It was one year ago today that I published my most recent blog. It was my birthday, and I was trying to put a light, humorous spin on turning yet another year older. Publicly, I was trying to smile and be silly, but privately, I was struggling to maintain the facade. Chronic pain issues were keeping me in a perpetual bad mood, and the sudden, unexpected loss of my dear sister-in-law only weeks before was making me question my beliefs in a good, just world and a Supreme Being. I was in a crummy place inside my own head, and I knew I needed to take some time away to re-focus my thoughts, restore my soul, and recapture my joy. I didn’t realize at the time, though, that it would take me an entire year to re-discover my voice and to once again find the willingness to share it.
I also didn’t realize at the time that being inside my own crummy head was still a safer, kinder place to be than the world that was awaiting my return.
For many people, myself included, 2016 seemed to be a year best tossed in the dumpster. We mourned the loss of precious loved ones and admired celebrities. ISIS terrorists and their followers continued their attacks around the world, including the killing of 49 innocents inside an Orlando nightclub and 84 parade-watchers at a Bastille Day celebration in France. Syrian refugees fled their war-torn country, only to find most of the rest of the world was unwilling to welcome them with open arms. The Zika virus threatened our unborn, opioid abuse hit an all-time high, wildfires ravaged Tennessee and California, and 135 police officers died in the line of duty.
But even as heartbreaking as those events were, for the most part we expressed our dismay, paid our respects, offered our prayers, and moved on.
If only we could have done the same with the presidential race.
I’ve been around for a long time (some would say a really long time), and I don’t remember ever before encountering an election year filled with so much turmoil and anger. The never-ending barrage of misinformation, name-calling, and hatred spewed by both political parties, repeated ad nauseam by the media, and shared in countless “fake news” stories on social networks created a toxic environment where there were no winners—only a whole bunch of unhappy, depressed, disheartened people who have forgotten that despite all the recent negativity, we still live in a fabulously spectacular, amazingly awesome country and world.
Really. I swear.
Let’s stop dwelling on the crummy stuff.
I’m not suggesting that we stop being attentive watchdogs, that we stop championing the less fortunate, or that we stop being involved, caring, global citizens. An oblivious, disinterested populace benefits no one but those in charge. I am suggesting, though, that maybe—just maybe—if we stop giving the negativity so much control over our hearts and so much free reign in our heads and instead start remembering all the goodness that still surrounds us, we might reclaim some of our own happiness and sanity. Can you imagine how much better that would make our world, one person at a time? (And can you imagine how much better Facebook would be if only happy, sane people posted there?)
After way too many days of allowing the black, oozing blob of negativity to cloud my own skies, I decided to do a little research. Surely, I thought, there must have been some good, positive, happy things that happened last year, too. And yes, by golly, there were.
- More than 800,000 government officials, students and volunteers in India planted 49.3 million trees in 24 hours on July 11.
- Serina Vine, a Navy veteran of World War II, never married or had children, and when she died in June at the age of 91, she had outlived every member of her family. When Major Jaspen Boothe learned that this formerly homeless veteran was to be buried with no friends or family in attendance, Boothe posted in veterans groups on social media, asking others to join her in paying their last respects. More than 200 strangers showed up to attend the funeral and to honor Vine for her service.
- Sea World decided to stop breeding killer whales in captivity. The tiger population increased, and manatees, giant pandas, and humpback whales were removed from the Endangered Species list.
- New chemotherapy breakthroughs increased the 5-year survival for pancreatic cancer from 16% to 27%.
- Child mortality declined worldwide, and for the 24th year in a row, teen pregnancy rates declined in the United States.
- Michael Phelps became the most decorated athlete in Olympic history with 28 medals, 23 of them gold. During the Summer Olympics, Simone Biles wowed us with her spirit and her smile (and four gold medals and a bronze), and Katie Ledecky dominated the pool with five medal wins (four of them gold).
- A gene responsible for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) was found. The “Ice Bucket Challenge” that went viral in 2014 raised more than $115 million for ALS research, and those funds helped scientists identify one of the most common genes that contribute to the disease, meaning we are one step closer to an effective treatment.
- Portugal powered its entire country solely on renewable energy for four straight days, and California is now powering over 6 million homes with solar power.
- Candace Payne posted a Facebook video of herself laughing behind a Chewbacca mask—and we all laughed with her.
- The National Park Service turned 100. Park service lands cover more than 84 million acres, and 413 parks, battlefields, historic sites, monuments, preserves, parkways and reserves are awaiting your visit.
- The Cubs won the World Series. (I’m a devoted St. Louis Cardinals, and my husband will not be happy that I included this one—but even I have to grudgingly admit it was past time for the perennial losers to have their moment of glory.)
I felt so much better after that research that I decided to take it one step further, asking my Facebook friends to share some of their personal, uplifting events from 2016. Their stories of small moments and big accomplishments made my heart happy and reminded me of one of my favorite Henry David Thoreau quotes: “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”
- “My husband and I spent a week in the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone with our four teenage grandsons last summer. We enjoyed amazing hikes into the mountains and canyons that we will never forget, and sharing a 7-mile hike up Paintbrush Canyon was an accomplishment we will treasure. For me, it solidified what really matters: God, this beautiful world He created for us, and love of family. The boys’ appreciation of everything and the awe-struck expressions on their faces with every new adventure were priceless.”
- “I had a wonderful year! I am one year into a job that is rewarding and allows me to spend more time with my family. We poured a lot into our first home and it paid off when we sold it. Then we found a great new home. I feel extraordinarily lucky, but I know good decisions and hard work got us where we are today.”
- “I got to see my oldest son graduate from George Washington University, and then his mother and I pinned on his bars at his commission as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army the next weekend. Pretty proud (and anxious) moments.”
- “I had the COURAGE to quit my full-time job and chase my dreams! Courage mixed with stubbornness and determination, as I’m sure they’re all required in equal doses.”
- “I have a kid graduating from college with her Associate’s degree in funeral science. I have a kid graduating from high school who has been accepted at College of the Ozarks. My husband dealt with some serious heart issues, but they were fixed and he is doing wonderful.”
- “On one particularly hard day, I was having a difficult time seeing the good in life—when our UPS driver popped in with a much larger than expected package for me. I was expecting cold medicine I accidentally left behind, mailed from a new acquaintance I met on a recent backpacking trip (one where it became painfully apparent my cheap backpack did not fit me well), but when I opened the box I found a beautiful Osprey pack with the sweetest note attached from a woman whom I literally had just met during a 3-day weekend trip. It brought tears to my eyes and helped me remember that even in the darkest days, kindness and love can light the path forward.”
- “I got fired and then found a much more satisfying job. I thought I was stuck in the previous job because the money was so good, but even though my new job has longer hours, it has the same income and better insurance.”
- “My 16-year-old granddaughter helped me clean my closets and enjoyed taking a lot of my clothes home and actually started wearing them! And my 12-year-old grandson got excited about wearing my Neil Diamond t-shirt from 20 years ago and having the white silk Playboy shirt that his Papa outgrew 15 years ago. They make my heart sing!”
- “We moved to our small retirement farm of five acres. We have the life we don’t need a vacation from anytime soon. I’ll have a garden this year. My boys are healthy and happy in their chosen paths, and the best is they love each other.”
- “I was involved in setting up and staffing a food pantry at our local alternative high school. The experience continues to be one of the most rewarding things I’ve done in recent history. We distribute food to a group of 25-30 kids and their families. These kids have tough life circumstances and truly need a helping hand.”
- “My son has been with us for two years and my husband and I are still amazed by all the things that had to fall perfectly into place for him to be a part of our lives. We give thanks every day. AND . . . we finished our paperwork to adopt a child from China. Yay!”
- “I started delivering for the local Meals-on-Wheels program this past year, and one thing that has made the largest impact on me is the way most of these people react. They are generally in very bad health with minimal family around, and yet when they answer their door and see me standing there they just light up. Maybe we could all take a cue from this. Even when things are dark and bleak, we can still shine a little light in the world.”
- “I welcomed my first grandchild into the world, which inspired me to lose weight and get a handle on my blood pressure. I want to be around for a long time so I can play with her and watch her grow!”
- “I traveled to D.C. three times this past year to assist veterans on Honor Flights to visit our capital’s war memorials. I’ve met some incredible people, and I’m looking forward to doing it again—and the reception for the veterans when we get back to Springfield is one of the coolest things ever! This experience has reminded in a big way that America is great and ALWAYS will be, no matter what some folks say.”
Are you smiling yet?
Last year’s negativity consumed me, and I lost sight of all the simple pleasures in my own life. In 2016 I started preparing for my first-ever photography exhibit (which starts in five days!). I accepted some pretty tough physical challenges—and exceeded my expectations. I knocked a couple more destinations off my travel bucket list (and added a few more to take their place), and my husband and I purchased a tiny camper to make our travels even more adventurous. Not a bad year after all.
We don’t always get to choose who governs us or what happens in the world around us. We don’t get to choose what’s reported in the news or shared on social media (unless we’re the ones doing the sharing). We do, however, get to choose our perspective and our reactions. We can focus on all the goodness in the world—including our own victories and simple pleasures—and we can continue to accomplish beautiful things. And maybe that doesn’t magically make everything better, but surely it’s a start.
I’ve somehow gotten another year older—which depresses me much more than it should. But rather than focusing on all those stupid little lines and wrinkles that keep popping up overnight, I choose to spend less time looking in the mirror—and less time watching the news and less time scrolling through Facebook. Why waste time doing things that depress me when I can instead choose to celebrate the fact that I’ve been given another year to laugh and love and dream, another year to eat cupcakes and drink wine, another year to watch sunsets and chase waterfalls and explore this great big, beautiful world?
And I invite you to join my celebration! A year from now let’s be able to look back at 2017 as The Year of Good News—and know that it was good because we chose to make it so.
“Let us accept the invitation, ever-open, from the Stillness, taste its exquisite sweetness,
and heed its silent instruction.” – Paul Brunton
(photo ©Karen Eubank)
“The world has enough beautiful mountains and meadows, spectacular skies and serene lakes.
It has enough lush forests, flowered fields, and sandy beaches.
It has plenty of stars and the promise of a new sunrise and sunset every day.
What the world needs more of is people to appreciate and enjoy it.” – Michael Josephs
(photo ©Karen Eubank)
“The more tranquil a man becomes, the greater is his success, his influence, his power for good. Calmness of mind is one of the beautiful jewels of wisdom.” – James Allen
(photo ©Karen Eubank)
“Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let pain make you hate.
Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness.
Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree,
you still believe it to be a beautiful place.” – Iain S. Thomas
(photo ©Karen Eubank)