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Katy Byrne
What's Up With That?
Katy Byrne

The blue shovel

When the chips are down... like this week dealing with Comcast, plumbers running around the house, hospitals, nursing homes, the water company… I had to wonder. How do I work with my mind so I enjoy life while it is still difficult?

The frustrations are hard to avoid. If you're in love or wealthy, you still have to deal with the details. Reaching those organizations that over-charged you or misdiagnosed you, the IRS, death and climate change… how to figure out a partner’s needs, or why you have no partner.

There is much to have sorrow about, but if we didn’t feel emotions we’d be sociopaths or narcissists. On the other hand, if we're flooded with pain and can’t move forward, then life’s no fun at all. What to do?

The new age idea that we create our own reality is true, and we do manifest our wishes --sometimes. But, life can include illness, accidents, fate and unfairness. So, how to stay optimistic?

Brian Sutton-Smith valued joy so much that he spent his life researching the importance of playing. When asked “Why do you study play?" he replied “We study play because life is crap. Life is crap, and it’s full of pain and suffering, and the only thing that makes it worth living -- the only thing that makes it possible to get up in the morning and go on living -- is play."

I tried to keep that in mind when the crap, literally, backed up onto my deck. The sewer line was clogged. Roto Rooter showed up. Then, the pipes blew out in the front lawn and I was in the mud, knee deep.

Later I stopped into Plain Jane's to get some household things. I saw a bright blue shovel. It was only eight dollars. Jane said the guy who painted it was so excited that he had rushed it right over, still sticky and wet.

I was suddenly happy. Why would a blue shovel make me so glad to be alive? I giggled all the way home. My dog’s ears flapping out the car windows, along with the blue shovel.

So, still pondering joy and sorrow, I was most moved looking over Rollo May’s “Man’s Search for Meaning,” and reminded that his horrific experiences as a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camps led to his lifelong teaching about how humans can find meaning in life. Trust that we matter, he said. Serve and stay compassionate, even in horrible conditions.

Can we use our shovels to shift the ground we walk on?

So, while still ruminating on this happiness thing I also found research on the newly discovered “Happiness Gene.” Researchers quoted in the New York Tines say we are walking around with a random and totally unfair assortment of genetic variants that make us more or less content, anxious, depressed or prone to use drugs.

Some might find it a relief to discover that they had a genetic variant that made them naturally more anxious — that they were wired for anxiety, for example, and not just a nervous wreck. What we really need, they say, is a drug that can boost anandamide — our bliss molecule — for those who are genetically disadvantaged.

A tiny bill for constant happiness? Hooray! Then, I found “The Happiness Trap.” Russ Harris argues that if we clarify our values and observe our emotions, not letting them take hold of us, life is better.

Scratching my head and crinkling my neck, I wondered: could life have more whimsy with a change of attitude? Some people are warriors, not worriers. Maybe they have the happy gene, or a health plan that covers the bliss pill.

It seems to me that sorrow is part of life, but so is optimism. Tenderness and small acts of play can keep our lobes alive.

That blue shovel made me happy for hours.

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