Doctor of Happiness

BLOG #11, SERIES #6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
DOCTOR OF HAPPINESS
March 18, 2015

Serendipitously, while still sifting through thousands of stories in my archives, I found the perfect companion piece to last week’s blog, “How to Be Happy?” When I checked the source, I knew I had to incorporate it into this week’s blog, for the story was featured in the November 1935 issue of Sunshine magazine, published by Sunshine Press in Litchfield, Illinois. Sunshine has long been one of my favorite magazines, both for its stories and for its quotations. I’ve anthologized many of the stories, and in my daily quotation tweets, few sources do I raid more often than Sunshine magazine.

During the last period of its existence, it was published by Garth Henrichs, and he and I became good friends. When I told him of my love for the magazine, he sighed and said, “Your words mean a great deal to me – especially since age is catching up with me and I have no one to carry on after I’m gone.” We stayed in contact until the late 1980s, when Garth was finally forced to close the doors of Sunshine Press, founded by his father Henry Henrichs. But before he died, he entrusted me with the legacy of keeping Sunshine alive in my writing and books. Neither blogs nor tweets existed back then. Thus, I’m confident Garth would be filled with joy to see this story by an unknown author live again.

Enjoy!

“MARY ANN, Ph. D.”

Mary Ann was a scrubwoman. But that didn’t prevent her from being a philosopher, although she did not know herself by that designation. It is not uncommon these days to find excellent wisdom wrapped up in odd and unpromising packages.

Mary Ann did a lot of thinking as she scrubbed, which did not hurt the scrubbing. Her conclusions may not have matched the classic cogitations of the collegiate or his companions in wisdom, but they were ideas that had the spice of sense in them. And that’s something.

It was one of those depressing, damp days too prevalent in the great city. Mary Ann was scrubbing the imposing stone steps of a well-known banking institution, when a banking official known to the scrubwoman entered. He paused for a moment, as he often did, to exchange a bit of conversation with Mary Ann. He hoped she might be happy and well. She was well, and had a good appetite, thank you. And she had a “right smart amount” of happiness, too, but not any too much.

Mary Ann often had pondered that matter with a view to discovering a satisfying conclusion. At the best, she found it a somewhat complex affair, but not wholly confounding. She had evolved what might be called a philosophy of happiness – she had to have one to keep going and hold up her end of the day’s demands. Life would be unbearable in a city tenement, and crushing to a scrubber of bank portals, without some definite ideas about happiness and contentment. Her philosophy might not conform to the most logical reasoning, nor blend with the poet’s dream of bliss, but it satisfied Mary Ann.

Looking up at the banker from her kneeling position, Mary Ann quaintly said, “There ain’t no happiness in this world, ‘cept what we makes ourselves.”

“Quite a chunk of wisdom,” thought the banker, but he said nothing. Mary Ann hesitated, expecting the banker to pass on, but he did not. Instead, he stood there and just looked at her.

Mary Ann raised up on her knees. “You see,” she continued, “happiness, t’ me way o’ thinking, is something inside o’ you. A lot o’ folks ‘spect somebody t’ come along an’ fill ‘em full o’ happiness, an’ all they think they got t’ do is jest t’ do nothing. You know, Mister, that makes me feel kinda ‘shamed o’ meself – jest like we humans can’t take care o’ ourselves.”

“Seems to me,” continued Mary Ann, seeing that the banker friend was still listening, “seems t’ me what we git from other folks, what some call happiness, is something cheap, an un–ungenuine. What you git from inside yerself is all good, and it sticks.”

The banker looked enviously at Mary Ann. He found little genuine happiness in his relationships with people. Certainly he found pleasure in business–when it was good. As to happiness from the “inside,” as Mary Ann had said, his responsibilities and worries were altogether too heavy to admit of it. Hence, Mary Ann’s philosophy was somewhat perplexing, effective as it appeared to be.

“Are you happy, Mister?” questioned Mary Ann, unexpectedly.

The banker was embarrassed, and he hesitated before he answered. “Oh, yes–why, yes, of course,” he stuttered, “Maybe not the kind you are talking about. You see, I depend on society–business success, you understand, to supply my happiness.”

Mary Ann looked up at the banker, laughing, “aw, you ain’t had no happiness at all. All you git that way ain’t happiness–it’s nothing only pleasure. That ain’t happiness. I bet it don’t last no longer than it takes you t’ git away from it.” And Mary Ann laughed again.

The banker walked slowly away. “Mary Ann, Doctor of Philosophy,” he muttered. “The half of all I own would I give to experience the happiness Mary Ann possesses. My money entangles me in snares I cannot break. Would that I might cast it off, but my family and my friends live on the fruits of my investments. I cannot forsake them. I live in fear of something, I know not what. I am worried – worried— ”

When Mary Ann finished scrubbing, she hummed a little tune all her own. Weary in body, to be sure, but happy because the portals were shining – a work well done – and she was earning an honest and respectable living, and she could look the whole world in the face. The contagion of her happiness shed a ray upon her surroundings and brightened the outlook of those near by.

The banker, wise in many things, foolish in the greatest, experienced a bit of Mary Ann’s brand of happiness when, on the early morning of Thanksgiving Day, he deposited at Mary Ann’s tenement door a huge basket bulging with good things. It was in material things, such as these, that he had sought his own happiness, but in his own possession rather than in the possession of others. Suddenly he realized the folly of his own philosophy.

In the basket left at Mary Ann’s door, hidden among the profusion of good things, she found a note written in the banker’s own hand. It merely said: “It is more blessed to give than to receive. Thanks to Mary Ann.”

A Strangling Christmas Hug

BLOG #52, SERIES #5
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
A STRANGLING CHRISTMAS HUG
December 24, 2014

Every Christmas, I read stories aloud to many different groups. When I put a collection together, rarely do I think much about which ones will be the read-aloud winners for the season. But once a new Christmas in My Heart® collection comes out, then I begin trying stories out on various audiences.

At a recent Christmas vespers, after I was through, completely out of the blue, a little girl of about eight rushed at me, gave me a strangling hug, then ran off—all without a word. Obviously, one of the stories I read so touched her heart that she just had to tell me about it – in her case, in a fierce hug rather than in words.

Every year now, for more than twenty years, Janet Parshall has interviewed me about the new Christmas book, on her syndicated Moody Radio show, “Janet Parshall’s America.” On the December 17, 2014 broadcast, she asked me this question: “You’ve pointed out that for every story that makes it into a collection, you routinely pass over 100 – 300 stories that do not. What makes the difference?”

I told her that though I have no formula for defining the difference between winners and losers, one thing I do know: the ones that make it in slam into me [much like the little girl in the second paragraph] and demand to be included. And they burrow into my subconscious and imbed themselves like velcro—impossible to get rid of them.

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And oftentimes, it is the simplest stories that win out over the more complex one. For instance, the one I read on the broadcast, “The Christmas Doll,” by Jeanne Bottrop, an old story written during the Great Depression of the 1930s, why did I include it, given that it is such a simple little story written by an author few people have ever heard of? I told her, I did it because children do not internalize abstractions; they internalize story. Children today are so buried in gifts from so many directions, from so many people, that they find it extremely difficult to empathize with those less fortunate than they. But if they hear a story like this one: of an eight-year-old girl, mother having died when the little girl was three, a father who rarely came to see her, so poor she had only one patched coat, forced to work as hard as adults, who considered a single orange to be a Christmas gift of such value that she’d make it last for weeks, or months. A girl loved by no one who yearned for a doll she could love with every atom of her starved little heart. Might not such a story make a real difference?

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I’ve also read another story, Bruce R. Coston’s “The Gift” (from Christmas in My Heart® 23) a number of times this season. It is a simple little story of a little girl who longed for a kitten, parents who weren’t at all interested in getting her one, a tender-hearted veterinarian [Dr. Coston], and a kitten brought to the vet so that he could put it to sleep. “It was flea ridden and suffered from an upper respiratory infection that left her eyes crusted and red and her nose running. Her ears were filled with mites and her intestines with worms, but she was playful and endearing. She didn’t need a painless death! She needed someone who would afford her a painless life–someone who really cared. Amy came to mind.”

That, in essence, is the simple story—yet, regardless of age, it has deeply moved audience after audience I’ve read it to this Christmas season.

* * * * *

Yes, just simple little stories. Yet compare them to the inanities filling the air-waves today. Which type of story is more likely to help instill positive character traits in listeners, cause them to be kinder, more empathetic?

These are the kinds of stories that are worth their weight in gold. Such stories are the real reason the series has defied the odds by still being alive 23 years after it was first launched.

Stories likely to elicit strangling hugs.

IT’S NOT OVER UNTIL IT’S OVER

BLOG #10, SERIES #3

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

IT’S NOT OVER UNTIL IT’S OVER

March 7, 2012

 

 

            What a difference a year or two makes!  Four years ago, Colorado towns such as Aspen and Vail appeared to have it all: multimillion dollar homes perched on the hillsides, the middle class and the poor driven far away because the norm for buying a house in those glitzy resort towns had skyrocketed into the tens of millions.  Most owners were absentee (only residing in these palaces for a few weeks out of the year); in other words, these were generally trophy homes, scattered around the world.  The owners, being rarely in town to vote or attend schoolboard meetings or support a church or give to those who struggled just to survive, made little impact on the towns where they supposedly lived.

 

            Nearer to Denver, there are entire hillsides of vacant multilmillion dollar mansions which never got purchased at all.  And the fortunes of those who built them (developers, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, masons, home decorators, landscapers, etc.) are today still reeling.  Many of the homes have had to be discounted 30 – 60%.

 

            Though things are not as bad in Colorado as in states such as California, Nevada, Arizona, Florida, Michigan, etc., and conditions continue to slowly improve, the reality is that an era of affluence is over, replaced by stark reality.  Those who flourished by “flipping” one property after another are most likely bankrupt.  And today over 40% of all American “homeowners” are said to owe more for their homes than they can sell them for.

 

            This staggering collapse is no respecter of persons for it has affected billionaires along with minimum wage earners.  A whole generation of college graduates are remaining home with their parents, unable to find good enough jobs to enable them to pay for separate lodging or pay off their school loans.

 

            Next Wednesday, I’ll share with you the story of what happened to the richest man in the world–a king who had it all–a long time ago.

 

HAD

 

            His story has reverberated down through history ever since, but its retelling has never been more timely than now.

A TREMBLING WORLD – Part Three

A TREMBLING WORLD

Part Three

Wednesdays with Dr. Joe

About twelve years ago, a high-ranking Colorado state representative spoke to our local Kiwanis Club.  He was uncharacteristically somber, as he put on his prophetic hat.  In so many words, he predicted that within about ten years—even if relatively flush times continued—Colorado would begin running out of money: “We are coming to the end of an era, Friends.  Social Security, born in the depths of the Great Depression when life expectancy was around 45 to 50, was feasible and possible for our nation to continue; but FDR had no way of knowing that life-expectancy would move up and up and up until today it is nearing 80, with many Americans living on retirement for a longer period of time than their career years (many into their 90s, and even 100s), placing an insupportable burden on a retirement system based on 65.”

He continued, “Mark my words, we are fast reaching the time when Social Security and guaranteed medical assistance will have to be curtailed.  You will no longer be able to assume the state will cover Mom’s late life medical expenses; we will once again, as Americans did up until the Great Depression, face a world where families took care of their own, where all three generations lived in proximity to each other—they had to.”

So it is likely that Obama’s dream that all Americans will henceforth be guaranteed cradle-to-the-grave healthcare may very well be the swan song of Social Security as we once knew it; now we are discovering that the money just isn’t there for such a utopian concept.  Exacerbating our fiscal plight no little is the double whammy of America’s continued substance abuse  (drugs/tobacco, alcohol) and out-of-control eating, together, through diseases such as lung cancer and diabetes, killing close to a million of us a year..

Metaphorically, it’s like America is waking up after a sixty-year binge (made possible by credit cards and houses used as glorified ATMs).  In Christmas in My Heart 13, my wife Connie tells of a Christmas during the early 1950s when en route from California’s Monterey Peninsula to her home in Fortuna (near Eureka), a major storm blew in, the Eel River flooded and washed out Highway 101 in places; so Connie and others were stranded in Garberville.  The lady who was driving them home hadn’t banked on a flood, having just enough money to cover the gas costs to get them home.  Not for motels and extra food.  So what did they do?  They agreed to do the motel’s laundry, make up the bedrooms, etc., in return for having a room to sleep in.  For since the motel manager didn’t take checks and credit cards didn’t exist yet, you either had money or you didn’t.

As our son Greg said recently, “Dad, for 50 years we’ve been spending money we didn’t have.’  Up until three years ago, at least twice a month we’d get calls asking us if we didn’t want to take out another loan on our house.  Those days will most likely never come back, at least in our lifetimes.

More and more of us today are either using only debit cards or charging only what we can pay off at the end of the month.  We do this because many of us live in perpetual fear that we will join those who owe more than their homes are worth, so that, if we lose our jobs, we too will be forced to declare bankruptcy and be evicted from our own homes.

Across the nation today, our grown children, unable to even get a job, are forced to remain at home with Mom and Dad.  Those who predict the economy has rounded the corner and heading up are proven wrong again and again. The world’s leading economists are grave, warning that it might be years—even decades—before we regain what we had three years ago.

Just as was true with the Great Depression of the 1930s, this one is global too, so there is nowhere to escape to.  Also, just as was true when Teddy Roosevelt became President close to 110 years ago, never has the gap between the rich and the poor been as great.  Even while the banks and corporations are failing, unbelievably they continue to pay their CEOs millions a year.  Same for sports stars, landing contracts in the hundreds of millions while schools, libraries, parks, post offices, etc., are being forced to lay off employees or close.  Misplaced priorities are all around us.

However, if a crash does come—it won’t be all bad.

More on that next Wednesday