Count your blessings

Mammaw always said that in tough times, it’s important to count your blessings. Well, somebody’s mammaw probably said that. My mammaw, who lived through the Great Depression (and that was pre-Zoloft), said that in tough economic times, it’s a good idea to grab your nuts before some other woodland creature runs off with them.

One of her most touching stories involved a destitute man coming to the door begging for help. He held up some poop and said, “Please, ma’am, can you help me? All I’ve got to my name is this cold horse turd.” To which she replied, “You poor man. Go out back to the barn and help yourself to a warm one.” By which I believe she meant “count your blessings.” 

And so, as the Bush economy rains more economic fallout on us with each passing day, it’s more important than ever to consider how good it is living here in Kentucky, the horse-turd capital of the nation. For one thing, it’s good to weather an economic downturn in a place where today’s luxury items like soap and beans are relatively inexpensive as opposed to, say, New York, where it costs $7 for a cup of coffee and $2 for a subway ride (although that does include complimentary all-you-can-smell B.O.). 

Fortunately, several recent studies have revealed money and happiness aren’t necessarily related. It turns out you can achieve happiness without paying exorbitant sums for sex, drugs or Cards tickets after all. According to Pursuit-Of-Happiness.Org, many factors in life trump money when it comes to producing happiness, including getting regular exercise, volunteering and identifying your character strengths and consciously practicing them daily. Maybe your most valuable blessings are character strengths like creativity, kindness, humility or biting sarcasm. 

Happiness researchers also are identifying a major stressor of modern life: too many choices. Contrary to conventional wisdom, having lots of choices is more likely to produce stress than happiness. Nowadays, going to the grocery store, mall or brewpub presents us with more overwhelming decisions than Eliot Spitzer at the Emperor’s Club bordello’s Columbus Day Sale. Won’t it be sort of comforting when all we can afford to drink is tap water and all of our meals come out of a Dumpster? See? Glass half-full. Count your blessings. 

One dependable source of inexpensive happiness is “flow,” that state of complete absorption we achieve when we are fully immersed in an activity to the point that time and ego seem to disappear. According to Claremont University psychology professor Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, flow is a jazz-like experience of action, movement and thought in which we feel free and fulfilled. In his study “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience,” Csíkszentmihályi offers advice for achieving flow: The task at hand must not be too easy or too hard and there are methods that enhance our ability to achieve flow, like yoga, meditation and martial arts. 

For me, flow happens when I’m carefully crafting painful, forced similes. For instance, right now my ego is falling away like the election chances of John McCain each time his most unhinged supporters scream maniacal epithets during the candidate’s own rallies, and time is passing unnoticed like corporate-lobbyist money through the Mitch McConnell corruption machine.

But if you’re terrified by the very real prospect of seeing your hard-earned investments disappearing faster than free-market capitalism’s credibility, you might want to consider my pampa’s advice. Pampa believed that whatever you give comes back to you double. So, suppose you have recently seen your retirement funds drop from $100,000 to their current value of about 5 cents. Instead of desperately clinging to that nickel, why not give it to the next person you meet who has things worse than you? Soon, according to Pampa’s theory, a dime will come your way. Give that to someone needy and before you know it, you’ll have 20 cents. Continue repeating that pattern and soon you’ll have enough money to bail out a mortgage banker.

In America, we tend to forget that happiness, not money, is the goal. And if money and happiness aren’t linked, aren’t we lucky that Republicans have let greedy financiers and war profiteers walk off with all our money? OK, maybe not. But aren’t we lucky to live in a country where we can vote the bums out of office? Now there’s a blessing we can all count.