No, this isn’t a diet and exercise piece.
Those familiar with Buddhism are usually familiar with the notion of Shoshin, or beginner’s mind:
Adam, Diabetic Cyborg knows a lot about this, as does my buddy Ann Litts and many others. Beginner’s mind is a state of grace, if you will. To be able to drop our propensity to set filters when we perceive. That’s vastly oversimplified, but for the sake of this article, I’m going to keep it simple.
We Westerners, particularly Americans, love making simple things very complex. The pursuit of happiness, which we believe is a Divine Right (as long as you’re not a POC, thankyouverymuch), and getting there, which we believe is a permanent state, drives us nuts. Because we end up striving madly for we can’t have: constant, perpetual happiness.
Say it isn’t so, Sparky.
Yeah, it is.
However, as a daily practitioner, a constant one, of Stupidly Simple Shit That Makes Me Feel Terrific Every Day, I’d like to offer a Beginner’s Guide to how I get that way. This is a list of the stuff I do regularly, which give me great pleasure, cost me virtually nothing, and add value across the board.
Perhaps being 67 has given me some insight on this happiness thing. Not likely. But here goes anyway. (Spoiler alert: all of us learned this if we went to kindergarten. And we’ve forgotten most of it. Some guy wrote a book about that years ago, got rich, and he may have forgotten too.)
Let’s start with shopping carts.
No. Really. I’m not kidding.
Here’s a fun piece on just that:
My goodness, what we learn about people just from this.
Here’s why I started with this: every single time I am in a lot with carts, I always bring one back to the store. Always. Sometimes several. Kindly, with one hand down right now that can be challenging.
Why? Because this: You should see the smiles on the faces of the folks who didn’t have to chase those down.
I also return all my carts, every time, and sometimes more than one at a time. Same thing.
That hardly takes me a few seconds, I get more exercise. And it feels righteous.
I get considerably more exercise from my smile muscles because the folks at the door, stuck with this endless job of cart corralling, are incredibly grateful.
I also take back carts just as someone else is finishing up, which they also appreciate. Especially elderly folks, who would like to but can’t, because they have a walker. I’ll walk that back for ya.
Really? Old folks (and I are one, thank you) are so accustomed to being dissed these days, and having to keep an even greater distance, that by making an effort to be polite and demonstrate that they are not only seen but respected is one hell of a gift.
Wanna take that up a notch? Be kind to, engage with and be polite to POC. If that’s too far outta your wheel house I am not your author. I might make particular mention that those kindnesses extended most especially to those who do the kind of dirty work most of us eschew, and are VERY happy Someone Else does for us, deserves the respect that taking that kind of work on should get. But that’s just me. I’ve had to push brooms, clean toilets, wait tables, and muck stalls. I know what that’s like. I didn’t like being forced to do it to survive. I suspect they don’t either, but there they are.
They don’t need to stay invisible.
Just. That. Simple.
Not everyone can get it. Nor will everyone do it. Because, Covid is such a great excuse to be an asshole, because, well, Covid. I get it. But it’s amazing how nice that simple, simple, simple gesture makes so many others feel good.
Second, let’s do doors.
You bother to check whether someone is coming in after you? No? Most folks don’t.
So the door slams on a mom balancing an infant and dragging a crying toddler, a door that might have taken you all of what, two seconds to hold open, often to a most happy and harried mother?
Sure, I do this for people who barge right in like, hey, it’s my job to serve them, no acknowledgment or thanks. I am tempted to do what Daniel Craig as James Bond did in Casino Royale, when some rich asshole assumed he was the car park guy. (You can tell I have Netflicks, my movie references have whiskers on them. Okay okay, so do, I but that’s why… wax. )
Their asshole-itis is not my problem. They have to live with the hemorrhoid that is their humanity every day.
My being nice doesn’t stop because someone shows up as a self-righteous shit.
Check the door, hold the door, and watch the door. You’d be amazed at how many folks appreciate the hell out of that.
Third, let people merge.
Okay, this means you, folks in South Florida for whom the middle finger is the state salute. Florida’s my home state, I can say that.
My left middle finger has an open fracture still healing. It was decorated with neon green tape. I quipped to my neighbor the other day that it’s such a waste. I have a permanent, big fat bright green “fuck you” finger I could lean against the window, and now I live in a city full of the most polite drivers in the nation. Whatta waste of a splint.
I need to go heal in Miami.
But to my point. Let. People. In.
It’s not just a safety issue. Somebody you let in might be desperately trying to get a child having a serious allergic attack to the hospital. How would you feel if a lineup of Assholes United decided not to let you merge into traffic just to save .00001 of a second, when your father is having a stroke in the front seat?
Letting people in around here gets you a friendly wave. I forgot that people ever did that. Growing up I lived in a small country town. Waving was part of living there. I always did, in fact I do it several times just to make sure people know I’m not flipping them off (I do, after all, have a bright neon fuck-you finger).
It feels like a million bucks. Because hell ain’t half full, and being in a hurry just greases the skids for ya. Be polite. Calms folks down, and they might just…GASP… pay it forward. What a radical idea.
Fourth, pick up a touch of trash.
No really. Did I just say that?
Yes I did. I am in the habit of picking up a piece of trash and carrying it to the nearest bin, usually right outside the store. Or on the sidewalk.
Why? Isn’t that Someone Else’s job?
Well, folks, for one thing, a great many of those Someone Elses happen to be Black or Brown folks, many of whom are sick and/or dying. Or at home attending to a grammy who is sick, dying, or permanently disabled from, well, Covid.
For another, why is it so damned hard for you and me to pick up a single can or container and drop it in the trash?
This is my town, my parking lot, my store, and if you wanna pull WAY out, my earth. She’s mine. Those tiny gestures add up over time. Imagine if everybody did that rather than dump their baby’s dirty diapers in the once-pristine Colorado streams.
Yes, they do that. Don’t get me started. Imagine how that trout might taste.
Fifth: Learn and use people’s names.
Please don’t counter with that old saw, I can’t remember.
With respect, two things: first you aren’t listening. Second, if you’re not listening, then clearly you don’t care enough to try to remember.
Learning is easy. It takes practice.
I use people’s names all the time. It’s a skill like any other. I look at a name tag, use the name for a checkout person or bagger or produce guy. I use the name. They notice. It’s a super-easy super power.
Look, if you hang out over the bananas as much as I do just to talk to a living human being, you’d remember names too. You eat a shitload of bananas but at least Jerod knows who you are, and you get a friendly wave.
People love you for that courtesy. That’s why all the best hotels find ways to ensure that their employees speak to you by name. They use electronics.
I use a very sophisticated system called G.A.S.
Give a Shit.
Finally, do what others don’t, because it’s the right thing to do.
Oh, that’s a good one. Here’s an example. I just moved to Eugene. If you know anything about the Pacific Northwest, you know that living with blackberries is pure hell. It’s a constant battle. They get huge, and for all that nastiness, you get three-and-a-half weeks of berry heaven.
I moved in about four weeks ago. I found out very quickly that my neighbors don’t do shit about those plants, which are on their land, arching over onto my garden and starting to kill off my gorgeous bushes.
So I not only paid a landscaper to help me clear it all out, I put out five wasp traps (the nest is on their property) to control the wasps. They have a toddler. Come on, man. As a child I have been stuck in blackberry bushes AND I walked into a wasp nest. Folks, you are living in the forest. Take precautions for your kid.
I have spent an average of two to three hours a day, with one hand down, clearing out the berries, the thorny vines, including on their side (they get up late). I have cleared out the weeds that seed my other neighbors’ property.
Those vines, especially the ones that are underground, are like something out of Tremors. Okay, okay, another Netflix reference. But I would take even an aging Kevin Bacon to pull those bad boys out of my garden.
The end result? The area around my house is gorgeous, and both my neighbors benefit. They don’t owe me a damned thing. The kids are safer. The people who walk by my part of the path see a prettier landscape and they don’t have to dodge the thorns.
On top of that I worked my butt off to clear the vining plants off some beautiful trees, ivy which would have strangled those trees in no time. Those trees aren’t on my property. They are shared land. Shared trees, shared shade, shared beauty. Shared joy.
Nobody else is going to do it.
And no, I don’t need a hero button.
I don’t need a good citizen plaque or a fucking military parade to shore up my sagging ego (my breasts are another issue, but I digress).
I don’t suffer the sucking need for acknowledgment that demands that the only fucking time I do something kind is when there is an available camera and an admiring crowd.
What this does, and you know what’s coming, is that all this Pooh-bear Pollyanna bullshit really does pay off.
You wanna be happy?
The accumulation of small, seemingly insignificant gestures add up in precisely the same way that the daily discipline of working my ass off at the gym gave me strength and muscles that serve me to this day.
You want happiness? Then honey, earn it.
Give it. And you get it back.
If you’re the type of person who cannot bear to simplify, this isn’t for you. Go ahead, hire a camera crew to film you giving a bag of old clothing to the homeless while you delicately hold your nose. Like Trump with a Bible. Then paper the Universe with that and see if you can sell your story to the New York Times.
And go home feeling like a manipulative POS.
Or you can sneak out at night (and I did this recently) and drop off a big box of stuff that is very useful, badly-needed and you don’t use- and get the hell out of Dodge without needing the entire encampment to sing your praises.
I’ll end with a silly story. I have a big wooden antique rocking horse named Nelson, for the Canadian town in which I bought him. Around his neck hangs a hand-embroidered needlepoint Christmas pillow that says, simply,
Here’s why: The original Santa, or Saint Nikolas, before Coke hijacked him and made him White, was a Greek Bishop, likely a POC. Collective sharp intake of breath. Oh, what we don’t know. From the National Geographic:
The original saint was a Greek(some say a Turk)born in the late third century, around 280 A.D. He became bishop of Myra, a small Roman town in modern Turkey. Nicholas was neither fat nor jolly but developed a reputation as a fiery, wiry, and defiant defender of church doctrine during the Great Persecution in 303, when Bibles were burned and priests made to renounce Christianity or face execution. (author note added)
You can read the rest. My favorite tale of this good man, who so believed in the notion of the damning nature of great wealth (he was born to it), that he gave it away. To wit: Word got to him that a poor, besotted man in his village wanted desperately to marry, but he had no money. Nick, without any reindeer, sleigh or bottles of Coke, snuck under the man’s window and quietly tossed a small fortune inside.
Voila! Christmas was born.
I wish to hell he was still around. I’d like to drop a hint about the bills that are coming due from my recent car wreck. Just saying.
Believe, for me, is the same thing. It’s recognizing that everything from the gifts that we give to the words of encouragement we use are transformative. When you watch what happens when you memorize a name, and use it again, when you open a door, when you help an aging person out of a car, you will fully understand the simplicity of joy. Joy that YOU gave. YOU share in the rest of the day.
Kindly, would you prefer to be the author of that kind of legacy, or the ugly river of sewage that counts for the toxic bullying people engage in because somehow God didn’t wake up this morning with the only purpose in mind to make THEM happy?
Happiness is not a permanent state. Ask me right about the time I slit the shit out of my finger while opening moving boxes today. Shit happens, man, all the time.
I just don’t need to spread my shit on anyone else.
If anything, when I need to feel happy, I go fill my bird feeder with seed for the doe that waits for me to get the hell off her path. It IS her path. I’m just borrowing it for a while.
You don’t get happiness. You give it. That way two people (or more) have, well, joy. For want of a better word.
Simple. Easy. When we stop striving, happy is here. Now. Beginner’s mind allows simple. Seeing with new eyes.
I head over to Fred Meyer for my banana supply. I need to get a monkey, you should see the fruit bowl. I’m learning more names. The more names I learn, the happier people are to see me. The more bananas I buy. But they’re happy.
So am I.