Lifestyle

Be yourself, and be happy | Religion – YourSun.com

Amy Petrie Shaw

I met George in 1999, right after his wife died. He was a frail 91.
Amy Petrie Shaw
He had spent his life in the Marine Corps, and when he finally retired, it was to teach military history.
He was showing me his scrapbooks one day and I said something like, “Wow, you must have always wanted to be a Marine, huh?”
He didn’t even pause.
“Oh no. I never wanted to be a Marine.”
“Really? What did you want to be?”
“A ballet dancer.”
He grinned, a little sadly.
“I told my mom I wanted to dance, and she told my dad. That’s how it went back then. I got a spanking, and he signed me up for boxing lessons.”
“Would you have been able to make it as a dancer?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I sure would have been happy.”
For people born before 1927, like George, you didn’t pick your job because it made you happy. The Greatest Generation fought World War II and survived the Great Depression.
For them, “happy” was what you were if you made enough to afford a little house, a nice radio, maybe even a new car.
“Happy” was being able to have a few hours in the evening to have a beer with the neighbors, or to be able to buy food for the kids and let the wife have that necklace she saw.
But “happiness” is not a constant. Happiness changes with the times.
For the “Me Generation” of the ‘70s, being happy was about putting yourself first, and in the ‘80s, Gordon Gekko told us that “greed works.”
Happiness was having more than you could use, and it made you better than someone else.

And then the millennials arrived — the 9/11 generation.
Born 45 years or so after the last of the Greatest Generation, they have never known a world without computers. Their version of happiness is something that we need to talk about.
Our country has become a strange and often angry place. Everything happens fast. That thing that was the best thing ever becomes that old thing while you are still saving to buy it.
Companies are born and die, sometimes in the same year.
Median household income is stuck around $51,939, and the cost of a year of private college education is $31,231. Public college education is better, at $9,139 in-state annual tuition, but average student loan debt for someone graduating with a four-year degree is still around $33,000.
And yet, crushed under student loan debt, unable to find jobs or buy homes, the Millennials are redefining what is important in life: joy, personal fulfillment, doing what you love.
Living authentically and being true to your values helps. Working to live, not living to work helps even more.
Happiness is no longer about who has the best toys, the best job, the nicest watch or the biggest summer home.
What is happiness all about? Well, what is it you do that brings a smile to your face? What lets you be truly yourself and fully present in the world?
You are not your job. You are not how much you have or what designer you wear.
You are not your neighborhood or your school, not who your parents are, or who you love, or what church you attend.
It’s definitely not about who you hate.
The millennials have it right. Happiness is about seizing joy.
If you love to make art, you are an artist. It doesn’t matter what you actually do or did to pay your bills. Dare to define yourself by your joy, by your love, and be happy.
Define yourself by what you do to reflect who you really are, and if you find that you never have time for that, then make some changes in your world. And be happy.
George never got to dance, but he lived long enough to see his grandson join a ballet company. It made him happy.
Why not do what you love, give yourself every chance to enjoy, as Mary Oliver wrote, your one “wild and precious life?”
And be happy.
Amy Petrie Shaw is interim minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Venice.

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