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Posts tagged ‘Happiness’

The search for significance. Looking all the wrong places.

Today I lost it. The world is for sure joining its forces against me. I was denied the grant to help fund my new book. And get this, this happened a day after I got a crappy grade on my exam in human rights and advocacy. As if this is not enough to ruin my day I can add a list of strikes against me:

A good friend nominated me for a women’s prize, but my name must have gotten lost in the pile of other names because I never even made the list of the people the committee recommended. (Or perhaps the nominating committee just held their stomachs, pointed to my name and laughed through the whole meeting).

I called, emailed, texted and wrote to a dozen people about Partners, and they never even bothered replying to me.

I wrote articles that I personally thought were masterpieces and got polite replies back from a long list of magazines and newspapers saying that they are sorry they cannot publish my piece this time, but good luck to you.

My blog is not gaining any followers.

My Instagram pictures have fewer likes than my children’s.

My husband got a better grade on his exam than I did, and that despite the fact that his writing is crap, and he spent two hours on it.

The new government in our country sucks so bad I am starting to feel like hiding the fact that I am Norwegian. I feel that even this could be a reason for me to fail in life.

And now the sheets I hang out to dry got rained on.

My daughter gave me a makeover some days ago. It was fun and it made me feel beautiful. But, strangely, it didn't make me more popular. It also didn't turn me into a better person. But, did you know how to put on bronzer?

My daughter gave me a makeover some days ago. It was fun and it made me feel beautiful. But, strangely, it didn’t make me more popular. It also didn’t turn me into a better person. But, did you know how to put on bronzer?

All around me I see people who succeed at everything they do. In fact, some of them have succeeded even before they start. Pieces are published in magazines, newspapers and online that get shared and commented on, and I read it and think that my stuff is so much better. Books get published and become bestsellers, and I think: Who likes this stuff? People wake up pretty. Others seem to have all the time in the world to go for runs, hikes, bike rides and exotic trips with their backpacks and tent. Me, I am feeling lucky the days I have time to take the dog for a walk for 30 minutes.

Everybody else seems to have the coolest friends and they are always getting together in the evenings wearing their nice clothes and perfectly manicured nails and drink wine from pretty glasses while they laugh at each other’s jokes and encourage each other. Me, I am often so tired that I spend the evenings at home, watching TV and eating potato chips.

Okey, we may not hang with the people with the crystal glasses. And quite frankly, when I think about it, I would rather hang out with the ones who will sit by the fire with me, drinking wine from paper cups.

Okey, we may not hang with the people with the crystal glasses. And quite frankly, when I think about it, I would rather hang out with the ones who will sit by the fire with me, drinking wine from paper cups.

The list could go on, but I feel that if I keep writing, I will put myself into depression and all the dishes piled up on my kitchen counter may never get done.

As I looked at the denial letter I got in the mail today, I honestly thought: Of course they would not grant me the money I applied for. What do they care? Plus, when will I get it? I am not very good at writing, or much else for that matter.

But then, after a while wallowing in self-pity I asked myself a question that needs to be asked. Who are you trying to impress?

I have been trying to teach my children this their whole life, but it seems I need to learn it myself to: What you do and what people think about you don’t determine your worth. It simply can’t. So often I set my own value based on my successes and failures. Obviously that means that some days I am super valuable, and other days I am completely worthless. The last week I haven’t been worth much more than the broken trashcan I use for composting.

We could say I have been feeling the way I look here.

We could say I have been feeling the way I look here.

What I have told others, and believe is true for them, is that their true worth is who they are when they take away all the exterior stuff. Our true value is not how we look, how much money we make, how many articles we get published, how many prizes we receive, or how many friends we have. Our true value is in the core of who we are.

Once Steve asked me, and I have been pondering this: “What would your worth be if you were paralyzed from the neck down, lost your hearing and your vision? Would that change my value as a human being?” If the answer is yes, then we do live in a world that places people’s value on their ability to perform, as well as on their performance. And to be totally honest, that is kind of the world we do live in.

But is it right? Of course not. A person has his or her value because of the fact that he or she is a human being, created in the image of God. Nothing can take that truth away. If I can just start believing that, and act as if it is true, then a denial letter or a bad grade won’t throw me into the sump of self-pity and depressive thoughts. It will just be a bump in the road, on the road called life.

So, here I am, on a rainy day, determined to keep striving to get better, and to aim for excellence. But at the same time as I am doing this, I will also keep reminding myself that the outcomes don’t determine my value. My value has already been set and it won’t change. In the words of Winston Churchill: Success consists of going from failure to failure without the loss of enthusiasm.

For Elise

Dear Elise,

This morning I looked through an old album of photos of when you were little and thought about how fast time has passed. All mothers do this. When our children leave home, we get all sentimental and miss those years when our kids still needed us to tie their shoes and put on Bandaids on bruised knees.

Elise princess

We miss the times together on the bed or on the sofa reading The Rainbow Fish, the Wizard of Oz or other classics. I think back on the first time you sat by yourself, walked by yourself, rode a bicycle by yourself, went to school by yourself, swam by yourself, spoke in front of a crowd by yourself, played the piano, sang solo, spelled your name, took the school bus by yourself, had your first sleepover, went on a school social, had your first test, got your first tooth and when you lost our first tooth. I remember the first time you kissed a boy (you were four) and the first time a friend betrayed you. I remember your first doll, your first pair of shoes, your first pair of underwear, your first bicycle, your first backpack, your first pink dress with sequins and the first book you read by yourself.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Now, you are going to live life by yourself. All by yourself.

I hope you do remember to cover public toilet seats with paper before you sit on them. You must make sure you get enough sleep every night. Take some time to read some of those books I have told you to read. Did you get dental floss? You must floss. And how about sunscreen? A little flax seed in your cereal every morning will do you so much good. 

I am pretty sure you will take good care of yourself. You may skip the flossing, but I know you will never forget about the hand washing. 

The thing I am more concerned about is how you are going to spend the rest of your life. Will you spend it trying to look good, and trying to make others think that you are in charge of your own life and your circumstances, that you are invincible? Or will you spend your life enjoying who you are, living for that which really matters, and taste that life is good?

When one is as young as you are (or as old as I am) one often thinks that happiness is when we finally “make it.” We spend our lives looking for a happiness that actually already is inside us. What we spend our lives chasing after we will never find if we keep running after it.

It is hard to describe this thing that is within you (and me). Some call it our spirit. That is how I think about it. You can feel it sometimes if you take the time to be really, really quiet. You may feel it when you listen to some music that does something more than just entertain you. You may feel it as you take a deep breath and admire scenery more beautiful than words. You may feel it when you are so connected to people that all you want is to spend more time with them. You may feel it when you get to do an activity that makes you forget about time and place. You may feel it when you pray.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We can see it when people are kind to another person. Especially if it is being kind to a person that is neither good-looking, rich nor popular.

We are taught to believe that we are here in this world to succeed, and the world has defined for us what that success is. We see it on the billboards, on social media (where the goal seems to be to look as close to perfect as possible, and one’s worth is determined by the amount of likes), on TV and in glossy magazines. But you are not your bank account (or mine for that matter. Sorry we never had enough money to buy all these brand-name clothes, shoes and purses). You are not your successes and failures. You are Elise. You are here to be loved and to love. You are free, even though that is hard to believe at times.

So how to you feed your spirit? Not with flax seeds. Not with a mask of makeup and perfectly shaped eye brows. No, you do it by start walking by the light you have been given. Take the first step.

I am sorry to say so, but it seems that whether you choose to follow Jesus (he is the one I cheer for, as you know) or any other great leader, you will have to start by helping others. You don’t have to follow me to Burma, and to Partners, unless that is what you want to do. But do look for the ones who have less, the ones who are lonely, the ones who are sick or the ones who, for whatever reason, feel that life did not give them a fair chance. Give water to the thirsty, feed the hungry, visit the lonely. You will be surprised at how much happiness it will bring your spirit.

elise and karen friend

Laugh. Laughing an underestimated activity that people stop doing when they grow older and think they need to be responsible. But we need to laugh. Most of all we need to learn to laugh at ourselves.

Rest, and enjoy the small moments of simple pleasures, such as the smell of the ocean, the crumbled-up drawing given by a small child, a smile from a stranger or the taste of the summer’s first strawberry.

So, here I am, hoping that I have not made you fall asleep already. I said all this, when all I really needed to say was this: You are loved. You have all it takes inside you. Don’t follow others if you don’t think it is right. Make your own choices. Don’t try to be perfect. Laugh, love and rest.

And just one last piece of advice: Don’t mix light and dark colors when you do your laundry.

I love you more than words can express,

Mom

 

 

 

 

The sad nation of bread and jam and other lessons

My new little friend whose name, she says, is Carrot, looks at me with a concerned face. She is eight years old and is trying to learn about the world she is living in. “So, in your country, what do you eat every day,” she asks. “Different things, like bread and potatoes,” I reply. This is when she starts feeling very sorry for me: “Oh, yes, I have heard that in your country you just eat bread and jam. It is a shame that you don’t have anything else to eat.” I want to defend myself and add: “Well, we also eat fish.” She is not impressed. “It must be hard for your people. You are never really full, are you? You should all move to our village where you could eat all the rice you want and feel really full.”

Carrot showing off her Play Doh sculpture.

Carrot showing off her Play Doh sculpture.

She and her friends are sitting on the porch of the house where we are staying stringing beads and making necklaces, rings and bracelets for themselves and for the members of our team. Carrot speaks up again: “Why don’t you have any green beads. These are only pink and purple ones.” “We are going to use green beans for something else later,” I explain. “And why do you want green anyway?” “Because green is the color of everything growing in the nature. That’s why,” she says and settles for the boring pinks and purples that have no meaning whatsoever.

After a while she has thought of a new question for me. “How long will it take you to get back to your country then?” “Two whole days,” I say, not including that this is just the flight home, not the two days it takes to drive to her village on the border of Burma. “Two days! That means you won’t get home until Thursday. Me, I have never been that far away from home. The furthest I have been is over there. See that village over there? That is the furthest I have been.”

As we keep stringing the beads there are other themes discussed as well. One of them is the two copulating dogs we saw on our way back from taking a bath in the river. “Did you see the two dogs we passed?” Carrot asks. I feel a little embarrassed to discuss what we had observed. Somehow I feel that teaching about reproduction is not part of my job description. I have to admit I passed the dogs quickly without looking too closely. For the children, however, it is just part of living in a village surrounded by animals. “Did you see those two dogs?” Asks Carrot. “Well, yes, I did happen to see them,” I reply and want to change the theme. “You know what it means, don’t you?” My little friend asks in a way that makes me understand she is checking how much we have learned about the cycle of life in our bread-eating country. I act ignorant. “OK, it means that in not too long we are going to have dog babies here in the village,” she patiently explains to me while she ties the ends of her necklace together. Then she tells me that she unfortunately has to leave the team and me now as she has other commitments. She needs to go home and take a bath and eat her dinner.

As I watch her leave I am confident that I have just met one of tomorrow’s leaders. I am so glad that it is girls like her that Partners help educate.

And here is Carrot's friend. I just had to add this picture because it is beautiful.

And here is Carrot’s friend. I just had to add this picture because it is beautiful.

What do you think are the three essentials in life?

Boy, do I remember my days as a radical activist of 18. Life was so easy. It was mostly black and white. You were either good or bad. It was easy to categorize the world into neat compartments. The poor and the rich, the conservative and the liberal, the healthy and the unhealthy, the smart and the stupid. I would always, and I mean always, sympathize with the poor. And I considered myself liberal, healthy (I ate whole wheat and raw foods), and smart. I also thought that all smart people would agree with me.

Life was easy when the solutions were simple

Life was easy when the solutions were simple

Now I see that life is not that simple. Some people are smart who don’t agree with me. Some poor people are jerks. Many rich people are incredibly kind. People can eat healthy and still get cancer. Others can live on Coke and chips and stay skinny. Life is not straight forward, black and white. Life is not fair. And life is not predictable.

Now, as a middle aged woman I have learned that most people care mostly about themselves and the sphere they live in. I read in the new today that the members of the International Olympic committee are going to change the rule that says they can only stay in the committee until they are 80. They think that is too young to resign. They feel discriminated.

I read the news and try to understand the conflict in Ukraine and the more I read, the less I do understand. Just trying to keep the names of the actors straight is a challenge. Never mind who is for the engagement with the West and who is for the East. And who is the less corrupt of the ones who are struggling for power.

I see that the president in Uganda says that gay people are disgusting. So he signed a bill that will allow the police to arrest and imprison gay people because they are gay.

What a messed up world!

I read that the world has stopped caring for the people in Syria. The world is a bit bored with the whole situation. Been there, done that. Tell me something new instead. Not the same old story about children getting killed, of a generation lost, of millions without blankets in the cold. That is so…Yesterday.

Today my friend and colleague in Fortify Rights, Matthew Smith published a report with undeniable proof of the Burma government’s systematic and planned discrimination, oppression and harassment of the Rohingya population. And after the release the government of Myanmar came right back and said: “The government does not remark on baseless accusations from Bengali lobbyist groups.” What else could they say except to admit that what the report said is correct?

I am working on a degree in development. Not that I have the time, but I do have the desire. We are studying the effects of climate change this semester. If you want to get really, really depressed, then study that.

The paper I have to read this week challenges my brain cells, and has forced me to drink more coffee than I should. But it is challenging in a good way. It is written by Archbishop Rowan Williams, and he says good stuff. One of his points in this paper is that the real problem with climate change, as well as other social issues is that we have lost a sense of what life is. We are disconnected and need to be reintroduced to life. He goes on to say that saving the human future is inseparable from  securing a future for all living things. Later he talks about how we need to understand that we all live in a shared world, not a world that belongs to ourselves. 

I felt encouraged in a weird way as I read this. To save our planet from climate destruction, from moral and ethical destruction, we need to be reintroduced to life. We need to start connecting with the things that really matter. And if I build that down to the essentials, I think I am left with just three things: God, relationships and nature. Botox, exotic travels, decadent meals, leather boots and designer purses don’t make it on the list of essentials. We lived in a shared world. That is what it is all about.

 

 

5 things to help children not get arrested

I have been thinking about happiness. I guess one of the reasons I have had this in mind is that I want to be happy. And when I find the ever so small seed of discontent in my heart, it is time to ask why. The answers I find, I gladly share.

But then I find myself embarrassed by my small world. I am even more embarrassed by the fact that I can be discontent when I have every privilege one can ever wish for.

In my last blog I wrote that it sometimes is helping others that will give us the greatest happiness. I truly believe that!

The last few days I have been getting some disturbing reports from Burma. They have not just been disturbing. They have been appalling. We have heard of more attacks on the Rohingya people that I have written about in the past. Now we hear of children and women getting hacked to death for no reason, and of the police arresting all men and boys aged ten and older. You can read a detailed account of the atrocities here. My good friend and hero, Matt Smith in Fortify Rights, wrote it. He spent a long time verifying the facts. And if you know Matt, you know that when he says something, it is true.

This is me with Matt and his wife Amy. Matt is a lot better at human rights reporting than he is with technical stuff such as iPhones.

This is me with Matt and his wife Amy. Matt is a lot better at human rights reporting than he is with technical stuff such as iPhones.

It makes me sick.

But this is the thing: Feeling terrible about terrible stuff isn’t going to help anybody. We have to do something. So I thought of five things we could do to help these people right now. And here is where you come it. I need help from EVERYBODY!

1. Read the report Matt wrote and post it all over the place, on Facebook, on Twitter, on Instagram, on your blog, on Tumblr and Flickr and on all the other social medias you can imagine. I can’t keep track of them all. The more people that hear about this, the less likely it is that it will happen again. The government of Burma may not care about Rohingya children getting killed, but they do care about their reputation and about the big companies in the world wanting to invest in their country so that they can be richer than they are now. And companies are less likely to invest in countries that massacre their own citizens. It is just how it is.

Boys aged ten and older can get arrested.

Boys aged ten and older can get arrested.

2. Give money! I know it sounds old, but the fact is that unless we have the money, we cannot help these people. Last year we gave food to thousands of Rohingya who were starving. We treated the sick. We gave blankets and tarps. We documented and reported what was happening. It was all possible because people gave  us money, and it will not be possible unless we do get money. So GIVE! Here

3. Contact your government. Ask politicians if they seriously don’t think that this is awful behavior and if they think so, what are they going to do about your county’s involvement with Burma. Are they still going to wine and dine the president, Thein Sein? Or are they going to say that unless he and his government starts to treat the Rohingya as human beings, then your country won’t have anything to do with them. You know that it is the little people like you and I who count. If there are many enough of us, something is going to happen. But that means we all need to take responsibility and don’t just hope somebody else will do it.

4. Pray. I do struggle with prayer sometimes. I don’t know if it works. I don’t understand how it works. But I think we need to put the theological questions aside and just do what the Bible tells us to do: Pray. Pray for an end to the violence. Pray that you will get God’s heart for the Rohingya. Pray for all the children who have lost their parents, their homes and everything they know. Get a heart for the children!

Arrange a Run for Relief. It is fun and good!

Arrange a Run for Relief. It is fun and good!

5. Arrange an event! What is more fun than when many people get together and do something meaningful? Imagine arranging a relief run for the Rohingya, or a yard sale? Or how about doing a dinner, or invite a bunch of ladies to do a ladies’ night and have them all donate to the cause. You could do a concert, or a theater performance on the street if you are brave. There are so many great ideas to do, and the only limit is your own creativity. Imagine that all that fun actually could help save the lives of people who felt forgotten or resented. To help you out, here is a great link for ideas that will get you so excited!

So there you go. Five great ideas for things to do to help the Rohingya today or in the next few days. And when it comes to happiness: I think the best medicine to get happy is not to smoke pot, but to focus our eyes away from ourselves and on to others.

More steps to pursuing genuine happiness

I am in the pursuit of happiness. Most of the world seems to be on the same path as me. But we seem to be looking for happiness in different places. Some of us think that a meal to fill our hungry stomachs will make us happy. Others think that a new private jet will.

It was nice that so many read my last blog about happiness. A few of you kindly added a couple of points that I had left out. The one that I want to apologize for not mentioning was: Tickle attack. When one has been tickled, or tickle others, then the happiness one feels in one’s body remains in our bodies for a long time afterwards. Like a drug. Want to be happy? Tickle and be tickled.

Then I wanted to add two more points to my list of things that I think will make us happy. And, no, a private jet did not make my list.

Connection to God is important. So is connection to others. Here you see Partners staff feeling very connected through dancing.

Connection to God is important. So is connection to others. Here you see Partners staff feeling very connected through dancing.

1. To be connected.

I like Psalm 1 i the Bible where it says that by delighting in the Law of the Lord one is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers. Personally my connection is with God, and if I don’t have him, then I am like a tree with no roots, or like an electric cord with no outlet to plug into. To be connected to something that is higher than myself gives me more meaning and happiness than anything else I can think of. Why?

Because it makes me realize that while I am significant, I am also like dust. The world does not rest on my shoulders alone. I am just a piece of the big whole. In God I can find meaning when the world seems meaningless, in him I can find comfort when I feel hurt and discouraged, and in him I can find hope when it looks like the black hole is ever increasing.

To me it seems impossible to experience true happiness unless we are connected to something bigger than ourselves. Some people may disagree, and I am fine with that. But, honestly, you should give God a try.

One of the things I really admire is when people spend their time and own money to help others. Like my friend, Hanne, and her sons who on their own initiative sold sponsorships and collected money for Partners. I hope they felt happy afterwards.

One of the things I really admire is when people spend their time and own money to help others. Like my friend, Hanne, and her sons who on their own initiative sold sponsorships and collected money for Partners. I hope they felt happy afterwards.

2. Help somebody

The happiest people I know are the ones who are the most generous people. Not just generous with their money, but with their resources and time too. And the most unhappy ones? The greedy ones who are always looking at how to rip some people off, thinking of how they can avoid sharing, and even how to cheat on their taxes. A person who is always thinking of him or herself will never be truly happy. But the ones who are always reaching out to others will experience a satisfaction as fulfilling as getting tickled. We get tickled by generosity.

It’s interesting to me that often the most generous people are the ones who own the least. And yet, they often seem content even though they are poor.

Today I read that the richest 85 people on the globe between them control as much wealth as the poorest half of the global population put together. This is a thought that has nauseated me most of the day. Can it be? 3.5 billion people own as much combined as those 85 people. What I wonder is this: Are the 85 people who all could fit into a double-decker bus happy? Do they wake up in the mornings content? I wonder if giving most of their wealth away would have made them more or less happy? What do you think?

At Partners we have made helping others into a career. Many of us are constantly out of money and lack of sleep. But are we happy? I think we probably are happier than many. Not because of our wealth of money, but because of the wealth of joy helping other people gives us.

Here is an article I read today about helping an other person. I thought it was very encouraging.

Want to be happier? Try God. Try fellowship. Try to help somebody who needs your help, here or elsewhere. I think this will make you happier than unlimited credit at Nordstroms.

5 things that guaranteed will make you happy

Nobody can guarantee happiness. Not me. Not the richest, sexiest man in the world. Actually, happiness has a lot more to do with our attitude towards our circumstances, than with the actual circumstances.

So, sorry. If you wanted to read this blog to get happy, I may disappoint you. But, do give it a try. You may be surprised at what you will find.

I really wanted people to read my blog, you see, and I figured out that guaranteeing happiness had a bigger chance of succeeding than having a headline that says: Life really sucks, and if you read this, you may just feel much worse about yourself. 

So, what are 5 things that can make you happy?

I will tell you.

I bought this coffee cup at a thrift store. It reminds me of my Grandma. Makes me happy.

I bought this coffee cup at a thrift store. It reminds me of my Grandma. Makes me happy.

5. Grind some good coffee beans and make a good cup of coffee to drink in the afternoon while you are working by your computer, reading a book or perhaps listening to some music. You will be even happier if you also have some chocolate to eat with your newly brewed coffee. And, another idea is to share a cup of coffee with a friend. Can’t go wrong with these three ingredients: Fresh coffee, chocolate and friend (a spouse will also do).

I made this bread some days ago. It is full of goodness such as sesame seeds, flax seeds, quinua flakes and more. Now, if you also have some Norwegian brown cheese you will for sure feel happiness go through your blood.

I made this bread some days ago. It is full of goodness such as sesame seeds, flax seeds, quinua flakes and more. Now, if you also have some Norwegian brown cheese you will for sure feel happiness go through your blood.

4. Bake bread. You will be surprised at how easy it is to bake bread. While doing so, you will be able to reflect, use your upper body muscles and your imagination. A lot more can be put into a bread dough that you thought. For example seeds, nuts, a mix of different grains, old cereal, milk that has expired, spices such as anise and fennel. And when you bake the bread in the oven you and everybody in your house will be happy because it smells so wonderful. And did I mention the health benefits, and the savings? They are in the thousands.

I pay my kids to read. It is true. I want them to appreciate the joy of reading so much that I am willing to pay them to get them away from the TV and the internet. Sometimes they will read instead of doing chores. Fine with me.

I pay my kids to read. It is true. I want them to appreciate the joy of reading so much that I am willing to pay them to get them away from the TV and the internet. Sometimes they will read instead of doing chores. Fine with me.

3. Read a great novel. Fiction is underrated. People should read a lot more than they do. Whenever I read good fiction I feel like I live in two different worlds and this can be very helpful if my real world is full of worries, rainy weather and dirty dishes. Just to get you started, I thought I could mention that I just read a great couple of books that you may like too:

I Been in Sorrow’s Kitchen and Licked Out All the Pots by Susan Straight is one. Another one that kept me awake when I should have been sleeping was: Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline. A good read. And when you are done, you will be a lot happier. Even though parts of the books will make you cry.

Having people over for dinner! What fun!

Having people over for dinner! What fun!

2. Meet somebody. Invite somebody over for soup. I know the dishes are a hustle, and so is getting the house ready for guests. But, you tell me, isn’t it worth it in order to have some fellowship with interesting and energy-giving friends. And another benefit will be that since you now invited them for soup, chances are that they will invite you next. Then you get to do all the fellowshipping, but not the stress of being the hostess. Or, invite guests and have them bring their own food. Anything will work if the goal is to be together.

Go for walks. Do I need to say more?

Go for walks. Do I need to say more? Here we have Elise and Kristin some years ago. Our kids have had to walk a lot in their childhood. I think that is why they are such fine young ladies today.

1. Go for a walk. This is the number one happiness-booster. Don’t let the weather decide if you should go for a walk. Dress up or dress down. Take your body outside and get into something that resembles nature. For some people, like people living in Bangkok, that may be hard. But, there are parks. Walk, breathe, think, walk, breathe, think. It is that easy. Now, if walking is too slow, then run. Or if there is snow, cross-country ski. Or if you like more speed, ride your bike. Whatever your preference is, I have the solution. The main two things to remember are: Move body and Outside.

So, there you have it. Five things to make you happy that will not even cost you anything. Try one or all, and see if I am not right.

Next time you hear from me, I may have thought of other things that will make you smile inside your heart, and when your heart smiles, your face does too.

Good luck.

BTW. What makes you happy?

My New Year Resolutions

Every sunrise, and sunset, is a love song from God.

Every sunrise, and sunset, is a love song from God. Our family by the beach.

It’s my first day of work in 2014. The new year feels almost exactly the same as the old one. It was hard to wake up. I have too many emails to reply to. The laundry room is a mess. I need to work out more consistently.

I decided to drop the New Year Resolution thing this year. It never works for me. But a good friend sent me this prayer, and it made me think of a few things that I want to do this year. It is a New Year’s Prayer from the Syrian Orthodox Church. Worth meditating on, and it wouldn’t hurt to pray for Syria whilst doing so.

Our Holy Father,

God of our yesterdays, our today, and our tomorrows.

We praise You for Your unequaled greatness.

Thank You for the year behind us and for the year ahead.

Help us in Your new year, Father, to fret less and laugh more.

To teach our children to laugh by laughing with them.

To teach others to love by loving them.

Knowing, when Love came to the stable in Bethlehem, He came for us.

So that Love could be with us, and we could know You.

That we could share Love with others.

Help us, Father, to hear Your love song in every sunrise,

in the chirping of sparrows in our backyards,

in the stories of our old folks, and the fantasies of our children.

Help us to stop and listen to Your love songs,

so that we may know You better and better.

We rejoice in the world You loved into being.

Thank You for another new year and for new chances every day.

We pray for peace, for light, and for hope, that we might spread them to others.

Forgive us for falling short this past year.

We leave the irreparable past in your hands,

and step out into the unknown new year knowing You will go with us.

We accept Your gift of a new year and we rejoice in what’s ahead,

depending on You to help us do exactly what You want.

In Jesus name, We pray,

Amen

So let us laugh more, and fret less. Let us hear God’s love song in every sunrise. Let us stop and listen more. Those are some of my goals for the year of 2014.

What are yours?

The happiness report

What is happiness for you? This photo was taken by Steve in Kachin state. It is one of our favorite photos.

What is happiness for you? This photo was taken by Steve in Kachin state. It is one of our favorite photos.

Today I was skimming through the happiness report, a report done by the UN. Read the report here. I fully plan to read the whole document when I get the time. I think it is interesting to read about where people are the happiest, and why. I have to ask myself if I am happy from time to time too.

And, many of you know, I have written about happiness on the blog many times before.

Last week I wrote about the Kachin in hiding who told us that they have everything they need. It was shocking to hear that. Especially when I looked around at where they were living. Bullets holes decorated the walls. The toilets reeked. The food left much to be desired.

I met a man and a woman. They travelled for hours to meet us. At first they were shy to talk, but little by little they started sharing. They told us about their brother in law who had been brutally killed by the Burma Army just a few months ago. He had waited for church to start and went to tend his fields in the meantime. That was the last time they saw him alive. Days later they found his tortured and destroyed body hidden in a sugarcane field. A bullet hole went through his chest. He was dressed in a uniform that did not belong to him.

It was hard for them to recall the loss of a relative, a neighbor and a good friend. They knew that it could just as easily have been one of them who was caught that day.

“The Burma Army comes to our village a lot,” they told us. “When they do, we need to pick up whatever we have and run to our hide site. Sometimes we are able to bring blankets. Other times we don’t have time to bring anything.” They told us that they cannot even count how many times they have had to run. Perhaps 20 times in a year. Each time they stay in their hide site from one to three, four days. Depending on the fighting.

“It is hard to run and hide so often,” they said. “We need to put up new shelters every time. It is often cold and rainy. The mosquitos and other bugs are terrible.” They also said that it was impossible for the children to go to school now because their daily routines kept getting interrupted. “We are also not able to produce enough food,” they said. “Since we are always busy running from soldiers, we cannot work our land properly, and this makes it so we cannot get enough harvest.”

They told us their story as if it was a normal story to tell. For their people the story is nothing out of the ordinary. They have all experienced similar fates.

But for me it mattered a lot. It confirmed that I was in the right place. It confirmed that I needed to keep sharing the stories of the people in Burma, be it the Kachin, the Rohingya or any of the other ethnic groups who are currently suffering under a regime who says they have changed, but who actually have not.

What is happiness? For the man and the woman I talked to happiness would be to be allowed to live in peace in their village. It would be to grow their own food, and to keep their animals. It would be to see their children go to school. It would be to have medicine when they or anybody in their family got sick. It would be to live with the absence of fear.

They never mentioned the need for a new purse, for Botox to cover up their wrinkles, or for a car that would run a little faster. They never mentioned remodeling their homes, nor a new diet they were on. They just said they want to live in peace. For them that would be happiness.

How to get happiness

Happiness? Happiness.

Happiness? Happiness.

Surely, you have, like me, thought about how nice t would be to win the lottery. How about hitting jackpot and getting a few millions to spend. Just one million would actually be good enough for me. How many of us haven’t fantasized of what we could do with the money? Our eyes glaze over as we think out loud: Pay off the mortgage on the house. Or even getting a new house. At least a house extension. Get a cabin in the mountain, or how about a beach house in Spain? Get a new car, perhaps two. Go on an exclusive holiday somewhere exotic. Renew the whole wardrobe for the whole family. Put money in the kids’ education fund. And, just to be fair, and to appear like justice counts: Give a lump sum to charity.

With a few millions in my bank account my life’s worries would be over. I could lay back on my newly landscaped terrace and love life.

My daughter, who is 17, spoke words of wisdom the other day. We were driving home and she was in a contemplative mood. She has more money to spend than she has ever had now. She is working shifts at the local pizza baker. She has money to buy clothes and make up. And that is mostly what 17-year olds need. And of course, some lattes with friends.

I feel sad, she said. And I wondered why. I feel sad, because I don’t feel the same joy when I get stuff as I used to. I just have started taking things for granted. I used to be so excited when I got gifts, and so thankful for anything new. Now I just look at it and think: yeah, nice. And then I feel no joy. With 17-year old wisdom she said: I can now, with confidence, say that money doesn’t buy happiness. 

Oh, how I wish the rest of the world would see what she has already seen. Oh, how I wish that I could see it sometimes as I look at the outfits I want, but can’t afford, as I hear about vacations so dreamy and expensive and know that they are too far off for me. How I wish that I would be better at looking at life through my daughter’s eyes and ask myself: Am I sure that those things actually will make me happy? Perhaps for a moment they will, but will the joy last?

I am reading a book right now that I think will be very interesting. (It already is, at page three). It is called Flow and is written by a man whose name is so hard that I am sure he is the only one who can spell it right: Mihaly Csikszentmhalyi.

In the introduction he says: Happiness is not something that happens. It is not the result of good fortune or random chance. It is not something that money can buy or power command. It does not depend on outside events, but rather on how we interpret them. Happiness, in fact, is a condition that must be prepared for, cultivated, and defended privately by each person.

Happiness defined by one of my daughters some years ago.

Happiness defined by one of my daughters some years ago.

In a few more words, he said what Elise, my daughter also said. Money, stuff, or good fortune is not what make us happy. Happiness is something we make ourselves, independent of our circumstances.

Worth thinking about today. Isn’t it?

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