Something Small or Nothing at All

August 27, 2021

When the world becomes as horrifying and tragic as it feels right now, I tend to despair and retreat. Realistically, what can I possibly do to ease the suffering of people in Haiti or Afghanistan? To comfort the family grieving for someone lost to COVID? I’ve been paralyzed by the scope of need, and by feeling personally burned out to the point where I feel unable to do anything.

My inconveniences and irritations pale in comparison to the genuine suffering around me. It feels almost sacrilegious to seek and write about happiness. But I know the life I have is a gift, and I don’t want to waste it. Here are a few thoughts I’ve been pondering as I try to take in what is happening in the world, and figure out what I can do to help others as well as live my own precious gift of a life to the fullest. Maybe you will find some inspiration or comfort from these words, too.

“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”—Marie Curie


“Most misunderstandings in the world could be avoided if people would simply take the time to ask, ‘What else could this mean?’”—Shannon L. Alder


“If it is true that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, isn’t it also true a society is only as healthy as its sickest citizen and only as wealthy as its most deprived?”—Maya Angelou, Even the Stars Look Lonesome


“When our hearts are small, our understanding and compassion are limited, and we suffer. We can’t accept or tolerate others and their shortcomings, and we demand that they change. But when our hearts expand, these same things don’t make us suffer anymore. We have a lot of understanding and compassion and can embrace others. We accept others as they are, and then they have a chance to transform.”—Thich Nhat Hahn


“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”—Leo Tolstoy

“Anger is often what pain looks like when it shows itself in public.”—Krista Tippett


“Worry is useful when it changes our behavior in productive ways. The rest of the time, it's a negative form of distraction, an entertainment designed to keep us from doing our work and living our lives.”—Seth Godin


“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”—Theodore Roosevelt


And finally,

“We think the choice is between doing something big or something small. But really, it’s between doing something small or nothing at all.”—Lorenzo Gravina, “The Value of Doing a Little.” 

(Note: this quote is specifically referring to developing habits, but it’s applicable to many other situations!) 

What small thing can you do today to promote happiness and positivity?


Welcome to the Jungle

August 13, 2021

Photo by Su San Lee on Unsplash

We had our carpets cleaned on Monday.

We prepped for this by moving everything movable out of the rooms to be cleaned—small pieces of furniture, storage boxes, and so on. This is what our family room looked liked:

There was also this:

For the past four months, our house has been in more than its usual state of shambles. We already had our adult son living and working remotely from his childhood bedroom when in February my mother-in-law permanently moved out of her apartment into what was our guest room/exercise space. We’ve scrambled to find places to store things we’d kept in her closet (hurricane supplies and holiday decorations, for example) and furniture we didn’t want to get rid of since we knew our son was with us temporarily. He moved out in June, and before we made over his room into our new guest room/exercise space, we needed to clean his carpet, and, well, why not clean all the carpets in the house?

Bear with me, I do have a point…

While I was staring at the chaos in my family room, I realized it quite beautifully reflects the unsettled nature of my inner world right now. My personal space situation plus some additional family challenges (not to mention the state of the world!) have affected my mood, my creativity, and my outlook on life. Even my office, which used to be a haven, had become a dumping ground of paper, projects, and other things that needed to be read or otherwise dealt with. Projects I started at the beginning of the year when I felt optimistic had been buried by an onslaught of paper and other ephemera of decisions made and unmade to the point where I didn’t even want to go in there anymore. (I was embarrassed to have the carpet cleaning guy see it!)

Does this ever happen to you? Your surroundings or events in your personal life become overwhelming, and you feel unable to focus, or make progress on your goals, or even feel optimistic about the future? That’s how I've been feeling. But now that the carpets are dry, and we’ve moved almost everything where it needs to go, I feel more hopeful. I’ve spent much of this week sifting through the Pit of Despair (formerly known as my office), and I’ve made progress there, too.

The chaos is lifting. And while I slowly sort my way through the remaining mess, I’ve been reflecting on the things that did help with life in the jungle, even though I practiced them imperfectly. And they might help you, too, if you're living in chaos right now:

  • Accept that things are unsettled, and that this is the way it is right now. No use pining for the good old days, or railing against the Universe. It is what it is. “This is the adventure I’m going on next” (thank you, Martha Beck).
  • Find one small area you can put in order and retreat there when it becomes too much. My bathroom remained basically unchanged, and I’ve taken many a relaxing bubble bath over the past months. Maybe your retreat involves listening to music in your car, sipping wine on the front porch, or retiring to bed an hour early in order to read a novel that takes you far, far away. There has to be someplace. Find it and make it yours.
  • Realize that this won’t last forever. Whatever the situation, it WILL change eventually, even if you don’t know how it will change. When our son needed to move home, I knew it would be temporary, and I tried not to be upset about losing the peace of our empty nest. 
  • Don’t let your own dreams completely disappear. Choose something small and doable on the way to a personal desire. And do it! Even so, through everything except quarantine when my husband had COVID-19, I’ve continued to see my horse Tank every day or two, even when we just hang out together. He reminds me that dreams DO come true. 
What are your favorite ways to cope when life gets chaotic?


Mrs. Miniver and the Times in Which We Live

August 06, 2021

Recently I read the 1939 classic novel Mrs. Miniver (Amazon, Bookshop). And while the society we live in has changed a lot since then, I was struck by how spot on some of the passages were to the times in which we live. For instance:

“…Mrs. Miniver was beginning to feel more than a little weary of exchanging ideas (especially political ones) and of hearing other people exchange theirs. It’s all very well, she reflected, when the ideas have had time to flower, or at least to bud, so that we can pick them judiciously, present them with a bow, and watch them unfold in the warmth of each other’s understanding: but there is far too much nowadays of pulling up the wretched little things just to see how they are growing. Half the verbal sprigs we hand each other are nothing but up-ended rootlets, earthy and immature: left longer in the ground they might have some to something, but once they are exposed we seldom manage to replant them. It is largely the fault, no doubt, of the times we life in. Things happen too quickly, crisis follows crisis, the soil of our minds is perpetually disturbed. Each of us, to relieve his feelings, broadcasts his own running commentary on the preposterous and bewildering events of the hour: and this, nowadays, is what passes for conversation.”

Substitute pandemic for war in this section:

“And it oughtn’t to need a war to make us talk to each other in buses, and invent our own amusements in the evenings, and live simply, and eat sparingly, and recover the use of our legs, and get up early enough to see the sun rise. However, it has needed one: which is about the severest criticism our civilization could have.

“I wonder whether it’s too much to hope that afterwards, when all the horrors are over, we shall be able to conjure up again the feelings of these first few weeks, and somehow rebuild our peace-time world so as to preserve everything of war which is worth preserving. What we need is a kind of non-material warm museum, where, instead of gaping at an obsolete uniform in a glass case, we can press a magic button and see a vision of ourselves as we were while this revealing mood was freshly upon us.”

When the pandemic first began, I felt a sense of camaraderie, a spirit of “We’re all in this together.” While there were incidents of stunningly selfish behavior, there were also incidents of kindness, encouragement, and a desire to protect others. Now…not so much. We are all weary from the constant barrage of opinion, science that changes and evolves as health experts learn more about this novel virus, and fear that we or someone we love will become seriously sick or even die.

I wish I had the answers to the problems we’re facing. What I’m trying to do is be the person who makes the situation better (not the person who makes the situation worse), by posting positive and uplifting content, and by trying to be personally responsible in my daily actions. I’m seeking comfort in the words of those who’ve come before, whether in a novel written in the 1930s, or in the words of mental health experts who share ways to cope with our new normal. I’m hoping to offer comfort and encouragement in the words I speak and the words I share here on Catching Happiness.

If you’re feeling discouraged, sad, or worried, my heart goes out to you. If there’s anything you’d like to see on Catching Happiness that would lift your spirits, please share in the comments below or message me privately at kathyjohn335 [at] gmail [dot] com. And go find yourself a copy of Mrs. Miniver—it’s a mood lifter!