our home to convince Mom & Dad to let me come out for the team (our school was small and he needed players). Dad bought a new 1955 Ford Fairlane while we lived there. My Great-Uncle came to visit one Sunday and didn’t know how to use the bathroom. He had an “Outhouse” with no running water. I was outside playing in the yard and he slyly came out and asked me where the outhouse was, and I told him we didn’t have one, that he needed to use the bathroom. He embarrassedly asked me to show him how to use it. We went inside thru the back door to avoid everyone inside, and I dutifully showed him how it worked. His eyes opened wide in amazement as he observed this “newfangled way” of using the toilet. I had my first date while living in that house, played a thousand hands of “Knuckles” poker there during the winter months.
“Yeah, I had a lot of good memories in that old house, and in almost every place I have lived during my long life. In some of those homes, I experienced a lot of success and in others failure. Michael Jordan said, “I missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games and 26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over again in my life, and that is why I succeed.” I can surely relate to that 😊.
֎ I remember as a young man only buying shirts with two pockets on them. The reason was that in one I had a pocket protector with several pens stuck in it and the other was used for notes, or whatever else I accumulated during a normal day at the office. I think you can tell how complex a person’s life is by how many shirt pockets he has. Mostly, my shirts are minus any pockets. Occasionally, when I have to dress-up, my shirt will have a pocket on it, but most of the time there is not a shirt pocket to be seen. I have seen men wearing pants without any hip pockets on them, but I haven’t gotten to that point yet. I guess I could do that because most of the time I carry one credit card, my driver’s license and a $20 bill in the case that I use for my cellphone. I doubt most women could do that, my wife could overhaul a car engine with the stuff she carries around in her handbag. Heck, my daughter has to rent a forklift to carry the bag she carries around. She has a keyring with about 50 keys on it and she can identify the purpose of only 5 of them. But, then again, I’m guessing most of us have keys in our possession that we have no idea of what they open. If shirt pockets are indicative of a complex man, then it stands to reason that a shirt with no pockets belong to a guy without a worry in the world. In other words, a simple guy, with a simple, uncomplicated life. I wanna be that guy! I have made up my mind! From now on I only want shirts with no pockets! Katherine Gerould said, “The real drawback to the simple life is that it is not simple. If you are living it, you positively can do nothing else.” Isn’t that Just great? Now I have to come up with another plan.
֎ "The summit of happiness is reached when a person is ready to be what he is."
- Desiderius Erasmus
I am certainly inclined to agree with that quote. We have all heard that, “happiness is the journey, not the destination”, and I also feel that is true. But, I kinda like the first quote best. I was 48 years old and, as a supervisor, felt I was qualified to be the next manager of our department. Instead, someone else was brought in to be the manager and I was distraught. After several weeks of worrying about my situation, a miraculous thing happened! Without me being aware of it, the ambition that sweltered deep inside of me disappeared. I didn’t immediately realize what had happened, but I felt a sense of calm spread within me, and I knew that something had changed. Eventually, it became apparent to me that the inner peace was a result of me accepting that I would never become the manager. Careers seldom turn out the way we plan and that’s when you have to accept your fate and be at peace with who you are and what you have accomplished. Maybe, you didn’t achieve all you wanted but, perhaps, you got a lot of it done, enough that you can be happy. That’s what happened with me, I was ready to be the person that I was. John Cowper said, “Ambition is the grand enemy of all peace”. Hmmm, wish I had said that.
֎ "A conservative is a man with two perfectly good legs who, however, has never learned to walk forward."
- Franklin D. Roosevelt
Up until a few years ago, I considered myself a conservative. But as I have grown older, I became aware that I should help those less fortunate than I. What brought that about, I think, is observing those around me, giving and helping without expectations of those efforts being responded to in-kind. I believe that selfishness may be the one part of our DNA that we can change. To make that change does not require surgery, drugs, or a sit-down with the Dalai Lama. Empathy is easily acquired if you realize your life is great because you have been blessed with great opportunities that others have not been exposed to.
I think that as a conservative I believed everyone had the same opportunities and only some accepted the challenge and made a good effort to put them to full use. In other words, the beggar was homeless & jobless because he was shiftless and lazy. All the while acknowledging that laziness is the hardest darn human affliction to overcome. Have I become a Liberal? I think not. I believe that I’m somewhere between the two ideologies: wanting others to work for what they have, and realizing that bad things happen to good people and that I should help when possible. I want to tell old Franklin that, yes, I still think I am a conservative, and I constantly strive to put one foot in front of the other 😊.
֎ A couple of weeks ago, we were warned by many weather forecasters that hurricane Florence was headed across the Atlantic Ocean, making a beeline straight for the east coast of the USA. Needless to say, we watched it closely as it approached our shore and, at some point, the 140-mile-wide cone they drew of its path included us. We were inside the cone by a very small margin. Finally, it was predicted to come ashore within 4 days and many areas were warned to evacuate. I prayed many times for the Lord to spare us, but in the meantime, we started bringing everything inside that could be blown, or floated away (we are 12 feet above sea level). A Category 5 storm would bring devastation. I called and made motel reservations for four nights at an inland area city about 2½ hours away. As we retired for the night I told my wife that the radar showed the storm had shifted a little south (away from us) and we were now slightly outside the cone. That gave us a small amount of relief. The next morning we arose early, and I dashed (sort of) down the hall, booted up my PC and went directly to the weather radar and the graphic showing the storm’s projected path. It told us that the storm had shifted a little farther to the south, so we were a little more removed from the cone. I waited until noon, watching carefully, and then called the motel and cancelled the reservations. Sure enough, the storm came ashore in North Carolina as predicted (away from us) and has ruined many, many lives and destroyed so much property. We have close friends in some of the areas that were almost annihilated and it didn’t take long for me to realize that by asking The Lord to spare us, I had unconsciously asked him to shift the storm away from us onto someone else. Needless to say, I have walked around for many days feeling guilty for making such a request. I guess that I have to believe God made the decision on his own, without regard to my pleas, and that he thinks I place too much credit to my imploringness.
Alex Carrel said, “Each individual thinks himself the center of the world. Nothing seems more important to us than our own existence.” Sadly, I believe that sometimes it is true. I just have to remember the next time I make a request to include the caveat that if that would shift misfortune to others that he denies my plea.