Thanksgiving – Kindness and Happiness

Brighten someone’s day.

As Thanksgiving approaches, I have been thinking about how each one of us has the capacity within ourselves to spread kindness and happiness in our own way.

Not long ago, I wrote a post entitled Voting is an Environmental Act hoping to help readers connect how voting or not voting affects the environment. I believe spreading kindness and happiness are also environmental acts. This is why.

You and I share a wondrous sphere that we call Earth with billions of other people and non-human living things. Earth is our home, our only home.

People are struggling to survive and so is Earth. It is going to take all of us working together for the common good to heal our planet so that humans and non-humans can enjoy life and thrive.

Only a society of people who respect, value, and care for each other will be able to accomplish what we need to do. Hate, anger, and fear will not get the job done.

Every time you or I encounter another human being in person or in the digital world, we can choose to act with kindness and spread some happiness. I know this is not a novel concept. I am just trying to reinforce it.

For my part, I am endeavoring to be more kind (a work in progress) and to sprinkle a little bit of happiness in my neighborhood on the California Central Coast.

Happiness Sprinkling Project

Laura Lavigne started the Happiness Sprinkling Project in 2012 to sprinkle some happiness in her town of Anacortes, WA with hopes that the idea would spread. It has—all across the country and around the world.

People Wearing Yellow Standing on Street Corner Holding Happiness Sprinkling Signs
A group of people standing on a street corner sprinkling happiness on passersby and offering free hugs. Photo credit Happiness Sprinkling Project (click the photo to visit their website).

The photo above illustrates the simple yet compelling concept. People, often wearing yellow, gather on a street corner or near a sidewalk and hold up inspirational signs to lift the spirits of the people who pass by.

A business card that says “You Rock!” inspired me to adapt the happiness sprinkling idea to my yard.

You can read more about Laura’s Happiness Sprinkling Project and about how I came to have a “You Rock!” card on my desk in the post entitled, Can Happiness Save the World?

Happiness Sprinkling for Shy Introverts

Perhaps if I were an outgoing extroverted person I would have organized a happiness sprinkling in my small town. However, each morning I continue to wake up as the shy introverted person that I am. After pondering ways to spread some happiness in my neighborhood, I came up with the idea of making a sign that said “You Rock!” and putting it in our yard.

One evening in September 2017, I broached the subject with my family during dinner. They did not immediately take to the idea. Nor were they enthusiastic about me writing a post about happiness. A lively discussion ensued.

One comment was that it might be a waste of time and energy as the sign might go unnoticed. Someone else wanted to know what happiness had to do with my core mission, which is trying to convince you, me, and everyone else to live more lightly on Earth. My spouse saw it as another project I would need assistance to accomplish (rightly so).

Undaunted, I declared that happiness is pertinent to the environment. I told my family it would be worth it to me if only one person had her or his spirits raised by seeing a “You Rock!” sign in our yard. Someone replied, “How will you ever know?” That was a good point. However, I decided to proceed and have faith that it would brighten someone’s day even if I never knew it.

My mechanically inclined and creative spouse decided to help me by constructing a weather-resistant sign holder and using Photoshop to create the “You Rock!” sign on three letter-size pieces of printer paper. We installed the sign holder in our yard in a place visible to people driving their cars or walking up and down our street.

Green Groundswell You Rock Yard Sign
The sign holder and our first happiness sprinkling sign were installed in October 2017.

Almost immediately, I decided it would be fun to have a different sign each month. The printer paper sign had been difficult to make and was not durable so my spouse suggested we have some signs made out of corrugated plastic.

We both wanted to use sayings that are universal and are not political or religious in nature so that no one would be offended, even if she or he did not like the saying.

A Year of Sprinkling Happiness

Starting in October 2017, on the first day of each month (or close to it), my spouse and I have been changing out the sign. I thought I took a photo of each one, but apparently, I missed January and September. I photographed those signs last weekend to complete my collection.

You can see how little rain we had during last year’s rain cycle by how few signs show green wild grasses in the background.

During the past year, I received a few waves and a couple of honks from people driving by while I was working in the yard near the sign holder. Perhaps this was just neighbors being friendly and had nothing to do with the happiness sprinkling yard signs, but maybe it did.

On the evening of October 10, a year after we began the happiness sprinkling yard sign project, something unexpected happened.

My spouse and I had walked from our house to the senior center to attend a candidate forum for our local water district board of directors. After the forum, we were trudging up our street (it never gets less steep) when a car stopped in the middle of the street next to us. The woman driving the car rolled down her window. I thought she was going to offer us a ride as some people do when they see us or other neighbors hiking up our street.

You cannot imagine my amazement when she said, “I just want to let know how much I enjoy your inspirational signs.” I said I was glad she was enjoying them and off she went.

This experience sprinkled some happiness on me and reinforced my belief that anyone and everyone can spread kindness and happiness each in our own way.

Thanksgiving is a good day to practice.

Featured Image at Top:  Thanksgiving Decorations with Gourds, Corn, and Paper Native American and Pilgrim – Photo Credit Shutterstock/Magdalena Kucova

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Moving Beyond Sustainability to Thrivability

Let’s live lightly and joyfully on Earth so we can all thrive.

A few weeks ago, when I heard a Chumash man named Fred speak of moving beyond sustainability to thrivability, I thought, “Yes that is the path we should be on.”

At the time, I was standing in a circle of people holding hands outside of the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden event center with the mouth-watering smell of breakfast cooking and the scent of smoldering sage wafting through the air. We had gathered for the summer session of the Chumash Kitchen to experience the culture and food of the Chumash people who have been living on the Central California Coast for thousands of years.

Although I am still a circle ceremony novice, this was my third Chumash Kitchen so I knew I should wear a sweater. If you are interested, you can read about the first two in the posts entitled Thanksgiving – We are All Connected and Adopt a Native Plant.

From the moment I heard Fred utter the word thrivability, I knew that I would be pondering the idea in the weeks ahead.

The Chumash Kitchen – July 2018

Perhaps it was serendipity that the summer Chumash Kitchen had been moved back from early June to late July because it gave me a much-needed respite from what I was researching and writing about at the time.

In June, I had been happily dispensing advice for couples wanting to minimize their belongings and live happily with less stuff and trying to convince everyone to put solar panels on their roof.

However, by the time the end of July rolled around, I was enmeshed in researching and writing a 4-part series about GMOs (genetically modified organisms) and bioengineered food. This is a highly controversial subject and it seems like everyone is constantly shouting on paper and film while thrusting their conflicting science studies in each other’s faces.

The Chumash Kitchen was like an oasis.

Circle Ceremony

Shortly after we arrived, Violet, the Chumash woman who is the driving force behind the Chumash Kitchen, and Lindsey, the woman who makes it all happen at the Botanical Garden, called us outside to begin the day with a circle ceremony.

The group shuffled about a bit as we formed a rough circle and then spontaneously we all held hands with the people on either side of us. Violet smiled (she is always smiling) and voiced her approval. She introduced us to her family members and those who wished to speak did while an ancient and lovely abalone shell encrusted pipe (the source of the smoldering sage) was carefully carried around the circle.

Fred and Violet did a father-daughter tag team recounting of the story of how they had obtained the yucca flowers that would be part of our lunch.

Sourcing a yucca plant is not like picking elderberries or gathering acorns. The small creamy white flowers of the yucca plant are attached in clusters on stalks that can reach ten feet tall and the whole plant is encircled by thick spiky leaves.

Violet and Fred Delivering Yucca for Chumash Kitchen July 2018
Violet and Fred delivering the Yucca for the Chumash Kitchen, July 2018 – Photo Courtesy of San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden

Violet and Fred were searching literally for a late bloomer that would still have flowers at the end of July. They found one residing on a rocky perch difficult to reach. Undaunted, Fred climbed up and retrieved a length of yucca with the flowers intact. They drove to the Botanical Garden with the flowers in the cab of the pickup truck and the stalk sticking out the back window.

After the stories, a song, and a blessing, with cold hands and joyful hearts, we headed inside for a breakfast of quiche, sage potatoes, and Botanical Garden tea made with native plants from the Garden.

Stories and Prayer Ties

A short stroll took us to the children’s garden where we occupied benches in a shady spot while Violet and her family members shared stories about the history and culture of the area from their perspective as Chumash people and native Californians who have inhabited this land for centuries.

Michael talked with us about tobacco and prayer ties. Tobacco is a sacred plant for the Chumash people. Prayer ties are made by tying a pinch of tobacco into a knot at the center of a colored strip of cloth and hanging it somewhere as a prayer, wish, blessing, remembrance, or thank you. (If I got this wrong, then I apologize that was not listening carefully enough.)

Violet set us to work making prayer ties to decorate the children’s garden. It is not easy to make a knot in a piece of fabric without the tobacco falling out so thankfully small lengths of yarn were passed around to help the less handy people, like me. We were invited to make extra prayer ties to take home with us.

Yellow and Green Prayer Tied on Fence Around Ailing Toyon
I tied these prayer ties on the fence surrounding an ailing toyon in our yard. (The fence is to protect it from deer until it gets big enough to hold its own.)

After exploring and decorating the children’s garden, we reassembled for lunch, which Fred had been preparing with a group of hardworking volunteer cooks.

Chumashtash

Lunch was beautifully served and delicious.

Our main course was dubbed Chumashtash (a cousin of succotash) by Violet. Our version combined chayote squash, yucca root, sweet corn, cheese, and a sumptuous sauce of wilted yucca blossoms sautéed in garlic butter. This was accompanied by a rice dish made with yerba buena, cilantro, and lime and Slo’w’s special pozole recipe, a sort of spicy corn soup served with fresh cabbage and lime wedges.

The artfully arranged dessert of vanilla ice cream topped with a chia flour and blueberry crumble, elderberry syrup, and garnished with a yucca blossom looked almost too good to eat, but I soon found myself scraping the bowl and wishing for more.

Replete with lovingly prepared food and wonderful stories, we headed home.

Thrivability

The next Monday, I returned to the world of GMOs and bioengineered food, which seemed even more alien than it had the week before. Once I completed the last post in that series, I was free to contemplate moving beyond sustainability to thrivability and to write this post.

According to my Webster’s dictionary, the word sustain means “to keep in existence, keep up, maintain, or prolong.”

It was the United Nations, in 1987, which popularized the term sustainability by defining sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

This is an indeed a worthy goal. If we want our children, everyone else’s children and future children to have a habitable planet to live on now and in the future, we need to think beyond our immediate needs and wants and act accordingly.

The problem is that no one wants to just exist or maintain. People want to be happy, enjoy life, and thrive.

Sustainability is an overused, misused, and uninspiring term that is more like a frame of reference for decision-making than a way to live. Due to the lack of a suitable alternative, I admit that I use the word sustainability more than I would like to (it is a category on my website). I know I am not alone in feeling this way.

Maybe thrivability is the idea we have been seeking.

Technically, the word thrivability does not exist. When I looked in my Webster’s and at online dictionaries, I could find thrive (to grow vigorously, flourish) but not thrivability. I did come across a couple of books and seminars with thrivability in the title and several companies with thrive in their name.

Actually, the lack of an “official” definition for thrivability is a good thing because we are free to come up with our own. Here is my take on a meaning for thrivability. Please feel free to share your own in the comment section.

Thrivability means living joyfully and in harmony with other people and the balance of nature, so that we can all flourish on Earth now and in the future.

Featured Image at Top: Children Holding Hands Running through a Meadow Silhouetted by the Sun – Photo Credit Shutterstock/ESB Professional

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