I will confess: I’m a “happiness” junkie.
It’s not entirely my fault, being born with my own particular DNA which makes it impossible for me to live in a depressed state for long. There have been times, however, when I’ve slumped into that “I don’t really care about the world just let me sit on my couch” state of being for one reason or another. During those moments, the sunshiny days of being happy for no particular reason at all seem far, far away. About as far away as the kingdom of Far, Far Away.
My faith, however, always points the way back for me, and happiness is the most amazing gift, given by God. In the book of Philippians He tells us to think about good things, lovely things, true things. It’s good advice — and advice born out by scientific proof, by the way — and it never fails to turn the corner for me. I change what I think about and I change how I feel.
I’ve noticed an upsurge in interest in the field of happiness (or positive psychology) in the bookstores lately. And I am intrigued. I’m always intrigued when scientific inquiry and faith come together like that. The basic premise of the happiness research revolves around the concept of neuroplasticity: that the brain can rewire itself and learn, grow, change. As Christians, we’ve always known this. After all, Romans tells us that our lives can be transformed by the renewing of our minds. God changes us from the inside out. Now science has proven the fact that our brains physically change in response to learning with all sorts of fun studies. One such study focused on London cabbies, who apparently have to carry around an incredibly complex map of their city in their brains, resulting in one area (the hippocampus) which grows larger than the normal person’s hippocampus. I didn’t even know I had one, but apparently mine is not all that spectacular compared to a cabbie’s.
In any event, the big news is this: we can teach our brains to think differently. We can teach ourselves to do what God commanded, and be…happy.
This blog is the first in a series on some of the happiness research and what it means for us in everyday life. There are some concrete ways that we can “think on the things that are lovely and true,” following God’s advice. I think it will be interesting to give ourselves permission to experience happiness, joy, and the peace that passes understanding…no matter what the circumstances around us say.
Incidentally, the way I refocused my thoughts during those blue times and began thinking new thoughts should hardly surprise you. I went to the bookstore. I smelled the lovely smell of new books. I picked some up books half-heartedly, and found myself interested. I went home with a couple to read. A hot tub, a good book and time to read them? Mission accomplished.
So there’s your first principle to finding happiness: change what you are looking at.
I got home this week.
It’s odd, really, because I’ve also been home all month. I’ve been home in our condo in Lexington, or on the lake in New Hampshire where I’ve spent nearly every summer of my life. I breathe in the fresh air of those places and my inner sense of being profoundly at home is magnified.
And then I arrive back in Palm Beach Gardens, my own home, my real home.
I love the process of wandering through my rooms to see the bits and pieces of my life. I enjoy seeing what has changed (lots of people in and out of our home, even when we are gone!) and what has stayed the same. I smell the scent of the air, which is a limited-time opportunity because I know my nose will habituate in an hour or so. And then — if schedule permits — I leave.
Because part of my home is the Third Place, the places in my community that feel like home to me.
Contrary to popular opinion, Starbucks is not my first stop. Whole Foods is. If I can cook a meal and know there are good things to eat in my kitchen, my little universe is set right on its axis. And then comes Starbucks. Yesterday David and I sat here in my preferred corner of Sbux and watched the regulars float in and out. I was particularly struck with the sense of community yesterday. We were greeted like old friends by staff and customers alike, and then we learned that a barista’s father had passed away suddenly. There were sympathy cards to sign, and the story to repeat. Everyone had time to hear the story and send good wishes to the grieving barista, who is due back at work today. She misses her support system, and working behind the counter is where she wants to be.
A few minutes later I was listening to a businesses woman who regularly sits in the chair next to the best electrical outlet talk to one of the more eccentric men who wanders in and out. He hums as he walks, almost involuntarily, and repeats every sentence at least twice. Conversations with him take awhile, but she was enjoying time away from her cell phone and computer.
“My baby girl, my baby girl, that’s her right there,” he said, pointing at a car pulling up outside.
“She’s your girl? I know her!” business woman says. “Hey,” she continues, poking another regular who uses headphones seemingly to drown out conversations like this one. “Hey, you know that mom with the kids that come in here all the time? She’s his daughter!” The two of them remarked over this for a few minutes, to the joy of the proud papa.
“She is all I have left in the world,” he said. He went on to describe how his wife of 38 years had died a year or two ago in a horrible, quick death. He sat and mumbled “Unbelievable” ten or fifteen times while the two regulars said how sorry they were, but how much they always enjoyed his grandchildren when they were in the store. He brightened again, and stood up to hug his daughter.
I’ve done a lot of thinking about Third Places in the community, and the need for the missional-minded among us to be out and about in the community. Yesterday I realized that “out and about” can also feel a lot like being at home. And at least for a few minutes, this Third Place felt as if it were functioning an awful lot like the body of Christ, rejoicing and comforting and being there for life’s journey.
Even if it’s only for a short time, it sure felt good to be home.
Walking down Main Street in Disney World is an interesting phenomenon. The quaint old street feels like every hometown I’ve ever dreamed about in my “place to call home” daydreams. Designed by masters at evoking emotion, Main Street is supposed to make you long to belong. And looking around at the other “residents” of Main Street, they seem to be at home. The laugh and talk and eat their ice cream cones. And somehow, I often feel like an impostor. I know I don’t really belong on Main Street. I don’t live here. I’m an alien, a stranger, in the midst of all the others.
It’s a lie, though, isn’t it? No one really lives on Main Street. It’s a facade to make us long for connection. I’m an alien, a stranger…yes. But so is everyone else.
I felt the same way in “my” coffee shop the other day, too. As I was sitting there I was watching everyone else, thinking about how some of them are regulars. I see one particularly lady — who I’ve learned is currently homeless when it comes to having an office to work out of — sitting in her same corner every day. I’ve mentioned the Rabbi before, too, counseling day after day. There are so many regulars in this Starbucks, I thought. I don’t know if I fit in here. Then I realized that to someone else, i was a regular too, even if I felt like a visitor myself.
I wonder if that isn’t what the Bible means when it talks about us being aliens and strangers in this land? Do you suppose that we all have that vague feeling that we don’t REALLY belong here? I think we’re perhaps hardwired for eternity, and the absolute knowing that we belong.
It’s also good to remember that the regular sitting next to you may be feeling like a stranger, too.
Words have always defined who I am. I read them, I write them, I learn through them. Lately I seem to want to decorate with them. I love words.
So the St. Augustine quote “Preach the gospel always. If necessary use words.” never really resonated with me. Of course you use words!
But a few days ago I walked into my regular Starbucks to order my breakfast. I go there nearly every day to study, journal, write: all the things that are so difficult to do here at home! My barista, whose name I think I know but I’m not really sure, took my Starbucks card and said, “So you’re a Christian, right?”
I’ve never spoken to her beyond a “Hi” now and then.
“Yep, I am.”
“Thought so. Do you go to Christ Fellowship?”
It was a safe bet that I did go to Christ Fellowship. After that she talked about the “Atheist” I was chatting with last week for a moment (apparently he has a reputation with the ladies!) and that was the extent of the conversation.
I’m so glad that she knew I was Christian. I’m so glad that I’ve taken the time to sit in one particular Starbucks and begin relationships — however bizarre or minimal — with the Rabbi, the Atheist, and the group of senior singers that livened up the place two days ago. That’s life in the community, and I’m pretty sure it’s my thing.
I LOVE to have breakfast at my fave Starbucks, and do so nearly every morning. And here’s the reason why: you just can’t beat the company! In my house you will only find, at the breakfast hour, me. And David if he isn’t in his office. And Jillian if she’s not already full-steam ahead in schoolwork. OK, and Melissa if she’s working with Jillian that day, and Laurie if she isn’t off working. And yes, sometimes Kylie if she’s home on break. So on second thought, my house is too busy at the breakfast hour! No wonder why I pile my Bible and notebook into my bag and head out the door!
And there is that company I mentioned.
Today was a prime example. I’ve been hanging out at the same Starbucks for quite some time by now (and yes, it’s a different one than my afternoon Starbucks, in case you are stalking me or missing me!). The cast of characters is beginning to feel familiar. My friend R.G. Ryan from Las Vegas would love this spot. Not only are the baristas entertaining, so are the customers.
- Brandon is my buddy from Christ Fellowship. I’ve watched him grow up, and now he’s the “cop on the beat” nearly every day. When he walks in I have to do a double take to realize that yes, he has a right to wear that uniform and he does get to drive the cool car parked directly in front of Starbucks.
- The Rabbi: he is probably at the store four days out of seven. He inspires me with his ability to multi-task and schedule. It appears to me that most of his counseling sessions in his official capacity as Rabbi take place over coffee. He gives some pretty good counsel, too. I’m not trying to overhear, but they usually sit in the set of chairs next to me. Most of the Rabbi’s people seem to struggle with fitting in, feeling like part of a community. He tells them to come to synagogue. And the coffee shop. And he always ends — inexplicably — by telling them to learn to play bridge and join his bridge group. I’m thinking of learning.
- The Old Guys: this particular Starbucks seems to have quite a few 60+ men hanging out escaping their wives. I overheard one conversation one day that kind of broke my heart. After listening to two guys discuss their business dealings extensively, one asks the other “Do you know anything about charitable giving and deducting charity donations?” The other answered that No, he certainly didn’t. First guy says, “I’m thinking of finding a charity to donate to. I think it will help on my taxes. I think you can just deduct it from your income.”
I was amazed. These were two successful businessmen at the END of their careers, and they had never yet thought about donating to a charity. Ever. Wow.
- My morning Atheist: This morning I had a great conversation with an 85 year old Atheist gentleman who wanted to share my seating area. Since I rarely turn down gentlemen of any age if they are carrying chocolate (and he was!), I kindly “allowed” him to sit down. That started a long, long conversation that touched on religion (“If you need a crutch like that, I guess it’s ok…I see no evidence of the big guy, though. Do you?”), marriage (married 23 years to his first wife, who died, and 34 years to his second. A pro at marriage.), politics (“So what do you think about our president? You like him? You like his politics?”). All this before my first cup of coffee. He asked about my family, my church, why I read the Bible every morning, and what the unit mix of our apartments in Boston was (engineer who designed multi-family back in New York in the day). Bob sure knew how to keep me on my toes. When this 85 year old spit-fire finally decided he should head back home, I was exhausted!
- Mary: before I could relax, Mary, the partially deaf and over-enthusiastic sports fan, popped in to find out if anyone of her buddies was around. They weren’t, which was a little bit of a blessing today since Mary is a loud and exuberant talker.
See what I mean? How could you match such varied compnay for a morning outing?
On a serious note, I love the community. I love being out and about with people from all walks of life, Rabbi’s to Atheists. I love the opportunities to learn, meet, discuss and drink some good coffee along the way. Life in Starbucks is a fraternity of coffee lovers with little else in common except geography and love of the bean. But that’s enough.
The kid was a 20-something surfer dude with flip-flops and tank top. In South Florida he’s a pretty common sight. He was tan and fit and thoroughly enjoying his Sunday morning coffee with his companion. And he was obviously deeply head-over-heels for his coffee buddy. The Kid’s face lit up at every word. We watched them for maybe twenty minutes while we sipped our pre-church Starbucks at City Place.
What made this kid engrossing was his companion: a very elderly, very small grampa in a wheel chair. Grampa had bright yellow fuzzy socks on, with the side that should have been to the floor on the top of his foot. He had a lap robe, and a fun red baseball cap. The Kid wheeled Grampa in through the door of this very busy Starbucks and helped him get the coffee he wanted. Getting back out through the door was trickier, carrying coffee, but David and I helped hold the door and listened t0 The Kid.
“Let’s sit outside, today, ok? It’s awesome out.”
Grampa didn’t speak much, so outside they went. The Kid found them a table and began a running patter with Grampa. Now I’m pretty much an expert at playing word charades in order to understand an older person, so I watched The Kid try to understand what Grampa was saying.
“You have your drink. Oh, something to eat? Is that it? OK! What do you want?”
Grampa tried, using his hands. He seemed Italian: they talk with their hands.
“Is it hard, Gramps? Is it sweet? OK, sweet, then, not salty. Is it cake? Does it have icing?”
I looked away for a few moments, and when I tuned back in The Kid was wheeling Gramps back through the door to go buy the treat. Minutes later they came struggling back out through the door again and Gramps happily had a biscotti in his hand. I could have predicted that. The Kid settled them back at their same table and began to look over their biscotti.
“Let’s see, Gramps, what have we got here? Oh, 170 calories. Not bad. Hmmm…no protein, but we’re not working out right now…”
And so it went, this constant patter. Through it all, The Kid’s attention never left Grampa. He was completely, one hundred percent in the moment on this beautiful Sunday morning. David initially wondered if he was being paid to be a companion to the elderly man, but you can’t buy that kind of focus and love. Literally The Kid’s eyes twinkled when he looked at Gramps. None of us existed for those two.
It touched me, this moment of unbelievable companionship. It had depth and reality. It was as true a sermon as the one I was getting ready to go hear. And I may remember it longer (No offense, John Poitevent…it was a great sermon at Ascent CityPlace!).
What a gift, being totally in the moment with another person.
Congratulations to our friend Rick Cone on his visit with Cliff Burrows, president of Starbucks North America!!!
Rick not only is a great Starbucks barista and manager (obviously!), but he also attended Christ Fellowship and hung out in general Saturday night “cool guys” area until he and his family moved to Nashville last year. Now managing one of my favorite stores in the Cool Springs/Franklin area, Rick has obviously continued to use his amazing people and leadership skills. Recently Cliff Burrows came to visit Ricks store and congratulate them on the amazing job they have been doing within the Starbucks company. Rick not only got to give Cliff a tour of his store, but he got to sit in on some leadership and planning meetings for the company.
Congratulations, Rick! Yeah, I know that on one level meeting the president of Starbucks is like meeting anyone else — only more caffeinated, I’d assume. But on another level completely, it showcases your heart and your mission. I know you are passionate about coffee, but that isn’t your only passion. And it is your leadership, your passion for people, and your heart to live out the kingdom in the community that was being recognized this week. And oh yes, that coffee thing didn’t hurt either!
I’m curious to hear what everyone is thinking about the new Starbucks Via packets. David and I have used them for quite some time, and won’t leave home without them anymore! Below you will find a list of my own posts about Via if you want to read about our experiences.
For those of you already sold, I just have to get this brewed coffee mug. It has slots around the base to hold the Via packets! Now if I could figure out the cream and sugar issues…
Today the inevitable happened. We walked into our favorite Starbucks and Jeremy wasn’t there. He’s been there, in one way or another, for the last year and a half. But today was the first day our little band of coffee lovers had to realize Jeremy really is moving. Or trying to, as he and Maria are in the throes of packing madness. After commiserating and chatting for awhile, I grew philosophical as I realized all that Jeremy has taught us over the past year. And taught you, too, since most of the time what I learn sitting on my seat at the bar gets written in the electronic pages of Coffee Shop Journal.
Thank you, Jeremy, for teaching us…
- Have passion. I don’t know anyone as passionate as Jeremy is. But he isn’t passionate about everything, just the things that really matter to him: Jesus, Maria (his wife!), coffee and people. I will never forget the night Jeremy and Maria came over to the house to eat shortly following the last Starbucks convention in New Orleans. He reminded me of a teenager hopped up on sugar, he was so high with the outreach, learning and fellowship. In those days, or any days, you couldn’t meet Jeremy without knowing his passion.
- Coffee is complex. After hanging with Jeremy this year, I’ve realized that coffee deserves a capital C: Coffee. It is complex, filled with social justice issues. It brings people together and divides us into drinkers and non-drinkers. There are flavors for everyone, brewing methods galore, pairings and even a few disasters. Surely that’s the mark of a special person, if they can enlarge your view of the world just by being part of it.
- People come first. Over and over I’ve seen how Jeremy treated his staff, his customers and especially his family. Even the coffee takes a back seat to the relationships.
- Leadership is a byproduct. Jeremy illustrates this principle so clearly. He is a leader, but his leadership is a byproduct of his life and relationship. His staff is anxious to make his life easier, to do what he needs, to grow and make the store prosper. But they do it because they know Jeremy wants to do all those things for them, too. It is a relationship.
- Kingdom comes first. Jeremy is moving because Maria got a job working in the church they feel most connected to, in Tampa. She’s going to be guiding and pouring into countless children’s lives as a result of her opportunity. In spite of having just gotten settled, even though Jeremy liked his job here, the kingdom comes first. They move. Great example.
- Life consists of details. Over the years I have noticed that in the service industry, it is the manager who notices the details who does the best job. Jeremy is skilled at noticing and accomplishing the details. Scheduled lobby clean ups (often skipped by sloppy managers at other stores) are always done in his store. The cream is filled. The staff follows the recipes. It works. I’ve been inspired to work on the details of my life many times, just from watching his gang hit the mark over and over.
That’s probably enough. If Jeremy reads this, knowing him, he’s going to be embarassed. But sometimes we wait until someone leaves our life before we reveal how they impacted our thinking. Once in awhile I believe it’s good to encourage each other, to see the purpose in a friendship and a season of life. Jeremy and Maria have been a relatively short season of time in my life, but the Kingdom has been at the center of our relationship. I believe there has been — and will be — a purpose in our shared time in the coffee shop. And maybe that’s why I keep coming back to write about community and companionship in the third places of life, in the coffee shops and bookstores and malls and restaurants. There is a purpose greater than we can imagine, and I’m grateful to have been a part of it.
Safe travels and God’s blessings on you and Maria, Jeremy. May he guide you to the next phase of your unique ministry, giving you enough glimpses of the purpose along the way to keep you energized, but hiding enough surprises to delight you each morning with unimagined life. David and I pray blessings over you and Maria and your family — present and future — knowing that He has a great plan for you. Find the people in Tampa who are waiting for the knowledge that people like you exist. Keep inspirng, keep leading, keep dropping on your face before the King. And next time we see you we’ll sit down over a French Press of some good African coffee and marvel over the twists and turns.