Monday, January 6, 2014

The Happiness Formula

Observer column for MON 6 Jan 2014 | byJean Lowrie-Chin 
Jamaica's beloved 'Miss Lou' - Hon Louise Bennett-Coverley
It’s a brand New Year and so it wouldn’t be fair to keep the Happiness Formula to ourselves.  We have to share it, having watched some pretty happy people smile their way through life.  First, there was Mrs Williams, our next door neighbour on Aqualita Vale Ave in Pembroke Hall.  She took the bus downtown every morning to work as a floor-walker at Hanna’s Department Store.  She always had a witty remark for us, and every Sunday she would call us to the fence and hand us a container with still-warm cake and the very same words … “Now don’t laugh, try my little baking …”

Once my Mom took us to the store where she worked, and we could see how attentive she was when one of the cashiers called, “Sign here!” As the years passed, age took its toll on our dear neighbour and she received a sad diagnosis after surgery at KPH.  “How are you Miss Willie,” we asked as we held her hand on a visit. “Ah my dear, not in any pain – but look at the sheets – they’re more holey than they are righteous!”  She had us laughing and even after she passed, it was our favourite story about her.

Photograph:The original production of the musical Oklahoma! opened on Broadway in 1943. Oklahoma! was notable for its seamless blending of song, dance, and plot.
Scene from 'Oklahoma'
There was Mrs Gertie Anderson who taught us English and Singing at Alpha.  What joy it was to learn the hit songs from those Broadway musicals – she would ensure we took a deep breath before we sang, “Ohhhhhhh-kla – homa … when the wind comes sweeping down the plain!” She confessed to us that she loved to dance, and since her children were always making fun of her, she would lock herself in her room, turn up the radio and have a grand old time!

Also, you have to meet the talented Mr Fixit , Mr Brown (not his real name).  This gentleman will look at any task and laugh it in the face – a roof to be fixed just before a storm is bearing down, a last minute change to a home renovation, multiple calls from his ultra-dependent customers.  Even as he is painting, hammering, mixing cement, he is telling you a funny story about someone he heard on a talk show, or one of his crazy experiences when he was a taxi driver. 
Then there was our beloved Uncle Melvin (Williams) who would never tire of giving us piggy-back rides or peel countless oranges for his many nieces and nephews.  We spent nearly every summer at our Grandmother’s house in Big Bridge (that peaceful little district where an infamous gang leader was neutralised recently).  As we exchanged notes among the cousins gathered to celebrate my Mother’s 88th birthday last week, none of us could recall Uncle Melvin without a smile.  He radiated love for the children in the family.  Uncle Dudley (Lowrie) had the same sunny personality.  He worked at the Sav-la-mar fire station and when he drove us around, he would allow us to honk the horn at every corner, chuckling at our delight.  He was just all happiness.
In reflecting on these beautiful, humble folks, I saw one common thread – a kindly, jolly manner that made others feel that their company was valued.  Pride in whatever they did – even if it were peeling oranges for eager little hands.  A sense of humour, even in the face of serious illness.
Marianne Williamson and Oprah Winfrey (OWN photo)
I was watching an interview by one of my favourite happiness-mongers Oprah Winfrey with the inspiring Marianne Williamson, who reminded us that the human’s natural state is to love and to give.  We know that we are at our most uncomfortable when we are out of our ‘natural habitat’ – our home, our circle of friends.  Well the natural habitat of our spirit is an environment of loving and giving. Mrs Williams the floor-walker, Mrs Anderson the teacher and Mr Brown the carpenter/mason/painter preserved this spirit even in the workplace.
Marianne Williamson suggests that before we arrive at a meeting we should ‘blast all the participants with love’.  She reasons that when we perceive our colleagues and co-workers with loving, compassionate eyes, we are more willing to listen, to try to work through an issue rather than becoming harshly critical. 
It took me back to a meeting of a group of wonderful folks chaired by the legendary Rev C. Evans Bailey.  A small disagreement escalated, and voices were getting louder. Suddenly Rev Bailey raised a hand and in a calm but strong voice said, ‘Stop.’  He continued, “Satan has entered this room,” explaining that there was absolutely no reason that such good people were looking daggers at each other.  He immediately diffused the situation and we were able to calm down and have a productive meeting.
Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce
 As demonstrated by dear Rev Bailey, happiness requires focus, so we do not become distracted from our positive objectives.  We have heard this repeatedly from that inspiring, ever-happy young achiever: Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce.  When she spoke at a GraceKennedy business conference last year, she reflected on her refusal to give up after not being chosen the 2010 or 2011 Sportswoman of the Year – a week after finally receiving the Award she told the audience:  "Go for the 100 percent!  Continue to work, have faith, energy and focus!"
If you, like that fairy tale character asked, “Mirror, mirror on the wall – who is the happiest of them all?” I think you would see no other than the Hon Louise Bennett Coverley, our darling ‘Miss Lou’ smiling back at you.  We had a glimpse of this Legend during her later years in Toronto, through yet another wonderful relative, my brother-in-law Leslie Chin.  Les, financier turned composer/musician would see Miss Lou at her Toronto apartment where he enjoyed visits punctuated by laughter and Jamaican folk songs backed by his guitar. 
One day he called to check on Miss Lou and she sounded a bit hoarse.  The conversation went like this:
Miss Lou: “My dear Leslie, I have caught the flu!”
Les:  “But Miss Lou, I thought you got your flu shot!”
Miss Lou: “I did! They told me it was anti-flu, but I think it’s really “Auntie Flu” – she come look for me!”
So here is the final ingredient in the happiness formula as prescribed by a humourist: “If you learn to laugh at yourself, you will have a lifetime of entertainment.”
Happy New Year!

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