Happiness is yours to control

May 13, 2019

For more than 12 years now I’ve had the pleasure of being part of this newspaper. It has been a privilege that’s given me a great deal of structure in my years following retirement. This position still has the responsibility of meeting a weekly deadline, a deadline that I’ve never missed. Now, because my routine has been altered lately with my wife’s knee surgery, today’s read will be something different until I get back to interviewing again.

There was a time in my life when I trained for and completed a number of 5K road races. Initially, I think it was to bring my weight down which is exactly what it did. Most would have been content with such an accomplishment but I became addicted to running and the feeling of a euphoric high that only another runner can understand. Before long I began participating in longer 10K events, eventually graduating to 10 and 15 miles races. After awhile, the idea of a 26.2-mile marathon seemed like a good thing to place on my bucket list and I started longer training runs to reach my goal. My wife began telling me I looked anorexic.

When I first started running, I envisioned the solitude that would accompany those early morning runs. I thought running would be great to search out solutions at work or my mediocre golf swing, but it never happened. My thoughts kept being interrupted with the sights and sounds around me. As a result, all I did was think myself into a corner without any answers. The historic sites along the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C., is a good example. Running past the White House, all those monuments, Arlington Cemetery and finishing at the Iwo Jima memorial were all great distractions for blocking out any creative thinking.

Those 20-plus years ago have passed rather quickly as I look back at those seven marathons I’ve completed. It almost seems impossible to me now that I actually endured such a distance — youth does have its privileges. Even my bicycle now brings knee discomfort after a few miles. My exercise routine has now trickled down to daily walks. Watching my physical fitness endurance dwindle is a stunning reminder that the years behind me now outnumber those to come.

Nowadays I do regular exercise walks with a small group of friends that include a father daughter combination, a commercial radio salesman and a semi-retired practicing psychologist — who I refer to as my walking shrink companion. While our backgrounds vary, we each share a common bond for exercise which often generates some interesting conversations that always helps pass the time.

One conversation of interest I had with the shrink during an early-morning walk when I asked him, “What were some of the questions he often asked during his evaluations?”

“Well,” he said. “There are several but the one that gets the widest range of answers is what makes you happy.” Then he asked what makes me happy.

Initially the question didn’t seem too difficult but searching inside for several minutes failed to locate the right answer. Depending on who you present this question to there are a multitude of responses you could get — like good health, peace of mind, joy, close family, honesty, friendship, comfortable home and a close relationship with God. Happiness can mean different things to different people at different times, depending on where the needle on your happy scale is pointing.

For instance, if your physiological needs are not being met then some of the things that would make you happy would be warm clothing, a hot meal or a safe place to sleep tonight. This closely parallels the hierarchy of needs pyramid developed by a well-known 20th-century psychologist Abraham Maslow. He suggested that once the need for shelter is satisfied then what makes you happy would be security followed by belongingness, self-esteem and finally self-actualization.

During these last few days I’m happy that my wife’s knee replacement went well despite the pain that accompanied such a procedure. I’m happy the physician who performed this procedure knows the meaning of empathy and good communication. I’m happy that he seems to care enough to explain things and listen with an understanding ear. Right now, these things are what makes me happy. Something else that makes me happy was her treatment by the hospital staff the day of and the days after her surgery. They put on a complete display of compassion and care around the clock. It may have been business as usual for them but they made us feel special. When you’re completely filled with anxiety, apprehension, and a total bundle of nerves, it means everything to the patient and family. Finally, during this period, there was something else that clearly defines what makes me happy. That was the unannounced surprise hospital visit from my daughter Diana, my son Chris and daughter-in-law Alicia.

There were a few unhappy things my wife and I experienced at the motel before going to the hospital. We selected this particular location because it was less than two blocks from the hospital where we needed to be at 5 in the morning.

This well-known motel chain fell totally short of our expectations. Over $100 a night without so much as a bagel for breakfast. I asked for the use of a microwave and was told there was none, even though they operated a 5-star restaurant. The front desk told us maintenance would come right up to fix the TV, they never did. Not a single chair in the room, and the handicap shower we asked for made the floor slicker than an ice rink once the shower was turned on. No rubber mats, no non-skid flooring, not even a sign to announce the hazard that existed. Finally, when selecting the down button on the elevator it went two flights up and stopped, then started down. Those were some of the things that did not make us happy.

What makes me happy depends on where I’m currently located on my own changing pyramid of life.

Clyde Beal seeks out interesting stories from folks around the Tri-State. Email archie350@frontier.com.