Focus on what’s important

When I was growing up it was always made clear what success meant. It meant working long hours, taking second jobs if need be, regardless of what toll it might take on you personally, regardless of whether you like what you do. One goal, work hard and make money to support your family. I learned my lesson well and by that I mean I looked around, saw how miserable everyone was and learned the exact opposite lesson that I was supposed to learn.

This meant that I determined at a pretty young age that I wanted to do a job I liked. And more importantly I needed to get an education. As a young man I lost my way, became a drunk and an addict and got booted out of college. This put me right back where I didn’t want to be. So I did a lot of jobs, I worked at the supermarket, worked as a maintenance worker in the state park system, did grounds-keeping work and some construction projects along the way. I spent some time helping out roofing in the summer and it was miserable work. The day I fell off a roof, luckily on to some unfortunately prickly bushes, I had relearned my lesson. Over the next year I got my life together, and eventually finished my education, ok, really eventually like 15 year later. But finishing my education allowed me to never have to work a job I hated.ever again. Sure I have frustrations with my job, but while stressful, it’s not incredibly hard and I’m paid incredibly well. I also have a great retirement system that will allow me to retire at a reasonable age.

As I’ve talked about many times, over the last twenty years I’ve left my job and traveled once just about every three years, usually traveling a year and once, for two years. I’ve written, talked about and proselytized work/life balance for about a decade now. I’ve pushed people to do what they love, to keep things in perspective and make changes if need be. At times, I’ve referred to myself as the world’s oldest millennial because my attitudes reflect more of a millennial mindset than that of a Boomer or Gen X person as I could be categorized.

The other day I heard one of my coordinators say the following while I was in a meeting, “We are not the generation that works ourselves into the ground and not take care of ourselves.” I was so happy to hear that because I’ve preached this attitude for the last three years as the leader of my academic division.

The thing to remember friends is to focus on what truly matters. Yes, work can be, and in my case is important, educating people is an incredibly important thing for our students and our society. But even a job with purpose isn’t the most important thing in most people’s lives. It’s time with family, friends, being kind and giving and taking the time to learn and laugh with them. So focus on what’s important and spend your time where it matters most. That’s a strategy that will certainly lead to happier days my friends. ~ Rev Kane

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The Importance of Consistency

Success isn’t always about greatness. It’s about consistency. Consistent hard work leads to success. Greatness will come. ~ Dwayne Johnson

When I first starting working out, a guy I really looked up to told me this simple thing. Stick to your schedule, even if you’re not feeling it go to the gym. Sometimes you’ll workout for 10 minutes and go home, but more often than not you’ll do a full workout. Either way, you worked out and kept the habit up. This was the best advice I’ve ever been given about working out and I think about it often, it has gotten me to the gym many nights when I felt like buying a donut and hitting my couch.

Being consistent is incredibly important. As a manager, while I love my superstars, but I love my consistent people even more. No matter how well you might perform, it’s no good to anyone if one day you’re amazing but the next three days you’re awful. My best employees are the ones who I can depend on to get their work done well, day after day maybe rarely being amazing, but equally, they are rarely not up to the task.

Consistency is also what builds trust between people. That friend you know you’ll hear from every couple of weeks, or even once a month, hell I have a few who I know I’ll hear from every year on my birthday. Think about it, someone may keep your biggest secret, but if they tell everyone all of your other business, do you really trust them?

One of the areas I’ve recently rediscovered consistency is with the idea of micro-habits. A quick Google search for micro habits will show you dozens of articles with titles like 12 micro habits you can do today. Let me save you a lot of time, there is a lot of research into the benefits of micro habits. The thing is, it doesn’t really matter what the activity is, as long as you repeat it consistently. The thing about micro habit development, that is different from say your New Year resolutions, is the size. Often for New Year resolutions we’ll say things like I’ll run a mile every day, I’ll do 50 push ups a day, I’ll go to the gym five days a week.

The difference with micro habit development is that you take really small bites to start. So instead of I’ll run a mile every day, I’ll run around up to the corner store and back every day. That may only be a hundred yards each way. But the goal is to be consistent and do it every day. Sure, by the end of the year, you’ve only run 40 miles, but you can look at it the other way as well. First, you ran 40 miles you wouldn’t have run. Second, you’ve established the habit of running every day, so it’s much easier to extend your distance, than it is to start a new habit of running. This works for so many things, drinking less coffee, swearing, weight lifting. Drink three cups of coffee a day? Cut down to two and a half. And of course, you don’t have to wait a whole year before you step up. So, you could cut down the half cup for three months, then have one full and two half cups for a time, etc…

I’ve been using this technique for a number of things, I’ve used it to get far more consistent about flossing, about walking daily and doing crunches. I had tried from time to time to consistently do crunches daily. I’ve done well for a time doing 40 or 50 a day, but each time it burns out. So I started doing 10 a day and after about three months, I have stepped up to 20 and will soon be stepping up to 30. With my running, I started one day a week, running 100 meter portions of the track on four laps, I’m now up to running 2 miles, twice a week.

The important things is, I don’t reward myself for the bigger achievements. If I’m not feeling it, I might not run the full 2 miles on a day. But I reward myself for running, that way the motivation and reward is focused on the consistency, not the achievement. And I feel a lot better about myself when I focus on things in this way.

And of course, you can use this to be happier. Does eating chocolate make you happy, reward yourself each day with a small piece of chocolate. And you can do this with a drink, a quick bath, a few minutes of aromatherapy, reading, a little time in nature or a moment of silence. Try it and have ever growing happier days my friends. ~ Rev Kane

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You’re not alone

People who have never dealt with depression think it’s just being sad or being in a bad mood. That’s not what depression is for me; it’s falling into a state of grayness and numbness. ~ Dan Reynolds

I have a person I connect with on Twitter, she’s part of the Twitter writing community and we connect over writing and the occasional political meme. She outwardly is the person you want to be, happily married, very attractive, smart, witty, great sense of humor and seems to be very kind. Well the other day she pulled the mask off and in a highly confessional post and admitted that she is suffering from near clinical depression. She talked about the weight of carrying the mask for everyone and she just can’t do it anymore. It was a really honest and shameless post. Those of us who do and have suffered from depression get this feeling.

Reading her post I was reminded of when I was at my absolute depressed worst. I was working at Hartnell College at the time. I was completely blown apart, but I was fully masked every day. Literally no one understood what was really going on with me. They all thought things were great, little did they know I was on the phone every night for an hour with a friend who was emotionally holding me together, that I spent most nights falling asleep weeping.This went on for several months and one day I was walking down the hall at work.and I saw one of my staff coming toward me. She was one of my worst employees, and we had no connection and rarely spoke. As we were passing she stopped, put a hand on my arm, looked at me and said, “why are you so sad?”

As boxers will tell you it’s the punch you don’t see coming that knocks you out and holy shit I did not see her coming. I was devastated, I mumbled, “I’m fine” and made a beeline for the restroom. Where I sat in a stall and had the only panic attack of my entire life. After I finally got myself together I went straight to my car and went home, called in sick the next day and melted down.

Happily, those days don’t exist for me anymore. I no longer drop into the black well of despair for weeks at a time. I spent a lot of time, corresponding with the creation of this blog, learning about depression, happiness, myself and my triggers. I built strategies for righting the ship when things started to get bumpy and haven’t dropped fully into the well in almost 15 years.

As I’ve talked about recently, I’ve been languishing recently as a result of COVID and just the general shit state of the world. But last week during my vacation, without the distractions of work and a lot of time to go walking something hit me. I realized I’ve actually been living with a low level of depression for some time now. With all of the madness in the world, I really hadn’t noticed. It’s low level, so I’m still completely functional at work, handling my other obligations, I’m exercising, sleeping ok, back to eating well again. Recently I’ve even made some progress on not languishing, getting things done that have been on my to do list for some time.

So, how am I depressed? The thing that I’ve realized is that I find no joy in anything right now. I thought maybe it was just because of COVID and the fact that I hadn’t been doing a lot. But I’m realizing that even the things that normally bring me joy aren’t cutting it right now. In fact, even a really good pizza back in New York, while wonderful, didn’t hit the way it normally does. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that the only way to solve a problem is to acknowledge and understand it. I have ways to work out of depression, I’ll start implementing those now that I’ve realized what’s actually going on.

The main reason for this post tonight is to acknowledge that right now many of us are feeling this way, many of us are masking well every day and people have no idea what we’re going through. I’m here tonight to tell you that you’re not alone. That it’s ok, that you can get through this and if there’s no one else, I’m here, happinesskane@aol.com drop me a note, let’s have chat. You’ve got this. ~ Rev Kane

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Hate will not make you Happy!

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

My inspiration for this post came from a personal ad. I was scrolling through my Facebook page and the dating line comes up as it does every day. Occasionally I click along the pictures, usually rejecting most, clicking the occasional like although I’ve never even got to a point of communication with anyone on the site, online dating never works for me, apparently I’m only pretty enough in real life.

But an attractive woman caught my eye and I clicked on her profile. Her brief statement said something to the effect of, “I’m interested in a man being a man, no liberals, because if you are a liberal, you’re obviously a moron.” I found the statement incredibly interesting. I’ve seen online personals before that say things like no liberals or no MAGA fans. And I absolutely get the point of not wanting to connect with someone on a dating site who has significantly different political beliefs than your own. But what really struck me was the anger, the desire to actually offend people of another political persuasion, just for reading your public profile.

I see this everywhere these days in America. We have become a country that no longer believes in free speech, but free speech as long as you say something I believe in. Don’t confuse this with me supporting hate speech in any way, I abhor how much people recently have been using the idea of freedom of speech, to protect that which is purely hate speech. It also happens on both sides of the aisle, a professor where I work wore a MAGA hat to school, and while I disagree with everything that hat stands for it is political free speech to wear it. Now in other parts of the country people will and have reacted negatively to Black Lives Matter t-shirts, rainbow flags etc… Hell the state of Florida is now actually banning this level of free speech in it’s classroom. But we must allow for difference of political opinion, or free speech dies.

We are living in an incredibly polarized time in America. It is difficult at times to deal with the amount of hate and intolerance that is thrown around, It is likely leading us to a bad place in our country, but that discussion is a matter that is best left for other discussions. What I want to say tonight is that while we may disagree with things, while we may even work politically to change things for what we perceive to be the better, we should not hate.

Hate is a poison, but it’s a poison that resides within us and as such it poisons us. It discolors the way we see the world and taints our interactions. If you believe in Karma, then putting hate into the world will only bring hate back to you. While hating things and beliefs that we find abhorrent feels good in the moment, in the long run it breeds only bitterness.

So my friends, yes, oppose those things you don’t want to see in the world. But don’t let it be a hate filled opposition, don’t let hate fill you, it will not lead to happy days my friends. ~ Rev Kane

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We all need smiles and laughter

Like a welcome summer rain, humor may suddenly cleanse and cool the earth, the air and you. ~ Langston Hughes

Recently I heard a story on NPR about a Gallup Poll survey that related some unsurprising, but really depressing facts. It seems that while 2020 was a year that showed people were incredibly anxious and sad, it seems that 2021 was even worse. Including some of the highest rates of worry ever recorded in the survey. Now this makes sense to me, the end of 2020 wasn’t magical. It’s not like the calendar turning a page miraculous made COVID and all of it’s impacts go away. In fact we got another COVID spike in January of 2021. But I think the bigger deal was things just didn’t stop. After an incredibly tough year, we just shifted into another year of many of the same things. Political polarization, supply chain disruptions and inflation all just kept coming.

So it’s like all of us never got a break, or downtime, it’s like the trauma of 2020 has never let up. The part of the story that really impacted me was when they relayed that one of the findings was that in 2021 people smiled and laughed less. So, as the Minister of Happiness, it feels like part of what I should be doing is to provide a laugh for you. So tonight, a couple of cartoons and a pledge to provide some additional laughs each week as we move forward.

Laughing is so important to your well-being, laughing relieves tension, improves your mood, exercises face and stomach muscles and long-term even has benefits for your immune system. So we all need to laugh more, even if it’s done purposefully. So let’s laugh and have better days my friends. ~ Rev Kane

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The Importance of Forgiving Yourself

In many ways I’m writing this week’s post more as a reminder for myself than as advice for anyone else. We are often our harshest critics. For me, the knowledge that the time we have in this life is limited and fleeting makes me press on myself to get things done. It has some positive impacts on my life, it pushes me to travel, to try adventures I might not otherwise have tried if I allowed myself to think maybe I can do that later. Most importantly, it pushed me twenty years ago to start taking a year off of work every few years in order to do those things I wanted to do before it was too late, or before I wasn’t physically able to do them.

But there is a downside to this push. Over the last two years I have been in a situation that is likely all too familiar to a lot of you. The COVID pandemic added an extra level of pressure and stress on our lives that were already busy and stressed. Throw into that mix the fact that we’ve all had various levels of personal loss during the pandemic and things get tough. Social isolation, even for a loner like me, also put stress on all of us and pushed down on our moods. For the last year I’ve also had the extra bonus of being assigned a second full-time position at work, with no extra support, recognition or extra pay.

So the stress ramped up, the pressure ramped up and there was no acknowledgement or appreciation of what I’ve been going through. And it contrasts at a high level to the fact that in my personal and professional lives I’m the person with the responsibility for acknowledging, appreciating and supporting others. What this has led to over the last couple of years for me is a lack of motivation for things that didn’t have to be done. This has meant a couple of books and other projects that should have done by now have languished. I’ve found myself being what I consider lazy, I’ve been doing a lot of reading, watching a lot of media and generally being unproductive in my downtime.

And that last sentence is the crux of the issue. How productive are you supposed to be in your downtime? During the last couple of years, I’ve avoided, so far, getting COVID. I’ve kept up my exercise regimen, I’ve maintained the lowest weight of my adult life for a couple of years now, even if I haven’t done such a good job with keeping my blood sugar down. But still, not getting these projects done has caused me to be really tough on myself which doesn’t help my mood.

The fact is I’m being a bit unfair to myself. My downtime is mine, and it needs to be used to help me recharge my batteries and lower my stress. So, just like the balance needed between work and downtime, there needs to be balance in my downtime between productive and unproductive time. As the world opens up, as my job hopefully gets back to one job not two, as I get to travel again hopefully I can get back to the balance.

But it’s important to not just get back to something resembling normal, it’s important to forgive myself for not being productive when I needed the space and time to just be, to be able to keep it together during a very tough time in life. The difficulty of this time snuck up on me. I’ve been through a lot in life and those things have always been right in front of me, coming at me, the source easily identifiable. But what we’ve all been through over the last couple of years has been insidious. These outside, and often subtle, pressures that build are not always easily identifiable, and worse, mostly out of your control. So forgive yourself friends if you haven’t been at your utmost best over the last couple of years, happier days are coming. ~ Rev Kane

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Happy Re-connection

One must always maintain one’s connection to the past and yet ceaselessly pull away from it. ~ Gaston Bachelard

Hello friends, it’s been awhile since you’ve heard from me. As I’ve mentioned before, the last two years has put me into a place best described by the term languishing. While I kept writing pretty consistently, eventually I just needed to take a break. I’ve been writing this blog for over ten years and pretty consistently posting at least once a week, typically on Sunday nights. I want to thank you, my readers, for your readership, support and kind comments over the years. When I started this endeavor, I didn’t expect it to go more than a year and yet here we are ten years later. I have at times, and more so recently wondered if I should continue, if I have anything left to say? I’m not sure I do, but for now I’ll continue writing. The blog has changed over the years, it started as purely focused on scholarly happiness works and advice. It has morphed into something more personal while remaining focused on hopefully helping people live happier lives. I hope that this blog continues to help.

Over my writing break there has been a lot going on, a close family member was diagnosed with cancer, happily it’s early stage. A colleague was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer and passed away a few weeks after it was sudden and incredibly sad. I also had the opportunity to go east, back to New York for the first time since the COVID pandemic started. This meant for the first time in a little less than three years I got to see my family, blood and selected. The visit was timed around my nephew’s high school graduation party. We used that date to do a surprise birthday party for my mother’s 80th birthday. The surprise worked completely, she was shocked, surprised and had a really wonderful day.

I also was able to see my brother’s family and stay with them a couple of days, including spending time playing with the “mayor of Brooklyn,” my littlest niece. At just turned three years-old she’s already the boss of everything and everyone. We had a blast playing Lego farm animals together and her assaulting and scaring her uncle. I got to see all but two of my nieces and nephews and a lot of extended family I don’t see very often. And most of all, got to eat a lot of real, high quality, NY style pizza.

I also got to see my selected family, those people who others call friends, but are close enough for me to consider them family. It meant traveling damn near to Canada, and across New York but it was wonderful to be able to re-connect in person. I even found a couple of days to slip off to Scarborough Beach in Rhode Island for a couple of days, eat a lobster roll and relax at the beach.

For a lot of us COVID separated us from family and part of the huge travel pulse we’re seeing this summer is certainly others re-connecting as I had. I hope you have been able to do the same. Have a happy day my friends. ~ Rev Kane

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It’s not about your last words

Commitment is an act, not a word ~ Jean Paul-Sartre

It’s been a tough few weeks in America, there have been the unfortunate series of mass shootings, but two have been particularly horrific, one in Buffalo and a school shooting in Texas. As often happens when tragedies like this occur, you see a lot of regret about last words. You see distraught survivors, parents, friends and family members who regret their last meeting with the deceased. You hear weeping relatives and friends lamenting that they didn’t say I love you that morning, or shared a harsh word with their loved ones and they feel terrible about it. You see lots of people posting on social media with memes and advice, always tell people you love them everyday, never part with a harsh word you never know when it will be the last time you see someone. These are all well-meaning ideas, but they’re not realistic. It sets and unrealistic expectation for us mere mortals. As humans, we are not always at our best, sometimes life is incredibly hard and so we don’t communicate the way we would like. We shouldn’t beat ourselves up about that, we are only human after all.

I learned this lesson personally in the year 2000. My grandfather was a feisty old bastard who was born in 1910. He had decided that in the year 2000, he automatically turned 100. Crazy, and when he told me we argued math for a few minutes and then I asserted I guess I did too then, he dismissed me, “you’re not old enough.” Well, as New Years Eve 2000 approached my grandfather fell into a coma. I was in Florida celebrating the new millennium, I’d rented a house on the Gulf of Mexico for the occasion. I got a call about my grandfather’s situation a couple of days before New Years Eve and they suggested I come home because he was about to die. I explained that I wouldn’t be coming for two reasons. The first was that there was no way he was going to die before, in his mind, he turned 100. Secondly, I didn’t need to say goodbye, it didn’t matter that we had some last positive interaction. You see I had always made an effort to spend time with my grandfather.

To me, that’s always been the important thing. It’s not about the last communication you have with someone, it’s about the time you spent with them when they were still with us, and that’s really good news. Because my friends, that means that you can start right now putting in that time with those you care the most about. It’s far better to look back on good times you had with them, then one last good word. And one last bad word could never negate the love grown over that time.

The recent events in Texas and New York and Memorial Day holiday triggered these thoughts tonight, both of my grandfathers were WWII veterans and they are always on my mind during this time of year. Below is my grandfather who died in 2000 and got in his last street fight in 1998 at 88 years-old. I miss you old man. ~ Rev Kane

grandpa, memorial day
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The Miracle of Graduation

A graduation ceremony is an event where the commencement speaker tells thousands of students dressed in identical caps and gowns that ‘individuality’ is the key to success. ~ Robert Orben

Tonight a jointly published post on both the Ministry of Happiness and my Higher Ed Mentor blogs. 

Today, once again, for my thirty-fifth year in education I witnessed the Miracle of Graduation.  I call it a miracle because if you’ve worked behind the scenes as long as I have, seen behind the curtain enough, you know how unbelievably complicated and dysfunctional higher education bureaucracy can be.  Given how difficult getting anything done is in higher education, every spring it really seems like a miracle to see those students walking across the stage in their caps and gowns.

So it happened again today, 300 of them walked across the stage, all smiles and full of pride.  Friends and families came out in droves, they brought flowers, balloons and gifts of all kinds.  Those family members clapped and cheered, hooted and hollered.  After the ceremony there were hugs and tears, people went out to dinner and celebrated just like they always do.

Today’s ceremony was particularly sweet.  There’s a lot going on in the world.  This class was the class of the pandemic, as two-year students they have not known college except during a global pandemic.  That fact is a pressure multiplier.  For our community college students, they are a group that already is and has always been under pressure.  The majority of our students work at least part-time, many full-time and many are parents.  Most come from the lower socioeconomic levels in America.  Which of course means many of them, like I was, are first generation college students.

Being a first generation student brings a special basket full of stresses and pressures.  First off, it means that there is often someone in your family who doesn’t even understand why you are going to college, someone who expects you to fail and doesn’t value what you’re doing.  You also have the exact opposite pressure as there are incredible expectations for you to do well, to represent your family.  Very often your family has sacrificed to make college possible and as such, they are counting on you to be successful.  Not just successful, but for you to change the trajectory of the future of your entire family.

The beauty of community colleges are that they are places, where students, who didn’t feel comfortable in secondary education, can often find a supportive and safe place to further their education.  Our students come from every part of society.  Black and brown students who have never felt equal, LGBTQ students who have been bullied and ostracized, our AAPI students who live with the fear that they’ll be assaulted in the street.  Many of our students come from poor families and all of the added stresses that occur from economic difficulties at home.  We work incredibly hard in the community college system to support all of these students and help them be successful.

So it’s all of these stresses and issues that these students bring to campus while trying to learn.  And for those who walked today, two-years of all of the added stresses brought about by the pandemic.  The fear and anxiety of getting ill or of causing a family member to get ill.  The stresses related to the economic madness that has been occurring, constant rule changes about isolating and masking, surviving lock-downs. Losing people in their lives that they love.  Throw in a war in Ukraine with its accompanying threat of nuclear war or even World War III starting.  To give you an example of how complicated it was.  Our Cosmetology students had their classes suspended, were allowed to briefly come back and were once again pushed off campus and then returned.  Unlike every previous class that had opportunities for client nights throughout their time in college, our current group has only had that opportunity for the last eight weeks.  Oh and just a few months ago the state licensing bureau changed all of the licensing requirements that they will be under.  No other set of students has had so many additional obstacles thrown in their way.

And that’s the other part of the Miracle of Graduation, first that the students got through the bureaucracy, their own obstacles and everything the world has thrown at them.  The second miracle is what this completion does for all of us.  These students, all students, but particularly these students truly are our hope and future. The mere fact that they have graduated, whether it is with a certificate or degree, means that these students have put themselves in an incredible position to change their lives for the better.  But it’s not just their lives, especially for those first generation students, they are changing the lives of their entire families for generations.  That’s a magnificent level of success, it’s the very definition of the American Dream, that the next generation can do better than the last.

But we’re at a nexus point in the history of the United States, hell, the history of the world.  We’re potentially on the brink of World War III, we’re living in the worst global pandemic in a hundred years, global supply chains are in disarray, inflation is spiking to a height not seen in forty years.  Not to mention the fact that global climate change is a true existential human crisis.

It’s not surprising given everything above that we’ve started to hear that young people are becoming increasingly bleak about their future.  But that’s not the students who have and will be walking across college stages across the country in the coming weeks.  These students truly are our hope.  They have worked hard and persevered in one of the toughest college environments any student has ever faced.  They are up to the incredibly complex challenges of the modern world and frankly, they are our only hope for us to successfully face these challenges, and I’m incredibly proud of anything I’ve done to help get them there and to have been there today to celebrate the Miracle of Graduation with them.

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It’s not all roses

The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it. ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

The world goes up and the world goes down. I picked a bad day to write about happiness, as you likely know, nineteen children were killed in our latest mass shooting at an elementary school. I won’t indulge in the politics on this page, or attempt to address the total madness related to this phenomenon. So instead I’ll address this point. Even in an insane and sometimes terrible world, it’s ok to be happy.

The fact is, somewhere, every single day something happens in the world that is beyond horrific. Whether it’s starvation, disease, war or hatred, it’s always happening somewhere. I’m not suggesting that you not care, or that you become cold and indifferent to the suffering of others. Instead I want you to focus on those closest to you and yourself.

We’ve talked frequently about self-care, about finding simple joys in life, positivity, travel and many other ways to enhance your happiness. But sometimes I think it’s important to just remind people that it’s ok to be happy. You can be troubled by the ills of the world and still do what you need to, to make yourself happy, it’s ok.

So the news may be utter shit, the news may be complete darkness and horror, but you are allowed to be happy, it’s good for you and it’s good for those close to you. So be well my friends and have a happy day. ~ Rev Kane

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