Happy Things January 2024

I’ve written before about the book 14,000 things to be happy about by Barbara Ann Kipfer. I think that focusing on happy thing of the things we are happy about is a fabulous strategy for improving health and happiness. So, I decided to do a monthly blog post about my happy things. Finding things to be happy about in January was a little tough. But, that’s probably when I need it the most.

brown framed eyeglasses on a calendar
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January is the month of my deceased daughter’s birthday and this year it was the month when my mother died. If that’s not bad enough, it was also my mother’s birthday. This involved frantic travel to get to her before she passed, the painfully sad event, and the family drama that frequently rears its ugly head around such events.

If I wasn’t intentional about it I could have easily missed all of the things I’m grateful for and feel happy about.

Here’s my January 2024 list:

sea shells on body of water
Photo by Oleksandr P on Pexels.com
  1. A caring Hospice chaplain
  2. Abundant sea shells on the beach
  3. Watching ocean waves under an amazing cloudy sky
  4. Finding a restaurant that could manage food allergies that overlooked the water.
  5. Phone calls from friends and family
  6. Successfully completing a composition I’d been working on for a long time
  7. A hotel that offered compassion and a last minute reservation change without a fee
  8. Slip on shoes
  9. Flights that left and landed on time
  10. Unsweetened iced tea
  11. Puppy kisses
  12. Beautiful hymns of faith
  13. Allergy medication
  14. A large woodpecker on the tree outside my office window

Humility

humility
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One of the lessons I am learning as an adult student of both composition and voice is humility. This humility is necessary in order to set aside any excess pride or superiority that can interfere with my learning. That isn’t always comfortable. Some definitions of humility include.

  1. A modest or low view of one’s own importance
  2. Freedom from pride or arrogance
  3. The feeling or attitude that you have no special importance that makes you better than others
  4. Not believing you are superior to others
old books side by side on library shelf

While I believe all of these definitions are accurate, they don’t fully capture my experience as an adult learner. Then I found a description that was more illuminating. It said that people who are humble can still think highly of themselves, but are also aware of their mistakes, gaps in knowledge, and imperfections. This awareness of mistakes, gaps in knowledge, and imperfections has been very important in my current student status.

Jeff Boss at Forbes.com (3/1/25) wrote that humble people are confident and competent in themselves so much that they can help others. They don’t feel the need to boast but let their actions speak for their ideals. They don’t feel the need to show others how much they know. Humble people actively listen to others, and they are eager to understand others because they are curious. They are perpetual learners and realize that they don’t have all of the answers. Also, they glean knowledge from the experiences of others and crave more opportunities to learn. They accept feedback, assume responsibility, and they ask for help.

When I am able to engage in this manner I find that I am able to focus my attention on learning rather than trying to prove how much I already know, a practice that interferes with learning. It is also sometimes very difficult for me to ask for help. Unfortunately this has been my default mode for most of my life and now I’m trying to fill in the gaps in knowledge that resulted.

humility
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So what can we do to show up ready for learning in this way? I think the first step is to take a good look at your reasons for being in the situation. Are you there to get praise or acknowledgement for your brilliance or are you there to expand your knowledge? What behavior or attitude will help you most to achieve your goal. Don’t get me wrong – I LOVE praise and validation. But I learn the most when I don’t let that be what motivates my behavior.

The second step may be to identify where your areas of weakness might be as well as how willing you are to be vulnerable enough to show those areas of weakness to the person(s) that are trying to teach you something. For me that is sometimes not at all vulnerable and other times I can choose to be extremely open. This does not always feel comfortable, but with a trusted mentor or teacher, it can be so extremely effective.

Give it a try.

Veni, Veni Emmanuel

Veni, Veni Emmanuel (O Come, O come Emmanuel) is an anthem for Advent, utilizing SATB choir, piano, and handbells, anticipating the coming of Christ. It includes both Latin and English lyrics of praise, worship, and anticipation.

I have always loved handbells. I spent a lot of my life at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Dayton, Ohio where the music program is massive. Both of my sons played in various handbell choirs, and I even had the opportunity to ring a bell or two for ornamentation during a choir anthem. My current choir also has a very enthusiastic and talented bell choir. They were quite supportive and helpful as I wrote this piece.

If you have read other posts, you already know that I love choral music. It seemed to be a natural transition to combining them in one composition. Then, when you add in that I love Christmas music it was a no-brainer. I also love singing in Latin, making the whole experience a lot of fun. Why Latin you might ask. Its the vowels. Nice round vowel sounds.

Alternating the melody between the handbells and singers created a joyous celebration where no one feels left out. For the singers, the range is generally moderate. The tenor and base are in unison, with rare divisi while the soprano and alto are generally divided, with occasional unison. Veni, Veni Emmanuel uses 22 handbells, and can be doubled for larger groups. Performance time is approximately 3:15.

The composition was first performed on December 17, 2023 at Rio Rancho Presbyterian Church with the Chancel Choir and the JuBELLation Ringers and was well-received. I’m starting to think about what other handbell/choir piece I might compose. Its too late for this year, but perhaps a jubilant Easter anthem for 2025?

Responsibility

Responsibility for me

The New Oxford American Dictionary defines responsibility in several ways. The two most relevant to this post include:

1. the state or fact of having a duty to deal with something or of having control over someone

2. a moral obligation to behave correctly toward or in respect of: individuals have a responsibility to control personal behavior.

In Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life by Steven C. Hayes, Ph.D., the term is broken down into “response” and “ability.” The concept is that it involves an ability to respond and has nothing to do with blame. One may not always be able to respond to a situation, but they can still respond to the pain it might have caused.

Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D. also uses the idea of response-ability, describing the capacity to choose and remembering to be in charge and make careful and thoughtful choices. This is the ability to respond to life without placing blame upon one’s self.

I Can and I Will affirmation

Why is this distinction important? Many people confuse taking responsibility with assigning blame. Blame is disempowering or victimizing. Taking responsibility, in part or in whole, for what is actually mine is empowering. Am I responsible for an approaching hurricane? Of course not. Am I responsible for making decisions about how I’m going to deal with it? Absolutely.

Another reason why this distinction is important is that people feel responsible for the feelings, actions, and situations of others. I’m not suggesting that there isn’t some aspect that may be mine to manage or respond to, but I only have limited response-ability. Other people maintain the right to be wrong, make mistakes, interpret comments, and respond with their own feelings. I’m not response-able for those. Can I learn to be careful with my speech? Yes, to some extent. But, the choice still belongs to the other person about how to interpret what I’ve said and it often involves patterns from the past that I cannot predict or control.

question mark symbolizing why

I find it important to check if my sense of “responsibility” is really located in the present moment rather than a worry about the future or a carry-over from the past. Then, if it is in the present moment, I actually ask myself if the current concern is really within the area of my own “hula hoop.” Is it that close to me? Can I do anything with it? Is it really someone else’s response-ability rather than mine? Then, I can choose my response. If any of those questions suggest that this issue isn’t really mine, I can interrupt the tendency to blame and shame.

Boundary setting is an important part of this process. If my boundary is punctuated by gates that I control it will be helpful when considering my response-ability. If my boundary is open, without gates that I control, it is very tempting to take ownership of someone else’s responsibility even if there is no response-ability on my part.

The basic question for me is always, “Does this belong to me and is there a way that I can reasonably respond.”

May the Peace of God

May the Peace of God is based on Philippians 4:7 and offers an assurance that we do not need to be anxious about anything. God has it all covered in ways that we cannot even begin to understand. In times of doubt, pray. In times of uncertainty, pray. When we have troubled minds, pray. Protect yourself with the power of Jesus Christ and experience peace.

I love the poetic feel of the King James passage “and the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ”. I also like the NASB translation. “As the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Jesus Christ.” It just seems a little more clear in the NASB translation that it is God who protects our hearts and minds, not us.

For context, this scripture is embedded between an admonition to make our requests known to God and a reminder that we need not be anxious. There is also the instruction to focus on what is right and true, behave honorably, and to dwell on the good things.

My composition is written for SATB voices, with or without piano accompaniment. My church choir did it a few times with accompaniment. Later, after the choir was more familiar with the composition, they sang it a capella. Both went well even though we are a small choir. The mood is generally soft and reassuring, just like the scripture verses. The vocal range is moderate with optional divisi for the bass voices. It can be used at any point in a worship service, but was intended for a benediction response.

Would you like to see more of this composition? Click here. Interested in some of my other compositions? Visit MusicNotes through this link.

Repeat the Work

Things are rarely one and done. Sometimes we have to repeat the work. I don’t know about you, but I find that fact really annoying. This is true for me whether we are talking about reps at the gym or playing the piano. It is also true about cleaning the house, doing the dishes, or using my stress management skills. In many areas I am aware of the need to create muscle memory through repetition. But even then, after I have “mastered” a skill or passage in a piece of music I know that that mastery will degrade over time if I don’t play it regularly. It usually isn’t completely gone, but I don’t play as easily until I’ve repeated it several more times.

practice with metronome

I also get it where exercise is concerned. I know my body has to get used to a weight or distance through repetition. Then after a time I can go harder, heavier, or farther. If I skip very many workouts I lose a little bit of my progress and have to fight my way back up. Again….annoying.

My resistance is stronger in other areas of self development. I’ve written in other blog posts about my training in Reiki and Meridian Tapping. So if I’ve used Reiki or Tapping about a personal problem or situation once I seem to expect to never need to do it again. While there are people who report such amazing and long-lasting results, I find that sometimes things come up again but it a bit of a different context. I know that if I would do the work again I can resolve the issue in the moment, but still I resist to my own detriment. That doesn’t mean that the first time was a failure, but sometimes context is important.

Cat Sleep

I found references about the power of repetition such as Get Lighthouse, MasterClass, and Thunderhead Works. All of these sites have articles about repetition as a means toward mastery. I believe that is definitely true. Repeating the work can also lead to increased confidence. To repeat the work in the various aspects of daily living, it can also be an exercise in patience with oneself or situation, a practice of mindfulness in which we are actively aware of needs, and an exercise in controlling our own ego that tells us we don’t need to do the work “again.”

Remember, your needs change. Your situations change. Your body changes. Even your level of confidence can change. As those changes occur, consider repeating the work.

I Will Sing Alleluia

I Will Sing Alleluia was a really fun composition experience. It originally started as a longer piece, with a long introduction and piano interludes. Over many months, and multiple revisions it became an introit for choir and piano. The tone is positive, and a song of gratitude. I am really drawn to songs of praise and cascading alleluias or amens. There is a repeated message of “I will Sing” that admonishes me that I am to sing to God in all circumstances, not just those that please me. While it is often difficult to put into practice, this song is a great reminder.

Although I began writing I Will Sing Alleluia in 2020, this year I was able to experience it being sung during worship in two different churches. It was incredibly exciting… and terrifying. I felt somewhat vulnerable putting my creative product to the test in a public performance. But, in both churches it went really well and the feedback was positive. Whew!

The text is based on Psalm 59:16. According to the New American Standard Bible, Psalm 59 is a prayer for deliverance. The psalm is one of many that are attributed to David. The beginning of the psalm includes multiple requests for help from God in order to protect him from his enemies. There is also an acknowledgement of God’s strength. It ends with the statement of gratitude for God’s lovingkindness and the statement of praise that this song is based upon.

Want to see more? Check it out HERE.

Expectations, Friend or Foe

“When the world doesn’t live up to our expectations, we rebel against its unfairness by turning to food.” – Jessica Ortner

question mark symbolizing why

“When you stop expecting people to be perfect, you can like them for who they are.” – Donald Miller

“I’m not in this world to live up to your expectations and you’re not in this world to live up to mine.” – Bruce Lee

“That was the thing about the world: it wasn’t that things were harder than you thought they were going to be, it was that they were hard in ways that you didn’t expect.” – Lev Grossman

“Set the Standard! Stop expecting others to show you love, acceptance, commitment & respect when you don’t even show that to yourself.” – Steve Maraboli

“Life is not obligated to give us what we expect.” – Margaret Mitchell

Admittedly, these quotes, found all over on the internet, are probably taken out of context. However, I think each of them address this interesting challenge with expectations. In one context, understanding and stating our expectations can be quite helpful. In other contexts, expectations likely do more damage.

Expect has several different dictionary definitions, and that may explain some of the challenge. One definition is to consider probable or certain. How much difference do you think there is between probable and certain? If you consider an outcome certain and it doesn’t happen what is your response? Is it different than if you consider the outcome probable? It is for me.

A second definition is to consider something reasonable, due, or necessary. Again, if you think something is reasonable and then are disappointed your reaction is likely to be very different than if you think something is due to you. Or another definition, to anticipate or look forward to the coming or occurrence of something. What reaction do you experience when that doesn’t come or doesn’t occur? In all of these definitions there is considerable variability that largely derives from our own perceptions, beliefs, and ability to accurately evaluate the current situation.

I also found a definition that an expectation is to suppose or hold something as an opinion, belief, or assumption. This is where a lot of people get into trouble. Many people have difficulty differentiating between an opinion/belief and a fact. Just look around. You will see this everywhere.

We are often told to state our expectations clearly. This is a sound recommendation. Other people can’t read our minds, so being clear about our expectations can help. But stating your expectations, no matter how clear you are, won’t necessarily mean that they will be met. When your expectations are not met it can lead to feelings of disappointment, frustration, anger, betrayal, and mistrust. Other people have competing beliefs and expectations. It is important to ask yourself if these are your rules, red lines in the sand, or a statement of your wishes and desires.

Ask yourself these questions:

questions answers sign

Are your expectations realistic? How do you know?

Does the other person have a free choice to respond? Do they have the right to disagree? or fail?

What will you do if the expectation is not met?

Are you stuck in a thought trap such as “life should be fair” or “people should agree with me?” What was the likelihood that I have over-estimated the probability of something?

Disappointment is certain. People will not always live up to your expectations. Situations you desire won’t always happen. You will not always be treated fairly. As most of us were told when we were growing up “life is not fair,” but we still expect it to be. People will sometimes break your trust. I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t state our expectations. I think it is essential for effective communication and relationships. What I’m suggesting is that we need to monitor our responses to disappointment when those expectations aren’t met. As you can see from the first quote above from Jessica Ortner, some people turn to self-destructive behaviors when our expectations aren’t met. Obviously overeating won’t change the fact that life isn’t fair. If our reactions are self destructive it is a pretty clear indicator that we have personalized the situation or other person’s behavior. This is usually not helpful.

I have lots of expectations of myself and others. I don’t always live up to my own expectations, but when I’m operating in mindfulness those failures are an opportunity to evaluate the expectations, relationships, and situations and don’t usually lead to self destructive behaviors. Even when I state my expectations people don’t always comply. While hard, it is generally beneficial to recognize their free will and that won’t always conform to my hopes, wishes, or desires. This strategy does remind me of my friend Zach who once very correctly and lovingly said to me, “It’s not always about you.”


Jubilate Deo

Jubilate Deo – Be Joyful in the Lord. This is an original setting of the words from Psalm 100:1, and sung in Latin and English. From The New American Standard Bible (Zondervan), Psalm 100 is a Psalm for Thanksgiving and an admonition for praise.

Psalm 100:1-2 (From The New American Standard Bible (Zondervan)

Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth.

Serve the Lord with gladness

Come before Him with singing.

Jubilate Deo - photo of people rejoicing

This setting is a 2-part round for mixed voices and piano accompaniment. The bright and joyful melody conveys a call for rejoicing among all people. The practice of singing in round exemplifies that rejoicing independently and together.



Jubilate Deo omnis terra.
Laudate Dominum.
Rejoice in God,
all the Earth.
Sing praise to God.
Alleluia!

To see more, click here or leave me a message.

Parla Come Mangi

I was introduced to this Italian idiom through the book Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. I digress just to say that there are many hidden gems in that book. Although a search of the internet suggest some dispute about the actual meaning, both Ms. Gilbert and www.wordsense.eu offer that parla come mangi means speak the way you eat and is an invitation to use simpler and clearer language when speaking.

wine for relaxation

In my profession I talk to lots of people every day. One of the things I notice is that people make a big deal out of the things they are trying to tell me. They often resort to jargon or labels rather than simply saying what is on their mind or describing a situation. This generally complicates things. Parla come mangi often comes into mind as I listen to them. As in food, simple is often so much better.

When I pause to consider how or why this happens I land upon several possibilities. Perhaps the individual has been shaped to believe that what they have to say is unimportant and so try to use words, expressions, and descriptions that they believe might give their words more weight or importance. Another possible explanation is the saturation of labeling from social media. I have done this before desiring some sort of a short cut. I have also intentionally utilized medical jargon when interacting with other medical professionals to try to prevent them from talking down to me, a sort of elevating my believability if you will. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

comfort food

I now strive to embrace the concept of parla come mangi in social communication. I also try to model it in in my psychotherapy work. There is much less chance of a chance for misunderstanding when I interact in that manner.