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Neagley: Finding Happiness

Many of us will admit that this winter has been a challenge. December began with ice and overcast skies. Now, three months later, the sun might shine with a hint of spring but many mid-day temperatures have remained in single digits. A couple of friends have slipped and fallen - and so have I. Many of us are promising, or at least hoping, to live among palm trees rather than maples next year.

Yet, my one year old grandson smiles nearly every waking hour. And two dear friends, considerably older than my grandson, recently remarked, almost in amazement, that during their birthday celebrations they were happy all day. Their joy was infectious - as happiness tends to lift our mood and the mood of those around us.

We all search for happiness in ways both large and small. A colleague recently told a group of struggling teens that when we put smiles on our faces, a message is sent along the neural pathways to the brain telling us we’re happy. The brain doesn’t know otherwise. So perhaps happiness can be that intentional - but more often, it’s a complete surprise when happiness appears.

A few years ago I was disgruntled by the gray darkness of winter. Life had lost all color. Some say that ruminating causes depression so I looked for ways to feel better. One daily antidote was cross-country skiing. Another was lighting candles at the dinner table. Even so, my mood was gloomy until one day I accidently glanced out a window and a great flurry of activity caught my attention. Jays, Cardinals and Grosbeaks had created a striking palette of primary colors at the feeder: blues, reds and yellows. Reminding me of an elementary school playground, the birds were staging a marvelous performance as they vied for seeds.

One day this winter I braced myself for the cold and took a walk. A friend had emailed her photo of a Snowy Owl seen in Addison County. I hoped to see something equally thrilling, something to lift my spirits. Chilled and a bit disappointed that nothing unusual had appeared, I returned home. Again, glancing through a window while preparing dinner, motion caught my eye. With binoculars I could see many Cedar Waxwings flocking in and around a neighbor’s tree, feeding on fermented fruit. Evidently mates use the fruit berries in courtship, passing them back and forth. Obviously jubilant, they seemed to have boundless enthusiasm. Cedar Waxwings aren’t boldly colorful but they’re elegant- and their black eye masks with tinges of yellow and red are striking.

It occurred to me that both of these events were experienced from the inside looking out, and took little effort on my part—but both had made me smile. Had the winter not been dull and confining for so long, I wonder if these simple sightings would have meant so much. And had the birds been concealed by the foliage of summer, I might not have noticed them at all.

Marilyn Webb Neagley is director of the Talk About Wellness initiative, co-editor of Educating from the Heart, and author of both Loosie B. Goosie and Walking through the Seasons. During the formative years of Shelburne Farms as a non-profit organization, she served as its president.
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