Monday, January 21, 2019

joy to spare

It's 3:44pm and it's 39 degrees outside.  We've had a very mild winter so far, which is probably a large understatement, but yesterday turned windy and cold.  Sort of a shock to the system considering I've been wearing shorts and short sleeve shirts for a month.  While I'm a world class sweater when I'm active, when I'm sitting still my fingers and toes get cold.  Here in my drawing studio there's a HVAC vent under my desk, right beside my feet.  I'm currently very grateful for the heat that is flowing out of that vent.

Come to think of it, I'm actually very grateful for a lot of things.  I hesitate to call our gas heat a "small thing" but sitting here considering other things for which I am grateful, that vent seems like it could easily be overlooked.  But I don't have to pause for long to generate quite a list of things that spark a genuine feeling of gratefulness.  I wont bore you with a list and as I've mentioned here before, some of those things are just mine to know...but there's also a good chance that you may be on that list.  

I've stumbled across some mentions of "gratefulness" on Instagram lately.  Forgive me, I do realize that Instagram is not the research source of choice for most thinkers, but as a hermit, Instagram is one of my biggest connections with the outside world.  You've seen this stuff too...every November you see people post things they're thankful for each day...until the second week when they start complaining again.  Christmas and New Years bring new waves of it as well.  

The heat just came on again.  

Over the years I've developed a community of running friends on Instagram, people of all backgrounds, all ages, all shapes and sizes and one thing that seems to be a common denominator among them all is gratitude.  I'm starting to think it's related to running.  I mean, maybe it's having time in your head while running...or maybe we're all just crazy...but there's something that seems to make runners dwell on the things that make them happy to be alive.  For whatever reason though, I've noticed a lot of it lately and I've been thinking about it.  

I've had a couple of people tell me recently that I was a happy person.  It's kind of a weird thing to hear from someone.  I almost instinctively want to take a defensive position because it feels somehow accusatory.  Maybe even dismissive.  And this is totally just me and my interpretation of it, but sometimes it comes from someone and while they say "You're just a happy person" it really sounds more like "But you are just fortunate and you can't understand that some people actually feel real pain".  What I want to say in that moment is "You're not wrong about being fortunate.  I am.  But you are wrong to assume that a happy person doesn't also feel the pain of worry, anxiety, fear and loss".  But what I actually say is nothing.

It doesn't always sound that way, though.  A friend recently said something very similar and I took it as a compliment.  In fact, I met an arts professional recently who saw my creative work for the first time and commented "you seem to have joy to spare!" which made me really, really happy.  One of my goals for my artwork is to make people smile and this was a clear indicator that I am communicating joy in my work.  But where does that joy come from?  Why do others see me as a happy person?

As I said, I don't have to pause for long to generate quite a long list of things for which I'm grateful.  One of the reasons for that relates back to running.  When I run, first thing every morning, my brain is pretty active.  I often think about problems that need solving, things I need to scratch off my to-do list for that day or maybe I think about ideas for my creative work.  But always - every day - I pray when I run.  I don't know how that sounds to you, but it may not be exactly what you think.  I only joke about being the Pope...I'm certainly no saint.  I'm sure an unhealthy percentage of my praying is selfish but I try to use my time wisely and mention the names and needs of people I know.  As I do this, I also mention things I'm thankful for.  This amounts to a daily gratitude list and the regularity of it keeps me aware of how fortunate I am and generally sets the tone for each day.  Of course, I still get ticked off when slow people drive in front of me and I still have days when everything seems to be something I need to complain about.  But having that moment of gratitude each morning puts me in a better position to be pleasant or even happy.  

So maybe I am a happy person.  But maybe it's not because my life is any different from yours.  Maybe it's just because I'm forcing myself to focus on thankfulness every morning.  

Maybe you think I'm wrong.  I know how you can find out.  Set aside a couple of minutes every morning to really think about things you're grateful for.  Say them out loud, make a list, write them in a journal and let's see how it affects your day.  If it doesn't work for you, I'd love to hear about it.  I'll be over here with my feet over the vent until spring.

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