At lunch the other day a friend said, “I’m grieving because it’s my birthday!” I sanctimoniously chastised her, “Gee, you should be happy to be alive! Many people have it worse than you do! You’re healthy, you’re family is great, blah, blah–”
In the middle of my diatribe, I stopped and realized I was not looking forward to my birthday either! Oops, if there is one thing I can’t stand it’s a hypocrite, and I’d just become one.
After lunch I went home, looked at the calendar and circled my birth date with a red heart! There! That would solve the problem of worrying about growing older. Then my own heart sank. In a few days I was going to be another year older and….
I’m a bit of a Pollyanna, so realizing I wasn’t that happy about my birthday shocked me. To distract myself from negative thoughts, I began doing a little telephone research–my favorite kind! I called all my happy, creative friends and asked them how they felt about aging. The ones who didn’t hang up on me, spoke about being happier than they have ever been.
Bottom line–they don’t buy into the idea that age is a big factor in their lives. Most said, “It’s really just a number.” One great friend stated, “Every morning we wake up healthy and happy should be a celebration of our lives, a birth day of what the world is going to offer us!”
My wonderful grandmother who drove to Santa Anita race track until she was 83 to bet the ponies when her bookie was out of town, stated when I asked her how old she felt, “Oh, I feel about 22.” She was 85 at the time. Her positive attitude has always been an inspiration to me.
Paul, my personal trainer at Fitness 19 on Eastern Avenue, also has a great outlook. One day when we were working out, he told me he would date a woman of any age. Age doesn’t mean anything to him!
Of course, our bodies age. We can’t fool ourselves about that, but with the trend to stay fit and eat well, that’s a small hurtle. I can’t eat like I did when I was 25, but I’m not working as hard, either. I’m not as spritely as I was when I was twenty, yet I’m not as ignorant, and I like that trade off.
Every stage of our lives should be a celebration. When we realized life is about transitions and trade offs then it’s easy to be happy. For example, I can’t hang out at the discos anymore–(Did I say discos? That does date a person, doesn’t it?)–but I’m not worried about so many things in my life, either, and that’s a reason to celebrate!
So for June find ways to enjoy each stage of your life and celebrate every day. Think about what makes you happy and do it. Seek out people who have good attitudes, who laugh, are positive and love life. Don’t hang out with negative people. Who needs them? Finally, plunge into your creative life; creativity really is the fountain of youth.
My eight grade art teacher Mr. Peterson was the best kind of teacher. He was creative, happy and cared about his students more than the curriculum. It was because of him I became a teacher and vowed to be like him.
However, while matriculating through the university, I became very full of myself with my knowledge of literature and grammar. I began dreaming of teaching Shakespeare’s genius, and grammar, especially the dangling modifier, to unsuspecting students.
My first teaching assignment was at a low income junior high school. I started the semester zealously handing out sentence diagramming homework as if it were candy. Darn it, these kids were going to learn!
One morning a 12 year old boy approached me before class and explained he didn’t do his grammar homework because his mother hadn’t come home all night. He had slept on the porch, hadn’t eaten, was filthy and looked exhausted.
I blinked with shock. How could this child care about grammar when he didn’t have a bed to sleep in? I gave him my brownbag lunch and a gentle hug. Then I told him to write a short story about his experience when he felt better.
He was about as big as a minute, wanted to please, and possessed the face of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. His eyes lit up with the thought someone cared, and he wrote the most heart-felt story.
Another time when I drifted from flexibility was when I taught Othello in a summer college course. I was sure the students and I would extensively discuss symbols and plot, and then watch Laurence Fishburne act out the main character’s murderous jealousy.
That steamy summer, the students creatively veered off my designated path, began talking about their own jealous episodes and realized what a harmful emotion it can be. Because I remained flexible and creative, our discussions were glorious and filled with insights.
Some of the best student essays I’ve read came from that class. One student even confessed in an essay her boyfriend was abusing her, and I made sure she contacted the school counselor.
Creativity emerges if we stay flexible. It flies in on hopeful wings with promises that something spectacular will be created, and then miraculously it is.
Make it a point to understand intention is EVERYTHING. If you set your goal to making your world a better, more creative place you will. Just stay flexible, care about people, and then your creativity will have room to breath and your happiness will astound you.
Years ago I was too busy worrying about my future to enjoy the moment–the NOW in my life. At twenty-one, I worked as a Las Vegas cocktail waitress at the Sands Hotel and Casino. The Sands sat on the corner where the Palazzo and Venetian reside now, and it was THE place to work in Las Vegas.
I started out in the Sands’ payroll office where I met all the casino bosses. They were tough, mobster-types but respected education. The bosses found out I wanted to complete my college degree, so they arranged for me to work cocktails at night, so I could attend classes during the day. My dream was to study literature, learn all about great characters and become a writer.
I constantly thought about my future and ignored what was going on around me; I didn’t realize working at the Sands was like living in a Damon Runyon novel, an education in itself!
The Sands was small by today’s casino standards and filled with characters. The bosses wore $1,000 suits, sprinkled salt in the pit for good luck and yelled at anyone who whistled in the pit. A couple of the baccarat bosses were . . . well let’s say you didn’t want to owe the Sands any money.
There were many funny, Runyonesque scenes that took place on my shift. Like the time I went up to a table of three men in the Regency Lounge to take their drink order. The man closest to me, touched my wrist as if he were taking my pulse.
“Recognize me?” he asked. I shook my head.
“Ah, your pulse feels fine. Know me now?”
“Are you a doctor?” I asked and blushed–I was so innocent back then. His smile froze in anger.
One of the other men said, “You’re stupid! This is Dr. Ben Casey—Vince Edwards, TV star.”
STUPID! No one had ever called me stupid. I was always the girl in the library. I sprinted back to the bar.
An older, movie star-beautiful cocktail waitress (she’d danced in the Sands’ Copa Line and was probably all of 30), asked what was wrong. I told her what had transpired. A hard look transformed her lovely face.
“I’ll be right back,” she said. She marched to the men’s table, gave Dr. Ben Casey and friends hell then took their drink order. Soon, they slunk away. I panicked. What if they complained? The other cocktail waitress and I would get in trouble or worse…fired! And I’d just paid for the fall semester. I expressed my worry to her.
She shook her head and laughed. “Honey, you might be book smart but you haven’t any street smarts. We aren’t going to get in a jam because I’m dating one of the bosses and no one is going to mess with him.”
Here I was worried about my future, and life was unfolding before me!
For February, fall in love with the life you are living NOW, not what you hope will happen in the future.
Happy New Year!
For 2013 let’s work on not taking ourselves so seriously. In Happiness Rehab: 8 Creative Steps for a More Joyful Life, I discuss how doing this, and enjoying your childlike qualities can bring you happiness and make you more creative.
I found this out when I graduated college and was hired to teach 7th and 8th grade English. Not an easy feat, but I was out to conquer the world one adolescent at a time. And I was going to educate them through Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. One glitch–that year my 7th period class consisted of only 11 boys–smelly, silly ones.
I was so serious back then and determined to plunge through my well-developed Romeo and Juliet curriculum despite the fact that for my 7th period class there was no Juliet. But luck would have it that the biggest boy of the 11 stepped up and offered to read Juliet’s part. Of course none of the other boys said anything derogatory, and this giant of a young man made a wonderful Juliet–he had a flare for acting.
After reading the play, the next step was watching Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet (1973). I put the video in, turned down the lights, happy that I had the class period to grade papers.
A moment later I heard catcalls from the darkened room. I stood, shut off the video and chastised the boys for making noise. One brave boy spoke up, “We saw Juliet’s boobs!”
I stared at the boys, confused. What?! Then my brain shifted and I became a little angry. How dare they not take my instruction and William Shakespeare seriously!
“Oh you did not!” I said, walked over to the video, rewound it and pushed play. Thirty seconds later the boys were staring at Juliet’s breasts again! (I’d forgotten about the nude scene.)
They laughed like crazy and one smart a**, yelled. “Not only does she let us watch it once, she shows it to us again!”
I raced over to the video, turned it off and looked at my students. They were hysterical. I began laughing, too. And thank goodness I did. If I hadn’t given up my serious demeanor, I would have made a mess out of the entire situation.
After we collected ourselves, I hit the light switch, turned the video on and finished grading papers. I was a little bit apprehensive about one of the boys telling a parent about the boob incident, but those boys were savvy. The incident was never mentioned again.
And for 2013 my point is this: I didn’t take myself seriously that afternoon long ago, and creativity and happiness danced through my classroom. The boys learned about Shakespeare and a little female anatomy, and we were all joyful.
Your assignment for the 2013: Laugh at yourself once in awhile. Oh, and read Happiness Rehab: 8 Creative Steps for a More Joyful Life–you’ll love it.
by Mary Schramski
Hope, awareness and creativity connect like puzzle pieces and make beautiful pictures in our lives. I found this out while raising my teenage daughter, which seems a strange juxtaposition, doesn’t it?
When I was nineteen, my beautiful only child swept into my life. She was a gift, but at the time I was too young to be aware of this fact. Being a young mom had its positives: I had a lot of energy and . . . well, maybe there weren’t any other positives.
However, a lot of negatives surrounded us. Immaturity, no life experience, no money and worry: How would I make sure my daughter was educated? Could I keep her from alcohol and drugs? Would she become a teen mom like me?
I struggled as a young mom, but my daughter struggled more. She did not have the luxury of a mature parent when she needed one the most. And the struggle grew worse as she became a teenager. We battled, and as most of you know, raising a teenager can keep a lump in your stomach through their adolescent years.
The December my daughter was thirteen, she was attending a Lutheran school, and she was in the Christmas program. On the clear, starry night of the program, we got into a horrible fight. The fight devastated me because above everything else, I have always wanted to be a good parent. I managed to drive my daughter to the Christmas program and I sat, in tears, alone in the back pew.
I’d made a mess out of the day, upset my daughter, and didn’t think I would ever be a good parent. I looked up and the minister was standing at the pulpit ready to give his short sermon. I wondered what this older man knew about the struggles of a young mother and her headstrong daughter, but despite my arrogance, I stayed in the moment and listened. The first deep words out of his mouth were, “No matter what, there is always hope!”
Because I have always allowed myself the luxury of creativity, his statement resonated in me. I applied his thought to my situation, realizing that my daughter and I, no matter what, would always have hope. If I had not been aware that evening, and not in a creative mode of receptiveness to change, I would have missed this important message that has helped guide my life. There is always hope!
Since that night, my daughter has taught me to have faith. Despite being raised by a teen mom who was immature in a lot of ways, she became a clinical pharmacist and she is a happy, good person.
On that cold night in December years ago, with creativity, awareness, and an open mind on my side, I learned the greatest lesson of all. Always hope.
Your assignment for 2013: Every day acknowledge the hope in your life.
Happy New Year from Mary and Jennifer!
Summer has been officially over for some time now. Our cars aren’t being preheated to 170 degrees, and we aren’t perpetually soggy with perspiration.
It’s fall–my favorite season.
I love the crisp air and changing leaves (we do get some in Nevada). The summer heat is just a memory, the hum of air conditioners has floated away, the excitement of the holidays is here, and there is promise of a new year.
I’ve learned to view change as an opportunity! However, when I was younger (and not as wise) I wasn’t good with change coming into my life and actually feared it. No more.
If you accept change then you are a lucky soul who is probably happy and creative. But if you expect everything to stay the same, then I’m sure you’ve been disappointed.
Twelve years ago in the fall, I listened to Dr. Jack Kornfield read his book Buddhist Psychology every morning as I drove to teach my college literature classes. The book on tape was God sent for me because, at that time, I was struggling with the suicide of my best friend.
Linda and I had been friends for eleven years. She was a hospice nurse, a true friend, and had helped me take care of my father when he was ill. She was a good person; five hundred people attended her memorial.
In Dr. Kornfield’s own words, this is what I learned about change: “Change happens all around us, all the time, yet we long for the predictable, the consistent. We want the reassurance that comes from things remaining the same. We find ourselves shocked when people die, even though death is the most predictable part of life.”
I was suffering horribly over Linda’s death. But in his calming voice, Jack Kornfield reassured me that we must accept change whether we view it as good or bad. Change is not what makes us unhappy; it’s the grasping, clinging and wanting things to stay the same that makes us suffer. His ideas shook me to my core and helped me get through a trying time. I’ve never forgotten what he theorized.
Now when a change comes into my life, bad or good, I remember his advice. The moment we start to grasp and cling to anything, be it possessions, money, our lifestyle, a person, then that is when we stall, lose velocity, happiness, and our creativity. We begin to worry, and the connection with our creative world evaporates. Looking at it another way, understanding change is what creativity is all about. When we create something, whether it’s writing a novel, painting a room, or making our own Christmas cards, we change our lives. Humans actually thrive on change because it’s energizing.
For December, practice this: Find creative ways to accept change and embrace the fact that nothing stays the same. When you do, you will find joy, and you’ll be the most creative.
Here’s to creating happiness!
Take a moment and read the above sentence again.
Uh-oh. What’s that we hear? “Nope. Not me! I’m NOT creative. I can’t draw stick people or write an original phrase. I don’t have a creative bone in my body.”
How do we know that many of you responded in a negative way to our insistence that you are creative? We’ve taught many creativity workshops and “I’m not creative” is usually the first response we hear from participants.
In our society, creativity is often viewed as something so special that we tend to idolize it, believing it to be a talent that only a few blessed people possess. This is simply not true. Human beings are born with creative instincts. So what happens? How do we lose touch with this integral part of our nature? Responsibilities, self-doubts, expectations of others — life — all conspire to tamp down our natural creative tendencies. Our imaginations need cultivating like a garden needs sunlight, air, water and nutrients.
We’re always amazed (but not surprised!) to see imagination blossom in people who’ve lost touch with their creativity as they work through the “Practices” in Happiness Rehab: 8 Steps to A More Joyful Life. The Practices trigger a chain reaction; you begin to believe you can be creative — you take a chance and try something new that involves trusting in your imaginative instincts — you experience a boost in self-confidence and the joy that brings.
Which leads us back to that first sentence: You are creative. One of the first steps to being more creative and happier is to acknowledge you are a creative being. So just for fun, say the following declaration quietly or shout it from your roof top: I am creative!
How did that feel? If “silly” was your response, that’s great because being more creative means being childlike, too.
What did you discover? When we facilitate this exercise, we enjoy watching participants beam when they see something they’ve never before acknowledged about their hands. We see our hands everyday, but it’s easy to not really notice them anymore because we take them for granted. It’s the same with other things in life that become familiar. We start to take them for granted and don’t really notice the details anymore. And staying tuned-in to the details of our world helps us stay connected to our senses and our imaginative instincts. This Practice of looking at our hands relates to the basic principle we wrote about here last month: When we are awake and aware of our surroundings, then we are more satisfied with ourselves and our lives. Could anything be more simple, easy and inexpensive? It’s better than a happy pill!
So what made us feel creatively happy recently?
Mary: “My publisher released my novels, WHAT TO KEEP, THE LIGHTHOUSE and FALLING OUT OF BED as e-books. That inspired me to publish two more novels as e-books: THE BEST PLACE TO BE and THE UNICORN TREE (which takes place in Las Vegas.)”
Jennifer: “I was asked to teach a creative writing class at a writing academy this coming summer. That inspired me to start thinking about what I’ve learned about writing that I want to relay to the students, which made me think I should put those lessons in another book and self-publish it.”
Every Creative needs an audience in order to feel really inspired, and we’re no different.
Your assignments for November: (1) Tell someone you’re a creative person and e-mail us or comment here about your creative journey. (2)We’ve added a new exploriment on the “Exploriment” page & a new Practice on the “Practice Being Creative” page. Check them out!
Happiness and creativity go hand-in-hand like Bogie and Bacall, summer and ice cream, kids and laughter. As children, we created happily. However, as adults some of us have forgotten we are naturally creative beings.
Happiness Rehab is all about finding greater happiness through your creativity.
I’m a published author, a professor, and a happy person who is enthralled with creativity. My first published book, LOVE LETTERS: The Quintessential Reference to Writing and Reading Love Letters, is a quest to teach people how to write a great love letter. After it published, I then had a ball writing romantic comedies for Harlequin/Silhouette and Kensington. After eleven books, I turned my writing skills toward mainstream fiction and published What to Keep, The Lighthouse, and Falling Out of Bed. Now I ghost and edit books, and teach fabulous creative writing and Creating Happiness workshops drawing from the book Happiness Rehab: 8 Creative Steps to a More Joyful Life that I co-authored with Jennifer Archer.
How does being creative make you happier? When you live creatively, even if only by doing something as simple as noticing your surroundings with a creative eye, the pleasure centers in your brain ignite and you feel happy. It’s as simple as that! You don’t have to sculpt like Michelangelo, paint the Sistine Chapel, or compose like Mozart.
You see, most of us walk through life on autopilot, not connecting with the luminous apples in the grocery store, or the magnificent mountains in the distance. Seeing the unique details in everyday things – a magenta sunset, a feathery cloud, the way a sticky cactus tilts to the left, or the pattern of a rock garden – will make you happier.
I hear what you’re thinking: “Dr. Mary, are you saying that just looking and really seeing the world around me is a form of creativity?” Yes, it is. Because you are seeing it in your own unique way; no one else sees your environment exactly as you do. And noticing the magic in simple, everyday things creates a special sense of joy in you.
So start creating happiness in your life today. Take five minutes and really see the world you live in. When you’re in the grocery store look at the carrots and be amazed at how vibrantly orange they are. Aren’t those flowers in your neighbor’s backyard sensational? Do they remind you of a colorful stained glass window in a church? Do the shadows on your patio look like the ones in the movie Casablanca?
I just peeked out my window and for the first time saw the verdant leaves on my neighbor’s tree ruffling elegantly in the breeze. They reminded me of silk curtains floating an inch above a window overlooking the ocean, and I felt my spirit lift. Now that’s Creating Happiness!