The ‘happy’ is in your own hands

My first editor said of a fellow, and not in a complimentary fashion, “He’s the kind of guy who’s still saying Happy New Year on January tenth.”
Man, did that stick with me.
So much so, that as I sit down this morning, Jan. 2, some 50 years later, I am hesitant to wish you a Happy New Year. It won’t stop me, obviously, but I am thinking about it. And wishing a little that I wrote my blog yesterday, which I do every Friday, instead of giving myself the holiday off. A hearty “Happy New Year!” yesterday would have raised no eyebrow. Not even that of my late first editor.
I’ll still answer my phone with a Happy New Year tomorrow and maybe even Monday. After that, however, I’ll be squeamish about it, although I may let one or two slip out, depending on the circumstances.
As for the “happy,” the operative word in the New Year greeting, well, I wish that for my fellow humans every day of my life.
When I meet new college students on the first day of class, I always tell them I don’t have to ask the question they’ve been hearing since they were high school freshman, “What do you want to be?” because I already know the answer. “You all want to be the same thing,” I tell them. “You all want to be happy.”
Usually not on day one, but at some point during the semester I tell them how.
It comes down to three things.
First, learn to live in the present. Psychologists call this mindfulness. Most of us live in the past or in the future, and that’s the surest way to be unhappy. “The past,” I tell my students, “is full of regret. The future is full of fear. But the present? The present has none of those things.”
So, stay in the present. It’s not easy, but you can learn to do it.
Second, be grateful. Concentrate on what you have, not on what you have not. And you have more than you think. A dear friend of mine, a worldly man who will turn 104 in five months, once told me, “If you are taking a hot shower on a regular basis, you are better off than 90% of the people on the face of the earth.” He knows from experience.
Another friend, who grew up in Vietnam, came to America carrying one suitcase and not able to speak a word of English, became an electrical engineer and recently retired after a long, successful career with IBM, mentioned in our annual New Year’s phone call (he lives in Rochester, Minnesota), that when he was a young boy, the meal was not over when everyone in the family was full, the meal was over when the food was gone. This man lives a life of gratitude. We should, too.
The third is to spit out bad clams.
I’ve written about this before. My wife, who spent 45 years as an operating room nurse, talks about people showing up at the hospital deathly sick and saying, ‘I knew that clam was bad the minute I put it in my mouth.” To which, everyone would scream, “Then why did you swallow it?”
Bad clams are poison. Who wants to ingest poison? But there are other poisons that we willingly swallow all the time. Gossip, complaints, criticism, grudges, the list is endless. They’re all bad clams. Spit them out. Spit them out as fast as you can.
Do these three things and you know what happens?
You wind up happy.
The only thing you ever wanted to be.

Ed Ackerman