Happiness and Health in 2000: Connection and Engagement

Fran Miller, Ph.D. ©

This is the beginning of a new millenium.  Inevitably we look back and we can’t avoid some evaluation of where we have been and what we have accomplished.  And then we look forward.  What do we hope for in the new millenium?  What are our plans?  What do we want to accomplish?  What are our interests?  What do we love?

Sometimes we get so involved in the requirements of our daily activities.  We don’t have time to be aware of the greater world.  Vincent Van Gogh said,  “The best way to know God is to love many things.” There are so many things going on around us.  We can function in our daily lives and be somewhat oblivious to everything else, or we can be alert, interested, aware of our culture.  I suppose we can define many factors that are important in being healthy and happy in life.  The one I am singling out is engagement.  Engagement means to attract and hold attention.  We need to discover what we are attracted to that has the power to hold our attention.  It’s funny how we register a connection to some things and not others.  Connection means together – to join two things together.  We need to find the things that hold our attention and that we can literally join ourselves to.  We can be engaged at two levels.  We can be interested and engaged in the greater culture going on around us, and we can be engaged and immersed in a specific interest and activity.  Both levels of engagement are crucial to health and happiness.  Awareness is being conscious and attentive in the present moment.  It is important to remember that we can be present at these different levels – aware and present as we listen and learn of events, discoveries, places, art, and spirituality, and aware and present as we immerse ourselves in special personal interests.  

It’s impressive to reflect on the efforts of a professional dancer or an olympic athlete—the discipline and solitary hours of practice that it requires.  But it doesn’t require becoming an olympic athlete to be actively and personally engaged.   I remember seeing an interview with a woman in Los Angeles.  She was in her 80’s.  She set the goal of climbing every hill and peak surrounding the Los Angeles area, and that’s what she spent her  time doing.  And now we have endless travel adventures offered exploring history, art, anthropology, sports.  At all ages, we can get the most out of life if we are engaged. 

How do we know if we are engaged?  It’s interesting that we all have within us a physiological mechanism that tells us when we are connected or engaged.  When we are emotionally and physiologically excited, we are engaged.  This happens particularly when we are embarking on an activity that is bringing out the uniqueness that is the self.  Somehow the body knows when something is right for us, and kicks us into awareness.  This is it!  The body tells us.  With excitement comes passion.  When there is passion, we totally immerse ourselves in an issue or activity or goal.  Excitement and passion show us the direction we need to go to manifest ourselves.  

In The Art and Practice of Loving, Frank Andrews quotes Krishnamurti, “You can give your whole attention only when you care, which means then you really love. “  We have to begin by caring about life.  We need to know within ourselves that we really care.  We need to make a commitment to caring about our environment, about our community, about all of life.  Only then can we truly be aware and give our attention.  Why do we watch the news?   Do we listen and watch because it’s 5:00 and that’s when the news is on?  Or are we truly interested in how things are developing in the world around us.  Do we finger through the pages of a magazine not really interested, just passing time.   (Or today are we spending time on social media or perusing news on our I Pads without really being present in the moment or caring about what we are doing.)   Are we truly concerned about science, archetecture, art, music,  living?  This is a time to recommit ourselves to caring – to awareness and attention, to love.

Sometimes we look back with regret at the things we failed at, or the things we didn’t do. We need to look back at what we learned and how we have grown.  Sometimes we think it is too late to change our life or start something new.  Frank Andrews quotes an English proverb, “It is better to begin in the evening than not at all.”   Engagement begins now.  To be connected and immersed in your life requires caring, interest, commitment, risk, courage.  Sometimes to make a change requires initiation, patience, creativity, strength, perseverance, and endurance.  Can I come up with all of that?  When we make a commitment to be engaged, all of the rest comes into play naturally.  Before you know it, you are manifesting all of these qualities.  When you are engaged you can know you are living life and contributing.  

Sometimes we can think that we can only be engaged if we do something or accomplish something right now.  If we can’t do it right now, make it happen, have the money, set it up, bring in the right people right now – then we think we can’t do it at all.  Fritz Perls said, “Don’t push the river, let it flow.”  All you need to do is be aware of your caring and of your interest.  Let the process of making something happen unfold.  If you put energy into something, in its own time and way, that something will be created.  I remember interviewing the person who founded the High Desert Museum outside of Bend.  He told me of how he started with an idea and step by step put it into place.  He solicited people and funds.  He sought grants.  He found a place.  Over time the High Desert Museum came into being.  

A client came in to see me because his father committed suicide.  Right away we began to work on the issue of meaning.  His father, by his actions, had taught him that life had no meaning.  My client had to find meaning in order to be committed to his own life.  We find meaning when we care, when we are aware of the world around us, when we are attentive, and when we are engaged.  My client had to find meaning and become engaged in the world in a conscious way, with intent.  What provides meaning for you?  Are children meaningful?  Success?  Travel?   Are you concerned about poverty or global warming or the quality of water?  Do you want to plant trees or help people learn to read?  Know what is meaningful to you, and dedicate your life to it.  Your life depends on it.

In Christian scripture,  Psalm 19,  we can read, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmaments showeth his handiwork.”   Buddhist writings emphasize the interconnectedness and sacred nature of all things.   Look around at The Hoyt Arboretum or Mt. Hood.   Look around at Forest Park or The Japanese Garden.  Look around at the Christmas Tree in Pioneer Square, the Lights at The Grotto.  And then you can say, along with an anonymous writer, “I have known lovers – cherry blooms – the nightengale – I will sleep content.”