The Ingredients of Happiness

It always comes as quite a shock when someone famous commits suicide. Hearing on the radio that Anthony Bourdain chose to take his own life nearly caused me to swerve off the road. This is someone I’ve envied. He got to travel. He had crazy experiences and met fascinating people. He won countless awards. No doubt he also made a boatload of money.

This was someone who was successful, rich, and had an exciting life. Three things many of us strive for, and yet, now he’s gone. On the surface, you’d think that his was a life worth living. But to make this permanent choice, he must have been in a great deal of emotional pain. He must have been suffering. Surrounded by all of us, who admired him, he must have been all alone. Of course, this is pure speculation on my part. I doubt any of us will ever know the full story.

The only thing I can know for sure is that I am happier than Anthony Bourdain was. I would never have guessed this a week ago. But there’s incontrovertible evidence of this now. I’m still here.

So, what constitutes happiness? One thing is for sure: it isn’t money. I know that’s a cliché, but clichés become clichés for a reason.

I know someone who is a millionaire, but he’s also a divorced, estranged father and a raging alcoholic. He’s one of the most miserable people I have ever met. Money does nothing to solve your problems when all is said and done. Most of us know this, and yet so many of us still seem obsessed with filthy lucre. It’s such a waste of time.

As far as I can tell, the two things you need to be happy are connections and purpose. Humans are social animals. They need community. The more you surround yourself with people you love who love you back, the happier you will be. And having a purpose, such as a job you love, or a goal to strive for, or even a hobby, makes life worthwhile. If you have none of those things, I encourage you to become a volunteer. Helping others is the noblest of purposes.

Don’t get me wrong. None of us can be happy all the time. People who are happy all the time are mentally ill. It’s how we cope with the rough patches that truly defines us. But there’s a lot that you can do to make your life satisfying overall.

If you are contemplating suicide or know someone who is, I strongly encourage you to seek help. Here in the US, a great resource is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Their number is 1-800-273-8255. Please, just do that one last thing before taking any steps that, once done, can never be undone. Surely you owe yourself that much.

Anthony Bourdain, I hope you have found the peace you apparently could not find in this life. I wish you had made a different choice.

Anthony Bourdain

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Ghosting

Every once in a while, I think about the many people I’ve met on the internet who have come to be good friends. It’s a different world. As a young adult, before the internet, I could not have conceived that these types of connections were even possible. But children today are growing up taking these long distance relationships for granted. (With adequate supervision, I fervently hope.)

I’ve met several of these people face to face, and we are friends to this day. I’m going camping with one of them this summer. (Waving hello to Martin.)

But for all the good friends I’ve made, in the virtual world of Second Life, or via my blog, or on Facebook, there have been at least as many who have taken a piece of my heart and disappeared with it with no explanation whatsoever. Lorraine, Steve, John, Vicki, Brian… yeah, I’m talking to all of you.

I don’t have a problem with them not being in my life anymore. The choice is entirely theirs. Some friendships are annual, others are perennial. I get that. What I have a problem with is the lack of closure. For all I know, they’re dead. That’s a horrible feeling. It’s cruel to make someone grieve when grieving may not be the appropriate response.

There’s something about being able to hide in cyberspace that brings out the worst in people. I strongly suspect that none of them would be this rude face to face. And yeah, explaining why you’re ending a relationship is never fun. It would be tempting to skip that step entirely. It’s understandable to want to avoid the awkward stuff. But people have a right to their closure. They have a right to understand why. They have a right to learn from their experiences.

Depriving people of such rights without so much as a by your leave reveals something rather ugly about you. Just sayin’.

Ghosting

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New Paths to Independence

Independence Day is my second favorite holiday, bested only by Thanksgiving. What I love most about these holidays is that there’s no pressure behind them for gift giving or decorations. You can go all out or tone it down. Just good food and good friends. Who could ask for more?

This 4th, for the first time in a decade, I will have the day off. Woo hoo! And even better, a friend of mine has invited me to a party, and that person’s house is close to the fireworks. I’m excited.

Oddly enough, the thing that excites me most, despite my strong tendency toward introversion, is the opportunity to meet new people. I’m actually looking forward to that. After all, new connections mean a chance to send your life careening in exciting new directions. You never know. And these days, I’m unusually open to that type of adventure.

I enjoy the prospect of stepping into the unknown. It feels like the epitome of independence. And that, after all, is what this holiday is all about.

Happy 4th of July, everybody!

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E-ntroductions

I’ve got to say, I know a lot of amazing people. Many of them I have met through this blog, and I’m very grateful for that. I have some inspiring, talented, enthusiastic, wise and wonderful friends. It is often a source of amazement to me that all of these brilliant people don’t already know each other. I guess I’ve always sort of assumed that greatness would be drawn toward itself like a vast magnetic field.

If the various streams that feed my own personal font of human knowledge ever converge, it would turn into a sea of awesomeness! What magic would spring forth upon the world? What new things would be created? The untapped potential here boggles the mind. Yeah, yeah, I know this is called networking, and it didn’t originate with me. So sue me.

So recently I started a very unscientific experiment. I picked two of my amazing friends and sent them an e-mail which basically said, “Hi guys. You are two of my favorite people, and here’s why.” Then I went on to describe each one’s talents, and urged them to connect via e-mail or Facebook or Linkedin… whatever it takes, because with their combined energy and enthusiasm, only the most incredible things could result.

I have absolutely no idea if anything will come of this rather awkward and unsolicited introduction. I plan to try it with several pairs in the coming weeks. If even one connection actually bears fruit, it will have been worth it.

You should give it a try! Imagine how the world would change if we each connected just two amazing people with each other. It’s fun being a catalyst!

network

Thwart a Terrorist — Build a Bridge

As I’ve mentioned before, my most viewed blog entry is the one on Bridge Symbolism. It’s viewed about 25 times a day, by people all over the world. I have no idea why, but it gratifies me. Now more than ever.

Bridges symbolize connection more than anything else. They join places and people together that might otherwise find it difficult to interact. They link us. They allow us to reach out.

In a world where terrorism seems to be on the rise (as we have all seen recently), it is more important than ever to connect. Terrorists are the very opposite of bridges. They want to cause disconnection. They want us to stop interacting and communicating and learning about one another. They do not want us to be linked. In fact, they want to block our paths. They want us to be afraid to go around the next corner or across the next border.

So I implore you to reject all forms of disconnection and isolation. Cast off all forms of hatred. Extend your hand to your neighbor. Cross over. Make someone welcome. Be a bridge.

Reaching-Out-to-Employers
[Image credit: careerrocketeer.com]

On Babies and Bathwater

 So, I joined an internet dating website. Yeah, it’s come to that. And at first, man, what a rush! About 60 guys viewed my profile the first day!

But then the only ones that contacted me were calling themselves “TurboTube4U” or “SexMachine1964”. Or they were located in Timbuktu with improbable male model photographs straight out of Shutterstock.com.  I’ll pass.

And then there were a few who I politely declined because you know, you can kind of tell… and one replied, “You’re obviously flat chested and not into real men.” Another said I had generalized anxiety disorder that interfered with normal socialization because I wouldn’t hop into bed with him based on one on-line conversation.

Hooo. Dodged a few bullets with those two.

Needless to say, by now, I was kind of over the whole internet dating thing.

Then I got contacted by a guy who was kind, attractive, and actually knew how to spell, and we chatted for about a week for hours on end. We had a lot in common. Our politics, our interests, our goals, even our crazy work schedules seemed to line up. We began to finish each other’s sentences. He seemed to know what I was thinking. One night we were talking about our religious philosophies, and right in the middle of that he changed the subject and said, “You know, you shouldn’t be self-conscious about your body. You are totally my type.”

Oh my God. I was in love. I mean, if the man had asked me to sign over the pink slip on my car at that moment, I probably would have. (But then, no one would want my car.) For the next few days I was walking around humming The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Music.

So finally, we agreed to meet at a public park. No pressure. Just walk around the lake and talk. And it was a fantastic date. We talked for hours. We shared the skeletons in each other’s closets, and we still liked each other. We laughed. And the chemistry, oh, yeah, that was there.

I remember thinking, “Omigod, I might actually get laid before Christmas! Yay!!!!!”

So things were going well. I began to think that maybe my search was over and I could get off that horrible website.

Then, I went to see his condo. And it was gorgeous. He had remodeled it himself and decorated it himself, and it had a spectacular view. It was amazing.

And then he went into the bathroom. And that’s when everything changed. Because when he came back out, he noticed that the coffee table had been moved. He spent several minutes trying to make sure that the legs went back into the pre-established dents in the carpet.

And while he did that, I looked at the place with fresh eyes. It was spotless. All the window blinds were at the exact same level. All the towels were folded identically. Everything was arranged by size. Probably alphabetized, too.

I said, “I don’t think you’d like my house.” And it’s true. It’s not like I have moldy ham sandwiches under the bed or anything, but there are one or two dust bunnies under there. And I’m not a hoarder, but there’s clutter. And I have dogs, so I’ve long since given up on making the bed.

We looked at each other, and you could see the romantic bubble bursting behind both of our eyes. I knew I wouldn’t ever be able to function under all his self-imposed rules and impossible expectations, and he would never be able to comfortably climb into my bed without wrapping himself in plastic from head to toe. Somehow, this particular topic hadn’t come up during our halcyon days.

But oddly enough, I wasn’t sad. I know my mind takes these romantic flights of fancy and they rarely survive the cold light of day. I let him break it to me gently. And I responded, “I completely understand and agree. But I also wanted to tell you I’m glad you came into my life. I think you’re great, and fun to be around, and I hope we can still be friends.

See, I’ve never been one to throw the baby out with the bathwater, and here was this truly wonderful guy that I enjoyed being around, and both our profiles say we were both also looking for friends. He always said he wanted to get out more. I had images of bringing him to my storytelling group, even being his wing man to help him find that special someone. Doing the occasional lunch. Trading pithy banter via text.

So I also said to him, “If you still want to take that drawbridge tour, I’d be happy to see you.”

He thanked me for “being so mature about it.” He said, “maybe some other time.” And I haven’t heard from him since.

The romance bubble burst, as they often do. But what made me sad, what brought a few tears to my eyes, is that after all the things we did have in common he still didn’t find me friend-worthy. So I went from thinking that I could be falling in love to actually feeling sorry for the guy, because I have to say I’m an amazing friend to have.

I can see his condo from my drawbridge. I see the glow of his television. I see him on the dating website, searching… searching… and it just makes me sad, you know? Because real connections are hard to come by in this world, and they shouldn’t be discarded just because they didn’t take the form you originally hoped for.

Gifts are gifts. They come in all shapes and sizes. And I hope I never stop feeling that way, because I really like that about myself.

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Timing

For the first time in my life I have a job with a decent retirement plan. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the job until age 50, so I’m still going to have to work until I drop dead. Timing. It’s all about timing.

I think about timing quite a bit. Some people are lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. They buy low and sell high. They start young. They remain committed. They make good choices.

A lot of this seems to be less about good planning and more about dumb luck. And who you’re connected to. I am only speculating, though, because for the most part luck has eluded me, and I don’t really know anyone of influence.

Then again, it’s possible that I’m luckiest person on earth. It may be that I was supposed to step off that curb 30 seconds earlier and get run down by a bus. I may have been one squirt of pesticide away from dying from some horrible disease. Who knows? Life is a big bell curve, and no one can be sure exactly where one is located on that spectrum. Things could always be a lot worse, or a lot better.

Often I’ll meet men whom I strongly suspect I could have had a fantastic life with. But they’re already taken. Or they’ve been hurt so much they’re not willing to try. Or they’re about to move to another state. Or there’s so much going on in their life at the moment that they don’t even see me for the perfect mate I would be. Or their very life gets tragically cut short.

That’s why I really love string theory. I can look around, see all the possibilities that are not bearing fruit in my world, but get comfort from the idea that somewhere, somehow, I am actually living all of them out.

Timing.

[Image credit: fooyoh.com]
[Image credit: fooyoh.com]