Last week I wrote about being happy, finding pleasure in simple things. I’m guessing that many of you are like me – too busy to take note of the full table that’s set before us. Often it seems as if the cup is half-empty rather than half-full.
It’s understandable. The world appears to be continually at war; COVID and its mutations move about the globe, and global warming wraps everything together. Boom. And I’m suggesting you should go and be happy! Nutso – hey, what did I put in my coffee this morning?
No denying it’s a struggle. The minimum wage really doesn’t get you even the minimum. I read that health insurance for an average family of four is about $22,000 a year. The current minimum wage in Wisconsin is $7.25. Do the math. In a calendar year, there are approximately working hours 2000 hours (50 x 40) so even with a full-time job you’d still be $8,000 short of covering health care for your family. Happy? Doubt it. Guess we’ve got to work on this.
It makes me think about the other guy or gal, people who really are family and maybe give them a helping hand when the opportunity presents itself – and of course facilitating those opportunities.
Back to happiness. Remember, last week I wrote there were two ways I could find happiness or at least two fundamental ways I could maximize the chances of my success in finding happiness:
(1) by making myself a better person or (2) making the world a better place for everyone.
I’m going to suggest that we all spend a little more time working on #2. In some ways, it’s easier, in some ways harder.
Nothing wrong with being selfish. I haven’t flown in a long time but I seem to remember the preflight announcement: “If oxygen is necessary, the masks would descend and you should put your own on first before helping others.” But that’s in an emergency. STOP. Not every moment in life is an emergency and we have to cease acting as if it is. There are politicians who fan the flames of hate urging you to keep others away from the table lest they steal the last bite from off the end of your fork. Really? Tell you to keep the home fires burning and there’s no need to worry about how hot it gets. Don’t believe them! Those divisive people (on all sides) are not thinking about #2 above.
And they’re miserable because of it. Losers is another way to think of them. If you listen to them rant and rave you can see that even gold-plated toilet seats haven’t brought them happiness or peace.
Making the world a better place for everyone could be easy-peasy. One step at a time. I can do simple things, really simple things, and if I’m worried about appearances, don’t tell anyone. Random acts of kindness. A soft smile for a stranger you pass on the street, a piece of litter retrieved and disposed of properly. Or a phone call to a friend you haven’t seen in a while.
If you wish, bring it to the next level. Subtly nudge others in that direction: Whisper to a close friend: “Hey, Bob. I waved and smiled when a car full of kids drove by the other day. Their radio was blasting away and I bet they thought I’d be angry. But, I remembered when I was a teenager a hundred years ago and waved.” Show them a way to be nice to others.
I confess. I was struggling with this essay. I knew I was missing something basic and important that was in front of my nose. Then this morning, I got up and rolled out of bed as usual, staggered to the windows, and pushed back the curtains. I needed to make sure that the world didn’t self-destruct while I was sleeping. Next, I reached for a couple of coins on the bookcase shelf next to the window. I keep a small basket and every morning I drop a couple of coins in this basket. When it’s full, I count up the contents, round up, and send off a couple of checks to local, national, and international charities to cover that amount. When I give the coins I keep in mind members of my family or anyone else that may be in special need – recovering from an illness or operation.
I find this exercise both important and meaningful. Even before I take care of my personal needs, I try to remind myself that others are just as important, perhaps more so.
I know many people have jars where they drop coins that they have found on the street – lucky coins. If you have one of these, perhaps you can put another alongside and designate it for charity? Dropping a coin in your charity bank is a better way to ensure “good luck.”
Giving charity should become a habit and a daily occurrence, not something that you do once a year when someone comes around soliciting for United Way. It’s a practice that I started my children doing when they were old enough to understand. And yes, I gave them the coins but I impressed on them that the coins, pennies, and nickels (this was 50 years ago when a penny was worth something!) were theirs and that the act of giving and thinking of others is at the core of what makes us human.
I urge you to give this a try. Get a roll of nickels at the bank. If you have young children or grandchildren – here’s a Holiday project – decorate the coffee can or jar used to collect the coins for charity. Get the message out: CHARITY SAVES. Six months from now see if it hasn’t changed your perspective on life. And then pass the word on. Remember, it’s not the amount but the daily practice of thinking about others and their needs.
(You needn’t give first thing in the morning. If your family comes together for supper, maybe that’s a better time. Set the tone of eating. I’m confident you’ll find the right words. And if you are alone, guess what, giving charity has brought guests to your table that will bless you for your kindness. Makes me happy just thinking about it. Heck, and this time there are no extra dishes to wash and put away.)
Giving charity is basic. It’s a foundation stone upon which the earth exists. One easy act of kindness you can do first thing in the morning, even before you have a cup of tea or coffee. Who knows but I’d bet it even makes it easier to commit other random acts of kindness later in the day and greet others with a smile?
It’s worth a try.
Ken was a Professor of Mathematics, a ceramicist, a welder, and an IBMer until downsized in 2000. He taught yoga until COVID-19 decided otherwise. He continues writing, living with his wife and beagle in Shorewood, Wisconsin. He enjoys chamber music and mysteries. He’s a homebrewer and runs whitewater rivers. Ken is a writer and his literary works can be found at https://www.kmkbooks.com/
He welcomes feedback on his articles and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.