My New Goal: To Be Insanely Happy

When we are five, we laugh 113 times a day. By the age of 44, that number shrinks to 11 times a day.

Those statistics, which I came across in Voice of the Innovator, made me feel sad for my adult self who, now in her early 60s and pretty much isolated due to the pandemic, often laughs even less than that.

A few days after reading that statistic, I emailed a long-time friend I haven’t seen in years, ending my message with these words: “I hope you are doing well…healthy and happy.”

He responded immediately with one sentence: “Yes, insanely busy and insanely happy!”

That simple reply gave me pause.

Despite having read at least a dozen books on happiness and taken several happiness classes, including Berkeley’s the Science of Happiness and Yale’s The Science of Well-Being, the idea of being insanely happy had never even crossed my mind.

In fact, happiness, even at a basic level, often felt elusive. And the busier I was, the harder it was to be happy. Instead, I was stressed and anxious, and often heard myself saying, “I don’t have time to be happy now. I just need to get this done.”

Then my friend Laurie sent me a video clip of an orangutan’s reaction—one might say insanely happy reaction—to a simple magic trick in which a man makes a chestnut disappear. Watching the video made me laugh and provided me with a jolt of jolly. The first time I watched it, the 13th time and even the 21st time.

And while I’m still not laughing as often as a five-year-old, I’m definitely ha-ha-ing more often in pursuit of my new “insanely happy” goal.

Just thinking about the video makes me laugh. Perhaps it will do the same for you.

Life in Reverse

I’ve never been super orderly or systematic, but for years, filing papers seemed like the responsible thing to do. Before computers and the Internet, you needed hard copies of financial, health, and school records. Digital wasn’t an option. Sometimes the only convenient way to access a how-to lore was to keep a photocopy of it. As part of an office redo, I’ve been sorting, tossing, and shredding old paper files. Although some of what I saved makes sense, a lot of it is baffling. 

1972 – High school diploma from the pre-digital age when paper was the only valid proof.

1976  Where’s my college diploma? Good thing I don’t have to prove that anymore.

1979  Graduate school grade reports. Why?? And inexplicably, grade slips from three management classes my father took.

1978 – A photocopy of copyright information (pre-Internet). I suspect I hoped to publish something worthy of a copyright. 

1984-85 – Wedding catering quotes. I truly don’t know why I kept these. Maybe I thought the information would be helpful when my sister married. Years after our wedding, when I rediscovered the file, I kept it for its entertainment value: Miss Lucille’s Catering: hot buffet with two meats, one kind of potato, one vegetable, a salad, and dinner rolls for $4.75 per person. Plus $1.50 for china, silverware and linen service. Despite the reasonable prices, we went with another caterer, but I didn’t keep that!

1988 and 1991 – Proposals to work remotely after our sons were born. WAY before corporations were flexible with working mothers. I outlined a plan to return to full-time work after my maternity leave. I would work mornings at home and afternoons in the office for several months. I’m still surprised and grateful I got to do it. Twice.

1992 – Landscape plans for our old house. We haven’t lived there for 5+ years. Why’d I keep them? Maybe because I put a ton of sweat and love into those gardens, a passion that developed after our second son was born in 1991. Gardening was a creative outlet that didn’t require a babysitter.

1995  2006 – Vendor contracts and confidentiality agreements. I was in business from 1992 – 2010, but either companies didn’t require agreements or I quit saving them.

2005 – Records from breast biopsy #2 and #3 – stereotactic then excisional. I don’t know why I kept the details from this painful time. Maybe to remind myself how lucky I’d been?

2008 – Adjunct teaching contract from St. Thomas University’s Master of Business Communications program. One class, one semester: $4050. Even then, it wasn’t much money.

2013 – Yellowed copy of a Star Tribune review of an anthology in which I had an essay.

This ephemera maps some of what I thought was valuable, but I wasn’t saving the right stuff.

The real treasures are the snapshots from the 1920s and 1940s tucked in with some of my mother’s Medicare records. I also found four thin files of family history written by my parents, sister, and me. 

My grandma and grandpa. I’m guessing from their big smiles, he
was returning from WWI. On the porch is my great grandma, a woman I never met.

If only my file drawers held more of what’s precious—my parents’ belief in education. The hopeful start of my parents’ and grandparents’ loving marriages. Irreplaceable stories about immigrant ancestors. 

My parents’ wedding in 1944 during WWII–Aunt Corinne, Mom, Dad, Grandma & Grandpa
(also shown above).

Inspector Clouseau of Spy Craft

“Did you tell your kids?” my niece asked.

I gasped, “No, no. The spy cam isn’t for inside the house. It’s for outside. And … we offered to have the app put on Juan and Crystel’s phone as well.” (They didn’t hesitate to say yes).

I’d been wanting to get outside cameras for a long time.

Once before, Jody and I briefly tried a spy cam/tracking device with Juan and Crystel. I’m not even sure they ever knew about it. Jody and I paid the price. There was a short period when we wanted to know where our car was going when we weren’t in it. I tucked the electronic device in the back pocket of the car seat. I never did figure out how to use the device correctly. I even bought two of them thinking the first device was faulty. Jody and I tracked the car to Chick-fil-A down the street. We couldn’t find the car anyplace. It was mind-boggling. We figured that Juan found the device and threw it out of the car into the grassy area. We drove to the high school where he said he was going and there was our car in the parking lot. Right where he said it would be.

The next and last time we were tempted to use the electronic tracking device was after a school administrator told us that all kids vape. Jody and I were like, “WHAT!” We didn’t think our kids vaped. Her certainty freaked us out enough that we jumped in the car and drove to the Richfield Ice Arena. Juan was walking into the facility when I hollered for him to come to our car. He was startled as heck to see us. “Are you vaping?’ I asked. He told us no and we believed him. Still do.

I figured if we weren’t using the tracking device, then we weren’t paying for it. I didn’t realize that we had a monthly subscription that continued renewing. This went on for more than a year before Jody tracked down the credit card charge that kept popping up. It was an expensive lesson for the parents.

I’m still trying to figure out what that lesson was exactly. So, I was bound to repeat it. Hence, my hesitation on going ahead with any purchase of outside cameras.

What helped me to decide was seeing our neighbor on a ladder putting his cameras up. I asked him if he would put spy cams up for us if we bought the same cameras. Easy enough. Now we have three outdoor cameras. The app is installed on all of our phones.

The cameras chirp every time they’re tripped. With an active household of two eighteen-year-olds, a girlfriend, a boyfriend, two parents, two dogs, two cats, Amazon, mail, and newspaper delivery, they are tripped a lot. We also have the occasional neighborhood cat come by during the early morning hours.

The first weekend after the cameras were up, Jody, Juan, and Crystel were on a ski trip out of town for five days. Every time I walked outside to walk the dogs or to run an errand, they would talk to me through the camera. I’d also hear them calling to our cats and dogs sitting on the stoop or backyard patio. It quickly became routine to wave and greet the camera as I was coming and going. I enjoyed this intimacy.

The spy cam was especially great at night, just before bedtime, when I would take the dogs out for the last time, and I’d hear Crystel’s sweet voice saying, “Night, Mama.”  

On one occasion during the first couple of weeks that we had the cameras, Jody and I overheard Juan’s girlfriend telling him,” You are obsessed with that camera.” He was at her house but was saying Hi to his cat at home through the spy cam and the camera was picking up their voices. Naturally, we replayed it for them at the first opportunity.

If only I could figure out how to talk to anyone through the spy cam.

Walking to Nowhere

My father walked forty-five minutes a day. Whatever the weather, whatever kind of workday he had had, he headed out to do his exercise. Quintuple bypass surgery in the days when your chest was sawed open, scared him into obeying his doctor’s instructions. Walk or wake up one more time with tubes coming out of unexpected parts of your body. 

He didn’t have walking shoes, special clothes, a pedometer, sunscreen, tunes playing in his ears. Just good leather shoes, a hat, and a watch to keep him honest. He didn’t drive anywhere to change up the scenery. He just walked. For decades.

After a career of office work that meant little time on my feet and lots on my seat, I’ve joined the crowds walking daily to nowhere. I put some time in on asphalt streets and concrete walkways and some on a simple treadmill. I don’t know if special shoes are any better than his thick soled leather tie models. An athletic tracker on my wrist provides feedback that is nice about my heartbeat and steps. Podcasts fill my mind while I wander about. 

This is how many people in non-physical jobs today fight weight gain, arthritis, general aches, aging. It’s what we substitute for not using our bodies the way they are meant to be used. We walk around neighborhoods, on lake or park pathways, with our dog, maybe with another person. We feel good about piling up our miles and wearing down our shoes.

I’m behind for the day and kind of crabby about putting aside writing projects with due dates in order to do my steps. Curse the pandemic, I miss playing with my granddaughter, machines at the gym, sweating through a dance class and swimming. On the other hand, I’m alive and walking my way to vaccine and herd immunity and the opportunities to get back into an active community. Thanks for the lesson on resiliency, Dad.

Aspirational Clutter: Not Yet Time to Let Go

Two years ago a friend introduced me to Clutter Chronicles, a podcast that features a woman named Mary and her “unusual relationship with stuff.” Ever since, I’ve been working hard to rid myself of my clutter, as well as all sorts of other stuff I no longer need or use.

I’ve made good progress. I’ve tossed reams and reams of client files from a four-drawer, 48-inch-wide file cabinet. I’ve donated hundreds of books, a dozen bags of clothes, several sets of linens and my favorite china.

Parting with most of that stuff turned out to be easier than I thought thanks to another friend who encouraged me to stop dragging my anchor behind me and instead toss it out in front of me.

But I’ve since come to realize that there’s a category of clutter I’m still having trouble letting go of: aspirational clutter.

I’d never even heard of aspirational clutter until a third friend introduced me to Apartment Therapy, a home and décor site that defines aspirational clutter as “anything you’re keeping for a future version of yourself.”

As a lifelong goal-setter with all sorts of imagined future selves and plenty of storage space, I’ve accumulated a great deal of aspirational clutter, most of which revolves around hopes and dreams related to creative pursuits such as writing, drawing, painting, sewing and knitting, all things I used to love doing as a kid but gave up decades ago.

Some of my aspirational clutter is electronic, like the list of words I keep on my computer, words I aspire to one day not only remember the meaning of but also use in a short story. The list includes noctilucent, opsimath, sere and wheedle.

There’s also a list of clever headlines, as well as lists of books to read, movies to watch and podcasts to listen to, all in line with my aspirations to develop compelling creative content in a variety of forms.  

But what about the things that do take up physical space? A shoebox filled with recipes. A plastic bin of yarn. An untouched set of oil paints I received for my 40th birthday. A six-inch high pile of pages I’ve torn out of magazines in preparation for making collages.

Despite the fact that some of these things have sat dormant for decades, tossing or giving them away is harder than I would have imagined. And that’s exactly how my more creative future self would want it to be.