On the morning of my wedding in Winston-Salem, North Carolina on 1 December 1979, I heard a knock on my door at the Hilton Hotel in downtown.
Rising with the nervous energy one would expect on such a day, verifying it was just after six in the morning, I opened the door to find a courtly Southern gentleman (bride’s side of the family) standing there with a sweating six pack of beer. I wish I could recall the brand.
We shared a beer — meaning we each drank one. I believe he departed with the remaining four, but I cannot recall. I can only inform you that I did not drink them.
The man was wise and felt the need to arm me with his excess wisdom before I married his gorgeous niece.
Amongst the pearls he left behind was this:
“One cannot make oneself happy, but one can prevent oneself from being unhappy.”
The oddity 0f the circumstances under which it was delivered left a lasting impression more permanent than a tattoo.
When I tell this story, my wife swears it is fiction. The gentleman has passed on, so you will have to take my word for it, but I am prepared to “certify”” its authenticity by an oath taken upon my honor as a VMI graduate. My Brother Rats will understand that significance.
We are in a time of brutal unhappiness, Big Red Car?
Yes, dear reader, we are in a time in which the friction of life has exposed both our character and our woes.
The other day I read a blog post from the litany of such bloggers I read regularly and it ended with the following bit of joyous thought:
“2020 sucks but we all must think about the silver linings. Otherwise, we might all just kill ourselves.”
References to suicide have a special sting for me as I once “counseled” veterans. To say what I did was “counseling” is a stretch. I listened whilst they spoke and then told someone whether I thought they were a danger to themselves or others. It was purely volunteer. I was not particularly good at it.
Today, we have a daily rate of veteran suicide of 17 vets per day which is down substantially from 22 vets per day at the start of the current admin. The current admin kicked the Veterans Administration in the ass and ensured that veteran suicide hot lines were manned 24/7 amongst other things. Still, it is a tragedy and not something to make light of particularly by persons who have no standing on that matter.
What irks me about that statement is that the author is living a luxurious life sheltering in place at her Hamptons manse surrounded by loving family, having fled from wintering over in Venice, California, having spent a bit of time skiing at her Utah chalet, and normally enjoys life in her Manhattan abode when the COVID is not about.
I get it that her access to her Paris pied-a-terre has been barred, totally understand how frustrating that can be, but I think this will work itself out.
The bottom line is she is the least likely person on the planet to take her own life and unlikely ever to be acquainted with what gunmetal tastes like in one’s mouth.
The point is this — if someone so well situated is spewing such unhappy speech into the air and infecting her audience, how could anyone not so well situated fail to feel poorly about their lot in life.
Joie de vivre, Big Red Car?
At the other end of the spectrum from constantly swimming in the sea of no tranquility is the idea that life contains a great number of sources of joy, if only we will look for them.
Consistent with the wisdom of my marriage day, it requires us to take some action to find and see these touchstones.
Leaping over some logical inconsistencies, I land on this — our lives will be more joyous if we look for the joy and embrace it rather than hanging in the intersections of life waiting to be run over by it.
The corollary might be to seed our lives with the things that give us joy such that we constantly bump into them and allow them to work their magic.
Exemplar, Big Red Car?
Fine, you desire to call my bluff. I will do just that.
Here is a flower pot that borders a pool in which I float to concentrate my thoughts. It is purely work, not hard work, but work.
I planted these bougainvillea from three 4″ pots that cost less than $6 taken together with some planting soil I already owned. This white clay pot — there is no longer a supply of white clay pots in the entire US BTW — and I have known each other for more than a quarter century. I had rested it with a few others for a decade.
This is the flower pot.
If you are a devotee of bougainvillea, it is not for everyone, you will note the rarity of developing such fine, concentrated heads. It comes from “not watering” them and ignoring them rather than giving them undue care.
Whenever I spot this particular Boog, it gives me a bit of joy because of its native beauty and the sense of its scale from such a small beginning. When I had the COVID, this Boog particularly cheered me.
It does not have to be something huge.
Here is a mate of its, some periwinkles that can thrive in any sun, even the Texas sun. I bought a flat of periwinkles for $8 with each flower being about 1 1/2″ in size. They grew into their current form.
Please disregard the planter in the picture. It is being rebuilt soon.
How, Big Red Car, how do we bring the joy?
Ahh, yes, the practical requires some action plan, doesn’t it? For your consideration, I offer the following:
1. Take up the challenge. Say to yourself that you cannot make yourself happy, but you can prevent the spread of the pandemic of unhappiness.
2. Look for and manufacture the joy that is life.
3. Speak to similarly minded people, read similarly themed words — do not read things that advise you that suicide may be the logical conclusion to things.
4. Make your own icons of joy — as I have done with my little plantings. They are not complex, expensive, difficult — yes, you may have to water them.
5. Find pictures that bring you joy. This is one I stumbled on recently that makes me smile every time I see it.
If I want to inject a shot of joy into my life, I look at it. It works. This is my Irish, red-headed daughter, the co-founder of Weezie Towels taken before she realized she was a business assassin, entrepreneur. Try to look at that picture and not smile.
6. Just before bed, read something inspirational, or, at least, something that diverts your attention.
7. Every day kneel down and pray for those less fortunate.
8. Once a week tally all the things for which you are grateful.
9. Write a letter to someone whose fingertips nudged you onto the right path in your life. Thank them. The positive energy this creates is enormous.
[As a CEO Coach, every so often I will get a letter, an email, a gift from someone with whom I worked expressing a sentiment, usually gratitude. I am often overwhelmed by the magnitude of the impact that they think I exerted on them. In most instances, I knew where something was located within them and pointed them on that path of discovery. In other instances, I rented them my experience as a CEO and an adviser of more than 40 years. I wish I had saved a few of those missives.]
10. Take a minute and write about how you intend to face the world as it is and the world — your world — as it could be. This is therapeutic and it absorbs a lot of contravening energy.
For those who are running companies at this time know this.
1. The culture of your company is a reflection of your values. If you are a whiner, then your company will be peopled by whiners.
Conversely, if you step over the obstacles and greet the dawn with a smile — forced though it may be — your folks will also paint a smile on their faces.
Look at the people in the Winner’s Circle — they are smiling. Sure, they’re winners, but they were smiling on the way to the Winner’s Circle.
2. In times of crisis, the team always looks to the leader. The leader sets the tone. It is far, far, far more important than in more harmonious times.
In harmonious times, there is no problem to be corrected.
3. Do not be the knucklehead who feels compelled to write a 17-page memo that lays out how you and your company are going to remake the world.
God, those stupid VC letters look like such word vomit these days. When you take a picture of the VC company, there are still a multitude of white faces.
So, there you have it, dear reader. We are all responsible for our own level of happiness.
None of us can force ourselves to be happy, though all of us can prevent ourselves from spiraling down into the sinkhole of unhappiness.
On the way, we can joyously confront the world by doing small things that accumulate and ultimately rule the day.
And, that, dear reader, is how the cow ate the cabbage on a Thursday in Austin By God Texas on this day in the year of Our Lord 2020.