What Makes People Happy

A young boy wearing goggles and a hat.

A short while back Jerilyn and I went to breakfast with Kathy (daughter-in-law),her husband, Dean and grandson (Brandon).  Brandon (16) has his Virginia driver’s license and drove his family to the gathering.  We waited outside the restaurant for them to arrive, and when they did, she noticed that he failed to signal his turn into the parking lot.  She took him aside and whispered to him about his violation of standard driving practice.  The thought came to me that none of my four grandparents owned a car during my lifetime.  I wondered how many people today know someone old enough to drive that has never driven?   My grandparents never gave me advice on driving, though they probably were plenty scared of my teenage antics.  I remember a neighbor that lived down the road from us telling my mother about me flying by her house on the way home from a date.  When approached by mom, I, of course, denied it was true and my blessed mother believed everything I told her.  She never caught me in a lie, my theory being that I should only deceive her when the stakes were plenty high.  My brother (Jerry), although much smarter than I was academically, lied to her indiscriminately and often suffered from her disbelief of him.  That boy stayed in so much trouble during his adolescence I often felt sorry for him.  I’ll give him credit, it didn’t seem to bother him very much.  He was a good kid, never doing anything mean, just mischievous.  Anyway, getting back to Brandon, I would venture a guess that a young person learning to drive today comes under so much scrutiny from parents and relatives, the only way to handle it is to tune some of it out.  I am reminded of the quote by Friedrich Nietzsche, “You have your way. I have my way.  As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not existâ€.  Good luck Brandon.

Sometimes, who we are, is not necessarily whom we want to be.  I am many things to many people, husband, father, brother, uncle, friend, etc., but sometimes, and just for a short span of time, I need to be anonymous, be someone without connections to other people so I can do things without  worrying  what those closest to me may think of my actions.  Many times during my work life, I was in a room full of people that didn’t know my name and couldn’t really have cared less.  There is a certain freedom that comes with anonymity.  You can express ideas that may be against the norm without fear that someone will be offended or hurt.  I believe we are more likely to be who we really are when the fear of being judged by those that know us is removed.  I am more likely to give an unguarded opinion when asked by a stranger rather than by someone I know.   The ech0 of my mother’s voice from long ago still rings in my head; “Tommy Joe, did you really mean to hurt your brother by pushing him off the top step of the porch?â€Â  “Naw, Mom, I just barely nudged him and he fell off accidentallyâ€, I said.  The boy was weeping as if he had fallen off the Peaks of Otter (Skyline Drive).  You see, I knew there was a heavy price to pay for an intentional nudge.   So, as this story shows, most of us grow up knowing how to survive.  This carries into adulthood and applies to most areas of our life.  We go thru life trying not to offend people we know by diluting our thoughts and actions.   Let me think now, where can I find a room full of strangers?   Keith Richards (Rolling Stones) said it best; “Image is like a long shadow.  Even when the sun goes down, you can see itâ€. 

I recently saw a picture of a neglected, deserted home, setting next to the bottom of a huge mountain.  The roof was covered with moss, all the window panes were missing, and it looked weather beaten and lonely.  Looking at that old house, I knew it was once spanking new and the families that occupied it, during its long life, must have shared a lot of wonderful memories.  That encouraged me to recall how many homes I’ve had in my 69 years, and the total comes to 20.  The longest time in one home was 17 years, and the shortest time was 5 months.  I had good memories in all 20 places.  Unfortunately, some of those wonderful homes have been demolished and exist only in my mind.  I have travelled long distances to visit some of those places again.  I have visited former homes in Dallas, Texas, and Colorado Springs, Colorado.   I drive by former homes in this area about once a year, and they all bring back good memories.  If we live long enough, all we will have is memories and a few people to share them with.  Cicero said it best: “A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all other virtuesâ€.  How very true.

Our nation’s time is kept by the current international standard for defining a second. That is based on the measurements of some 250 atomic clocks calibrated to the cesium atom which oscillates at slightly more than nine billion times a second.  Someone, with nothing else to do I suppose, came up with the dimwitted idea that we needed to be even more precise and suggests that we replace the cesium atoms with the strontium atoms, which oscillates at 430 trillion times a second.  I’m guessing that if we go from 9 billion times a second to 430 trillion times a second, I will never be late for another appointment.  I’m left wondering why 9 billion oscillations per second aren’t good enough.  The shortest interval of time ever measured is 20 attoseconds.  An attosecond is one billionth of one billionth of a second. Now, the reason for the new measurement seems to be that the cesium clock loses one second every 100 million years and the strontium clock loses one second every 300 million years.  We all agree the cesium clock needs to be replaced, don’t we?  Personally, I think our next step should be the quantum logic clock which loses a second every 3.7 billion years.  I know that cellphones are synchronized to a variation of no more than one millionth of a second per day, and GPS systems are more accurate with precise time, but I’m absolutely overwhelmed with the need for so much precision in time.  For 43 years I started work on the sound of the shipyard whistle.  It would always be within 5 seconds of our shift start time.  To me, that seems precise enough.  Charles Darwin said; “A man who dares to waste on hour of time has not discovered the value of lifeâ€.  Boy, I for one, am certainly glad he didn’t say not to waste one second of time.  Sometimes, it feels like we are trying to swallow the sun.

I ran across a discussion a few days ago on what makes people happy. When asked to rate their feelings on a scale of one to 100, with 100 being “very good,†the people having sex gave an average rating of 90. That was a good 15 points higher than the next-best activity, exercising, which was followed closely by conversation, listening to music, taking a walk, eating, praying and meditating, cooking, shopping, taking care of one’s children, and reading. Near the bottom of the list were personal grooming, commuting, and working.   As we grow older, the possibility of losing the number one thing that makes us happy is a real possibility, so that moves exercising to the top.  That seems so sad to me.  I exercise an hour a day, six days a week and have done so for many years.  I can tell you that any happiness it brings is a byproduct and not the source of my happiness.  Here’s my list of things that make me happy with my favorites listed first to last:

  1. Being a Christian.
  2. Loving, caring, easy going wife.
  3. Health and welfare of the people I love and care about
  4. Good conversation 
  5. Travel
  6. Reading

I intentionally kept this list brief.  Of course, there are many things that go in to making us happy, and no list could ever be complete. As Mark Twain so aptly said; “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is the difference between the lightning bug and the lightningâ€.  I would enjoy hearing about your list if you have the time to write.

Did you know there are 195 countries in the world today (if you count Taiwan-some consider it part of China).  I must say that I didn’t know we had that many.  I doubt that I could name 50 of them in less than an hour, and I would be hard pressed to name 100 if given a week (at some point, exhaustion would set-in, and I would give up).  I wonder if anyone has traveled to all of them?  Myself, I have only been to Bermuda and Canada, so I’m not a well-traveled guy.  Someday, I would like to go to England & France, but the real possibility is that I will never make it there.  Even though there are places I would like to visit, I don’t have a list of famous people I would like to meet.  I do have a list of people I plan on visiting, but none of them are famous (except to me).  The trip we took back in August had us visiting over 30 people and that was so much fun.  I hope this coming year to visit just as many, including some faces I haven’t seen in ages.  Maybe, I should count each person I visit as a country because we do, after all, have our own little world we live in.   I am president of my world (when Jerilyn goes somewhere).  I wake up each morning with a song in my head and try to synchronize it with the singing birds just outside our window.  I spend a few minutes deciding what this small country of mine is going to do today, and then I start the routine maintenance of my government (coffee, reading emails, breakfast, etc.).  Every once in a while I must say I am guilty of doing a little whining, and I keep expecting Jerilyn to ask me, “Do you want some cheese with that whineâ€?  The one thing I always try to do is make my personal government humble.  I think the preacher, Timothy Keller, said it best; “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.â€Â 

I have a 1st cousin that lives near Beckley, WVA, and he recently had his left leg removed just above the knee.  A prayer in his behalf, or just toss out a shout; “Get well soon, Jesseâ€, would be appreciated.  He is now in rehab and hopes to be home the day before Thanksgiving.          

I hope that wherever you live on this wonderful planet, you are safe from harm, secure in a happy life, and that you have enjoyed this view from, “My Window on The Worldâ€.  If you get a chance, drop me a line, I would love to hear from you.  Remember, if you are rich, your name is on a building; if you are middle class, your name is on your desk; if you are poor, your name is on your shirt ………………………Tommy

To send a letter is a good way to go somewhere

without moving anything but your heart…..Phyllis Theroux