Never Lego of your childhood

Lego Haunted House

Special guest blog by Ray Dorey

Before I begin, full disclosure. Although my passionate interest in what I am about to describe is readily apparent, I am not an employee of Lego, nor do I own any Lego stock – oh how I wish I did! I am only a happy consumer.

Without question, Lego building blocks were my favourite distraction – I hesitate to say “toy” – growing up. There was nothing I enjoyed more than to dump a box of Lego blocks on the floor and eagerly begin assembling my next masterpiece. Whether it was a sleek racing car, a futuristic spaceship, or some other strange contraption, Lego helped stoke and mould my imagination and creativity.

Some of my creations I would proudly display for weeks, while others I would immediately tear down and start anew. As much as I hated destroying some of them, I of course needed the blocks for my next project. And this remember was in a time before smartphones and social media when I couldn’t take a few photos and post them instantly for peer review.

Flash-forward to present day, and Lego has grown exponentially in popularity. It’s been enjoyable watching my nephew share the same excitement for Lego that I had when I was his age. I’m sure when he purchases his first home, he’ll need an addition just to store all of his Lego kits he’s accumulated through the years.

My only criticism – and it’s a relatively mild one – is that Lego has evolved to offer mostly custom-designed builds. When I was growing up – here comes my walking through the snow uphill old guy story – I don’t recall there being as many customized kits. I remember large miscellaneous boxes of Lego pieces, and it was left to my imagination what I was building. Today, most kits come with custom pieces and detailed step-by-step instructions, perhaps dulling the creative experience.

Today, there are many “adult” Lego sets, targeting older, nostalgic generations, who like me grew up with Lego. The adult sets have more pieces and detail, and are perhaps a little more complicated to put together.

Last fall, I tackled the Lego Haunted House kit, complete with a working elevator, and I’m about to start a new especially exciting build – one that was just released – a larger and more detailed model of the DeLorean time machine from the 80s classic movie, Back to the Future.

While you may not see me list Lego among my hobbies on my Tinder profile, it does bring me much enjoyment in the form of youthful exuberance, which is always a welcome and valued commodity.

Ed. note: Ray is one of two friends who are AFOLs, LegoSpeak for Adult Fans of Lego. A few times on our family vacations, we’ve been in Lego stores or malls where they have simply amazing Lego creations. Why not pop into a Lego store and check it out. Last year Lego opened a new flagship store in New York City on Fifth Avenue. Read more about the store and Lego’s success in targeting the adult fan market in this article in The Guardian.

Lego display in their new flagship store in New York City
Lego display in their new flagship store in New York City

Explore a deserted beach

Driftwood on beach

At the end of April, we travelled to St. Simon’s Island, Georgia for our annual family vacation. We’ve become enamoured with the barrier islands in the Low Country and this beautiful island south of Savannah didn’t disappoint.

One of my favourite days was exploring Driftwood Beach on nearby Jekyll Island. Located on the northern end of the island, it’s unlike any other beach you’ve been to. It’s quite isolated and stretches for miles and is strewn with pieces of driftwood, each one unique, interesting and amazing.  

As I walked down the beach, I felt like Robinson Crusoe or a castaway member from Gilligan’s Island. There wasn’t a soul around, and it was very dystopian. I wandered through nature’s art gallery examining the different pieces of driftwood.

There were ancient trolls guarding the beach, dolphins leaping amongst the waves, sea turtles nesting on the beach, wolves howling into the wind and warriors lifting their swords high into the sky.

While my little lake at home is nothing like Driftwood Beach, I get a similar feeling of being an explorer when I paddle into our back lakes where there are no houses or cottages, just me and my kayak, the sun on the water and the herons, vultures and beavers keeping me company.

This week’s #HappyAct is to get lost on a deserted island or beach. Happy exploring.

Ancient trolls guarding the beach

Driftwood
Driftwood
Driftwood
Driftwood
Grace on the beach
Driftwood
Driftwood art sculptures
Two wolves howling at the moon and a dolphin jumping in the waves

Life lessons from happy cats with cattitude

Two cats staring at each other through a window
Photo caption: Yoyo and Ginsu in a standoff. We renamed Ginsu “Lil Putin” because he makes trouble everywhere he goes. 

Those of you who know me well or who have followed this blog, know I am a dog lover. In the interests of diversity, equity and inclusion, I welcome the diverse perspective of cat people. I hope you enjoy this week’s post on cats from guest blogger and cat lover, Jill Yokoyama!

When Laurie first started writing her weekly blog I remember commenting on the name “happy act” and joking that she would have to do a “happy cat” post sometime. That day has arrived! 

I have always been a “cat person” and growing up our family always had a cat or two as pets. For the last ten years, Gary & I have shared a home with our cat Yoyo. She is a run-of-the-mill brown tabby with lots of “cattitude” and one of Gary’s lines is “Careful, you can be replaced; there are 20,000 cats just like you in Hamilton…” Despite this joking threat, she has worked her way firmly into our hearts and we are endlessly amused by Yoyo. 

After spending the last two years 24/7 observing Yoyo, here are some important life lessons from a cat:

  • Always take the opportunity for a long nap. Even if it seems like you just woke up from a nap, it’s never too early to consider another one. 
  • Wallow in the sunshine whenever possible–close your eyes, stretch out and relax.
  • Spend a few minutes every day with your people, showing your love & affection for them. 
  • Be curious about the world around you, whether it be the swirling flush of the toilet or what might be on the kitchen counter.
  • Take joy in small pleasures. Chase a piece of string around the house like it is your most precious treasure. 
  • Defend yourself loudly and unreservedly when a bully comes around. Even if you are small, puff up your tail and fur and believe in your ability to take on a larger foe.
  • Always say yes to treats!

We hope you enjoyed this week’s #HappyCat!

Advice from a sea turtle

Girl walking on a beach

I’ve been dreaming of white sandy beaches and palm trees lately. It made me think of one of my favourite passages, “Advice from a sea turtle”:

Swim with the current
Be a good navigator
Stay calm under pressure
Be well travelled
Think long term
Age gracefully
Spend time at the beach

Have a happy week!

Discover the spiritual insights of Haiku

Haiku poem

By guest blogger Alison Taylor

The second decade of the twenty-first century has been one that will go down in the history books that is for sure. I have made a conscientious effort to stay focused on the positive.

One of the positive things that has happened to me is the discovery of poetry. I really was not much of a poetry fan and have avoided it for most of my life. However, with most of my days spent in front of a screen, I needed something that was a departure from the digital “screen in your face” world.

I discovered Haiku. Funny enough I discovered my new appreciation for the art via social media, but then it morphed into a challenge for me. I started writing random thoughts using Haiku.

Haiku is a form of poetry that originates from Japan and consists of three phrases with a 5, 7, 5 syllable pattern.

I found a notebook I bought a few years ago while in York, England. So I already was starting from a happy memory of a place I love and it set the stage for my Haiku writing adventure. I would transport to somewhere else with my notebook and write. No big commitment needed, just let my mind wander and three sentences later a Haiku was born.

I started sending my friends some inspirational Haiku’s when they were having a tough day. Then I added it to notes in birthday cards and now it just calms my mind and a Haiku will pop into my head and I write it down. Here are a couple I wrote for this blog. Maybe you want to give it a try?

The quiet and calm
Sun down, stars are appearing
Night time once again

Find your Happy Act
You may be surprised, who knew?
A smile on your face

And for Laurie as she ends one chapter of her career and embarks on another:

It is not goodbye
It is a new beginning
It is happy times

Take a trip down memory lane

Author with friends at Kingston's waterfront
Our Welli Boot Toss team in 1999. Kingston Brew Pub used to host a charity event in support of Hospice Kingston where you throw a Welli boot as far as you can. I threw my back out shortly after!

I’ve been awash in memories these past few weeks. After 27 years at Empire Life, I am taking early retirement and will begin a new job as Director of Development with the United Way of Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington in May.

I’m sure most people on the verge of retirement find themselves taking a trip down memory lane, but for me, it’s been a constant flood of memories since I’ve also been going through my company’s archives these last few months.

I’ve found pictures of me doing crazy things for charity, like jumping in Lake Ontario on December 31, 1999 for Y2K in the Polar Bear Plunge, dressing up for skits as part of our annual United Way campaign, and uncovering every lame Halloween costume I ever pulled together at the last minute. (I was notorious for lame Halloween costumes; it became a bit of a running gag between Dave and me.)

Two girls jumping in Lake Ontario
Jumping in Lake Ontario for charity on New Year’s Eve, Y2K

I also came across photos of people who have passed away, friends young and old who I still think about and miss to this day.

What I didn’t find were any pictures of me working. While I had an interesting and varied career, it won’t be memories of work that I’ll take away from my time at Empire; it will be the memories of the different events, fun times and people who made work-life happy and rich.

This week’s #HappyAct is to rifle through an old yearbook, photo album or drive and take a trip down memory lane. Here are some more of the favourite pictures I found.

Acting in a play
Playing Dr. Evil in one of our United Way skits.
Serving cake at my company's 75th anniversary
Helping serve cake at our company’s 75th-anniversary celebrations almost 25 years ago
Dressed up to judge our Halloween contest
Judging our annual Halloween contest–our President Doug is wearing Dave’s kilt!
Dressed up as Queen Amidala from Star Wars
One of my lame Halloween costume pics, Queen Amidala from Star Wars
Dressed up as KISS for Halloween
One of my best Halloween costumes of all time, KISS with fellow bandmates Jon Begg, Chris Seymour and Tracey Hunt. Any time I had a good Halloween costume it was because my co-workers took pity on me and helped with my costume and make-up

My unscientific poll on work and happiness

happy co-workers

Recently I emailed a dozen friends and asked them three questions about how happy they were at work. The results were very revealing. The people who responded work in all sectors, government, private sector and self-employed. Here are the results of my unscientific poll on work and happiness:

My first question was, “Are you happy at work?”

More than half were not happy at work. Some said they were ashamed to admit it, because “they have a pretty good gig”; one person said they weren’t happy but planned to slog it out until retirement. A quarter of respondents said they were happy, and one person said at different times in their career they’ve been happy, and unhappy at other times.

When I asked what was the cause of their happiness or unhappiness at work,

On the plus side, the common themes were working with great people, loving what they do, and the variety of work. One person said they work in a low-stress environment and have an eight-minute commute, so they can come home for lunch every day if they want.

For those unhappy at work, here were some of the reasons they cited for their unhappiness:

  • Lack of involvement and inclusion and team camaraderie.
  • Being tired of dealing with some teams who don’t appreciate the work they do.
  • The inactivity associated with being on a computer eight hours a day.
  • One person said working within an environment where there are too many people in authority who “literally don’t have a clue what they are doing” and a “poisonous” atmosphere as a result of so many people being off on leave, creating more work for those left behind who are still working diligently.
  • One person who is self-employed said, “I’m bored, but I like the flexibility of what I do, so I stay at it. Also, the administration associated with being self-employed is a tough slog. I’m always behind on that, so that creates guilt that I’m not keeping on top of things.”

My final question was “What would make you happy or happier at work?”

  • Being valued and respected and having their work acknowledged was a common theme, along with being able to do more of what they love to do and having challenging projects.  
  • Better work-life balance, and being compensated fairly and seeing more transparency in salary grids were cited as other key factors.
  • One person said they’d like to have a friend at work and work with a diverse team.
  • The one person who was unhappy at work in the “poisonous” environment said they cope by focusing on their family, volunteering and sports and outdoor activities to remind themselves of what’s important in life.
  • On a lighter note, one person wanted a Keurig machine, a fitness room with a treadmill or exercise bike and another an office cat (for me, it would be a dog!)

So what does this tell us and what can we do to be happier at work? Scientific studies show having at least one good friend at work is a key contributor to happiness. Making sure we choose a positive environment where we work with good people and where our work is respected is critical.

As we emerge from this pandemic, we have a unique opportunity to redefine our relationship with work. At the core of the discussion should be these three questions.

Special thanks to the people who participated in my unscientific poll.

More reading on work and happiness

Slow down, you move too fast

Song lyrics

For many of us, life is about to get really busy again after two years of discovering a slower pace of life. When things become crazy and out of control, remember to slow down and make the morning last.

You never know what you will see when you slow down. The other day, I was running late and hitting land speed records on my back roads over to Sydenham. I came up behind a farmer’s tractor and had to slow down and follow him around the curves. While I crawled behind the tractor, I looked to the left and saw a beautiful herd of deer in the field grazing on the green tufts shooting up through the last remains of snow. If I hadn’t slowed down to follow that tractor, I would have never seen such a beautiful sight. 

So remember,

Slow down, you move too fast
You got to make the morning last…

I got no deeds to do
No promises to keep
I’m dappled and drowsy and ready to sleep
Let the morning time drop all its petals on me
Life, I love you
All is groovy

Still one of my favourite Simon and Garfunkle songs of all time. Here they are performing The 59th Bridge Street Song live.

Listen to a happiness podcast

happiness podcasts poster

There’s a not-so-new craze sweeping the nation, and all it takes is a device and twenty minutes of your time.

It seems everybody these days is listening to podcasts. According to buzzsprout, 9 million Canadian adults listen to podcasts every month.

There are literally dozens of podcasts on happiness. This FeedSpot blog lists 80 of the most popular ones or check out Oprah’s top 16 picks.

I’d recommend the Ten Percent Happier podcast with Dan Harris. You may know Harris as the ABC news anchor who had a panic attack live on Good Morning America. He turned to meditation and started his podcast, which discusses the benefits of meditation on happiness and explores happiness in the context of current events.

On his most recent podcast, “The Upside of Apocalypse” Buddhist minister, author and activist Lama Rod Owens talks about the benefits of having an existing practice in times of heightened anxiety, the obstacles to empathy in the world right now and social erosion caused by the pandemic.

This week’s #HappyAct is to listen to a podcast on happiness on this International Day of Happiness. What’s your favourite podcast? Leave a comment.

Adopt Happytalism

International Day of Happiness poster

A decade ago, the United Nations held its first ever conference on happiness and established an International Happiness Day to remind us that being happy is a human right and worth celebrating.

This year the significance of International Happiness Day on March 20 and the belief that happiness is a fundamental human right is playing out on the world stage as we watch millions of Ukranians refugees and citizens who have had their happiness ripped from them overnight with every Russian rocket, bomb and artillery strike.

In 2011, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution that made it a “fundamental human goal” to give happiness as much priority as economic opportunity. In 2015, the UN launched the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which seek to end poverty, reduce inequality, and protect our planet. It also recognized the need for a more inclusive, equitable and balanced approach to economic growth that promotes sustainable development, poverty eradication, happiness and the well-being of all peoples.

What’s interesting in all these resolutions is there is no mention of war or conflict and its impact on happiness; the focus is solely on economic factors.

Most likely that’s because in war, there is no happiness.

As we face this global crisis, let’s find positive ways to look after ourselves and each other and adopt Happytalism.

The UN secretariat for the International Day of Happiness is calling on all 7.8 billion people and all 206 nations and territories in our global community to take the “Ten Steps to Global Happiness” challenge and call to action. You can find all ten steps here. I’ve listed my top five, with the last one being my own:

  1. Celebrate the day. Do something special, just don’t let it pass by.
  2. Attend a world happiness event. There are live and virtual events on almost every topic imaginable, from education, health, technology, self and work. See the full list of events here. There’s a small cost to the virtual events, but in many cases, the proceeds go to helping others, like sponsoring a teacher that is helping underserved populations.
  3. Do what makes you happy. Happiness is about practicing self love, mindfulness, acting consciously, and with purpose and intention, positive energy and mindset, and celebrating the things you love that make you happy.
  4. Tell everyone. Spread the word and mission of #InternationalDayOfHappiness. Post something that makes you happy on social media, write a song or letter, make a poster.
  5. Support the people of the Ukraine. Make a donation. This CBC story lists charities you can support.

This week’s #HappyAct is to adopt and spread a more holistic, inclusive, equitable and balanced approach to the world order that promotes sustainable development, eradicates poverty and war, and focuses on the happiness and the well-being of all peoples.

#HappinessForAllForever.