Tag Archives: happiness

Last Cigarette Ever

I can remember my first cigarette ever, stolen from my mother’s pack of Virginia Slims 100s and enjoyed on the roof outside my teenaged window. It would mark the beginning of an era for me, one that would characterize both my adolescence and young adulthood. I can appreciate that only a handful of these cigarettes had a metaphysical impact on me rivaling the damage all of them were obviously doing to my body. But I was willing to gamble then and still believe now that the impact those important ones had on my being was stronger and more lasting than the physical harm they did to my lungs.

I’ve always been told that lungs regenerate and am learning now in school just how that occurs and it’s really quite remarkable. The skin lining the lungs has to go through four stages before the damage becomes irreversible, so as long as you don’t smoke long enough to get to that fourth stage, eventually your lungs will return to normal. It’s amazing to me that the trauma my lungs have been through can be righted with time, through no effort on my part other than simply no longer smoking. This is certainly something that physical damage has over emotional.

Emotional trauma has long been a reason to start or keep smoking. With that said, emotional trauma is often one of the things that shapes us the most. I can remember more than a few extra cigarettes smoked on nights of tears or too much drinking, but I also remember the ones that started friendships that would become life-long bonds. Smokers bond faster than non-smokers because we have this wonderfully terrible habit in common that leaves us with nothing else to do but chat. The friends I made smoking on the stoop my freshman year of college are still some of the best people I know. They are the people who know me, inside and out, the ones from whom I could hide little because we’ve shared so much.

It was a cigarette that introduced me to the love of my life and one that marked the moment when my mother passed. Both of these events impacted me in irreversible ways and I’m not sorry to have them marked in my memory with a cigarette. The first gave him and me what seemed to us infinite time to get to know one another and, for that, he remains my best friend seven years later. The latter gave me a moment of pure existence to truly appreciate the gravity of my mother’s passing and the numerous amazing, hilarious and heartbreaking moments that preceded it. Had it not been my instinct to reach for an American Spirit at that moment, I would have been robbed of something that has probably shaped me more than any life experience thus far.

That was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Quitting smoking comes in second.

It has now been more than a year since my last cigarette and that era in my life has come to a close. My body is on its way to repairing itself, but thankfully the impact the cigarettes had on my existence will be mine forever. The truth is, as hard as it all was, I wouldn’t trade my smoking days for anything. They made me who I am and they were fabulous.

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What makes us happy?

Happiness Project, Happy, Book, Documentary, Lea SpencerI’ve been reading this book, The Happiness Project, which tells the story of a woman spending one year trying to live a happier life. Being a historian by trade, the author spends much of this year researching how difference philosophers and religions view happiness as well as how different cultures and classes view it.

I’m only half way through the book, but having this concept of happiness on my mind whilst surfing the Netflix for a nice documentary to indulge in last night, I stumbled upon Happy, which took viewers on a trip around the world to find out what makes people happy. Sold.

It explored areas like the Louisiana bayou, the slums of Kolkata, the towers of Tokyo and the villages of Namibia. The study of happiness is a segment of psychology that has only recently become a serious area of academia. Researchers have determined that most humans are born with a general range of happiness that they exist in. DNA is supposed to make up 50% of one’s range, while 40% is “intentional activities” or things one chooses to do. Only 10% (if you can believe it) is the circumstances in which one lives, or those things one doesn’t control (where one is born, to whom and with what advantages).

This “happiness measure” also broke down goals into two categories: intrinsic and extrinsic. In this case, intrinsic included “personal growth” “close relationships” and “contributing to the world,” while extrinsic included “money” “image” and “status.” No shocker here: the people who lived their lives in pursuit of intrinsic goals reported more happiness than those who lived in pursuit of extrinsic ones.

Happy, Happiness Project, Lea Spencer, Lea Craft Spencer, Documentary

This isn’t to say that money isn’t important. According to the film, people in the US who earned $5,000 a year reported much less happiness than those who earned $50,000, but people who earned $50,000,000 reported no more happiness than those earning $50,000. So money does influence happiness insofar as it buys the necessities of life and security of future, but once those needs have been met, earning more in terms of material possessions didn’t bring people more happiness.

So what does bring people happiness? Both the film and book reported that the happiest of people all maintain a close support system of friends and family. I suppose it’s true that we aren’t meant to live our lives alone. The film also found that people who live for something bigger than themselves reported more happiness more often. For some religion fills this need, for others it’s volunteering and for some people I imagine their jobs bring them this satisfaction.

Finally, and most interestingly to me, any activity that puts you “in the zone,” so to speak, initiates the flow of dopamine in your brain, which assists in happiness. For some people this is exercise, for some people it’s gardening, for some lucky people it’s their jobs, but finding that activity for yourself and doing it a lot proved paramount. What’s your happiness activity?

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From the Wisdom of my Teenage Heart

I wrote this poem when I was 15. I called it “My Way.” 

(I had big love for Sinatra… even then)

teenage, poem, crazy, poetry, wisdom

Me as a youth!

I am what I am; I do what I do.

I’m happy being me; I don’t want to be you.

I say what I think and I mean what I say;

I don’t let other people’s judgments get in the way.

I’ve been this way since I don’t know when.

I’m just me and I’m comfortable in my skin.

I have ambitions and dreams for life.

I know life’s hard and that’s alright.

I’ll fall in love as often as I can.

If I get hurt, I’ll just start over again.

I won’t let my pain make me too jaded to see

that, when I’m ready, love will come for me.

I’ll make my dreams come true, there is no doubt.

I’ll do what it takes, but I’ll never sell out.

And when I die, I’m going to be able to say:

I lived my life and I did it my way.

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