Friday, April 10, 2015

Blogging from A to Z: Happy

During April, I'm participating in the Blogging from A to Z challenge -- one alphabet-themed post per day, starting with A is for Aruba Aftermath and ending with Z is for ... I don't know yet what Z is for, I'll figure it out when I get there.

(image from here)
I woke up this morning when I felt like it.  No alarm clock guided me, I simply looked through the open hatch over the v-berth and watched the sky gradually lighten.  I looked forward to a weekend packed with fun things to do, time on the Galeon, a live concert, friends in town, good food, and realized that I'm very happy with my life afloat.  I have frustrations, sure, but I've got it pretty darn good.  We're (reasonably) comfortable financially, we're in (reasonably) good health, we like where we live (even if I do get frustrated with clutter and storage) and we spend our days surrounded by beauty and doing things that we choose to do and think are valuable.

What makes "happy?" I was poking around the internet and found three articles about different people's takes on "6 Things to Do to Be Consistently Happy" here, here and here.  Of course, my cynical side would make a list that includes things like "Don't ever have anything bad happen to you or your friends;" and "Be Lucky;" and "Get born to good parents who are also wealthy;" as prescriptions for happiness.   None of which you can do anything about. Fortunately the lists that I've linked to contain things you can control.

Wake up early, get regular exercise, eat well and don't drink too much, don't sweat the small stuff, know yourself, find something to do -- as either job or hobby -- that's so engrossing that you lose track of time, find opportunities to pay it forward, find (seek?) beauty every day, make time for reflection, those all seem pretty basic ideas for happiness that come up again and again.

Two ideas on these lists were new to me as a way to stay happy, but they make sense.  The first was learn new things.  I like new ideas and I like the way it feels when my brain stretches.  I like having to really focus to absorb new concepts and I like the satisfaction that happens when the new understanding clicks into place. The second blogger found a quote by William Yeats that summarizes this well: "Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that but simply growth. We are happy when we are growing."

Have multiple ways to "win" every day, was the second new idea in this context (or maybe I just needed to see it written out).  If your entire identity is about one thing in your life, say, your job, then if you have a bad day at work your entire life sucks.  But if your day includes not just doing your job, but also mastering a new piece of music or increasing your weights at the gym or being a great friend/partner/parent or whatever, then even if things go south at work, you can still recall that great conversation with your friend or great workout, and looking back on the week can make you happy.

Before I retired, I realized that I had worried about exactly that.  I did have a great deal of identity tied up in my career.  I wrote in my private blog a few months before retirement

 I went to my office Xmas party and something was different. Same white and gold tree in the corner as last year. Same music as last year; a bass played by our elegant boss, a piano and a guitar played by some guys I didn't know, kazoo (!) played by the cheerful guy who'd survived a heart attack a couple of years ago, vocals by two women from personnel. Same arrangement of tables as last year with the same foods ... Same-same. Except. Except that this office party, with Dan's office party tomorrow, will be my last office Xmas parties - ever. Next year at this time I'd be retired, living on the boat, presumably anchored off some sandy beach. 
I looked around the auditorium in which the party was held and realized that I knew few of the people, and most of those I did know were senior too. I felt uninspired to meet new people, and certainly uninspired to schmooze. I gave my door prize ticket to the woman sitting next to me (what would I do if I won? If I wasn't working here any more, what good would a logo coffee mug or shirt do me?), and left early.
Everything I do this season has the unusual clarity of something I'm about to lose, and want to sear into memory.  ... this year is the last time for all of it.
Back in my office, I grabbed a textbook off my shelf to back up a comment I wanted to make on a document I was reviewing...and the last time for that, too is coming soon...and the textbook almost opened itself to where I wanted. This time I noticed that the pages were yellowing and the copyright was 30 years ago. I remember buying that book when it, and my career, were brand new.
I don't want to be one of those people doing the retirement countdown because I believe in this job. I have one last thing I want to do, and that's revise my report on barriers and opportunities on getting science into public decisionmaking. I'm tired of driving the Beltway, and my eyes will glaze over if I have to read the plans for one more road or bridge. And yet, I need something bigger than myself to be involved in, some reason to get up in the morning. If my life is just about pleasing myself, lounging on the beach, who would notice if I was gone? My friend Cathy once explained why they came back from cruising, "You can only play so many games of tennis or golf before it gets boring." Exciting, and scary at the same time. Next year at this time ... who will I be, when I no longer hand out business cards that identify me as "Senior Environmental Scientist?"
So I have a new insight into part of why living and traveling on the boat makes me so darn happy.  This life afloat most definitely gives me multiple ways to win every day.  Every day, I can't help but see beauty in the water around me, learn new things, live slow.  And, now I know who I am without the "Senior Environmental Scientist" title on my business cards.  I know that I still am an engineer and a scientist even if I no longer work as one; science is still my world view.

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