Make Me Smile

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There’s a lot to fret about in our world today. The economy and the environment are almost always big concerns. In addition to rerunning these topics in our heads, most of us can find plenty of other challenges to occupy our minds, such as: “Are our kids going to turn out alright?” “What’s going to happen with my aging parents?” “I wonder if my wife is mad at me.” “Will we have enough money to pay the rent?” “Will I get into the college I want?” “Is there really a chance for another war?” “Darn, our property taxes went up again.” “Why can’t the city just fix the big potholes in our street?” “How in the world am I going to get along with my new boss?” “Oh man, the car won’t start. How am I going to get to work?” “Is this relationship going to work out or not? “Why aren’t they here yet? The roads aren’t that slippery.” “Do you think dad will lose his job at the factory?” These and other disconcerting events are part of everyday life. Sometimes, the outlook can be rather dim because lots of problems are pretty big and we can’t always come up with an answer to them. Steppenwolf put it this way, “Things look bad from over here. Too much confusion and no solution”…Move Over. It’s true enough that there are plenty of troubles. But, oh well, that’s life. “Whatever will be, will be”…Eddie Money, Baby Hold On.

There has always been plenty of bad news and things to worry us and there always will be. I realize this and I can get discouraged just like anybody else, but not for long because the older I get the faster I can snap out of the funk I’m in. I do this by thinking of the good things in my life, and there are plenty so it’s easy to do. I also, often, take a few minutes to imagine all the bad things that didn’t happen to me today, like getting in a car wreck or losing a filling or losing my wallet. It’s all about attitude or perspective, don’t you think? I do, so to combat bad news I try to appreciate things like my next breath, or the really tight hugs around my neck that my grandson Everett gives me. Success in life has a lot to do with one’s mindset and a good one will help you smile more. Look for good news and absorb it, linger there a moment or two before moving on in your mind. Something as simple as a new fresh day ought to make you happy.“It’s a beautiful mornin’, Ahhh, I think I’ll go outside a while, an jus’ smile”…The Rascals, A Beautiful Morning. Every day is a good day for smiling. My cousin Mike, now retired, certainly knows this. He was born blind but his attitude and disposition never reveal the challenge he has faced every day of his life. He’s all smiles anyway because he knows that everyone he meets deserves to be greeted with a smile. Are you with me so far?

I like the seasons so I don’t think there any such thing as bad weather. In my opinion, there are just different types of good weather. Certainly, though, lots of people don’t see it this way so even the weather can cause them to stop smiling. Sometimes, people just won’t show their teeth if, “All the leaves are brown and the sky is grey”…California Dreamin’. Maybe The Mamas & The Papas wrote this song while in Seattle. Anyway, SAD, Seasonal Adjustment Disorder, is a real thing, usually caused by prolonged exposure to gray northern weather. In 2005, Dr. Cliff Arnall, discovered that weather and other factors impact peoples’ dispositions. He is a psychologist at the University of Cardiff who specializes in seasonal disorders and he created a formula that takes into account numerous feelings to devise peoples’ lowest point. January 24, according to his research, is when people are the most despondent. It’s the most depressing day of the year. The weather can be cold and the skies gray and gloomy then. People have eaten all the holiday leftovers and already given up on their New Year’s resolutions. Credit card bills from Christmas are due. To some, I guess, there’s not motivation to do much. This shouldn’t be the case, unless you’re on vacation or just wasting away in Margaritaville. Nothing wrong with that, but otherwise, cheer up. Some morning if you wake up and don’t feel like smiling, take this advice from Fleetwood Mac, “Open your eyes and look at the day, you’ll see things in a different way”…Don’t Stop. Today is a good day to smile. Tomorrow is a good day to smile. Every day is a good day to smile, even January 24, so keep smiling. I’ve taken this approach in spite of Cat Steven’s observation, “Oh, baby, baby, it’s a wild world. It’s hard to get by just upon a smile”…Wild World.

Evidently Cat Stevens couldn’t get by on a smile but Davy Crockett could, most of the time. In the 1955 Walt Disney movie, Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier, he tried to grin down a bear. It didn’t work but here’s what he said, “You see, there’s nothing so absolutely irresistible as an old-fashioned grin.” Wow, those are some good words that still apply.  So, since lots of smiles are started by other smiles, keep them coming, just as Carole King observed, “You’ve got to get up every morning with a smile on your face and show the world all the love in your heart”…Beautiful.

Let people see the love in your heart because life is awesome. Don’t get caught up in the gravitational pull of bad news. Smile because it makes a world of difference.

What a Wonderful World

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Last fall I planted some tulip bulbs and a earlier this spring they bloomed with vivid colors, announcing the coming of spring. They reminded me that summer was on the way and with it comes even more flowers and other beautiful growing things to delight my eyes.

Sometimes, I look around and see how beautiful our world is and how wonderful people are and how amazing life is and I wonder lots of things. How can tulips bloom right on time in the spring? Who tells them? Who makes the trees turn bright colors in autumn? How does a rose petal form so beautifully and smell so good? How can stars and planets just hang in space? How can birds sing so well that the musical genius Mozart, inspired by their chirping, wrote a piece of music based on the melody he heard? How can spiders spin webs? Really, how do they do this? How can the billions of snowflakes in the world all be different? How can an osprey swoop down from great heights and catch a fish? How does your ear process information just because a few invisible vibrations hit your eardrum?

This is all incredible and seems like a miracle, doesn’t it? Regarding miracles, do you ever stop to realize that every breath you take is another miracle? So are thinking, seeing, touching, and wishing upon the stars. They make life spectacular so it’s too bad that we often don’t stop to even think about them.

There are some beautiful sights in the world that will just take your breath away, just as an old slogan proclaims. The great musician Louis Armstrong must have noticed some of them because he sang these words:

“I see trees of green…….. red roses too
I see em bloom….. for me and for you
And I think to myself…. what a wonderful world.

I see skies of blue….. clouds of white
Bright blessed days….dark sacred nights
And I think to myself …..what a wonderful world.

The colors of a rainbow…..so pretty ..in the sky
Are also on the faces…..of people ..going by
I see friends shaking hands…..sayin.. how do you do
They’re really sayin……i love you.

I hear babies cry…… I watch them grow
They’ll learn much more…..than I’ll never know
And I think to myself …..what a wonderful world”…

Louis Armstrong, What a Wonderful World

For sure, our world is pretty wonderful and there are plenty of incredible places in our beautiful country. But, just breathing and eating and thinking and functioning every day are more impressive than seeing something that could take your breath away. Certainly, seeing is believing. But on the other hand, believing is seeing. If you believe our wonderful world was created, you’ll start seeing things in a new light. Daily observations and sights and sounds that you hardly noticed before will provide evidence aplenty of divine intervention and reveal the handiwork of the creator.

A quick example of this handiwork is the Ecuadorean Glass Frog. I’ve never seen one and you probably haven’t either, but if one crosses your path you’ll notice that you can almost see right through it. This hopper is so transparent that its beating heart is visible. No way! Yes, really.

Consider also, the bombardier beetle. It has two common materials in twin tanks on its back: hydrogen peroxide and hydroquinone. By themselves, they’re harmless substances but when sprayed together, the beetle is able to blind predators looking for a meal.

That’s pretty amazing. It’s interesting to think about where these incredible critters came from. Are they the result of a cosmic accident or were they created?  You probably have questions about our amazing world and you might even know some of the answers or have some opinions. For instance, what do you think about the food you eat, the air you breathe, the strength you have and the people you love? Did they just happen for you or do you see them as blessings from the hand of God? Here’s what I think:

In trees and flowers of the field,
In creatures large and small,
We trace the watchful care of Him
Who planned and made them all. —King

Hooked on Rock

Rock and Roll’s icons such as Santana, James Brown and Led Zeppelin are some of the most well-known and influential people on the planet. Why? Well, for one thing, because we’ve heard their music over and over again. It has endured the test of time. Consider, for example, Volkswagen’s recent use of Elton John’s forty year old song ‘Rocket Man,’ to sell cars. (By the way, just to sweep away any confusion, he didn’t sing, “Burning up the room with cheap cologne.” He sang, “Burning out his fuse up here alone.” I’ll bet you’re relieved to get this cleared-up after all these years.)

Hmm, after all these years, I wonder if everybody on the planet has by now heard ‘House of the Rising Sun.’ Well, maybe not everybody. But millions of us certainly have and lots of other songs are stuck in our heads as well. Elton John pointed this out, “The words she knows the tune she hums”…Tiny Dancer.

I was reminded of Rock and Roll’s omnipresence when my wife and I visited a local state park recently. I was driving and as we rolled slowly up to the window at the welcome center, the attendant stepped out to greet us. As she did, I noticed her Beatles baseball hat. It certainly wasn’t part of the standard-issue park ranger uniform which made it stand out even more than it would have to a fellow music lover!

Jumping to a quick conclusion (my only exercise that day) I figured she was probably a fan of Rock and Roll. I leaned out the window with both arms extended and hands up, as if appealing the ref’s call in a basketball game. With a big smile I proclaimed, “Don’t mess with me because I’m B-B-B-Bad to the bone.” In an instant, the lady’s face brightened and she started laughing. Her quick reply, “I’ve heard of that one!” Three other people in the little building overheard our strange little greeting and stepped out the door to join our conversation sharing their favorite Rock and Roll songs. Within seconds, I was 4 for 4. I had connected with four people because of a common interest. This made me smile and I hoped my wife was as impressed as I was to connect with others over music.

Here’s the way I see it: I’m not sure we’re hooked on phonics but we sure seem to be hooked on Rock and Roll and we probably always will be. Consider this comment from musician Toni Braxton, “I’ll probably be 80 years old and still performing. Music is like fashion, it changes. But some things will always be the same.” One thing that stays the same is that we’re always in the mood for a melody, looking for something to make us feel alright, just as Billy Joel pointed out in his great song, Piano Man.

Rock and Roll has us hooked and we are hooked in a major way. Boston knew this when they told us, “Nothin’s gonna help you more than Rock ‘n’ Roll”…Feelin’ Satisfied. They have a good point but they’re off by a few degrees because March Madness is here. This time of year college basketball is bigger than almost everything – even Rock and Roll – but only for a few more weeks. After that, rock on!

Keep on Trying

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Bernie Marcus, Founder of The Home Depot, made this observation, “It’s a misnomer that our talents make us successful. They help, but it’s not what we do well that enables us to achieve in the long run. It’s what we do wrong and how we correct it that ensures our long-lasting success.” Whatever you are trying to accomplish, you might fail a few times but it’s helpful to keep in mind that with every new sunrise you have another opportunity to accomplish your goals. So, don’t lose faith in yourself. Consider these words from President Franklin D. Roosevelt, “I have no expectation of making a hit every time I come to bat. What I seek is the highest possible batting average, not only for myself but for the team. Theodore Roosevelt once said to me, “If I can be right 75 percent of the time, I shall come up to the fullest measure of my hopes.”
I think it’s reasonable for you and me to conclude that we can be whatever we want to be, even if we haven’t gotten a hit every time we’ve been up to bat so far. For us, this is still true, “Well you could have been anything that you want to and I can tell the way you do the things you do”…The Temptations, The Way You Do The Things You Do. Motivational author, Robert Collier, made this assertion, “We can do only what we think we can do. We can only be what we think we can be. We can have only what we think we can have. What we can do, what we are, what we have, all depend on what we think.” Thoughts are the thermostat that regulates what we accomplish in life. Doubt, disbelief, and discouragement bring us down but thoughts filled with vision, vitality, and victory help us raise the bar a notch or two. Shoulda, coulda, and woulda are never good enough. Don’t lean on any of these and don’t get discouraged because in every moment there is a reason to carry on.
Determination is the key. It’s what you need and it’s what I need. According to the great French Emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte, “The truest wisdom is a resolute determination.” Thomas Fuller, chaplain to King Charles II of England made a similar observation, “The real difference between men is energy. A strong will, a settled purpose, and invincible determination, can accomplish almost anything; and in this lies the distinction between great men and little men.” Likewise, a couple centuries later, legendary football coach Vince Lombardi asserted, “The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack of will.” I see this truth in my own life because if I really do want to do something, I’ll find a way. If I don’t really want to do something I’ll find an excuse. You’ve probably had a similar experience.

Black Friday Idea

Many of you are likely going to stand in long lines for great deals on Black Friday. With so many stores opening on Thanksgiving day this year many will even be in line right after Thanksgiving dinner. Why not bring along some great tunes and a copy of “13 Things Rock and Roll Can Do For You” to keep you company while you stand in line? The book is available as an e-book, too, so you can read it on your phone, iPad, Kindle – or whatever fancy electronic device you’re picking up this year!

Music Bridges the Seas

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Here’s what I think: “Music is the traveler crossing our world. Meeting so many people, bridging the seas”…The Moody Blues, I’m Just a Singer in a Rock-N-Roll Band. Music does bridge the seas. It connects different worlds.

Here’s an example – In February 2012, Mick Jagger and B.B. King stopped by the East Room of the White House to play some blues for the president, his wife and others in the packed room. Mr. Obama couldn’t resist the urge to get involved so he got up and sang, “Come on, baby don’t you want to go.” Clearly savoring the moment, the President declared, “This music speaks to something universal. No one goes through life without both joy and pain, triumph and sorrow. The blues gets all of that, sometimes with just one lyric or one note.”

The musical group O.A.R. put it this way, “Something always comes from the music anyway. Came into my life and it stole me blues away”…Anyway. Billy Joel offered this assessment, “I think music in itself is healing. It’s an explosive expression of humanity. It’s something we are all touched by. No matter what culture we’re from, everyone loves music.” Okay, I’ve made my point so I’ll move along. Before I do, though, here’s one more testimonial for the value of music, “There are two means of refuge from the misery of life – music and cats” – Albert Schweitzer. While I’m not too sure about the cat part I definitely agree with him on the music part.

Indeed, there can be misery in life. Perhaps because of this stark reality, Muddy Waters, in his cool song Hoochie Coochie Man, asserted, “Then the world wanna know, what this all about.” That’s for sure. We’d like to know what life is all about because at one time another, each of us has probably asked these questions, or ones very similar: What is the meaning of life? Why am on here on this planet. Where am I going? What is my purpose? What is my destiny? What happens when I die? These are normal thoughts, just as Theologian Thomas Aquinas asserted, more than seven hundred years ago, “There is within every soul a thirst for happiness and meaning.” Well, we can find happiness and meaning because rock and roll offers up some great insights worth considering. Consider this advice from Billy Joel because it might point you in the right direction:

“Don’t go changing, to try and please me
You never let me down before
Don’t imagine you’re too familiar
And I don’t see you anymore
I wouldn’t leave you in times of trouble
We never could have come this far
I took the good times, I’ll take the bad times
I’ll take you just the way you are

Don’t go trying some new fashion
Don’t change the color of your hair
You always have my unspoken passion
Although I might not seem to care

I don’t want clever conversation
I never want to work that hard
I just want someone that I can talk to
I want you just the way you are.”

You and I might as well put to use the helpful stuff we learn from rock and roll because these valuable nuggets of wisdom can keep us out of trouble. This is easy to do because rock and roll is a timeless gem that has entered our lives, stuck in our heads, and become a mainstay in society. It’s been a long strange trip, just as the Grateful Dead told us. But, the journey is far from over. Read my book, 13 Things Rock and Roll Can Do For You, to learn more.