AUTHOR | SPEAKER | PHILOSOPHER | DESIGNER
(left to right)
LTC Ferguson and LTC Cook, Alexandra,
Colonel Matt Kennedy and Colonel Dave Underwood
I hope the spirit of Thanksgiving and love of family, friends and life fills your heart with genuine happiness that will make this month a joyful adventure. Because of the focus on Thanksgiving in November, I devoted the entire month to giving thanks for the abundant blessings in my life, and in the lives of my loved ones.
My trusted muse, the brilliant ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, continues to inspire my journey. He teaches us that we are our choices. We alone decide what we choose to think and what we choose to act upon or avoid. What we habitually do, we become, and the more we practice anything – whether it be something we do, or something we think – the more we perfect our skills. The more excellent we are at playing golf, tennis, or the piano, or giving public speeches, the better we become and the more satisfaction and pleasure we derive from the experience. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect, and if not perfect, at least better, more skilled and polished, making what we do more fun and successful.
The same holds true for our practicing training our mind to control our emotions and reactions to circumstances beyond our control. As Aristotle has taught us, the highest, most meaningful form of genuine, lasting, predictable happiness is to train and use our minds well, to contemplate, think, learn, and become enlightened, and this discipline requires infinite patience and commitment. As the writer David Brooks reminded me in a recent op-ed column in the New York Times, human beings are the only animals who have to complete themselves. It is therefore our duty and responsibility to strive toward excellence. We all know how wonderful it feels when we hit the sweet spot, when there is complete unity, harmony, rhythm and beauty in what we think , and how we act, how we play the game. We don’t live in days, weeks, months, or years; we live in moments, mini-seconds, mindfully paying attention to what we are presently experiencing.
Thanksgiving is not just a day in the month of November, but an attitude, an attitude of gratitude. While giving a talk, “Embracing Happiness,” I asked the audience to share words we always associate with happiness. A friend said, “gratitude,” and I heard “attitude” – both are powerful triggers. If it is true that 85% of what we think and say is negative, we have to have a very positive attitude in order to counteract destructive emotions. As we’re all too well aware, any negative thought, when we resist or deny thinking the right thoughts or doing the right thing, only causes us internal disunity and suffering. We become muddled and dispirited. When we become discouraged, our spirits are low, going against the discipline and training that produces our moral and mental improvement. One of our greatest achievements in a human lifetime is to cultivate a disciplined mind through training and practice to control our own behavior.
If we are fortunate to have inherited from our ancestors genes that are inclined toward an attitude of gratitude, this alone is cause for celebration every day of the year. When we take on the Thanksgiving Day gratitude of expressing thanks for health and harvest as a commitment, we will continuously cultivate; thankfulness will be our true nature and come naturally, easily, and regularly.
Before Thanksgiving I read a wonderful column in the New York Times by Arthur C. Brooks, “Choosing to be Grateful. It will make you Happier.” What a gift this was that fell into my lap as the news was so sobering after the Paris massacre. My epigraph for the book I will finish in the next year or two, “Joyful Living In the Real World” is Sanskrit for “Participate with joy in the sorrows of the world.” I have a firm belief, based on reason – our best guide for any belief and action – that it is not only possible but appropriate to be sanguine with a cheerful, optimistic state of mind regardless of the tragic real-world realities.
We have one person on earth that we can change and improve, and if we focus on this reality, it will bring us hope and faith that through our own example we can improve we can improve the general state of affairs. We cannot cultivate genuine lasting happiness if we are slaves to destructive emotions or to the destruction caused by evil, sick people in every corner of the world. What I’ve discovered from regularly studying happiness for all these years is that the positive, optimistic, life-confirming, life-affirming insights, lessons and mantras cultivated for thousands of years by philosophers, poets, writers and artists, lift us up to greater light, clarity, and moral strength, making us feel lighter, more spirited, and happy.
Brooks concludes in his thoughtful editorial that acting grateful can actually make us grateful. He’s aware that for many people, gratitude is difficult, because their lives are so miserably, unfairly difficult. There is a gene that is associated with gratitude, making some people able to have a heightened genetic tendency to experience “global relationship satisfaction, perceived partner responsiveness, and positive emotions (particularly love).” Evidence suggests that we can actively choose to practice gratitude – and that doing so increases our happiness. This is certainly true of practicing cultivating happiness because the more optimistic our temperament and good attitude, the sunnier our overall disposition and the healthier our mental state.
The studies on gratitude are much the same as the research on happiness. “There is no way we can be happy without being grateful; one feeds the other, and, logically, when we feel thankful, it boosts our ability to rejoice. According to Brooks’ research, if one person were to make a short list of things he or she is grateful for, and another jots down their frustrations, within ten weeks, the one that lists things they’re grateful for enjoys significantly greater life satisfaction.
Researchers asked subjects to smile forcibly for 20 seconds while tensing facial muscles ... this action apparently stimulates brain activity associated with positive emotions, producing the sensation of pleasure. I love to smile and don’t take it personally when strangers don’t smile back. When I walk down Water Street to pick up the newspaper, I smile at the villagers and tourists I pass along the way. Most often I’m rewarded with a grin in return. When I smile broadly, I feel more mindful of my gratitude for every aspect of my life, down to the smell of the sea air, the beauty of the blooming roses hugging the picket fence, a joy or receiving a letter from a granddaughter, and the blessings of waking up to a fresh new day. Living alone has taught me to smile in the bathroom mirror because I feel I am greeting Peter and we’re smiling at each other – in spirit, and my smile makes me more grateful for my life.
November got off to a joyful adventure on my 74th birthday. Friends drove me to Concord, Massachusetts, to this historic town where I spoke at a fundraiser for the Wounded Warriors, “Tea for the Troops.” When everyone sang happy birthday to me at the tea, I was moved to tears because I was touched by the gravitas of the joyful celebration, grateful to be participating in something so important, glad I can do something to give back for our veterans’ selfless service to our country. I stayed in the Emerson Suite at an inn next to the Concord Inn where the tea was held, and my memories are so happy; every time I think of this weekend I’m pinching myself. I brought all my birthday presents up in the car so I could have a private birthday party with my good friends Kerri and Matt, who organized the fundraiser event.
The Wheeler Library in North Stonington hosted an evening, “Embracing Happiness” that couldn’t have been more fun for me, and I feel we all left in high spirits, having delicious refreshments, lots of interaction and community fun. Amapola has a local tea shop and came with three different favorite blends of tea. Colleen brought cider, cookies, and cheese. The large space upstairs where the event was held has a high ceiling with lots of arched windows, a more grand room than most that added to the attractive atmosphere of the evening.
A few days later I took a train to Washington, had dinner in a favorite French bistro, Mon Ami Gabí, with Nicholas, Anna and Lily, where Alexandra joined us after her television appearance for a glass of rosé while the “grands” had dessert. Alexandra and I flew to Charleston, South Carolina, and drove to Myrtle Beach, where Nicholas played in a three-day golf tournament. Walking nine holes the first day was thrilling, and being surrounded by the beauty of the sky, trees, green grass and different courses was most peaceful and restful as we watched young golfers play these difficult courses with lots of sand traps and lots of water. Nicholas did well, won his round each day, and the gift of abundant warm sun – 78 degrees – the entire time made everything seem quite magical. I saw an arched rainbow, the moon was full, and spending this family vacation together was precious beyond words.
I sincerely hope you had a happy Thanksgiving Day and weekend. I’m looking forward to December’s spell and fun, memorable times with family and friends.
Great love to you. Happy holiday season!
Love & Live Happy
Thank you Troops for your fine service to our country.
Alexandra with Paulette and Monica
Alexandra and her friend Livy
Ellie and her daughter with Alexandra
Alexandra signing books after the Tea for the Troops event
Alexandra and Solene, who is visiting from France
Alexandra's birthday party!
Alexandra and Kerri with Alexandra's beautiful birthday roses
Alison and Alexandra sharing a birthday wish!
Alexandra at the Wheeler Library in North Stonington, Connecticut
Alexandra addressing the audience at the Wheeler Library
Alexandra signing books following the talk at the Wheeler Library
"Love is the signal that all is well"
~~ Peter Megargee Brown