Am I Happy?

“I feel my best when I am happy.” – Winona Ryder

I’ve had a lot of drastic changes in my life over the last couple of years. As a result, I’ve been asked quite a few times whether or not I am happy.

Am I happy?

Good question… and how does one answer it?

I look back over my life and the times that stand out the most are the difficult ones. Marital problems, financial problems, health problems, parenting problems… a lifetime, it seems, of problems. Currently, I continue to face challenges and problems daily. Whether it’s slow business, relationship or parenting stress, holiday stress, etc., challenges and problems still exist.

I know I’m alone in this, right?

Problems will never go away, of course; they’ll only change. So, basing my happiness on the existence of problems or challenges in my life seems to be a guaranteed way to ensure I don’t feel happy.

Basing my happiness on the good times seems rather logical, then. The problem is, I can’t really remember the good times as well as I can the difficult times. Have I lived a life devoid of enjoyment? Of course not. But, I don’t really remember the times I felt happy or when everything just “went my way”. I know they existed and I can historically recall them, but I don’t seem to connect with them on the level at which I connect with the difficult times.

So, I can’t base my happiness on my difficult times… or on my good times. On what, then, should I base my happiness?

I think the answer is that happiness isn’t really what I’m looking for. Weird, huh?

What I need is joy, and I fear I’ve lost that over the years.

I believe happiness and joy are two different things. In my mind, happiness is the pleasure and emotion I feel during an enjoyable experience or period of time. Happiness is how I feel when good things happen to me and around me.

Joy, I believe, is something all-together different. Where happiness is dependent upon the circumstances which surround me, joy is internal and impacts my character, personality and – believe it or not – my happiness.

Where, then, do I find joy? If my circumstances will not bring about joy, then I must somehow find joy at a source which is independent of my circumstances and then allow that joy to impact my reaction to the circumstances in which I seem to find myself.

I’m not the first person to face this dilemma, of course. And I’m not the first person to ask these questions.

I’m definitely not the first person to propose a solution, either… but, I’ll attempt to do that next week.

“Hello, Pot? This is Kettle…”

“We must live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.

I was watching TV today and saw a commercial advertising a dating site which was exclusively for black people. Now, before I go any further, I want to go on record as saying I have no problem with this at all. The idea of creating a site for a specific group of people is a non-issue for me.

However, it begs the question – what if I create a site specifically for white people?

I imagine the outcry which would arise from a site dedicated to white people meeting and dating.

“ – Because not everyone can look exactly like you”

There are currently dating sites for Christians, Jews and Muslims. That’s cool. I mean, hey… that stuff is important. It’d be difficult to be on your fourth date and find out how upset your Muslim father will be when you bring home that nice Jewish boy you met at the deli.

But a dating site specifically centered around race? Actually, that makes sense to me. It might be difficult for some people (regardless of ethnicity) to be around people of a different background or race. If you’re black and you’re more comfortable around black people, it makes perfect sense to be able to go to a site exclusively created to help blacks meet blacks. Asian? No problem. There’s a site for you, too! White? Hey… don’t be a racist, cracker.

Racism, by its very nature, is divisive. Where, though, is the division created? I don’t remember seeing a notice on other dating site commercials which said “No blacks allowed”. So, by creating a blacks-only dating site, the ones who are being divisive are the creators of that site and no one else. The users of that site are just gravitating to the site with which they relate the most. The creators of the site, however, created a tool which could be used to drive a wedge between their users and others who aren’t like them.

This trend has been around for a while (as has that site) and we see it more and more. Different ethnic groups unify and identify themselves in different ways. On the surface, there seems to be little harm in this. This is dangerous, though. I believe each of us lives in a world which is centered around how we identify ourselves. For example, if I identify myself by my profession, I tend to view others by comparing their profession to my own. If I identify myself by my education level, I view others through those lenses.

If race is the primary way by which a person defines his or her identity, that person will define others by race as well… are you my race or a different race? In other words, there’s “us”.. and everyone else.

In the end, I think racism has less to do with how we define others and more with how we define ourselves. By taking race out of our own identities, perhaps it will help take it out of the identities of everyone else. Then I’ll finally be able to stop wondering what kind of cracker I am… saltine? Graham? Wheat thin? I wish… I’d love to be thin.

Looking Back at 2013. Oh… wait.

“And that’s the way it is…” – Walter Cronkite

2013 seemed to be a year of waiting.

Business dropped off sharply at the beginning of the year and still hasn’t recovered. I’m still waiting.

My divorce – a process I began to engineer almost exactly two years ago – still hasn’t finalized. I’m still waiting.

I began looking for a job which still hasn’t materialized. I’m still waiting.

Due to the complications with the divorce, I can’t move forward with another relationship in my life. I’m still waiting.

These are all big things, and for all of them, I still wait.

Why does God choose to make me wait?

Well, first off, I think it shows me that my life is pretty much completely out of my control. We love to think we are the masters of our own destinies. Go get that college education… get that dream job… save for retirement… retire and enjoy the good life. It’s all planned out and everything is on track. Boy, I sure do have things under control, don’t I? Until the money runs out and the degree isn’t earned. Until the company makes cuts and the job disappears in the midst of layoffs. Until the earnings aren’t quite living up to expectations. Until retirement seems like a distant (perhaps unattainable?) dream.

I believe God likes to take care of me. The problem comes when I forget Him and start blazing my own trail, heedless of where that trail might lead. So, God has two choices: Either let me continue on my own trail or put some obstacles in the way so I have to veer off (my) course. Unfortunately, if I still ignore Him I’m most likely going to end up on another trail which isn’t really what is best for me.

God makes me wait so I will become dependent upon Him. What amazes me is that He waits on me to finally do it. Wouldn’t it be so easy for Him to just come up with some way to let me know exactly what He wants? I don’t know… maybe a brand new Xbox One with a note that says “Hope you like the Xbox. Call Bob over at Widgets-R-Us. I set up a job for you.” Or maybe set my Xbox 360 on fire… like the burning bush, but the burning Xbox. That would definitely get my attention.

God, ultimately, is a Gentleman. He won’t force Himself upon me. He wants me to make my own choices and to choose Him of my own free will. Otherwise, there is no love. If He showed up in the midst of a miracle every single time He wanted to say something, we’d be so in awe of Him, we’d have no choice but to obey. And while God wants our obedience, He wants our love first and foremost and He wants the obedience to come from love… not from awe. Actually, we’d end up ignoring the miracles because they’d be common-place… never mind.

So, I’m looking at 2014. I’m tired of waiting.

Maybe I should start seeking God.

Christmas… Maybe You’re Doing it Wrong

It is more blessed to give than to receive. – Jesus

As Christmas approaches, I keep going through my mental checklist of the people for whom I still need to purchase a gift. I also created a wishlist on Amazon primarily because I’m always told how difficult it is to find gifts for me.

“You’re so difficult to shop for.”, they say.
To they, I reply, “No, I’m not.”
Then they ask, “Well, what do you want?”
With pity, I reply, “I don’t know.”
With exasperation, they say, “See?!”

They may have a point.

So, I created the wishlist and I plan on keeping it up-to-date.

However, as I look over the items there, I wonder what my reaction would be upon receiving one of those gifts. Don’t get me wrong – I’d completely appreciate the gift and truly feel grateful for receiving it. (In fact, test me on this. I dare you to buy me one or more of those items and if I’m not appropriately thankful, you can blast me in the comments below.) The problem is I always feel awkward when I open a present. Somehow, I feel selfish receiving a gift on Christmas.

The one thing I enjoy tremendously, though, is giving gifts to my loved ones. And my sister. (Just kidding, sis!)

I absolutely love giving someone that perfect gift and seeing his or her reaction upon unwrapping the present and discovering what is inside. The satisfaction and joy I experience is far deeper and more fulfilling than the momentary happiness brought on by a gift from someone else.

I think this is the point of Christmas, actually. As we mature, our motivations and emotions should as well. As a child, I remember lying in bed unable to sleep as I wondered what Santa might have brought and whether he’d tell my mom to buy batteries this year so I wouldn’t have to wait until the day after Christmas to play with my toys. Fast forward to when my children were still young and I stayed up most of the night putting their gifts together (a privilege over which my then father-in-law and I would fight) and I began to see Christmas for what it was: The opportunity to bring joy to someone else (not my father-in-law).

Christmas truly is about giving and not receiving. As we remember the birth of Christ, we must also remember His death. The entire point of His birth was His death.

“For God so loved the world, He gave His only begotten Son…”

God loves us so much, He gave His most precious and valuable thing to us. Christ was a gift to a world who desperately needed one. In return, our gift-giving (and receiving) should be an opportunity to reflect on this.

So, as we come closer to Christmas Day, we must ask ourselves what truly motivates us. Is it the giving or the receiving?

If it’s the receiving, you’re doing it wrong.

And don’t forget the batteries.

Capitaine Évident

“They certainly give very strange names to diseases.” – Plato

A person very important to me was recently diagnosed with epilepsy. During the appointment, the doctor talked about three different types of seizures which led to the diagnosis and the symptoms of each. Of course, I’m writing in the simplest of laymen terms as I remember them, so I can’t attest to the complete accuracy of my explanations.

First, are the Absence (French pronunciation – ‘ab-SAHNCE’) Seizures. These are brief episodes which generally go unnoticed except for the sense of “lost time”. One who experiences this type of seizure won’t necessarily notice any type of symptom or unusual feeling, but might have a blank spot in his or her memory of a few seconds or minutes.

Next are the Myoclonic Seizures. These are abrupt twitches and little jerks which can result in the involuntary dropping or even “tossing” of objects one is holding. One of the manifestations could also be a sudden mark across the page as one is writing.

Finally, we have the Grand Mal Seizures. These are the ones that come to mind for most people when they hear the word “seizure”. Grand Mal seizures include loss of consciousness which leads to collapse (most of the time). There are three stages to this type of seizure. The “tonic” stage is when the body goes rigid. The “clonic” stage follows and the body begins to convulse. The “postictal” stage is the final stage and is a deep sleep.

As the doctor was explaining all of this, my high school French came back to me and I started translating some of the terms he used. For example, “Grand Mal” means “big evil” and “Absence” means “not there”.

So, I began to hear his conversation like this:

“What we see here is evidence of Big Evil Seizures. These are Big. And Evil.”

“What account for these gaps in memory are what we like to call, ‘Not There Seizures’. It’s like you weren’t even there. Because you can’t remember it. I mean, if you had been there, you could. But… you can’t. Get it?”

So, I looked up some other words:

Myoclonic – from the Greek “mys” (muscle) + “klonos” (contraction)
Tonic – from the Greek “tonikos” (stretching)
Clonic – from the Greek “klonos” (violent motion)
Postictal – from the Latin “post” (after) + “ictus” (a blow)

So here’s what we heard:

“I’ve diagnosed this as epilepsy. The involuntary muscle contractions and twitches are caused by Myoclonic seizures. The memory lapses and lost time are explained by Absence seizures. The injuries the patient suffered were due to Grand Mal seizures. These injuries probably occurred during the Clonic stage.”

Here’s what he said:

“I’ve diagnosed this as epilepsy. The involuntary muscle contractions and twitches are caused by Muscle Contraction seizures. The memory lapses and lost time are explained by Not There seizures. The injuries the patient suffered were due to Big Evil seizures. These injuries probably occurred during the Violent Motion stage.”

It seems to me health care would be simpler if we did away with some of the terminology. For example, if one were diagnosed with cancer, would it make more sense to go see an Oncologist or a Tumor Doctor? (Then again, you’d probably feel more comfortable having an Obstetrician deliver your child than a Stand By Doctor.)

It sometimes feels like doctors purposefully obfuscate the diagnosis so we patients have no real clue what they’re saying. Most likely, it’s simply a way to save face. I mean, this guy spent four years in college, four years in med school, a year of internship and then three or four years in residency. There’s got to be some way to show it made a difference, right? I mean, saying “The patient complains of pruritus ani along with xerostomia and sporadic epistaxis” sounds a LOT better than “The patient has an itchy butt, dry mouth and sometimes gets nosebleeds”.