Monday, July 9, 2012

The Psychology of Happiness

What is happiness? How does one achieve it? Is true happiness even possible in a world filled with economic stagnation that has led to a huge underclass of "have nots" yet surrounded by others enjoying the greatest prosperity the world has ever known? Can those of modest means be happy? Can the rich really be happy? Can a married bisexual man be truly happy?

These are but a few of dozens of questions one could ask concerning happiness and the roll it plays or fails to play in our individual lives.

Perhaps in fairness I should disclose that I have always enjoyed a privileged life. Not privileged in the manner displayed by the "upstairs lives" enjoyed by the folks of "Downton Abbey" by any stretch of the word, not a life of ease and free of challenge; but nevertheless privileged in the ways that make a difference in a boy's life and point him to a happy and successful life.

I was born into a lower middle class family to a young couple whose lives, like the lives of millions of others, had been put on hold by World War II. I was born in a little three room shack of a house that was, to say the least, modest but which was always tidy and clean and made to look as nice as could be.

About the time of my birth, the post war economy was beginning to kick into high gear. My Dad had returned home from the war and began working in the booming oilfields. It was hard, dirty work; but that didn't bother my father. With less than an eighth grade education, he was happy for such work because he knew it was his passport out of the lower middle class into the mid ranges of the middle class. His job enabled him to purchase new siding for the old house. The board siding that had long sense lost most of its paint was covered over with gleaming white siding tiles. A big covered front porch was added complete with a porch swing. Trees were added to the front yard along with a fence intended to keep me from wondering off though it was entirely ineffective for the purpose. The house no longer looked like a shack at all.

All of my memories from those first few years of my life are happy memories. To me the world was a benevolent and wonderful place I wanted to explore. I was walking by the time I was 8 months old and it fell to my poor mother to try to keep me out of harms way. It was sometimes too much for one person. There was the time I wanted to explore the top shelve of my mothers free standing metal dish cabinet. It ended up on top of me on the floor along with dozens of broken plates and dishes. There was the time I pulled a two gallon bucket of onions off the kitchen table causing it to land right on my big toe. For years afterward I had problems with that toenail. There was the time when I was still in diapers that I ran away from home. I had somehow defeated the yard fence and crossed the vegetable garden to my grandmother's house. I would have made it, but crawling under her gate, my diaper became entangled and I was stuck until someone heard my frustrated and indignant cries and came to my rescue.

But while I frazzled my mother, I was, from my earliest memories, a happy kid. There was nothing in the world to be unhappy about at all.  When I was 16 months old there was a new comer to our home, a baby brother. Luckily for my Mom, he was nothing like me. He was quite and content to just observe the world around him.

My brother and I spent a lot of time in that front porch swing. My Mom had somehow attached a baby seat to it for him and I would sit on the swing beside him and make sure the swing was swinging. It was from the vantage point of my seat on that swing I began to realize for the first time that the world I lived in, which was safe and secure and full of wonders for me, was not the world everyone lived in.

The little house backed up to a railroad track, and just behind our house the track took a sharp left curve. Trains would move slowly but noisily around the curve. It was a good place for hobos to exit the train in search of food. Fortunately for them, they didn't have to go far. If they knocked on my Mom's door, she would cook a couple of eggs and a piece of toast for them. They would sit on the steps of the porch while my brother and I sat in the porch swing watching them.

As time passed I began to talk and to ask questions as all young kids do. It was not just my Mom who had the good luck to field my endless questions. I would sit on the porch swing peppering the hobos with questions while they sat on the porch steps eating.  I usually got no satisfactory answers. As young as I was, they probably couldn't even understand my questions; but I was nothing if not determined to get answers. As was to become the norm for many of the questions posed by my life over the next eighteen or so years, I eventually turned to my mother for answers about who these men were and what they were doing riding the freight trains. She explained to me they were homeless and, for the most part, jobless men who rode the trains all over the country. Some of them, she explained, had no work skills and could not find jobs to support themselves, so  they rode the trains from town to town finding food where they could, often trading a little work for a plate of food. Others among them had skills and even educations, but chose the hobo life for its adventures and its freedoms.

For a young boy who also enjoyed exploring, it seemed a good choice to me in many ways. I think as a three year old, I probably thought growing up to be a hobo would be fun.

It was a different time than now. The hobos were not like people living on the streets today. They were not mentally unstable, they were not angry. They were not militant about some cause or the other. They were actually pleasant and respectful as a rule. I watched them remove their hats as they asked my mother for food. I listened to them thank her and ask God to bless her for her kindness. My Mom was never afraid of these men and so I was never afraid of them either, just curious about their funny clothes, their beards and their riding the trains. In their own way, the seemed perfectly happy individuals who were living the life they wanted to live.

When I was four years old, a significant event took place in my life. My Dad got a job with a major oil company in Texas. We left the little house behind. Loaded everything into pickup trucks and moved west to Texas.

Strangely, for a kid born to explore and keen on adventure, I have no memory of the actual trip to Texas. I do remember the rental house we moved into. It was a small simple frame house on a big lot with a detached rather ramshackle garage with no door. But to me the house was big because for the first time, my brother and I had our own bedroom we shared together.

Life was different in Texas and exciting. More people came into my life. There were three kids next door who were older than me but nevertheless tolerated me well. I considered them my friends. The oldest girl would baby sit my brother and I on occasion.

Another difference was my mother returned to work as a teacher, something she had not done since my birth. This brought a regular baby sitter into mine and my brother's lives. She was the next door neighbor just across the street from the little  house. She was a kind and gentle woman and I came to love her. During that year she saw my brother and I through the Chicken Pox, a new adventure that I definitely did not enjoy, yet survived in a darkened room with constant admonitions not to pick at the sores which covered my body no matter how much they itched.

With my father in a well paying job with a major oil company and my mother teaching, life began to take on more of what would have been luxuries  in my first four  years. There was a new car, not really new, but new to me and my parents. Likewise a new pickup for my Dad. In fact, it was a very old black pickup; but it was interesting to me and exciting to ride in. There was even an occasional meal at the restaurant down town on main street. There was a jukebox which fascinated me beyond measure. I would be given a nickel  to put in the selection box, one of which was attached to each booth table. When the selection began to play, the curtains on a miniature band box fixed high on the back wall would open to reveal a miniature orchestra with miniature instruments seemingly playing the music while being led by a miniature director who waved his arms in time with the music. I loved that band box as a 4 year old. It remained on the wall of that restaurant until I left for college years later. It is one of the many happy memories of my childhood.

Almost exactly a year after moving into the little frame house, we moved again. We left the small town and moved 15 miles out into the countryside, ten of the 15 miles on a dirt road. My mother had gotten a job teaching in a little four room country school. It was a good move for my parents because as a teacher my mother received a free house to live in on the school grounds in one of several houses furnished to the teachers and the school principal and the school janitor. It was an exciting and happy time in my life. Right out my front door was the school play ground with swings, slides, merry-go-rounds and jungle bars. The other houses that lined up on either side of my new home were full of boys and girls, some of them my age. Across the street from the school was a small General Store, a Post Office and a Church. The little community was surrounded by miles and miles of ranch land and oil fields. In the coming years as I got older, it was to become a child's wonderland of fun and opportunity for adventure.

That little community no longer exists now. Everything is gone. The ranch land has reclaimed everything and one would never know that once it was home to a small gang of happy children who roamed far and wide and knew every inch of the land in all directions, as far as we could ride our horses. It was a childhood, the memory of which I would not trade for a million dollars. I am convinced that my childhood in that little community surround by friends I knew intimately had a great part in molding my character and my life. The little community is gone, but it lingers still in my mind.

I believe my childhood experiences along with the constant attention and teaching of my parents set the stage for the person I am and for my future happiness. It's not that life did not have its problems and its challenges in those years, it certainly did. There were problems and challenges for my parents and problems and challenges for me and my brother; but I watched my parents overcome the problems and live up to the challenges and I saw our lives get steadily better and better. Problems and challenges were, more often than not, opportunities for rewards. Life was exceedingly good. We were all exceedingly happy.

Always one who was ready for a new adventure, I married a month or so before my 19th birthday. I had no doubts about getting married. The prospect of taking on such a huge burden at such a young age did not frighten me or concern me. I knew from 18 years of watching my Mom and Dad that hard work and openness to opportunity would bring rewards. I was ready to make the sacrifice. There would be immediate rewards in the form of unlimited sex. At 18 years of age, it wasn't like I was an experienced young man in heterosexual love making, but I was more than a willing student. The fumbling learning sexual contacts my wife to be and I had in the back of my car and on a blanket in secluded spots on the lake were as good as it got as far as I knew, and that was plenty good enough for me. I had no idea at all how awesome and wonderful sex would become as we practiced it over the next several decades. I know of nothing on earth that is more fulfilling than sexual intercouse between a man and a woman who truly love each other.

Yet shortly after our marriage, life began to present its first real tragedies. Only four months into our marriage, my wife's father died. Just under 20 months after that, my mother also died. These were tragedies that no matter what one did could not be made right. My wife had been  her  Daddy's girl. My mother and I had been close all my life. She had answered my questions, she had pointed the way for me with patience and love. She had taught me to be me and to be proud of myself. Even though I had accomplished almost nothing by the time she died, she had a certain knowledge that I would, and I have.

I have accomplished much in my life because I stand on the shoulders of giants, my Mom and my Dad. It has been 43 years this month since my Mom passed away. I have long since come to terms with her death, but I have never accepted it. I still carry anger at God for allowing it to happen. God has blessed me beyond measure, but He's never made up for that loss which simply happened too early in both my life and my mother's life to be acceptable to me. My mother had so much she was willing to give but she died so young. I get angry still when I see so many who have nothing to give and wouldn't give it if they did who seem to live on and on of worth to no one including themselves. It just doesn't seem right.

But because my mother knew she was dying and accepted it with grace and a sense of peace along with a willingness to submit to God's will, it has helped me to at least put my anger on the back burner of my life. Now, that I am living with terminal cancer, the memory of my mother's gracefulness and sense of peace in the face of death serves as an example for me to strive to walk the same path. Even in the face of death, I can honestly say I'm happy. I have everything I need and more, even if I no longer have everything I would have wanted at this point in my life, my  health. As the Country/Western song says, I have even found there are good things about living like you're dying. It makes each day a special day to "Live Like You Were Dying."

There is a definite psychological choice to happiness. I was so lucky in my life to have experienced a positive and optimistic outlook on life through those I loved. I was lucky to be taught that work not only solves problems but provides enormous opportunities and its own unique self-satisfaction.

I was privileged to learn that deferring satisfaction for a later time or place more often than not brings exponentially greater rewards and satifaction. I learned that even in the face of irreconcilable tragedy, happiness remains a personal choice. We cannot always control what happens to us or around us, but we can aways without fail choose how we perceive and react to what happens to us or around us.

I write this blog because identifying and reconciling my bisexuality to the other parts of my life was the hardest challenge I have ever faced. It was much harder than getting a college education while being married and working full time while taking a full course load. It was much harder than raising two kids who are now happy and successful adults with happy and well adjusted children of their own. It was much harder than building and executing a professional career which was fulfilling and fun yet allowed me to take an early retirement when the point came that I was ready to move on to a new part of my life where work was optional.

For many years my bisexuality was the thing that went bump in the dark of the night. It never went away, but I was able to ignore it for most of my young adult life because I simply did not have the time or the means to confront it as a young father and professional man. One of the things my Dad taught me was to never start a war I could not win. I took that advice to heart. I took pleasure in the other parts of my life and let myself be happy, if somewhat troubled, in spite of the demon in the dark.

Eventually, I knew the time had come when I could go to war with that demon and have a better than equal chance of winning. Winning was one of the hardest struggles I've ever had. I had to find and study new ideas and ideals. I had to learn new viewpoints of God shared by men who had spent a lifetime studying theology and writing about the things they had learned and about their own struggles. I had to throw away old paradigms that had been a part of my life almost all my life and replace them with new paradigms that allowed me to see me, and God, in a new way. I realized one cannot, at the same time, cling to all his past and still embrace all  his future. It simply is not possible. Something has to give. Almost always the correct thing to do is let go of the past that no longer contributes anything positive to ones future.

Unfortunately, more people than one would imagine, simply cannot or will not cease their embrace of the past, and in keeping themselves bound to the past they sacrifice the opportunity for peace and happiness in the present and in the future. It is a human tragedy that most of us have observed in others but we often fail to recognize in our own lives.

When I took on the demon in the dark part of my life, I found it was not a demon at all. It was a remarkable part of me that only looked scary in the dark. In the light of acceptance and reconciliation, it made me a new person. It brought new friends into my life. It gave me a whole new tool to be of service to others and through that service to find a fulfillment that has been incredibly valuable to me and to others. I have been blessed with a wife who understands me and accepts me for what I really am although she had no idea about that part of my life for almost the first 40 years of our marriage. I'm smart enough to know that for her it was more than just the capability to understand. Her understanding was anchored in our love for each other. It was molded by our friendship and by our mutual trust. If we had not have had a life together that was the most valuable thing we had in life, the experience would have more than likely turned out differently.

The poet reminds us that "no man is an island, no man stands alone." So it is with our lives. No part of our personal lives can really be successfully isolated from any of the other parts. Every influence that enters our lives must be evaluated, cataloged and filed. We are the librarians of our own lives. We decide the categories under which we file the components of our lives. To the extent that we recognize and embrace the happy events in our lives, to the extent that we accept the struggles and the bad times in our lives as opportunities to overcome and grow in strength and wisdom, to the extent we choose to dwell on and remember the triumphs of our lives more clearly and more often than the tragedies, the more we have put in place a psychology of happiness which will always sustain and uplift us. Doing all these things is nothing more than a personal choice.

I have a friend who is always complaining. You can't say good morning to her without her immediately  falling into a litany of her current problems, health issues and family disappointments. She simply complains all the time. Yet she seems happy. She frequently smiles and even laughs when going through her troublesome list of woes.

She was a mystery to me until one day it hit me. What makes her happy, what brings her contentment is sharing her victimhood with others. She would not be happy if she couldn't complain. Complaining fulfills her and makes her happy. True enough she has no idea of the burden she puts on her friends who have to listen to her, but her ignorance of that allows her to actually be personally happy.

I think she is an example that we are meant to be happy. I think it shows that we will go to great lengths to embrace happiness. The only mistake she has made is finding her own happiness in a way that does nothing to help bring fulfillment and happiness into the lives of others.

Chances are, if you are reading this blog, you are a homosexual or bisexual man or the wife of one. Either way there are challenges you must face in your life. There are decisions you must make. You deserve to be happy. More than likely, your spouse deserves to be happy too. You must make the decisions that contribute to your own happiness. You must remember that unless you are happy, you cannot contribute to the happiness of those around you. You must understand that what you fear most may not be so fearful at all in the light of day and in the long run.

True happiness may be found in bringing  your secret out into the open and sharing it with your spouse and/or your friends. It may be simply bringing it into the openness of your own mind and admitting it is a real part of you.

In the end, choosing to be happy with the things that are irreconcilably a part of you is the only way to find happiness. Your sexuality is an unchangeable yet reconcilable part of you. Your view of religion; and more importantly, your parent's views on religion are not irreconcilable parts of you. Your fears are not an irreconcilable part of you. Your self hatred is not an irreconcilable part of you. It only seems that it is.

The choice to be miserable and unhappy is certainly not an unchangeable part of you. You can choose to replace it with the psychology of happiness. Give it a try. It's your choice!

Jack Scott


  1. A very spiritually sustaining post that brought tears to my eyes at a number of junctures. Thank you for so rich and beatiful a sharing. I admire the fact that your theme song at this stage in your life is Michael Jackson's "Live Like You Were Dying." I will never be able to listen to it again without a thought of you.

  2. I concur with Westernstock's comment "A very spiritually sustaining post". I laughed and cried. Thank you for sharing the intimacy of your life!


I deeply regret that I must reinstate the verification process for those who want to leave comments on my blog. This is due to the intolerable amount of spam that spammers are attempting to leave on the blog.

At the same time I am changing settings so that those of you who have a Google Blogger ID or other recognized blogger ID will not have to have your comments moderated. My hope is this will encourage more readers to take the time to comment. The fact is I want to read comments with those of you who disagree with me as well as those of you who agree with me. All I ask is that you keep your comments clean and non-threatening.

The only reason I take the time to write this blog is to spur your thoughts and comments. Please do not let the spammers cause you not to comment. I know entering the verification words and numbers is a pain in the ass, but I hope you will not let the spammers cause you not to comment.

I still very much look forward to hearing from you.

Jack Scott

Anyone can comment on what I write in this blog. Regretfully, the recent amount of spam in my email account as required that I reinstate the word verification process for comments which I personally hate.

But at the same time I have loosened the comment moderation process so that those of you who have a Google Blogger ID or other recognized blogger ID will no longer need to wait for your comment to be moderated. I'm hoping this will tempt you to take the trouble to comment.

The truth is I want respectful comments both from those who agree with me and those who do not. All I as is that you keep comments to the point, clean and non-threatenting.

I look forward to hearing from each of you.

Jack Scott