Thinking About Optimism

I wonder if having an optimistic outlook on life is mostly inborn or learned.  Our personalities are complicated.  Psychologists are not precisely sure whether optimism can be successfully learned or if a sunny disposition is part of some people’s general make up. An optimistic attitude can be partially learned by pessimists, but it seems like pessimists have pessimism as a template for their personalities.optimism-02

Anecdotal observation of infants shows some babies smile and seem more cheery than others. This personality feature apparently remains with the child as she or he grows through childhood on into adulthood.

From childhood onwards, we’re urged to look on the bright side of life and search for the silver lining in clouds. This marketing of optimism seems to work well for some people and not at all for others.

Many years ago, I lived with a pessimistic roommate, not only did he look on the dark side of life, he was accident prone, too.  I sometimes wondered if being pessimistic and having  numerous mishaps goes hand in hand. The roommate also consulted doctors optimism-03very frequently.  The physicians could never find anything wrong with him, in fact my roommate feared that he might be a hypochondriac. He was a person who could sit in a room full of uplifting, positive literature and complain that there was nothing good to read.

His brother was the polar opposite.  He was quite upbeat, successful, and physically robust.  If anybody wanted to conduct a case study of pessimism vs. optimism among siblings, these two brothers might have been good subjects.

On the surface, it appears that people who have hopeful attitudes and expect the best possible outcomes enjoy good overall health.  Again, anecdotal evidence seems to point to improved heart health and other forms of physical well-being are more prevalent in optimistic individuals than in those who are pessimistic.  This is not ironclad proof.  We all probably know one or two people who suffer from a serious physical disability or endures chronic illnesses who have upbeat, optimistic personalities.

It’s easy to spot a person with inate optimism and a person who is trying to force herself into adopting an optimistic attitude.  The “natural” optimist just radiates hopefulness and positivity. The “wannabe” optimist frequently spouts platitudes and tries almost too hard to be cheerful.  They don’t realize that it might be better to accept themselves for who they are.  Acceptance of oneself provides more peace of mind, than pithy sayings ever will.optimism-01

I don’t think there is a clear division between optimism and pessimism.  There is also a group of us who are realists. We’re not classic optimists and we’re not naysaying pessimists. We’ve been exposed to both extremes yet neither of them “took”. We see the inherent weaknesses of both types.  Realists tend to view life more objectively.  Realists borrow from optimists, the motivation to move forward, and from pessimists, the ability to understand obstacles to progress. Realists enjoy a healthy share of pragmatism.

Personally, I prefer an occasional nudge of optimism so as to not get caught up in the overwhelming pessimism of the culture at large.  I tend to only wear rose-colored glasses on holidays and other celebrations. I know I’m being optimistic when I ask myself, “How can I do it?” rather than “Am I able to do it?”

mini-moiThe Blue Jay of Happiness quotes the English poet and playwright, John Heywood. “If you will call your troubles experiences, and remember that every experience develops some latent force within you, you will grow vigorous and happy, however adverse your circumstances.”

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Tall And Dry …Floral Friday

Spring cleaning has arrived so it’s time again to cull the supply bins.  There have been several items waiting to be used, but have been put on hold for one reason or another.  Dry stems have accumulated over the past couple of years.  They needed to be used so dust doesn’t become a problem.

Likewise, some tall containers have been pushed aside for quite awhile. They needed to be cleaned up to make them presentable again.  Their dimensions are perfect for tall, dry plants.

A vintage heavy glass soda straw jar lost its dispenser top many years ago and has been waiting to be repurposed. The leftovers from three hobby shop assortments are utilized in this basic, simple arrangement.

ff031717bThis special version of a 408 Ewer vase was sold by Haeger Potteries specifically as a container for dried arrangements.  It is unique because of the array of holes. I decided that a very simple collection of tall sticks and long brittle leaves could coexist in this floor vase.


An avocado green Floraline vase harmonizes with the predominantly green elements of this more stylized arrangement of grasses.  The vertical emphasis remains.

mini-moiThe Blue Jay of Happiness likes this Portuguese proverb: “An old man in love is like a flower in winter.”

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Brain Awareness

I take a sip of coffee and glance down at Random Kitty.  He is puzzled that I’m not sharing something with him. Random jumps onto the sofa, sniffs at my cup, then leaps onto the floor at my feet to observe me. Maybe I should say, we begin to observe each other.  We look into each others’ eyes and I feel a wordless communication.  Certainly there is some sort of bond or positive emotion our brains are creating.

I continue to ponder the cat. What is going on inside that little head of his?  Does Random Kitty simply feel the emotion or does he somehow analyze it with cat logic?  Is there such a thing as cat logic? Biologists don’t know for sure, but veterinarians do know something about cat psychology. Felines have feelings and thoughts that go beyond mere biological survival instincts.

Thinking about cat brains, led  to thoughts about human brains.  Our brains and nervous system are basically who we are.  Researchers and scientists have found that brains are where consciousness derives. The more they study small animals, like cats, the more science is discovering about the nature of consciousness. There is no need for a brain as complex as a human’s brain to manifest consciousness.

brainawareness-02CAT scans, or more properly CT scans, of human and animal brains have revealed a great deal of information about what areas of the brains are activated by different outside conditions and internal thought patterns. There are parts of the brain that recognize the difference between familiar people and strangers. Our brains enable us to prefer some types of music and art to others.

Importantly, various parts of our brains are at work when we are self-aware. Recent findings seem to point to self-awareness as originating in various areas of the brain, including portions not located in our cerebral cortexes. This gives more weight to the hypothesis that consciousness and self-awareness could be present among more species than we previously believed.brainawareness-03

One of the problems with brains, is that they are very sensitive to injury. We have evolved hard skulls that help protect our brains from impacts. There are also internal injuries such as those caused by strokes and aneurysms that can greatly hamper brain activity or even cause death. This is why we are advised to seek emergency medical care if we suspect a brain injury from an accident, or if we believe we’ve experienced a stroke.

We think a lot about and of ourselves. The place where all this thinking takes place is in the brain. It’s amazing that our brains can think about themselves. We need to take care of our brains.

I hope your brain has good thoughts, today.

moi1988bThe Blue Jay of Happiness likes what “Harper’s Index” had to say regarding brain food. “Estimated amount of glucose used by an adult human brain each day, expressed in M&Ms: 250.”

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True Confessions

Yesterday I noticed a Facebook sidebar mention of a True Confessions page on the social media site.  I was amazed that someone felt the need for further confessions.  After all, scrolling through my “newsfeed”, I see numerous postings containing too much personal information already. I shrugged off the little advertisement as just another sign of the times.trueconfessions-03

At first blush it seems redundant to have something called a “true confession”.  Aren’t all confessions true?  Perhaps there are also “false confessions”.  Are false confessions really confessions?  Why would anyone confess to something they didn’t actually do? Are they just attention seekers?  Maybe they have some sort of unresolved emotional problem.  Perhaps a false confession would serve as a red herring in the instance of criminal behavior. The subject of false confessions is probably best left to forensic scientists.

I thought about the Roman Catholic practice of Confession.  I am not Catholic so the ritual is a bit of a mystery to me. Do priests often hear false confessions? What about trueconfessions-01the confessions involving serious crimes like robbery or murder?   I’ve never asked my Catholic friends about it because Confession seems like a highly personal subject to broach.

Should I be surprised there is now a phone app for Confession?  Are there priests who moderate this app?  Are there communications between the app and one’s local parish?

I understand the inate desire of people for true confession.  Heartfelt confession of a wrong clears the air and begins the process of healing a tainted mind.  True confession is an expression of candor and honesty.  When a confession is sincere, it feels as if a huge burden has been lifted away.

I have a fuzzy memory of my first major confession. It was the first day of First Grade class at school. One of my classmates had bullied me that morning.  Later in the day, I sneeked away from recess then scribbled in crayon all over the papers left on the bully’s desk. After recess, the teacher figured out that I was the culprit. I was sent to the principal’s office to confess my ill deed.

Even if people don’t believe in a deity or are not compelled by the police to confess to a crime, folks still make true confessions.  It’s safe to say we’ve all made true confessions at some times in our lives.trueconfessions-02

You probably learned that confessing sooner rather than later is the best policy. That shortens the duration of guilty feelings in one’s conscience. The more sincere the confession and apology helps the process of healing and conciliation.

We’ve learned that clarity and simplicity are best. Most importantly, the confession is best made face to face with the party against whom we’ve trespassed. True confessions are a major step towards closure for both parties.

Confessions are more powerful when there is no waffling or excuse making.  A true confession is precise and exactly to the point. There should be no ulterior motive. There should be no expectation of reward or avoidance of punishment. A confession may or may not redeem us in the eyes of the victim or authority figure.

A true confession just puts the facts into the open.  The ability to make true confessions is a major aspect of living a good life.

moi1986bThe Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Mahatma Gandhi. “Confession of errors is like a broom which sweeps away the dirt and leaves the surface brighter and clearer. I feel stronger for confession.”

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Save The Spiders

I looked up from the book I had been reading to glance at the cone-shaped candle holder on the nearby table. A small, grey spider was running endlessly around the edge of the container in orbit around the flame. She had a compact body and long legs. spiderday-01She was a fast moving creature, too. I placed a bookmark in the book and set it aside. The little arachnid was far more fascinating.

After several minutes, I decided to release the spider outdoors onto shrubbery. So, I picked up the candleholder, brought it outdoors, allowed the breeze to extinguish the candle, then I held the edge of the candleholder up to a twig. The spider made her escape and scampered away.

I suppose the minor incident is memorable because I learned something that evening.  Apparently some spiders are light sensitive and react to light much like moths are attracted to  flames.spiderday-03

Whenever possible, I save spiders from human caused death.  I always have a paper cup and square of thin cardboard on a shelf specifically for that purpose. If I’m away from home, I improvise something else to help in the rescue. If I encounter a spider or two in the basement or garage, there is no need to disturb them. They’re probably hunting bugs I don’t want around.

Besides their helpful role in the balance of nature, spiders can be entertaining and interesting to watch. During the warm seasons, my favorites are jumping spiders. The cute little things are bundles of energy.  I cannot resist observing one if I see it on a door or window. What’s not to like about that?

spiderday-02I’m certainly not an arachnologist, but the casual study of eight-legged creatures is enjoyable. I cannot truthfully say that I like all varieties of spiders, but they’re all worthy of respect.

Spring is almost here, that means spiders have been hatching and will be hungry to feast on pesky insects. It is time to observe another aspect of nature.

mini-moiThe Blue Jay of Happiness quotes the English actor Matt Smith.”If I see a spider in the flat, I try to get a cup and a piece of paper and throw it out of the window. I can’t kill them because they’re good for catching flies.”

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A Few Old Family Photos

During the past year or so, I’ve been going through old belongings that had been squirreled away in nooks and crannies of dad’s house.  Perhaps the most interesting, yet melancholy inducing artifacts are a handful of very old photographs.

Most of the pages of a very old thin, black album that belonged to mom had been nearly emptied of pictures. The few that remained were glued strongly in place or were loose.  In addition, an old manila envelope contained loose photos that belonged to dad.  There were only a few more pictures than mom’s old album.


The image that elicited the deepest wonderings is the antique photo of great grandma Katy, mom’s maternal grandmother. On the reverse was the penciled notation, “grandma Katy before she was married”. That means the photograph was probably taken sometime in the late 1800s.


The other photo from mom’s album I decided to share shows mom and my uncle Larry posing with my maternal grandfather.  Seeing grandpa here gives me a smile because I remember  he mostly wore bib overalls every day.


The only commercially framed photo in today’s collection came from dad’s envelope.  I’m guessing that this photograph of my maternal grandmother was taken for her graduation from teachers’ college. It may have been done for the school’s yearbook I don’t have. Judging by her hair style and clothing this was taken in the early 1920s.


The picture of the assembled musicians is labeled “dad’s band”.  That refers to my paternal grandfather, who was a member of a jazz band in the 1920s. He is the young man with the bowtie at the right end of the middle row. He played horn, but his favorite instrument was banjo.


The old car belonged to dad’s brother Marvin who bought it after his high school graduation.  This picture was shot in rural Madison County, Nebraska some time in the 1940s.


The last photo is a fast-forward in time to possibly 1959 or 1960 in Wayne, Nebraska.  From left to right are my sister, three second cousins, and me. We were enjoying some of great aunt Emma’s famous popcorn balls. Such sweet memories.

blja_gt_lThe Blue Jay of Happiness quotes musician Robert Smith. “I became an adult in an extreme way. I was recently sorting some old photographs and I found another.”

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It’s Hard To Be Humble

During your silent time, have you ever thought to yourself, “Whatever has become of simple humility?”  This may come from a hunger to live in a culture that doesn’t value superiority and superlatives nearly as much as ours does.humility-01

I spent most of my career as a broadcaster involved in the creation and production of advertising.  There’s nothing wrong with advertising per se.  People and companies produce goods and services they wish to sell to the public. Advertising is the act of making the public aware of such goods and services. Advertising, itself is a marketable service, one that enabled my paychecks.

Certainly, advertising has many faults and flaws.  Among them is the promotion of the idea of superiority along with subtle and not so subtle elitism. Even advertising that touts the “averageness” of a product, promotes the idea that that product is more average and humble than any other.

Bragging is seriously exhausting. After spending a workday dreaming up new ways of using superlatives proclaiming our clients’ goods and services are the most wonderful goods and services available on the market, I often wanted to go home to an unremarkable, simple place in my house and in my head.

Working in a superlative driven business within a culture that is obsessed with superiority can be spiritually draining if one is not self-aware.  In the end, the struggle to be leader of the pack is futile. The business of superiority is a fickle, empty one.

What nearly every wisdom tradition says about the pursuit of fame and fortune is true. This endless drive cultivates envy and hunger for power. I think of a pithy thought humility-02from Ernest Hemingway: There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.”

What makes a person truly humble and not merely display a façade of humility?  One should not mistake inadequacy and insecurity for humility. Just as pieousness and arrogance have nothing to do with greatness, a false front or insecurity have nothing to do with humility.  When we ponder humility, we encounter one of those slippery virtues that disappears the moment we claim to possess it.

A person should also be on guard against spiritual pride. To think that one’s own spiritual or religious path is the one true way to enlightenment or goodness is not the key to unlock the mystery of humility. To be sanctimonious is not the way to manifesthumility-03 humility. Mahatma Gandhi said something to this effect. “It is unwise to be too sure of one’s own wisdom. It is healthy to be reminded that the strongest might weaken and the wisest might err.”

To be humble is to keep the mind open to other points of view, even those that may cause discomfort. Even if those points of view are not  good fits for oneself, they enable understanding about the nature of others. The ability to alter one’s personal prejudices is a sign of humility in action. Here is yet another quote. This one from Hermann Hesse illustrates how we view other people. “It is not for me to judge another man’s life. I must choose, I must spurn, purely for myself. For myself alone.”


2012yearofthedragonThe Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Lao Tzu. “I have three precious things which I hold fast and prize. The first is gentleness; the second is frugality; the third is humility, which keeps me from putting myself before others. Be gentle and you can be bold; be frugal and you can be liberal; avoid putting yourself before others and you can become a leader among men.”

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