Friday, April 24, 2015

It pays to get happy

I don’t know.  I’m all for optimism, but this guy looks ‘way too happy for me.

Come on, admit it:  ‘Too happy’ scares you as well, right?  Don’t you squint a little bit and turn away, ever so slightly, from a person who is happier than the occasion warrants?

It’s different if a guy is angry – maybe because his underwear has bunched up and he’s at work behind the counter at the deli and he doesn’t have a break wherein he can make an adjustment for another 20 minutes – I can relate. 

All right, maybe I haven’t been in that exact situation, but I did work 30 years in public schools.  See what I mean?

OK.  Never mind that.  Just stay with me for a moment.  This is a Harvard guy, Shawn Achor, the bestselling author of The HappinessAdvantage, talking on TED about how we’ve had it backwards all along:  Success doesn’t bring happiness – Happiness brings success.

And just as an aside:  Is there any book out these days that is not a “national bestseller”?  Or written by a New York Times bestselling author?  Or a National Book Award nominee? 

I have one on my nightstand right now that is “Shortlisted for the Man Booker prize.”  What?  Oprah’s Book Club list of books that all the cool lemmings are reading doesn’t matter anymore?

I’m just sayin’ that it’s starting to seem like there’s a book prize for everyone who persists through all the vagaries of book writing and the industry succumbs and publishes it. 

Actually, I’m hoping that’s true.  So if I ever complete the one I’m slogging through, someone will pin a ribbon on it – maybe the Book Writing for Dummies Award.

Anyway, as I was saying, I like the Harvard guy’s premise:  Happiness leads to success.  The idea is to go ahead and get happy because happiness is a better predictor of success than intelligence and skills.

This works perfectly for me.  I can celebrate my lack of skills.  And brains.

Shawn says, “If we can get somebody to raise their levels of optimism or happiness, turns out every single business and educational outcome we know how to test for improves dramatically.”

It must be working for him because he’s grinning like he has a staple caught in his teeth.  He’s on the way to the magnifying mirror with the tweezers and some floss and he doesn’t want to close his lips until he leans in and removes the offending wire.

And he’s a bestselling author.  Harvard guy.

“You can increase your success rates for the rest of your life and your happiness levels will flat-line,” he says. 

I can’t help wondering though, about the exact altitude of that happiness plateau.  Seems like it must be above sea level – you know, where you were when you were a failure.  It surely did rise as your success was rising.

OK, but wait.  Does he mean if you put happiness first, your success rate flat lines?

NO!  He does not! 

Shawn:  “… if you raise your level of happiness and deepen optimism, it turns out every single one of your success rates rises dramatically compared to what it would have been at negative, neutral, or stressed.”

So all that’s left is the getting happy part.  Luckily, the Grinster, er, Shawn, has a formula:  Here you go, how to get happy and, by extension, be successful.

First, express your gratitude three times a day.  Thank you, thank you, and thank you.  Check.

Next, list the things you’re grateful for every day in a journal.  But, this becomes redundant, right?  Otherwise you wind up going from family, friends and health to sunshine and pets.  All good, of course.  But soon it’s down to fresh ink cartridges and chow mein noodles.  I am grateful but…OK.

Practice random acts of kindness.  Check.

Meditate.  Check-ish.

Exercise.  Oh, I knew it would get to this!  How can something that engenders dread make you happy?  Whatever.

Turn it to your advantage Carolyn:  That exercise cringe?  The one that could pass for a smile, a big, stretched, unnatural smile?  Like your puppy sliced you with his baby razor teeth?  It counts.

Just smile and dance the dance.  See?  You’re more successful already. 

Friday, April 17, 2015

Tell your story

 This is not my actual family, but it looks eerily like us.

I grew up in a family of four, sort of. 

With an older brother whom I adored, I happily accepted the role of “baby.”  But then, as these things sometimes go, that little unit fell apart and over time, scattered.

My brother and I grew up under the able tutelage of our single mother.  We eked by on her teacher’s salary and the support our dad sent without fail.

Soon enough, our lives cast us across the country.  Mom moved to Arizona.  I traveled farther west.  Our dad lived and worked in the Middle East.  

Then, my mom, my brother and my dad all three died, in that order, before I reached age 30.

From that point forward, my recollections of my early life had no first-hand energy behind them.  No one who had been there with me could confirm or deny my accounts of the significant or the trivial.

Being a ‘bright side’ person, I can conjure some advantages to that – I can claim to have the highest IQ of them all, for example, though it’s hard for me to hold a straight face when I say it.

There is no one to dispute that I sparkled in the church choir – so long as I don’t mention it in front of my high school friend who really could harmonize.  Why, I can recount tales of my prowess on the softball field if I want to!  Who’s to know the difference?

All in good fun, of course, though it is tinged with the melancholy of loss.  Who’s to know, indeed?

Wouldn’t it be just the best thing ever if I could ask a question or two?  How did you decide to be a teacher, Mom?  Daddy, why did we choose that house on the corner with the swamp cooler and the hard pan clay yard?  What was the hardest thing about starting your own business, my dearest Brother?

And I’d love to tell my little family of origin how it is that I, a scrawny, stringy-haired girl from Tulsa came to be living her dream with the man of her dreams in a tiny dream-like town by the water in California.

I’ve risked sharing these pieces of my personal history, Dear Reader, so that I can urge you to share your memories at an upcoming event here in town.

Benicia Literary Arts is inviting locals to join us in the Dona Benicia Room at the Benicia Public Library on Saturday, April 25th, between 2 and 4 p.m. to tell their Benicia stories.

Tell us why you came here.  Why you’ve stayed.  Do you have a story related to Benicia’s history?  Share a funny or odd incident that has happened to you here in your town.  

What’s your favorite thing to do in Benicia?  What makes Benicia special for you?  Your history as a Benician is part of the fabric of our community and we’d like to make a record of it.

If you have a story to tell you can just show up that day and get in line to share your story.  Or, you can send an email to and tell us you plan to come.  

A writer will listen to your story and write it down.  After the event, we’ll send your transcribed story back to you.  All rights remain with the storytellers.  If Benicia Literary Arts decides they want to use your story, they will get in touch with you and ask your permission.

Would you like to participate as a writer?  Let us know ~ we’ll train you and we could really use your help.

Questions?  Call me at 707 297-6175 or email me at

Meanwhile, so as not to leave you bereft on my behalf, I’m happy to tell you that my dad remarried, way back when, and had a second family.  Though my original family is gone, I have three younger half-brothers whom I also adore. 

In that funny twist, I was promoted from the position of spoiled baby to the elevated station of oldest, wisest (?) role model! 

My ‘little’ brothers listen patiently to the stories of my glory days before they were born.  They don’t know any better!

Friday, April 10, 2015

Nostalgia inside out

This came up on Facebook recently:  “People born in the 50’s have lived in seven decades, two centuries and two millenniums (sic).  We had the best music, fastest cars, drive-in theaters, soda fountains, and happy days.  And we are not even that old yet.  We’re just that cool.”

Sounds a little desperate, doesn’t it?  A little grasping. 

I mean really.  “We’re just that cool”?!  Sounds like something Eric Cartman would say.

If you have to announce it, you’ve already diminished your claim.  When did you ever hear any truly cool person claiming to be cool?  News flash – if they did, they were automatically disqualified from the category.

John Wayne?  Katharine Hepburn?  James Dean? Grace Kelly?  We knew they were cool.  They were not concerned with it.  That’s bad form.  Mick Jagger? John Lennon?  Forgetaboutit!

Also, if you break down that Facebook proclamation, what’s really there?  Having lived through decades and across centuries in and of itself is not sufficient to bestow coolness.  Although tortoises are cool.  And the Parthenon. 

You cannot diminish the music, that’s true. Elvis.  The Beatles.  Lynyrd Skynyrd. Jimi Hendrix.  Janice Joplin.  Aretha Franklin.  Come on!

But also, the Black Keys.  JohnLegend.  Nora Jones.  Uh, Maroon 5?  OK.  I’m in foreign territory here, but I’m making a point! 

We did have some cool cars back in the day.  Matter of fact, Mr. Plath and I still have my dad’s ’63 Corvette.  Hard to argue with a Split Window Coupe.  Do you think I’m cooler now that I’ve mentioned it?  Maybe I should have told you sooner. 

The past tense though – “we had the fastest cars.”  Even the goober who penned the post gave himself away with that.  Maybe we were bringers of cool, but we don’t have exclusive rights to it.

Drive-in theaters?  That’s it?  That’s what we’re gonna wave in people’s faces and say, “Neener Neener!”? 

I just think this guy was having a lonely night with Andy and Opie and his high school year book.  And all he could come up with was soda fountains!  “Happy Days”…was he referring to the Good Ole Boy heydays of men dominating everything or the Viet Nam war?  He surely lost his train of thought.

Dude!  If you want to put a generation on a pedestal, you might mention the first artificial heart, unveiling the structure of DNA, eradicating smallpox or pioneering organ transplants? 

Space exploration!  Duh!

Boomers can point with a sense of pride to the Civil Rights movement, inception of the environmental movement or the women’s liberation movement – even though, yes, all of those are still works in progress – we tipped the dominoes.

It just makes us older folks – “we’re not even that old yet” – (he didn’t realize what including those telltale qualifiers does to his credibility) seem stuck.  Too much looking back and saying, “Me, me, me!”

Funny thing is, I agree with the guy.  We are pretty cool.  But it’s completely uncool to demand the acknowledgement when there is so much cool stuff going on around us.  So much talent.  So much creativity.  And energy! 

Start with the internet and your Smart Phone.  A library in your pocket!  Wireless everything.  GPS. 
Jump from there to all manner of technology.  If you can live without it…well face it – You cannot.  I don’t want to go without the backup camera in my car.  Or Netflix!  Pandora!  Very cool.

I have a golf app that tells me I’m farthest from the hole.  Again.  And what would life be without Words with Friends?

I don’t think I’m the only Boomer who orders her meds online.  They bring them to the house for me!  Vegetables at a keystroke.  And shoes!!  Car parts.  Puppy food.  J

We had our glory days, to be sure.  But the beat goes on and thank God for that!  We are in the capable hands of some extremely cool younger people. 

They’re making some cool cars – especially those retro Mustangs – and face it, IMAX tops the drive in.  A Frappuccino beats a root beer freeze, sometimes.

Their enlightened attitudes toward the treasure of their parents and grandparents speaks well of them.

I’ll bet they’d even like Neil Young – “Old man, look at my life.  I’m a lot like you were.”

Friday, April 3, 2015

Don't let the door bump your butt!

We love the kid.

Let’s just get that out there from the top.  He’s perfectly loveable and we have no problem with the love thing.  As far as it goes.  Which is further than we might have thought, but still.

He’s a nice kid.  Good manners.  Fun sense of humor. 

And he’s cute.  Very cute.  Easy to please.  And smart!  Oh my goodness, he’s a quick study.  He’s making excellent grades in his second round of college.

Yeah.  He went before.  Trade school.  Extremely promising in terms of parents’ dreams; that is to say in the highly desirable realms of employment and independence. 

He did very well that time too.  But it didn’t pan out.  Meaning, in the gentlest, vaguest of terms, so as not to distress you, Dear Reader, he got distracted.  Took a detour.  Wandered.  Meandered.  Deviated.  Digressed.

And then one morning he woke up!  Maybe on the day when his cousin was having his second child.  Or maybe it was the day when his best friend in high school, voted Most Likely to Develop Enlarged Thumbs from Video Game Syndrome, announced his engagement to an intelligent and beautiful young woman whom Our Kid had kind of fancied in his adolescence.

We thought he was awake anyway.  His eyes were open and he looked right at us.  He wanted to get back into school, he said.  Needed a place to stay while he renewed his commitment to normal.  Hooray!

It’s good, I tell ya.  All good.  We’ve been happy to have him here.  Extremely happy.  Happy happy happy.  Oh yes.  Happy.


Those little dots after the ‘so’?  They represent a finger tapping.  A toe twitching.  A physical expression marking the passage of time.  Or, more accurately, a tell-tale sign that some of us may have lost track of time.  Some of us may have gotten more comfortable that others of us planned for them to get!

Some of us may have expanded into the space available.  Some of us may be thinking this bedroom on the other side of the house is a pretty good deal.

Some of us may have lost touch with their primal teenage urge to break free!

But others of us have not forgotten those things, Grasshopper.  Others of us are keen for your little winter bulb to send up a shoot.  To bloom.  Some of us are looking for the launch, Buddy.  We don’t want to seem too eager; but we’re thinking you seem a bit too content.  I mean, where’s the hunger?

We didn’t come to this grinding of teeth suddenly.  Perhaps it began back in the early weeks of his tenancy when he dutifully let me know that we were out of lunch meat.  Again.  Or he needed shampoo.  Or razor blades.  Or that he had scraped last remnants off the sides of that giant Costco jar of mayonnaise!  O. M. G.

I’m sure I tensed up just a little bit back then.

It’s not that he won’t do whatever we ask – it’s that we have to ask:  Go ahead and load the new roll of TP, Son.  Yes, you can empty the dishwasher.  It’ll be OK.  When the trash is full, that’s your signal to take it out.  No need to wonder about the best course of action.  And when you pass by the newspaper on the driveway, bring it in.  Yes!  You saw it first!  Carry it right on into the house!

He’s close to completing his education and we are trying not to seem too anxious.  We are hoping that he’ll get a job soon and thereby become eligible in the bachelor sort of way.  Is it too forward of me to compose a profile for him on 

We’re not trying to pass off a ringer!  Honestly!  We think he’ll make a great husband:  He has an easy-going disposition and is trainable.  Kind of like a Labrador Retriever. 

Which is another reason the Kid needs to go.  Our new puppy arrives today and there’s only so much patience in the reservoir.   

Yes, some young woman will find the Kid loveable, dependable and loyal.  Please.  Help us out here.

Did I mention he’s cute?