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The Best of Times and The Worst of Times

By Philip Humbert

I love the classic line from Charles Dickens, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." Truly, these are the best (and the worst) of times. The good news is that you get to choose!

Watching television indicates these are clearly the worst of times. Economic stagnation threatens our homes, our jobs, our retirement, and Europe. Our health is threatened by a new flu from China, just when our system is adapting to "Obamacare." There are reports that nerve gas has been used in Syria, there's Iran and North Korea to ponder, and we all know about the bombings in Boston. "They" say global warming is going to drown us all—unless an asteroid strikes and blows us up first. And perhaps worst of all, the FAA has furloughed air traffic controllers, so our flights are even later than usual. Folks, things are really, really bad!

Or not. My tomatoes (and my crab grass) are coming up right on schedule, there's food in my pantry, my truck is full of gas, my neighbors and my clients still seem to like me, and Mary hasn't left me (yet). My dog is at my feet, the sun is shining and robins are singing in the trees. I just enjoyed a great cigar and a good book. Surely, this must be the best of times?

Who's to decide?

Here's the nugget: YOU DO!

This week I read one of Dean Koontz' recent books, Odd Hours. Koontz is a prolific writer with a delightfully twisted perspective and his hero, a guy named Odd Thomas (who sees dead people), avoids "contemporary TV, contemporary politics, contemporary art: all too frantic, fevered, and frivolous, or else angry, bitter." Apparently, when your job as a short-order cook is frequently interrupted by the spirits of dead people needing help, life is complicated enough without watching the news.

While Koontz' whimsical perspective is fun, it contains much truth. If a fry cook's life is too complex to tolerate the news, how about yours (and mine)?

I've been struck, and troubled, by what President Carter once called a spirit of "malaise." I can't speak for the nation, much less the world, but I can report that I've had too many conversations with folks who are worried, anxious, distracted and fearful. Even my spam has turned negative! Instead of telling me I've inherited millions from an unknown relative, now I get warnings about the flu or promising help with my debts! When spam turns negative, I know the world is going to hell in a hand-basket.

Don't you believe it! I once heard the Dalai Lama say that the basic desire of all human beings is to "be happy." We long for peace, contentment, satisfaction, love and happiness, and the truth is, it's all around us.

In many of his programs and presentations, Tony Robbins talks about people who say the one thing they want is peace of mind, even while they live hectic lives that leave no room for a peaceful moment, much less peace of mind. He points out that peace of mind is available any time we want it. Soak in a hot-tub, take a walk, read some poetry, meditate or pray. Peace of mind is available, but not while watching the news or arguing with the kids.

I suggest that happiness largely results from an attitude of gratitude. These truly are the best of times if we choose to make them so. Most of my readers are healthy. We are educated. We have friends, and opportunity is all around us. We are, by any reasonable standard, wealthy. We can travel, or read the best books ever written. We can start businesses, learn new languages or other skills. We can change our minds, and our lives.

This week, as an experiment, turn off the news and have a conversation. Instead of television, turn on Mozart, Beethoven, or Streisand. Worry less, laugh more, and take a nap! Leave work early and invite a friend to dinner, play catch with your kids or walk the dog. Give thanks for the roof over your head and a soft bed at night. Pass out some balloons at the local hospital. I think you'll find your life is richer and much better. You may even find yourself being happy and feeling good!

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