Happiness Is…Whatever You Say It Is

The phrase, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” is universal and hard to argue with when you look at art, home décor or even couples. Truly, everyone has a different view on what they find attractive. What you like, I may not. If beauty can be praised in such a vast spectrum, happiness can be no different.

While reading blogs, I was pointed to The Center for Advanced Hindsight’s blog. (Thank you for the lead Berryduchess.) Their Meaning of Happiness Changes Over Time blog got me wondering, what makes people happy?

Obviously, when you look at people, you can see that all types of things give people joy. Some people find pleasure reading a book while others would just assume run a 13-mile mud obstacle course than turn a page. Even within the happy-reading-a-book group, there are subgroups that would not be caught dead reading a certain genre or author.

CAH’s blog discussed how a person’s gauge on happiness-inducing events changes with time. That makes perfect sense. In high school, I was all smiles at the sight of my first car. Regardless of the fact that it was a missing-a-muffler, hole-in-the-floor-board, bright lemon-yellow heap, it made me ecstatic as it represented independence. Now, if you asked me to drive such a contraption, I would speculate on its safety and not nearly be as gleeful. In fact, I would probably be unhappy about such a ridiculous request. How is that possible when it made me happy once? I was still the beholder of beauty…but my perception of that beauty has evidently changed.

The first song I learned in elementary school choir attempted to teach me this lesson.

I am not sure if I picked up the significance back then, but the Happiness Is lyrics paint varying pictures of bliss. The images of delight range from tying your shoes to being alone to walking hand in hand. Those are all very diverse kinds of happiness that suggest dissimilar ages. (Not that I am not happy to still have the ability to tie my own shoes, but it does not give me the same level of joy now as a bubble bath that is accompanied with a glass of wine.)

CAH’s blog elaborates more to state that young people tend to have more adventurous views on what makes them happy, while “older people tend to find happiness and define themselves in the ordinary experiences that comprise daily life.” (I guess that might explain the bubble bath and wine I enjoy so dearly.)

Their post also mentions how a particular study found that “bucket lists” tend not to be as dramatic as believed. “It’s worth noting that these findings greatly contrast the “bucket list” hypothesis, the idea that as people feel their days are running out, they are motivated to do the extraordinary. For instance, in the film The Bucket List, two aging men strive to have the most extraordinary experiences possible. Though these cases do exist in society, they may be the exception. In general, the rule is that as people feel like they are aging, they turn away from the extraordinary and, like my grandfather, focus on the everyday.”

This made me feel a little special, as I am the exception then. Well, I am partially an exception anyway. (You can just call it well balanced though.) After aging some, getting divorced and enduring three deployments, I feel like I need to have a bucket list. I must experience some extraordinary things to make up for the lost years and sadness. I should witness amazing wonders and yet, applaud the most basics of life. I recently discovered a great quote that explains the level of life I aspire to achieve. “I would rather die of passion than of boredom,” said Vincent Van Gogh.

For me, this means I want to be passionate about everything; I want to try all that life has to offer. From reading good books to white water rafting, it’s on the list. I want to feel the exhilaration of an enduring love. I have swung from a trapeze. I fantasize about horseback riding in Ireland. I have danced around my kitchen alone to inspiring music. I desire to experience the rush of sky diving. I have enjoyed baking a caramel apple pecan pie from scratch. Basically, I welcome adventure and savor the simple.

Recently, I picked up a paintbrush at one of those places that give you a rough sketch where you fill in the blanks. I have never been artistic by any means and cannot recall painting outside of a school art class, but I found myself really pouring my emotions onto the canvas. I was taking the rough outline and adding my own creativity…and to my surprise, my paintings are not utterly horrible. (I could at least provide some stiff competition to an average 5th grade art class student!)

These are the three paintings I created from rough pencil outlines. They are not master pieces, but nonetheless, they are mine and were so fun to create.

These are the three paintings I created from rough pencil outlines. They are not master pieces, but nonetheless, they are mine and were so fun to create.

I find that my days are filled with more things than I ever imagined. I am feeling more. I am taking more risks and stepping out of my comfort zone. I am really living in the moments to see every nuisance of brilliance. In this process, I am finding happiness within me. This new awareness is leading me on a journey-somewhere I think I should have been already. I do not know where the path is leading, but either way, I am determined to embrace it.

Selma Hayek stated, “People often say that ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder,’ and I say that the most liberating thing about beauty is realizing that you are the beholder. This empowers us to find beauty in places where others have not dared to look, including inside ourselves.” I couldn’t agree with her more.

I am the beholder of what I find beautiful and what makes me happy, just as you are for you. And, like the song’s last line says, happiness is anyone and anything at all that is loved by you. All we need to do it open our eyes and hearts, happiness is out there and inside us all.

Have I met you my love, my cure?

Meeting you was not in my plan.

And now, I don’t know where I stand.


I hear your voice that sounds like silk.

And I think, why should I feel guilt?


You are not mine, but should you be?

Could you help find the real me?


What we sense may be real.

Or, is it just a way to feel?


For now, we start as friends,

And wonder, where this may end.


Will you keep my heart safe?

Will you be worth the wait?


Will our lives intertwine

On the day that you can be mine?


Until we meet, we can’t be sure.

But I have a feeling, you’re my cure.

My Unintentional Cruise Down Haifa Street in Baghdad, Iraq

I do not normally fling myself into dangerous situations, but one day in Iraq, I found myself cruising solo down Haifa Street. It was not my plan to wander a known battle zone alone…but there I was – by myself and slightly terrified.

As the Army media embed coordinator for the first Iraqi election, I was responsible for nearly all things concerning the embedded reporters in 2005-2006. This included providing them with logistics support, like taxi services and flight coordination. So on this particular day, I was required to pick up a reporter at Assassins’ Gate, which was one of the military gates into Baghdad’s International Zone.

While speaking to the reporter on the phone, I kept driving in attempts to locate him. Well, I drove a little too far and realized, I was in the exit lane. I immediately stopped and told the closest guard, a British Soldier, that I was not trying to leave the “Green Zone.” He simply smiled and told me to just drive out, turn around and come back in the entrance.

It sounded simple enough and frankly, there was not much choice as the road was a narrow, barricaded one-way path with combat vehicles behind me. Therefore, I drove – just me with my little pistol and my up-armored suburban. Talk about being on alert! I was sitting on the edge of my seat, literally. I had never been out on Haifa Street, let alone by myself. In addition, from what I knew, that street was treacherous, which is why the gate was named Assassins Gate, or so I assumed then.

Nevertheless, out the gate I went, but some of my common sense appeared to cling to the security of the compound. As I drove down the street, I felt like I had a flashing disco light on my vehicle that proclaimed my vulnerability. “Hey terrorists! Look at the blonde American girl all by herself here. You don’t get this chance every day!” Fortunately for me, the terrorists had not yet noticed the beacon of opportunity I was providing them, or were otherwise occupied.

As I tried to figure out where to turn around, I saw local Iraqis move about the city street. The bullet holes in the buildings and the mortar craters along the road where just part of their day. It was normal to them by then, but it frightened me. Don’t get me wrong; I had seen these things before. This was not my first deployment, but I had never witnessed them…alone. All of my prior experiences had been in the comfort of a convoy or patrol with armed friends at my side.

With only myself to rely on, I kept driving. I found a place to turn around and headed back in the direction I came. I saw the exit and shortly after, I saw another gate. When I saw the sign, “Do not enter or you will be shot!” I drove past it. (My common sense was obviously replaced with fear at this point. In hindsight, I have to assume that I would not have been shot had I entered that gate and that the sign was not intended for American soldiers. ) So, no shit, there I was, continuing to drive down around in the “Red Zone” by myself.

After a few minutes, I saw the building where I worked. Unfortunately, it was next to a pedestrian gate, and on the other side of the fence. So unless I wanted to abandon my vehicle, which I assumed would get me in trouble (and provide the enemy with a vehicle), I had to keep driving. At one point, I stopped when I saw an Iraqi police officer walking along the road. I attempted to ask him where the vehicle gate was. Unfortunately, all he did was point at my suburban and continually ask, “Car boom?” I repeatedly said, “No, no car boom. Where is the gate?” Getting nowhere, I smiled and drove away. When I came to a traffic circle that pointed out my way to Tikrit, Basra, and other places I had no desire to travel to unaccompanied, I started to panic. All I could think of was: I am going to die; I am going to be raped and killed; I am going to be on the news; and I will be known as the stupid blonde soldier who got herself lost and killed. Every thought pretty much ended in my gruesome death that was created by my embarrassing performance as a soldier.

In efforts to avoid an undesired outcome, I drove around the traffic circle, and yet again, headed back from whence I came. It dawned on me that I had been driving down a one-way road though. So, I drove up over some four-foot wide, curbed road divider. (Clearly, I would not want to break traffic laws at this point in my military career! And, remember that my common sense abandoned me at the gate and my hair was getting blonder with each dangerous second ticking.)

As I cleared the curb and my vehicle bounced onto the adjoined road, an intense beam of light blinded me. It appeared to be coming from a humvee up the street. “Great. Now I am going to be shot by soldiers!” was my thought. (I mean, as a soldier myself, I would have considered shooting a vehicle that was driving erratically over curbs at dusk.) Immediately, I responded to the warning light by stopping my suburban, flipping on the interior vehicle lights and raising my hands in the air. Within in seconds, two other humvees surrounded my car and six to eight men started to walk towards me with weapons. At first, all I saw were Iraqi Army uniforms, and I was terrified. (There were a number of reports then of Iraqi soldiers working with the terrorists.) My mind raced with dread. What if these were bad Iraqi Army soldiers? What if they could not understand me? What if they kidnapped me? If I tried to escape? They would just shoot me anyway, right? After a few seconds of paralyzing fear, I saw two American soldiers. I cannot even explain the sense of relief that washed over me.

The group of armed male soldiers approached my vehicle. One of the American soldiers asked, “What are you doing out here alone?”

“I drove a little too far in the gate and I am trying to get back in,” I replied with a timid, stupid-girl smile that had to show my desperation.

He translated my situation to the Iraqi men. They all laughed. Great, I thought. I have just completely embarrassed all females in the Army. And to make it worse, I was also a blonde lieutenant on top of that. At that moment, I was living up to all of the stereotypes that created bad jokes. But, hey, my odds of living now where much, much higher. So, I hid my disgrace with gratitude and held back my tears of joy.

The American stated the obvious. “You should not be out here alone. It’s very dangerous.”

“I know. That is why I am trying to get back in. I just got a little lost when I accidentally exited the gate.”

He translated my plight again. The group of men laughed, smiled and made some unknown comments, which I have to assume where not about the impressive soldier skills I was displaying.

“Do you know where to go once we escort you back in?” the translating soldier asked.

“I do. I just don’t know my way around out here. You all never let me out alone before,” I stated with an embarrassed smile.

The American soldier proceeded to tell me what to do and tell me how I lucky I was. Had I not been sitting in my vehicle and utterly mortified, I would have jumped out to hug him. However, in efforts to hang onto my remaining strands of dignity, I professionally thanked him and followed his vehicle back into safety.

I look back at this ridiculous story years later and thank God that I can laugh about it now. This very well could have been a completely different kind of story for me, one that I would not want to retell or would not be able to.

Everything happens for a reason though, or so I believe. What exactly the reasons were behind that day, I cannot be sure, but in the end, I learned a few things. One, certain signs do not apply to me. Two, that in moments of danger, I need to turn off fear and turn on focus and action to remove myself from the situation (which I call the art of cold heartless action – a later blog). Three, that being a blonde female lieutenant in this situation must have been extremely humorous for the men who found me. And four, that I never ever wanted to roll out of a secure compound alone again. Been there. Done that. And, I even got a few t-shirts.


*This was for a Blogging 101 Challenge on telling an absurd story. How did I do?


Reposted for a Daily Prompt ~ Sink or Swim.

Who am I and Why am I Here?

Back in elementary school, I wrote my first two “books.” The assignment for a young author’s day was to complete an illustrated book. I could not choose between topics, so I wrote two. One book was about a girl with telekinesis and the other was about a flying horse. Now, some 30-plus years later, I still do not have a flying horse, super powers or any published books, so I figured; I may as well start chasing my dreams and begin writing.

I am not sure how I could spell telekinesis back then or how I even heard of it, but it (and flying horses) inspired me to begin to write and dream. Through writing, I was free and alive.

As the years passed, I continued to write short stories, journals and poems, but writing was never a full-time affair. It was always pushed the side for things like homework, cheerleading practice, boys and social events.

I completed my journalism degree, but it was on the extended 10-year plan due to a full-time retail job, a hard marriage and wonderful kids. Therefore, yet again, writing took a back seat to life with bills, children and responsibilities.

The only time writing took any kind of lead, was in my decision to join the military. After completing my journalism degree, I could not afford to take an entry-level job. In 2000, my journalism job offers were about $12,000 less than my retail management position. Taking that big of pay cut just to do what I wanted, would have been selfish and irresponsible. Consequently, I signed the dotted line. The way I saw it, joining the Army Reserve was one way for me to actually do any form of journalism and still pay the bills.

Nearly 14 years later, I am still a Soldier, a mom, and happily NOT working in retail nor in an unhappy marriage. Everything in life seems to be pulling me back to where I should have been long ago. I am finding the me that I lost in my 20s when I was trying to hold on to everything that was wrong for me. I suppose stubborn naive youth made me keep clinging to stuff that was slowly killing me (miserable jobs, despondent marriage, unhealthy habits, limited ‘me’ time).

Now older and wiser, I realize that life is short. I need to hurry up and do the things I want to do before I run out of time. I must stop making excuses to live because in doing so I am not really living anyway. I have to release the thoughts in my head as they never cease in bombarding my waking moments. I want to express the passion I feel and yet still crave to find. I should at least attempt the items on that unwritten bucket list so I have no regrets. I am obliged to show my kids that life will not wait for your situation to be perfect.

So ready or not, here I am, on a blog. Blogging is my path to find that little author inside of me. By writing more often, I hope to find my stories, and myself. Frankly, my topics on here will vary. I will write about whatever is on my mind. It may be a story from my past, a make-believe adventure in my head, or vent about a pet peeve. Along the way, I may entertain people or bore them into a blissful nap, but either way, I will not continue to be afraid to start nor make excuses on why I cannot. I will take each day to chase those dreams, and ultimately, find my life.

*This was my first assignment for Blogging 101. It seemed to be a bit harder to write on an assigned topic, but yet, made me realize why I chose the name for my blog in the first place. There’s irony for you.

How September 11th Changed Me

On September 11, 2001, I was in Hawaii. Yes, I was in paradise, but even there, the world stopped.

I remember getting a predawn phone call from our family in the main land. They told us what was going on and we immediately got out of bed and turned on the news. We watched the second plane hit, and just like the rest of the world… our hearts stopped.

My high school-sweetheart husband was in the Army. I had just completed my basic training with the Army Reserve, and that upcoming weekend was to be my first drill weekend. So, we immediately thought like Soldiers.

We checked the kids. We called friends and other family members. We gathered all the information we could from the news. We secured the house. We reported our status with our units. And, in between all of that, we knew, our duties as Soldiers were forever altered.

As the facts unfolded throughout the day, fear was in the air – even in Hawaii. The military gates were on lock down and only the select few were allowed access. Schools were closed. Traffic was sparse as everyone stayed in place. It was as though the world was partially frozen and moving in slow motion.

The trepidation touched even the youngest of hearts. My 7-year-old daughter and I walked outside at one point in the day, and a plane roared overhead. As I looked up at it, my innocent child fearfully asked, “Mommy, are they going to crash into us too?”

If these things were happening all the way in Hawaii, I can only imagine the choking atmosphere in the main land.

Now that so many years have passed, I look back and reflect on how that day altered so many people’s lives. Obviously, for those directly involved in the events, it must have been like living in a never-ending nightmare. I imagine those days must replay in their heads like Soldiers’ night terrors from war. Posttraumatic stress is not limited to those who wear a uniform. My heart and soul ache for those people. There cannot be a way to truly recover from such pain. All you can do is find a new normal and move forward.

September 11th changed my world, like many others. I deployed a few times. My husband deployed a few times. In our own little way through our assigned jobs, we were fighting terrorism. Those were just the direct effects though. Indirectly, it transformed my way of living. The horrible day showed me that nothing is permanent. We are not promised a tomorrow. We are never truly safe from danger or hate.

I have never understood or will understand terrorism. I cannot fathom the energy it must take to hate with every fiber of being. The time it must take to plan such destruction must be exhausting. If I do not like someone, they do not exist to me. I will not waste time thinking about them or finding ways to ruin them. With the unknown amount of time I have left on earth, I choose to live. I will embrace my friends and family. I will try new things. I will take calculated risks. I will see new places. I will stop and breathe in the beauty of the world that God created. I will make attempts to honor him and make a difference in the world. (Not sure how much I really achieve on this note, but at least I mean well and will keep trying.) I will welcome each day and cherish the gift that it is as tomorrow may never be.

Ultimately, I think this is how we, average people, beat the terrorists. We show them that their blows cannot stop us. We continue to live, love and laugh. We all keep working and rebuilding. We support the global efforts to eliminate their awful souls. We refuse to let their hate taint our hearts — dampen our spirits. We spread a little kindness each and every day. Regardless of politics, races, or religions, we band together when things are bleak. United together, the radiance of our joy and life can illuminate the dark and win over evil.