Life is one grand, sweet song… ~Ronald Reagan

When pioneers left their homes in the east to travel west, they put what they could in covered wagons or handcarts.  Much of the time, they had to leave less important things behind for lack of space.  The trek westward was difficult and full of dangers.  The end of each day would find the travelers hungry and weary.

Although they were tired, the pioneers would meet together each evening around a large campfire and play music, sing and dance.  Many of them played fiddles, and other instruments.  The music would ease the burden of the journey and after an evening of singing and dancing , they would retire to bed happy.

Music is a universal language that has the ability to lift souls, buoy up the down-trodden, and enliven the spirit.  Martin Luther stated, “Beautiful music is the art of the prophets that can calm the agitations of the soul; it is one of the most magnificent and delightful presents God has given us.”

Playing a musical instrument can be therapeutic, relieving stress and increasing one’s ability to think creatively.  Studies show that playing an instrument helps in lowering the heart rate and blood pressure, which in turn lowers the stress hormone cortisol, thus making us feel relaxed.

A Time Magazine article entitled, Singing Changes Your Brain, tell us, “When you sing, musical vibrations move through you, altering your physical and emotional landscape.”  Singing releases endorphins, oxytocin, and helps to stave off depression.  This is true whether you have a great singing voice or not.

My favorite songs to sing are children’s songs.  Usually the words are easy to remember and the tune easy to carry.  I also love to listen to beautiful piano music, especially when it is played by my oldest son.  He has some really lovely original pieces that are sweet and soothing.

What has been your experience linking music and happiness?  Leave your thoughts below in the comments section.

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Have I Done Any Good in the World Today?

A popular hymn asks the questions, “Have I done any good in the world today? Have I helped anyone in need? Have I cheered up the sad, or made someone feel glad? If not, I have failed, indeed.”

As we feel gratitude in our life, we naturally begin thinking more of others and their needs. Many of us would like to be of service to others, but where to begin?  Linda K. Burton said it best when she advised, “First observe, then serve.”  It is logical to be required to see a need before we can fill it.  This requires a little effort on our part, and means we must be actively observing.  Opportunities to serve don’t always just drop into our lap.  We have to look for them.

Here are some of the service opportunities that I have observed in the just the past few days:

  • A person with very little computer knowledge struggling to use some new software.
  • A college student trying to pay their way through school on a limited budget runs out of groceries.
  • Someone trying to pull out of a parking lot during the 5:00 rush.
  • A lonely widow sitting by herself at church.
  • The local Little League board is in desperate need of someone to work in the snack bar.
  • A busy client needs to pick up their order, but can’t get there until after 5 pm.
  • A new mother is exhausted and just wants to take a nap.

None of these needs, with maybe the exception of the Little League snack bar, take too much time and effort to resolve, but the value for the recipient is immeasurable.  And the acts of service to resolve these needs can bring with them a bonus for the giver — more happiness.

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Gratitude: The Positive Side Effect Antidepressant

Whenever I think about gratitude, I think of this song from the movie, White Christmas.  Bing’s character, Bob, is explaining to Betty that he likes to counts his blessings when he’s worried or stressed.  Counting your blessings is a way of expressing gratitude for what we have.  And, as mentioned in yesterday’s post, being grateful can help you be happy.

Webster’s Dictionary defines gratitude as “a feeling of appreciation or thanks.”  I think it goes way beyond just a feeling.  How about living a life of gratitude?  How about being grateful for even the bad things?

In the celebrated story of survival, The Hiding Place, by Corrie Ten Boom, we read about Corrie and her sister, Betsie’s experiences with their family in the Nazi prison camps during WWII.  At one point Corrie tells the reader about new quarters they were assigned to and the awful living conditions, especially the flea infestation.  While reading their Bible one night, the sisters came across a passage that read, “Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus.”  Betsie began listing all the things to be grateful for — they had been assigned to live in the same barracks, they still had their Bible, and then there were the fleas.  Corrie assured her that the fleas were nothing to be thankful for, but it turned out that Betsie was right in giving thanks for them.  Other prisoners were frequently visited and molested by the German soldiers, but those same soldiers never came into the barracks where the sisters lived because of the fleas.

Gratitude is an uplifting, exalting attitude. People are generally happier when they have gratitude in their hearts. We cannot be bitter, resentful, or mean-spirited when we are grateful.

When we are grateful and content with what we have, we feel less inclined toward materialism.  We don’t feel the need to collect more and more things, but are comfortable with just the essentials.  Gratitude is a key quality for living a simpler lifestyle.

As we learn to show gratitude for all things in our lives, we tend to stop thinking about our own problems and start to look outward.  We are more able to recognize the needs of others and can have a sincere desire to be of service to our fellow man.

In the next post, I’m going to touch on the importance of being able to recognize the needs of others in order to be of service.

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Who Else Wants To Be Happy Right Now?

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When I was young, I would always think to myself, “I’ll be really happy when ____________.”  Just fill in the blank and I probably thought it.

I’ll be happy when school is out for the summer.
I’ll be happy when I pass this test.
I’ll be happy when I can date.
I’ll be happy when I can drive.
I’ll be happy when I can move out on my own.
I’ll be happy when I meet someone and fall in love.

Lately, I’ve been thinking that I’ll be happy when I get to change jobs or retire, even though that is still years away.  It seems that I am always living in the future and just suffering through the present.  What if there was a way to be happy with things the way they are now? Here are some of my ideas on how to make that happen.

Have an Attitude of Gratitude

Being grateful for what you have helps you to be happy.  Making a point to “count your blessings” keeps them fresh in your mind and gives you a good reason to be happy now.  Why not try making a written list?  Or maybe you could talk about what you are grateful for with your spouse or a good friend.  If you pray, giving thanks to God is a great way to be happy now.

Give Service to Others

I’m not sure exactly how this works, but it does.  Giving service to others, without expecting anything in return, will make you happy.  If you are thinking of the needs of others, you don’t have time to spend thinking of anything lacking in your own life, and it makes you less selfish.  Less selfish = more happy.

Sing a Song

Lukas Foss, an American composer, pianist and conductor, had this to say about music and happiness:  “Great music does not just make me feel good. It means something. It makes us understand. It makes us happy.”   When I start to be a grump and feel like having a pity party, I try to remember to sing a song.  I usually choose something upbeat and modern, but it really could be any kind of music — except maybe blues.  Yeah, definitely not blues!

Not a singer?  Listening to uplifting music can make you just as happy.

Just Be Nice

Being mean will make you unhappy faster that you can say, “Bah Humbug.”  Do you know any mean people?  Chances are they are unhappy people too.  But I bet if you think about the kindest, nicest person you know, you will also discover that they are one of the happiest. Go figure!

I’m sure there are lots of other ways to be happy.  What can you think of?  Leave your ideas in the comments below and maybe we can make a big huge list of ways to be happy.

In the next few posts, I’m going to dive a little deeper into each of these happiness-bringing ideas, and go into a little more detail on being grateful, giving service, music, and being a nice person.

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Tame the Paper Monster Once and For All

The paper was stacking up something fierce and it seemed that the boxes of old photographs were multiplying in the garage.  It would be a bit overwhelming for most people, but for a beginning minimalist, the task of decluttering all that paper seemed impossible!

After doing some research and watching a bunch of decluttering stuff on Youtube, I decided that scanning and storing digital copies of all of it was the way to go.  Now, how to do it?

We have always had a flatbed scanner as part of an all-in-one printer, but it is slow and is in an inconvenient location for an extended scanning session.  I figured there had to be a better way, so it was back to the internet for some more research.

Enter the Fujitsu ScanSnap S1300i — my new best friend!

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The Fujitsu ScanSnap S1300i is the answer to the minimalist’s paper dilemma. It’s small, so it doesn’t take up a lot of storage space (It fits perfectly in the bottom of my Hex computer duffle, along with all the cords).  It is fast – I mean fast – and, it has a variety of options for document type and storage location.  My favorite is to scan and link into Evernote to make searching easier, but for the photographs, I just scan them all into one folder and then upload to my online cloud storage.

My dining room table is the best place to setup.  I just plug the scanner into the wall outlet, then to my Macbook Pro.  My computer recognizes the scanner right away and then it’s ready to go.  Did I mention how fast it is?  Not only fast, but it scans both sides of the paper at the same time.  Brilliant!  I power through stacks of receipts, warranties, personal papers, genealogy docs, and photographs in no time flat.

Another great feature that I haven’t tried yet is powering the scanner through my laptop.  The Fujitsu ScanSnap S1300i comes with a regular power cord, a converter brick with cord and the USB cord to connect to the computer.  As an alternative to plugging into the wall outlet, it also comes with a USB to BUS power cord which powers the scanner from your computer.  So, as my husband, Mark, says it, “You can scan anywhere!”  Yes, well, anywhere you have a laptop too, but that IS a rather convenient feature.

Like a lot of tech gadgets, this is an investment.  There were cheaper scanners out there, but without the good reviews.  ScanSnap also makes other models, and I was looking at a larger one, but it was a whole lot more money and I was concerned about storage and mobility.  As I mentioned, the Fujitsu ScanSnap S1300i fits neatly in the bottom part of my Hex bag and is ready for action at a moments notice.

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Need more tech specs and feature info?  Visit the Fujitsu ScanSnap S1300i web site for all the juicy details, then head on over to Amazon for the best price.

Do you have a Fujitsu ScanSnap S1300i or other scanner? Let me know your thoughts.  If you have any questions about this scanner or getting rid of paper clutter, just leave it in the comment section below.

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