THE HAPPINESS MYTH

October 30, 2017 in Article

Everyone craves happiness! Surprisingly happiness is as attainable as it is elusive. Ask a hundred people what makes them happy and chances are you will get one hundred different answers.

What is this thing called happiness?

The scientific/positive psychologists define happiness as life satisfaction, or how happy are you in your relationships, environment, career, health and so on. That satisfaction is sometimes in comparison to others. How you view yourself (sort of like keeping up with the Joneses). One has to be careful to not be defined by somebody else’s opinion of who you are.

I believe ordinary folks (meaning not psychologists or scientists) would likely think of happiness in a feeling sense. For examples, the birth of a child, the beginning and ongoing contentment of romantic relationships, a vacation, a tasty meal, a scrumptious and delightful glass of wine, a wonderful hot bath, dancing, gardening, hiking, swimming, a massage. Any of these ordinary things can fill us with the feeling of being happy. How long the feelings last are another matter.

All the above can make us happy, AND if in the midst of those experiences, something else occurs, like losing one’s home, the death of a dear friend or family member. How does one maintain the happiness bug?

I don’t know the answer. I would say, that somewhere deep inside each of us is the ability to make choices about what we feel. Attitude matters. Just don’t impose your attitude on someone who is grieving!

Simplistic, yes. Honest, yes. Attainable, perhaps. Difficult, can be. And yet we persist.

Martin Seligman, one of the leaders of positive psychology says in his book “Learned Optimism,” and I quote; ” Our thoughts are not merely reactions to events, they change what ensues. For example, if we think we are helpless to make a difference in what our children become, we will be paralyzed when dealing with this facet of our lives. The very thought “Nothing I do matters” prevents us from acting. And so we cede control to our children’s peers and teachers, and to circumstances. When we overestimate our helplessness, other forces will take control and shape our children’s future.”

 Who then, decides my happiness? Your happiness?

When we feel hopeless or helpless, our happiness quotient goes way down. Getting it to the place we want it to be, is so much more than mind over matter. It is a choice. I know, listening to the news, and being aware of what’s happening in our society and the world, can be discouraging.

Despite that, we are the only ones in control of our emotions – or our happiness. Even when we are scared, we still have the choice to respond rather than react.

Uplifting choices can be the habits we embrace. Like the people we surround ourselves with, the books we read, the activities we engage in, do we wear a smile or a frown, do we exercise our bodies/minds, do we get enough sleep, drink enough water, eat the right foods. Are we grateful for what we have right here, right now. Do we take time for quiet reflection – be it prayer or meditation. These, I believe, are some of the ways in which our happiness quotient can be improved.

I would be interested in hearing your thoughts.

Name Change – Game Change

January 31, 2013 in Uncategorized

When my daughter decided to change her name, many members of my family, my friends and contemporaries, heavily criticized her. I will not mention who she is, because this blog is not about her (I do respect her privacy). It is looking at the ability to make choices, the reason behind the choices and the personal, psychic, psychological and social ramifications.

It is never questioned when a woman marries, and chooses her husband’s name. I know of some same gender couples that’ve chosen one or the other spouse’s name. No one ever questions that.

I can speak to my personal feelings about her decisions to change from what was ostensibly an Anglo-sounding name (her words). She wanted a name that was more reflective of her African heritage.

Hers was a name that was chosen at the moment she entered this world. Her father saw her before I did. It has to do with the configuration of the body and the birthing process. He saw her, and in his words, she whispered her name to him. Sounds magical, huh!

There is magic in that phrase, especially as I now know that my daughter has never shared the names of her children with anyone, but her husband. It is then first whispered in the child’s ears, immediately after birth. After the skin to skin, heart to heart embrace with mother and baby. The process is anyone after that can be privy to that most noble handle we all hold so dear – our names.

In retrospect, she’s done something unique to her family, but the ritual came before. That ritual heralded her presence into this world.

She decided to have a name that befits her. The energy, the personality, the passion. Everything that says I am my own person!

I think I was somewhat disappointed when she made the decision to change her name. I rather liked the other name we had chosen for her. As a mother, I believed it suited her personality. Of course, the personality developed AFTER the naming. After the growing. After the becoming.

I often lapse into calling her by her “given” name, and when I catch myself, I recognize the disservice and the seeming disrespect to her.

As I reflect on the words of the eminent poet, philosopher and artist, Kahlil Gibran (1883-1931) – “Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you, And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.”

Many people have changed their names. For example:

Mother Theresa was Agnes Bojaxhiu
Al Jolson was Asa Yoelson
Snoop Dogg was Calvin Broadus
Whoopi Goldberg was Caryn Johnson
Toni Morrison was Chloe Wofford
Queen Latifah was Dana Owens
Mos Def was Dante Smith
Billie Holiday was Eleanor Harris
Tyler Perry was Emmitt Perry
Jamie Foxx was Eric Bishop
Malcolm X was Malcolm Little

Each individual has a story. A reason. Does the new name change the personality? Does it inhibit or expand the person? Does the change happen at a cellular level, or is it more superficial?

Being mother to a strong, independent, determined woman, allows me many opportunities to learn, let go, grow, reflect, cherish, honor the authentic being that she is. With all the strength and bravado, there’s vulnerability. Our greatest assets can often be our ability to be vulnerable, and then rise!

I wonder how the name change has impacted all these people? Have they become “more?” I could ask my daughter, but, like I said, this is not her story.

I believe we grow to fit our names. The name I bear has been with me for longer than my given name at birth, or should I say my father’s name. Though I am no longer attached to the man whose name I use, it feels right for me. It has, or I have become interconnected with it. It feels like me. It is I. It is the name by which I’m known. It’s a glove that fits well.

What are your thoughts? Will your game change without your name?