There are two kinds of happiness: the one that comes from instant gratification and the one that comes from the slow slog toward a desired goal. The first makes us happy in the here and now, but it usually doesn’t last long. The second makes us happy when viewed through the arc of life but in the here and now can be difficult and uncomfortable. I’ve found that I need a good balance of both to truly feel good about life.
Art, music, good food, time with my friends, my dog, and working out are all things that make me immediately happy. Writing, working on my entrepreneurial ideas, and learning something new that I’m not yet particularly good at fall into that second bucket. It’s not that I don’t get any joy from them in the near-term; it’s just that to feel truly happy about them I need to look at them through a longer lens and with a goal in mind.
Knowing about this balance helps me figure out how to allocate my time, effort, and energy to be happy at this moment and to ensure I’m happy down the line, too.
American Public Media gave me the chance to wax poetic about my favorite holiday song, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, the importance of gratitude, and my love for James Taylor. Here’s a 1-minute soundbite of our conversation.
“You’ve got to learn your instrument. Then, you practice, practice, practice. And then, when you finally get up there on the bandstand, forget all that and just wail.” ~Charlie Parker
There are a lot of life lessons to be learned from music and musicians, and this is one of the greatest. In music and life, we practice not to get that practiced material perfect but to develop the muscle to do whatever we need to do when the time comes. Practice teaches us to leap and land on our feet, to think and act in harmony, and to roll with whatever is thrown at us. Practice gives us confidence, experience, and grace. Practice doesn’t make us perfect; it makes us perfectly prepared to handle anything.
As this week kicks off, in light of the violent weeks and months that have preceded it, I find myself turning to music to quiet my mind and lighten my heart. Music is a great unifier, a powerful form of expression, and a vehicle to help us figure out how we feel, what we know, and what we hope to build. This weekend as I read about the shooting in Baton Rouge, the protests sprawling across the country, and that gathering in Cleveland, I thought about Stevie Wonder and his song “Heaven Help Us All”. I revisited its lyrics and meditated on the creation of a better world in which none of them applied.
Heaven help the child who never had a home
Heaven help the girl who walks the street alone
Heaven help the roses if the bombs begin to fall
Heaven help us all
Heaven help the black man if he struggles one more day
Heaven help the white man if he turns his back away
Heaven help the man who kicks the man who has to crawl
Heaven help us all
Heaven help us all, Heaven help us all, help us all
Heaven help us, Lord, hear our call when we fall
Heaven help the boy who won’t reach twenty-one
Heaven help the man who gave that boy a gun
Heaven help the people with their backs against the wall
Lord, Heaven help us all, Heaven help us all
Heaven help us all, help us all
Heaven help us, Lord, here we call, help us all
Now I lay me down before I go to sleep
In a troubled world, I pray the Lord to keep
Keep hatred from the mighty and the mighty from the small
Heaven help us all oh yeah
Heaven help us all
Heaven help us all
Heaven help us all
I’m moving to my new apartment today. As I was taping up the few remaining boxes, I felt another wave of nervous wash over me. And then theatre saved me, again, the same way it’s saved me so many times before.
I started humming the beautiful song I’ve Been Here Before from the musical, Closer Than Ever. I have been here many times before. I’ve felt these feelings. I’ve dealt with uncertainty and change in inordinate amounts. And you know what? I’m always, eventually, just fine. By some miracle, it always works out because I work. And work and work and work.
This time is no different. If anything, it’s far easier than my last move. I took one more (very) deep breath and went back to taping boxes. That’s how every move everywhere gets done: one box at a time.
“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” ~Frederick Douglass
I heard this quote over the weekend during a tear-jerking story by journalist Steve Hartman. This story is about a 78-year-old partially paralyzed pianist, Norman Malone, who learned to play with only his left hand after his father almost bludgeoned him and his brothers to death with a hammer. I sobbed. The light and beauty in this man is present in his voice, his eyes, and his music. Even that horrid night couldn’t take music from him. He grew up to become a choral instructor so he could share his love of music with children. After all, it saved him, so of course it can save others.
Recently, finally, he had the opportunity to give his first public performance and it was stunning. And on that stage, through that stream of tears, he couldn’t find the words to express what that performance and what music means to him. He kept it to himself. And I couldn’t help but see that somewhere in him that sweet boy who survived such brutality lives on. And shines on, 70 years later.
Frederick Douglass was absolutely right. It is so much easier to build children up than to repair adults from the trauma of life. The arts, music, dance, writing, and all creative outlets help us hang on to our very essence and give us the opportunity to share it with others. I am heart-broken by Norman’s story, and I am also immensely inspired by it. Art saves. Art heals. Art perseveres.
I am so honored to have been interviewed for the podcast, RelatE, a project from The Relational Economy. I talk about creativity, the imagination, writing, art, business, theater, education, my education at Penn and Darden (especially the work I’m doing with Ed Freeman), my travels, service, family, yoga, and meditation. Listen, share, repeat! I’d love to hear your thoughts, ideas, and questions. My virtual door is always open to all of you, and I look forward to the conversation. Click here: http://therelationaleconomy.com/podcast/interview-with-creative-business-professional-christa-avampato/
“If you want to understand what’s happening today, find out what happened 150 years ago. If people had the courage to live that history, the least I can do is read about it.” ~Rhiannon Giddens
Last night I went to see and hear Rhiannon Giddens, Layla McCalla, and Bhi Bhiman perform at Lisner Auditorium in a performance they called Swimming in Dark Waters: Other Voices of the American Experience. While work songs and spirituals have been songs of protest and freedom, Rhiannon explained that they wanted to travel a different musical road last night. They wanted to use a mashup of folk, classical, and pop to tell a story of struggle, personal power, love, change, and hope. It was an incredibly powerful performance. Their voices, music, and message were so concentrated that they pierced the hearts and minds of the packed house.
All of the songs were rooted in culture, history, and art, and for me that was the message I needed. History is a potent tool. It can help us make sense of what’s happening around us now, and inform the decisions we make going forward. I left the concert feeling both whole and heartbroken, sad and joyful, determined and dreamy. And that’s the magic of music – it can make us feel so much all at once and then help us to reconcile the internal and external difference.
Last night I had the supreme pleasure of seeing and hearing Josh Ritter and Elephant Revival live at the 9:30 Club. I danced until my feet hurt and smiled until my cheeks ached. It was a fantastic display of the power of music to make us whole and connect us to others. Music makes the good times better and the tough times manageable. It helps us celebrate and it helps us grieve. It’s a constant companion, and for that I’m very grateful.
Last night I saw 2Cellos at DAR thanks to my music-loving pals, Gary and Jessica. I’ve been a fan of 2Cellos for a long time and love how they use the cello in such innovative ways to re-create rock and pop hits. At one point, Josh turned to me and said, “Look at him. He’s completely in the zone.” It was as if their cellos just became extensions of who they are. They were so in sync with one another, their instruments, and the audience. We could literally feel their love for music.
And isn’t that exactly the way it should be for all of us? To find what fills us up with joy and share that with others is the way to a happy life. And that should be as true at work as it is in any other part of our lives. The lessons you can learn from a cello. Who knew?