How To Be Happy

BLOG #10, SERIES #6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
HOW TO BE HAPPY
March 11, 2015

During recent weeks, I’ve been sifting through thousands of stories that we’ve filed away during the last half-century. One day, I asked God that, if it was His will, He’d help me notice nuggets of wisdom that might be a blessing to our blog readers. Several hours later, I came across this, originally published in Girl’s World, later in a 1926 Youth’s Instructor. In order to better understand its significance, you’d have to know that, back then, in the days before air-conditioning, during summer months, cities often turned into furnaces. Everyone who could escape to the mountains or seashores, did so. The rich would leave home in early summer and not return until fall. Consequently, in a real sense, the poor were left to keep the cities going. And their babies were taken care of by their sisters. The story has to do with Alice Freeman Palmer (1855 – 1892), one of the most loved and admired educators in American history. It was during her years at Wellesley College, first as professor of history, then Dean of Women, then President, that she was catapulted into national eminence; and later at the University of Chicago, also as Dean of Women. Deans of Women are legendary thought-leaders: again and again people have told me of unforgettable stories they first heard from the lips of such deans. So naturally, I was curious about what Dr. Palmer might have said about happiness, a subject, even today, that so many millions of people are feverishly searching for. Here is what she had to say:

This is Alice Freeman Palmer’s recipe for happiness and the way she happened to tell it makes a delightful little story. It was in the years of her beautiful home life, after she had finished her great work at Wellesley. Almost every week through the hot summer she used to leave her peaceful, calm retreat in the country, and go to Boston to talk to children of the slums at a vacation school. The story is her own, but much condensed.

It was a very, very hot day, even in the country, but in the city, oh my! Yet, when I reached my destination, I found many girls in the room, and more babies than girls, for each girl was holding one, and there were a few to spare. “Now,” I said, “what shall I talk to you about this morning?”

Then up spoke a small, pale-faced, heavy-eyed child, with a great fat baby on her knee, “Tell us how to be happy.”

The tears rushed to my eyes. Happy in such surroundings, with such burdens, too heavy to be borne! Yet, while this flashed through my mind, the rest took up the word, “Yes, tell us how to be happy.”

“Well,” I said, “I will give you my three rules for being happy; but mind, you must all promise to keep them for a week, and not skip a single day, for they won’t work if you skip one single day.” So they all promised that they wouldn’t skip a single day.

“The first rule is that you will commit something to memory every day – something good. It needn’t be much – three or four words will do, just a pretty bit of a poem, or a Bible verse. Do you understand?”

One little girl with flashing black eyes jumped up and cried: “I know; you want us to learn something we’d be glad enough to remember even if we went blind.”

“Yes,” I said, “that’s it exactly.”

“The second rule is: Look for something pretty each day: a leaf, a flower, a cloud – you can all find something. And stop long enough to say, ‘Isn’t it beautiful?’ Take it all in. Can you do it, every single day?” They promised to a girl.

“My third rule is: Do something for somebody each day.” I thought that would be the hardest of all, but they said: “Oh, that’s easy! Don’t we have to tend babies and run errands every day, and isn’t that doing something for somebody?”

“Yes, I said, “indeed it is.”

So I went home, and came back at the end of the week, on a still hotter day. Suddenly, on a very narrow street, I was literally grabbed by the arm, and a little voice said, ‘I done it.”

“Did what?” I exclaimed, looking down at a tiny girl with a baby in her arms.

“What you told us, and I never skipped a day, neither.”

I made her put the baby down on the sidewalk while she told me all about it.

“Well,” she said, “I never skipped a day, but it was awful hard. One day it rained, and the baby had a cold, and I thought sure I was going to skip, and I was standing at the window, ‘most cryin’, and I saw” – here her little face lighted up with a radiant smile – “I saw a sparrow taking a bath, and he had on a black necktie, and he was handsome.”

“And then there was another day, and I thought I should have to skip it, sure. The baby was sick, and I couldn’t go out, and I was feelin’ terrible – and then I saw the baby’s hair!”

“The baby’s hair!” I echoed.

“Yes: a little bit of sun came in the window, and I saw his hair, an’ I’ll never be lonesome any more.” And with a radiant face she caught up the baby and said, “See; isn’t it beau-ti-ful?”

“Yes,” I said, “it is beautiful.” And I took the baby, and we went on to the meeting.

And the best thing about the story is that the three rules for happiness are good any time and anywhere.

I read this, and at first it seemed too simplistic to work, but then, as I thought about it for a while, I realized that the three rules were more profound than I’d thought, for the first rule would necessitate rummaging around for some time in books and magazines before one would find lines worth memorizing and internalizing. Internalizing the second rule would necessitate a continual search for beauty in everything one picked up through the senses (sight, hearing, touching, or smelling); over time, as one concentrates on beauty rather than ugliness, one’s character would reveal proportional upward growth. The third rule (helping someone else rather than brooding about self) would open up a continuous succession of doors into joy.

Try them – and see if they won’t work for you.

Barely Begun at Seventy – Part One

BLOG #28, SERIES #5
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
BARELY BEGUN AT SEVENTY – Part One
July 9, 2014

It was a glorious spring morning in California’s verdant Napa Valley. And the alumni were coming home from all across the nation to their alma mater, Pacific Union College, judged by the likes of Newsweek and U.S. News to feature the most beautiful college campus in America.

I was privileged to be one of six alumni to be honored that weekend. But for us it was a two-way street: we were expected to give as well as take. Each of us was given around eight minutes to share with the audience the most significant distilled wisdom life had brought us. If you don’t think that would be a tough challenge, just put yourself in our places: how would you have responded to such an assignment?

For me, the question had profound implications, convicted as I am that all true wisdom comes from God. And since I’ve tweeted nuggets of wisdom every day now for almost three years, I had a lot of distilled wisdom to access. But the core of my response to this assignment was a no-brainer: There was for me only one possible quote that would satisfy. Especially, given the makeup of this particular audience. This is it:

A life may be over at sixteen
or barely begun at
seventy;
it is the aim
that determines its completeness.

That well-over-a-hundred-year-old-quotation came to me just when I needed it most: during the countdown decade leading up to the biblical “threescore and ten” that symbolizes a lifetime. At least that used to be true. In America, prior to the twentieth century, the norm was only forty-five years. Today, we’re back to the biblical seventy. I discovered that seminal quotation in a very old issue of that great magazine for young people: The Youth’s Instructor.

I needed it because as each of us approaches this time-period in life, one’s seventieth birthday can be almost terrifying: You mean my life is almost over? I don’t have any more time left? Will it be all downhill for me now? Will I be living on borrowed time? Is my productive lifetime over? Will it all be just a waiting game–waiting to die? All these questions swirled around in my head.

Also part of this ferment was a long-time metaphor for the perceived terminus of one’s productive lifetime: the proverbial Gold Watch. When or if one lived to be 65 years of age, one’s employer presented you with a gold watch. From that day forward, you were no longer a worker bee. You were now officially old. But not to worry: the benevolent government would now take care of you in the short time-frame you had left. Blessed be Social Security.

You see, when Social Security was born during the traumatic FDR era, no one expected Americans to live much longer than 65: many would die before they reached 65. This is why it seemed such a safe life raft for our government to offer its citizens. No one then even dreamed that more and more Americans would be living into their seventies, eighties, nineties, and, gasp! hundreds! Prime reason why the Social Security program is today threatening the fiscal stability of our nation.

The mind-set back then was this: You have exceeded expectations: You have reached 65. This gold watch means you’re done. We’re putting you out to pasture. We expect no more work out of you. Rock away on your front porch until you have the good sense to die. Always remember that Social Security is short-term: we can’t afford to pay you for living much longer. Most certainly we don’t expect you to live past seventy! Goodness! Do you think you’re immortal!

This was the mind-set of my grandparents’ generation.

But the problem today is this: We have never developed a template for vibrant productive living beyond the Gold Watch.

I see this reality at every alumni weekend I attend. Classmates who have given up on productive living now that they’ve entered the Gold Watch period. They don’t admit this in words, but they most certainly articulate it in their actions! They’ve traded their heretofore active lifestyle for a meaningless sedentary one. They’ve given up on goals. You ask them what they’re doing these days, and they sigh, “Not much…. Watch TV, putter around, play a few holes of golf, babysit the grandkids–you know: the usual.”

You can tell they’re telling you the truth because physically and mentally they are rapidly falling apart.

Each of them is indeed just waiting to die!

Next week, July 16, we shall continue on this topic: BARELY BEGUN AT SEVENTY.
Copyright© 2014

 

IN PRAISE OF OLD MAGAZINES

BLOG #10, SERIES 4
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
IN PRAISE OF OLD MAGAZINES
March 6, 2013

During the last couple of years the chances are excellent that at any given moment, day or night, I could have been found leafing through, or reading an old magazine. Far more likely than immersion in a book.

Why? Because it is in old magazines that the greatest stories ever written are most likely to be found. During the Golden Age of Print in America (1880s through the 1950s), magazine was king. During much of that time, magazine editors paid writers more for a given story or book manuscript than movie producers or publishing house editors. This is why the appearance of a given story in a magazine normally predated its appearance in a book.

If you were a child or a teen during that Golden Age, you had ever so many choices: long-lived magazines such as The Youth’s Companion (a weekly for over a hundred years), St. Nicholas (a monthly from 1873 to 1939), The Youth’s Instructor (a weekly for over a hundred years), Little Folks, Girl’s Own, Boy’s Own, Young People’s Weekly, Boys World, Girls’ Companion, Jack and Jill, just to name a few.

During that time period, there was an unspoken consensus in the adult world that children were to be protected from obscenities, the dark side of human nature, and printed material that would degrade or disillusion. The flip side was that since America, since its founding, was built on Judeo-Christian bedrock, authors who could memorably articulate those values in their stories and books became household words across the nation, in the Commonwealth, and in the Western World. Recognizing that children would become their favorite stories, parents everywhere religiously conducted daily story hours since the values in these magazines and books could be internalized in the hearts and souls of their listening children. And it worked!

Not so today. Today, when the Christian community is, more often than not, on the defensive, with a secular media vastly out programming it, parents everywhere feel overwhelmed. How can they prevent their children from being destroyed by a society that is openly hostile to Christianity?

I submit that Story is the answer. The stories that once could be found in most every household—but today are crumbling out of existence in old magazines that are being lost to posterity at an alarming rate. Indeed, so fast are these wonderful priceless old magazines being cut up, destroyed, hauled out to the dump, that they will soon be all but extinct.

And this is why my wife Connie and I have dedicated what’s left of our lives to preserving as many as possible of the best of these long ago treasure chests of stories. Sixty-six of our eighty books so far are story anthologies—and most originated in old magazines.

And that’s why, day and night, we are racing against time to preserve as many stories as possible before God calls us home.