A few years ago, there was a lot of attention focused on a book and film which encouraged everyone to think positively.  The lesson was centered on the idea that your positive thoughts will result in good things coming into your life.  The authors instructed and encouraged you to stop focusing on negative things and worries but, instead, to only think of the positives that you desire – those gifts that will bring happiness into your life.  If you focus on the negative things or worry about events that may be difficult, then (the authors insist) you will bring those negative things into your life.  In essence, they are teaching that you bring into your life those things that you focus on – both good and bad.

 I agree with the authors’ premise that it is important to focus on the good things in life, but it is from that point forward where my philosophy of life takes a different turn.  I do believe it is important to focus on the good rather than putting all of our energy in thinking about the bad: worries, anxieties and those things beyond our control.  But, I don’t believe that by focusing on good, that anyone has the power to bring those beautiful things into life, or that if you focus on the bad, you are only inviting the bad things to invade your paradise.  Beauty and sadness are all around you.  It is what you focus on (what you are looking for) that defines your experience.  The potential of unbridled happiness is there – everywhere.  You just need to focus on it, so you see it.  If you don’t look for it, you won’t ever see it – but it is there all of the time – all around you.


My grandmother seemed to excel at finding the beauty in the world.  At the young age of 13, she had to quit school after her 8th grade year, and begin working.  Coming from a large, Danish, immigrant family of 12 children at the beginning of the 1900’s, the sons were the only ones allowed to finish school through 12th grade.  If you were a daughter in my grandma’s family, you didn’t return to school after 8th grade.  Instead, you went to work as a house girl for a wealthy family in the surrounding area.

 For my grandmother, her assigned wealthy family happened to be 50 miles away from her home and family.  For a 13 year-old girl to move in with a strange family 50 miles away is an incredible concept to me.  Can you begin to imagine what that must have been like?  Without automobile transportation, 50 miles was a very time consuming trip by horse and wagon, and even more lengthy by foot.  But, that was expected and that is what my grandmother did.

 She didn’t talk much about that time.  When she did tell me about it, she never complained but rather, reflected on it with a sparkle in her eye.  She then quickly would move into the part of her life’s story where she played the “fiddle” with a band for barn dances.  That is how she met my grandfather.  He was an early 1900’s “groupie.”  He followed Grandma from barn dance to barn dance until he finally won her heart.  Grandma and Grandpa met when she was 18 years-old.  She loved to share that story with me.  She loved music, and she loved Grandpa.  It was a beautiful story and I cherish it to this day.  I think I especially enjoy this story since it was so obvious to me that Grandma was focusing on all of the joy from her youth to share with me – rather than the difficulties of being separated from her family or not being allowed to finish school.

 On the Lake

 When I was very young, I would spend time at my grandparent’s home.  It was on Beed’s Lake in Northern Iowa.  It is a small lake, yet it was beautiful in scenery.  Houses were all along the northern shoreline – up the hill from the water.  On the south side of the lake there still is a state park, campgrounds, swimming area, and a dam.  As teenagers, we would always take a walk around the lake.  Not much more than an hour or two, depending on how many things we needed to stop and see along the way.  We always stopped at the dam, though.  Watching the water splashing over the rocks as it fell to the stream below was always mesmerizing.  There was something quite spiritual about sitting next to the dam and walking around the stream…it was so tranquil…even with the sound of the crashing water.

 Grandma and Grandpa’s home was on the northern shore of the lake.  The house was up the hill about 200 yards from the shore.  I would sit for hours on the dock, just listening, watching and taking in all that was there.  The yard was full of trees and my grandparents had landscaped their yard as a retreat for birds of all kinds.  Grandma used to take me out with her while she tended to her many rose bushes and other flowers.  We would talk about the plants and would watch for songbirds.  It was there that I saw my first cardinal.  I thought it was the most beautiful bird I had ever seen, with its red feathers.  It took my breath away.  Grandma taught me about many of the birds that came to feast at the feeders Grandpa tended to every day.  We would also sit on their porch and just listen and watch.  It was beautiful.  It was a wonderful place to visit – I felt loved and so close to beauty.  Some of my happiest memories are there at Beed’s Lake.

Grandma never really sat me down to ‘teach me’ about the importance of looking for beauty.  She never told me how it was all around and I just had to keep my eyes open and my heart ready to embrace it all.  No, her lesson was much more subtle.  Instead, we would be talking about something else when she would interrupt with a quiet, “shhhhh…listen/look!”  Then she would point out a deer, a bird, a piece of music playing, a colorful sunrise, a child’s laughter, a twinkling star, all of those beautiful things that were surrounding us.  Just by living and being present with me, she taught me how to see the beauty all around me.  As I watched her and saw her embrace her surroundings – I learned how to find my happiness through the moments of beauty that I encountered every day.

What Did I Ever Do?

This lesson was really driven home to me when she moved into a nursing care facility.  It was an old mansion that had been added on to and refurbished.  The main mansion housed the parlor and dining room.  My aunt, who was the administrator of the home, had worked feverishly to restore the beautiful mansion that once was a home for a very wealthy family.  The parlor was finished in period pieces and it was beautiful in every way.  It was here, one day, where Grandma and I had retreated for an afternoon visit.  We were visiting about the recent presidential candidates (she loved talking politics) when she stopped mid-sentence and quietly shook her head from side to side.  She said, “Oh, Jackie!  I sometimes wonder what I ever did to deserve to live in such a beautiful place like this!”

I was overwhelmed with emotions.  I had heard so many elderly people complaining about having to live in a care facility and there were people in that very room who were obviously depressed and sitting in grief.  I was sitting with an old woman who was overcome with the beauty that was surrounding her.  She saw past her walker and the strain her heart experienced.  She saw past her wrinkled skin and deteriorating body to all the beauty that surrounded her.  She was in the moment, thankful for all her eyes took in – she was genuinely happy.