Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Wednesday Wisdom - Find and Share Your Core Joys: Some Father's Day Advice to My Grown Children - Part 2

Find and Share Your Core Joys:  Some Father's Day Advice to My Grown Children - Part 2

"There is an expiration date on blaming your parents for steering you in the wrong direction; the moment you are old enough to take the wheel, responsibility lies with you."  J. K. Rowling 

Continued from last Wednesday . . .

Dear Children,
Last week I wrote that I have made three "stupidly simple and duh-obvious" observations about people, and that if you were to understand and apply these three principles in your lives, they would greatly increase your overall happiness. The first principle I mentioned is:
Principle No. 1: Different things make different people happy.
I invited you to thoughtfully inventory the activities that make you happy and to make a written list of those activities. I encouraged you to ask yourself, "When I am doing _________, I feel pleasure, happiness, or joy." I asked you to remember that this is your list and no one else needs to approve or disapprove.
This week, I want you to evaluate the activities on your list as you apply the second principle:

Principle No. 2: There are different levels or degrees of happiness.

Some things we do are fun, amusing, or simply pass the time. Other things we do have deep and lasting impact, with life-long or even eternal consequences. Other things are somewhere between these two contrasts.
I think a wholesome life includes a healthy mix of these activities. It is true, as the old saying goes, that "all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy," but it is equally true that, "all play and no work make Jack a poor and spoiled boy." Balance is required.
Let me introduce you to "The Farnsworth Felicity Scale." I picture a continuum of activities that add to our sense of well-being. On one end I see "having a good time." Near that is "present pleasure." Next on the scale is "gladness." Moving to the right is "happiness," followed by "great happiness." Then comes "bliss," and on the other end is "pure joy."

When I use the term "pure joy" I'm talking about those things that, at the very core of your being, fill you with deep meaning, a sense of purposefulness, and lasting satisfaction. These are things of enormous importance that lead to long-term happiness. When you do those things, you feel that you are being true to yourself and you are making a difference in the grand scheme of things.
I don't want to get tangled up in semantics; different people may use these various terms slightly differently. If you want to move the words around on the scale to suit your own personal lexicon, that's OK. The point is that different types of activities create different types of felicity or happiness for each of us. 
Now take the activities list you made in Step 1 and place each activity somewhere along the continuum of The Farnsworth Felicity Scale. With each activity, ask yourself, "When I do ____________, what is the length, breadth, and depth of the good feelings I experience? In what way and to what degree does this activity add to the quality of my life?"
Just as the list you made is for you and you alone, this process of evaluating the activities on your list is likewise for you and you alone. With any luck, it will give you significant insight about yourself, and lead you to a greater understanding of how to increase the quality of your own life. One key to a better life is to spend more time doing things that make you happy and less time doing things that make you unhappy. (Another "stupidly simple and duh-obvious" observation, I know, but how many people never seem to figure this out?)
In my experience, the most valuable outcome from this exercise is to identify for yourself those things that are located on the far right of your scale. Hopefully you will find a cluster of related activities that fit in the "pure joy" area of the scale. These I call your "core joys."
Identifying your core joys is one of the great discoveries of life. When you know what activities give you pure joy, you can start to focus on them. A second key to a better life is to spend more time doing things that give you a deeper, more meaningful, longer-lasting level of happiness. When you tailor your life by devoting more energy and time toward your core joys, you end up compounding your joy. That's when life becomes rich and sweet.
This should give you plenty to think about for the next seven days. Next week I'll talk about:
Principle No. 3: Life is sweeter when we share our core joys.

To Be Continued . . . . 

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Wednesday Wisdom: Find and Share Your Core Joys - Part 1: Father's Day Advice to My Grown Children

Find and Share Your Core Joys - Part 1:  Father's Day Advice to My Grown Children       

"When I was 14 my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around.  But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years."  Mark Twain 


This is an open letter to my six adult children.  They are pictured above, dancing together last year at their cousin's wedding.  It makes me happy that they find joy in being with each other.  I hope that they, like Mark Twain, have found that their father has learned a thing or two with the passing years.

* * * * *

Dear Children,

I love being a father, and I love being your father. I love each of you individually and all of you collectively.  My greatest desire is your happiness. 

There was a time in your lives when your mother and I felt we had both the capability and the responsibility to help mold you into the kind of adults you would eventually become. That stage has passed. Now as adults you are who you are and it is up to you if you wish to change yourselves. 

Over the years I have made certain "stupidly simple and duh-obvious" observations about people. I believe that if you were to understand and apply these three principles in your lives, they would greatly increase your overall happiness.  My advice today is that you pay close attention to the you that you have become and consider how these principles can help you enjoy the kind of life you want for yourself.

Principle No. 1: Different things make different people happy.

To apply this principle, I invite you to thoughtfully inventory the activities that make you happy and commit that list to writing. Think about the times and circumstances that made you smile inside and out. Remember the magical moments of your life and consider what made them sparkle. Peel apart those blockbuster occasions and discover the essence of the experience for you.
Focus on what you were doing, not on what you owned, what you were wearing or driving, or even where you were at the time. Ask yourself, "When I am doing _________, I feel great happiness or joy." This is primarily an activities list.
Writing down your ideas is important. Putting pen to paper will help crystallize and clarify your thinking and feelings. Don't allow them to merely swim around untethered in your head.
Don't rush this task, but likewise, don't delay getting started. Get the process underway and then let it marinate for several days. Take plenty of time to make as detailed and extensive a list as possible. Remember, this is your list and no one else needs to approve or disapprove.

Principle No. 2: There are different levels or degrees of happiness.

Principle No. 3: Life is sweeter when we share our core joys.

To Be Continued . . . . 

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Wednesday Wisdom - Slim Pickins in the Blackberry Patch


"If the rain spoils our picnic, but saves a farmer's crop, who are we to say it shouldn't rain?"  Tom Barrett  

Wild blackberries are 85% water. So when it didn't rain here in Harmony during the months of April and May, I knew my "crop" was in trouble.

During my walks through the woods during this short-term drought, I noticed lots of dead blackberry bushes, then few blossoms on the living plants, then small and shriveled green berries in mid-May when the branches are usually loaded with ripe, plump fruit. I pretty much wrote off picking wild blackberries this year.

But 10 days ago the weather patterns shifted. It started to rain nearly every day. And not just spotty showers but real drenching, soaking rain. The kind of rain that ruins Orlando theme-park vacations and trips to the beach. But nourishes wild blackberry plants.

Early Saturday morning I slipped into my thorn-resistant picking gear and headed to the woods. I didn't expect to find much - maybe just enough to sprinkle on my cereal that day - but was I surprised! The last-minute moisture had quickly found its way up the prickly stems and into the berries themselves. There still weren't many berries, but the ripe ones I found were large and fat and juicy. The kind that fill your bucket quickly.

In 90 minutes I had a gallon or so, enough to sweeten my cereal and top my Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla ice cream and maybe even bake a yummy cobbler. (Unfortunately, friends and neighbors, not enough this year to give away to others or sell at the local farmers market like I usually do.)

So if the weather messed up your recent trip to Disney or Universal or Wild Florida or Cocoa Beach, I'm really sorry. If it makes you feel any better, please know that your loss was my gain. Those last-minute rains salvaged this year's wild blackberry harvest in Harmony.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Wednesday Wisdom - Our Guardian Angels and The Last Full Measure of Devotion - A Memorial Day Tribute


"We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth." Abraham Lincoln

"Angel Flight" is the call sign for a USAF C-130, carrying a fallen hero on board. Their "salute" with flares looks like an angel with wings.
* * * * *
I never served in the armed forces. I came of age toward the end of the Vietnam War. I supported the war, I registered for the draft, and I would have served if drafted. By the time it was my turn to face the draft, the Selective Service System had initiated a lottery to establish a priority for those to be called up for military service. I received a very high lottery number, which meant I wasn't drafted. I went on with my education and my missionary service.
As a result, I never experienced the horrors of combat and the prospect of an early death in a faraway war. I am deeply grateful for those who did serve, and especially for those who gave "the last full measure of devotion" for our freedom. I fear, however, that anything I might say besides "Thank you from the bottom of my heart" might seem shallow and almost inappropriate compared to those who went "over there" and especially those who did not return home to their loved ones.

I see them as guardian angels who stood stalwart in the face of tyranny and protected our American way of life with their own blood. Like Lincoln, I "highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth." 
This nation is the last great hope of freedom on the earth. It is a beacon, a city on a hill that calls out to and gives hope to freedom-loving, law-abiding, and God-fearing people everywhere. It must be preserved to fulfill that role.

I pledge to do my part to keep alive the memory of those who gave their all to keep me and my children and my children's children free. Thank you, guardian angels, for your service. Thank you for your sacrifice for the cause of freedom. Thank you for your devotion, your "last full measure of devotion," to our beloved country. On this Memorial Day I salute you.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Wednesday Wisdom: The Selfie Stick vs. The Roman Coliseum, Part Two

Part Two

"I know that the purpose of life is to understand and be in the present moment with the people you love. It's just that simple." Jane Seymour

Last week I wrote about having our views of the Roman Coliseum obstructed by tourists wielding selfie sticks and cameras. I lamented that the hoopla in recording an event can eclipse the event itself and disrupt the deeper meaning of the moment.
Unfortunately, this phenomenon isn't limited to famous locations in faraway places; it has a bloated, oversized cousin right here in America.
If you've attended any end-of-school-year function lately, like a play, concert, sporting event, awards ceremony, recital, or "graduation," you know what I'm talking about: the mobs of parents and grandparents armed with video cameras, iPads, and smartphones capturing their precious darling's "magic moment" for social media.
Apparently it no longer "counts" for a child to perform in a concert, receive an award, play in a game, or "graduate" unless the event is recorded and posted on the internet for all the world to see. The result of this urgent need for video and photographs is swarms of pushy adults hell-bent on staking out the best vantage spot for their cameras, with little concern for obstructing the view or interrupting the enjoyment of the rest of the audience.
[I use the term "graduation" in quotes because I find it bizarre that every step of little Johnny's or Tiffany's educational progression, from preschool to kindergarten to elementary school to middle school, must now include a "graduation" ceremony complete with obligatory cap and gown, diploma, and the whole "Pomp-and-Circumstance" nine   yards that used to be reserved for high school and college. Spare me! A four-year-old doesn't need to be feted because he or she made it through preschool and now gets to go to kindergarten. But I digress.]
A thoughtful and well-intentioned mother recently confided in me that, somewhere in the middle of filming her middle-school-age son's THIRD end-of-year band concert, she asked herself why she couldn't just sit down, stop recording, and actually listen to the performance. Why couldn't she allow herself to turn off the camera and relish this remarkable occasion of her son and his friends making beautiful music together? Why, indeed?
This modern malady manifests itself in other settings as well. Another example is the current generation of marriage proposals, judging from what I see online.
To me, a proposal should be a sweet and affectionate (and genuine) conversation between two people in love to determine whether to spend their lives together. Done right, it could be one of the couple's most cherished personal memories. But sadly, in front of cameras, it becomes instead a fa├žade of the real event, a staged and extravagant charade, another salvo in the social media arms race.
Once again, the event itself is overshadowed and distorted by the documentation of the event. The deeper meaning of the moment is lost. Forever.

Folks, turn off the cameras and step away. We are robbing ourselves of the ability to celebrate the present, to enjoy the here and now. We are forgetting what it feels like to feel. We are missing the wonder and magic and happiness of simply being there with the people we love the most. That's a high price to pay for 15 minutes of internet fame.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Wednesday Wisdom - The Selfie Stick vs. The Roman Coliseum, Part One

Part One
"The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it." Thich Nhat Hanh

The first historical site we visited when we landed in Italy was the Roman Coliseum. We expected to be overwhelmed with the scale of this 2,000 year old masterpiece and the many centuries of our collective history that we'd feel in those stones. What we didn't expect was to fly 5,113 miles and then be swarmed, literally swarmed, by crowds of pushy vendors hawking - not souvenirs - but SELFIE STICKS! Nor were we prepared, once inside, for every view to be obstructed by dozens of sightseers wielding their cameras atop those ubiquitous shafts.
All of Italy wasn't like that, but it does seem that the essence of modern tourism is no longer about being there, marveling at the amazing sights and sounds and tastes of faraway places. No, modern tourism now requires BEING SEEN in those faraway places. That requires photographs of oneself with those famous sites in the background, which, in turn, creates the compelling need for selfie sticks.
Pity the poor tourist who arrives in one of those famous places without selfie stick in hand. Once they realize the gravity of their plight, they have no choice but to buy some cheaply-made selfie stick at extortionate prices from one of those hordes of vendors buzzing around the entrances to every attraction in the world. To do otherwise would totally ruin the whole trip!
Somewhere along the way we have lost the sheer joy of simply being there.
I remember, not many years ago, sitting with my children in the early morning light on the top steps of the Grand Pyramid of Kukulkan in Chichen-Itza, Mexico, and being awestruck with the magnificent setting.

I remember, not many years ago, going up in the elevator in the Eiffel Tower - the EIFFEL TOWER, for heaven's sake - and pinching myself that I was actually in Paris.

I remember, not many years ago, seeing Iguazu Falls on the border of Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay and having a hard time catching my breath at the grandeur of the jungle and the rainbows and so much water cascading down from every direction.

This stunningly gorgeous world is so full of so many amazing places that deserve to be savored and relished for themselves, not merely used as a backdrop for yet another selfie.

I fear that our selfie culture is quickly robbing us of the ability to appreciate beauty, creativity, and historical context. In just a few short years, we have begun to lose the ability to be in the moment. I worry that our capacity to celebrate the present, to enjoy the here and now, is slipping away from us.

In our quest for "likes" and "views" and "followers" and other measures of social media fame, we are forgetting what it feels like to feel. We are missing the wonder and magic and happiness of simply being there.
To be continued.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Wednesday Wisdom - What do you mean, I have to share my big day?


"You know you're getting old when the candles cost more than the cake." Bob Hope 


Whenever a certain occasion like a wedding or a milestone birthday is designated as "your day," there is a human tendency to get possessive and develop a very self-centered set of expectations. An example is the whole "Bridezilla" phenomenon, in which a lovely, caring, and unselfish young woman turns into a screaming witch because "this is MY DAY and it's ALL ABOUT ME!!!!!!!"
On May 14 I celebrate THE BIG 6-5. That means I qualify for Medicare and have official "senior" status. But this year, May 14 is also Mother's Day. Go figure. The one and only time in my whole entire life when I turn 65, it's no longer just MY DAY. No, this year, I have to share MY DAY with every mother on the planet.
When I realized this, for a brief moment the egocentric part of me started imagining being relegated to second fiddle on my day of days. I pictured my children and grandchildren calling and my wife answering the phone. I saw myself waiting for her to hand me the phone so I could receive their joyous birthday wishes, but NOOOOOO! They were calling to wish their "Mama" or their "YoYo" a Happy Mother's Day. After they talked to her she would gently remind them that it was also my birthday and almost as an afterthought, they'd say "Oh, yeah, let me speak to him too."
Fortunately this self-inflicted pity party lasted about five seconds. I quickly came to my senses and realized that nothing would be more appropriate than to celebrate my birthday on Mother's Day. After all, there are no birthdays without mothers.
In particular I will commemorate three Farnsworth mothers who are among the most noble women I know.
I wouldn't even have a birthday to celebrate if it weren't for Gracie Mae's sacrifice in giving birth to me and launching me on my earthly journey, even in the midst of her long and unsuccessful battle with throat cancer.
I probably wouldn't have made it past my teenage years if Elaine hadn't agreed to mother me and an entire brood of additional children besides her own when she married my widowed father when I was 9. She raised 12 of us, and it is not true that things are cheaper by the dozen, nor is there less work or heartache.
And I would never have experienced the profound joy of parenthood without Marcie's willingness to bring six beautiful and intelligent Farnsworth babies into the world and to build together a home where love and kindness are expressed in word and deed.
The truth is I am delighted to share my 65th birthday with these three strong, selfless, and sterling women. I have basked in their kindness and been nurtured by their love during every one of my 23,741 days of life. I am grateful to have been molded by their tender and patient teaching, and protected by their wise counsel. Thank you, Gracie Mae, Elaine, and Marcie.
And I thank every mother everywhere for your love and sacrifice. You are literally the link between heaven and earth, bringing spirits from their home above to their new home on earth. You are the heart and soul of every child who has ever lived.

Since I'll never be a mother myself, I could have no greater honor than to share my birthday with all the wonderful mothers of the world. Perhaps I'll pretend that I'm an honorary mother for that one day. Now that would really make MY DAY.

Happy Mother's Day!