The happiness of most

Little by little, termites create billions of dollars in damage each year.  Photo by William Cho; image has been cropped.  (Termites Attack 1 Uploaded by russavia) CC-BY-SA-2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Little by little, termites create billions of dollars in damage each year.
Photo by William Cho; image has been cropped.
(Termites Attack 1 Uploaded by russavia) CC-BY-SA-2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

“The happiness of most people we know is not ruined by great catastrophes or fatal errors, but by the repetition of slowly destructive little things.”Ernest Dimnet

I tend to waste a lot of energy worrying, which is simply another way of focusing on the wrong things.  Often when we worry, our conscious minds may be thinking of great tragedies or disasters, overwhelming things about which we can do nothing.  Isn’t this a sneaky way of letting ourselves off the hook?  As long as we focus on what we cannot possibly change, we are distracted from acting on what we can change.

Thus we fret over sad stories we see on television or in the newspaper, while we help ourselves to an extra snack only hours (or sometimes even minutes) after we have been complaining about our inability to lose that extra weight.   We may complain about environmental damage or government inefficiency, while our own homes are disorganized and in need of a good cleaning.

Or, to come uncomfortably close to home, I may agonize about whether my spouse or son will survive his life-threatening medical condition, yet lose patience with him time and again, or complain about his lack of patience with me.  Yes, I’m definitely talking about myself here.  Ouch, the truth hurts!

While it’s important to do what we can to make the world better, it’s often more rewarding and far more effective to focus on improving our own immediate sphere of influence.  When I’m feeling most anxious or sad, there is truly no more immediate remedy than to take some positive action, no matter how small or simple.

The really great thing is that such actions are not only the best way to improve my own mood; they almost always make a difference for someone else, too.  If I plant colorful flowers in my front yard, they are there for the enjoyment of anyone who passes.  If I tidy up the kitchen, it will be more welcoming to everyone who comes into the room.  If I keep my tone of voice pleasant and cheerful, everyone I speak to will benefit from hearing a friendly voice.

Today there are a lot of upsetting or tragic news stories I could dwell on.  There are many friends and loved ones who are hurting, and I hurt with them.  But wouldn’t it be better to channel those emotions into some positive action?  I can send a donation, write a note of cheer, offer up fervent prayers for those with trouble or sorrow, and try to make the home a soothing place of comfort for Jeff when he walks through the door today.

I invite you to join me in the ongoing struggle against slowly destructive little things.  We are certain to win these tiny battles if we don’t allow ourselves to fall for the distractions that dilute our energy and undermine our efforts.

One year ago today:

In season

27 Comments

  1. ” As long as we focus on what we cannot possibly change, we are distracted from acting on what we can change.” Gosh! This is so true, Julia. You are so wise. I had never thought about this before but that is exactly what I do. And, as of now, I need to act on what I can change. Thank-you for another wonderfully thoughtful post. xoxoxoxoxox

    • Dani, you are welcome! I am so happy to be in touch with you here, and I appreciate your fellowship on this journey, as well as your kind words.

  2. Good morning, Julia! That’s a very astute observation of the human condition. I wonder if I can clean my house today. I suppose I could at least get started. I just need the mental focus of a termite, I suppose! Lol, I know I have problems staying on so dull a task, but it seems even termites may have one up on me! When the kids lived at home, we’d occasional have an “Undo the damage day”, which went above cleaning, to include small home repair project’s. Time to declare my own UtDD!
    Have a happy day!

    • Susan, I had good intentions today, but tomorrow will have to be my UtDD! Today I fell in the black hole of bureaucracy (paperwork hassles mostly). Perhaps on some days, we should give ourselves points just for surviving without adding too much to the chaos. BTW I too could probably “trade up” to a termite’s mental focus! As some sage has said, “If I had nickel for every time I got distracted, I wish I had a puppy.”

      • Oh, that is cute! Love the puppy saying!

        • I really do wish I had a puppy, but right now I don’t think we could take care of one because there are so many distractions I might forget to — Hey! I was supposed to stop by the store on my way home! 😀 Jeff says I interrupt myself more often than he interrupts me.

  3. Sheila

    Julia, years ago I cross stitched the following poem:
    Worry never climbed a hill.
    Worry never paid a bill.
    Worry never dried a tear.
    Worry never calmed a fear.
    Worry never darned a heel.
    Worry never cooked a meal.
    Worry never led a horse to water.
    Worry never done a thing you’d think it oughta.
    ~ Eleanor H. Porter
    🙂 Sheila

    • Sheila, I’m in a rush and don’t have time to look it up, but I think the author of that poem is the author of Pollyanna, a book I read and loved as a very young girl. It certainly seems to fit that book! Thanks for reminding me of what I cannot hear too often.

      • Sheila

        Yes, she did! 🙂

        • I remember seeing her name on the cover of my copy of the book, one of about four or five hardcover books I owned.

  4. raynard

    Julia as I wait for the exterminator to arrive a moment of reflection. With busy weekends this was a motivation time to clean house and get more devotionals and scripture reading in.Just got one of those Bonk on the head from a wet smelly fish from a Focus on the family radio broadcast. A late friend of mine use to say Why worry about what you can’t control. We all from time to time need this advise along connection to “the least of these” that sometimes you see you in their weakness and it can be scary and eye opening.Praying for you and your family and the daily challenges you face and the encouragement you bring to our lives.Be blessed.

    • Raynard, thanks so much for these encouraging words; I definitely needed them today. Isn’t it surprising how often “scary and eye opening” go together? But I still think it’s best to go for the eyes-open approach, even with a side of “wet smelly fish upside the head.” 😀 And speaking of wet smelly fish, I keep thinking of that old saying “If today was a fish I’d throw it back” but I have decided that I am grateful for every day that comes, even if I don’t realize it at the time! Thanks for being here.

  5. Insightful post. I waste a lot of energy in the wrong way too. May be doing the wrong is easier while the constructive deeds require more integrity. Though I had a lot of plans and projects for the vacation (not to mention the pending tasks from school) it is today that I started doing it. I did just a little, but even that little bit gives me a a lot of joy.

    • Bindu, I think “just doing a little bit” is one of the great secrets of life. Today I had a huge paperwork task I had been putting off, but told myself to do just a little bit of it. I ended up finishing it (I hope) despite lots of frustrations and detours along the way. I hope you will continue to get joy from each and ever step you make during the remainder of your vacation. Better a little bit with joy than a lot with frustration! Thanks for your visits and your thoughts.

  6. kjyaccino

    Excellent point, Julia. The termite analogy is great! Today, I plan to focus on my sphere of influence and not ruminate about what I cannot control.

    • Kathy, I’m so glad you found it helpful. I have so enjoyed your photos of the precious animals at the shelter.

  7. Great post on insight, Julia.
    All these trials, great or small, can effect us at any time. But, more threatening to us than they, is our attitude toward them.
    A habit of worry will do more damage than these things, that come and go, or stay. Because worry can only intensify their effects, by adding more fuel to them than is of their nature.

    “Be not concerned for tomorrow, for the morrow will have concerns for itself. Suffficient for the day is the evil thereof.”-Matthew 6:34
    -Alan

    • Thank you Alan! I am going to take those very thoughts out with me for an evening walk in just a few minutes. I really need to get my mind back into that place of serenity. That verse was given to us for days like the one I had today.

  8. So beautifully said, Julia and so, so true. I’ve learned to self-censor some of the world news or it will eat me alive. Like you, I try to focus on the positive when I can. I too am a worrier. I think it comes from early anxiety, thinking that if I could anticipate everything bad that was about to happen, that I could somehow be prepared for it. Life just doesn’t work that way, does it?

    That’s a gorgeous photo. Termites are quite beautiful for something so destructive.

    • Alys, I think a lot of us fall into the trap of thinking we can prepare for sorrow or adversity. I know Jeff and I do. Beyond reasonable precautions and responsibility, though, I think we are often borrowing misery because, as you say, life just doesn’t work the way we expect it to. I thought that photo was remarkable too – so attractive, which made it a good symbol for the little destructive habits that lure us into unhappiness.

      • Yes…a good symbol indeed.

        I think our generation has been socialized to think that the pursuit of happiness somehow means we will, or should or could be happy if we just did/bought/changed…fill in the blank.

        Borrowing misery is a great phrase.

        By they way, my August 4th came and went and I’m feeling better this year than I ever have. The internal work that I’ve done is paying off at last. Hugs to you.

        • Alys, I’m so happy that August started off better for you this year. Here’s hoping for a wonderful finish to the summer. Our generation is perhaps the first to be so heavily influneced by advertising, which exists to create or emphasize the perception of need. Lately I’ve become much more aware of the embedded commercial messages (is it really coincidence that all those sitcom homes were so spotless, or could the sponsors selling cleaning products have had an influence?) Most magazines now are 90-100% ads, because even the “content” sections are full of “great things we’ve discovered!” or other thinly-veiled product pitches. I’m considering coming up with the money to make this blog ad-free!

  9. PS…Please don’t call out the flying monkeys. The widget is right next to my name. They scare me silly.

    • No worries, Alys, I would never call out the flying monkeys on you! I keep my broomstick well hidden while I’m at this blog. 😀 Besides, I’m afraid of them too! They might just pick me up and carry me off!

      • Yikes! No carrying you off. That wouldn’t be right.

        We’ll both steer clear of them. Deal?

        • Absolutely!

  10. It’s really interesting, while I read a few messages from dear friends here, I’ve come to notice we are all worriers, including Dani, Alys and you. What does this mean? Could it be that generous, thoughtful and kind people worry more? I must admit, I fall into this routine at times too. My dad was a worrier too. I can see a lot of him, in all of you. I will see things on the street in Edmonton or on the news that will haunt me for days. In all likelihood they’re completely out of my ability to change. I think it’s just the natural makeup of a personality. We are pretty gentle talkers with each other Mr B and I, always remembering please and thank you. But everyone has moments where patience can wear thin, when you feel tested. That’s when I can and should try harder.

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