Are You Happy?

I am approaching yet another birthday.  No doubt an unavoidable event.  It is not a milestone birthday so hence, I choose to free it of a full-on analysis of where I am in life and where I am heading, if granted the time.

 However, I find that I am repeatedly asking myself the question of “How do I feel?” Seems that I have not exactly freed the celebration of the day of my birth of at least some sort of inner search.  AARP has been hounding me for years to join their ranks.  I have refused. It has insisted. And just because refusing is just taking too much of my energy, (which I had bountiful of in earlier years) I think I may join. That may mean that one of the answers to how I feel is just plain tired. But I don’t think it’s properly answered with that word and the question keeps playing on a loop in my head, so I must address it further.

 I don’t really identify with most of the answers that come up.  Society wants---expects--- the middle-aged me to be centered, adjusted, to look younger than I really am (as in 50 is the new 40), stable (financially and emotionally), free, and most of all... happy. Happy?

 No one word ever answers any inquiry fully.  And perhaps therein lies my qualm with it. There is a strong dramatic side to me that clashes with the need to be happy all the time.  I don’t even think it is possible. And it stresses me that not being happy just isn’t acceptable these days.

As an actress I channel inner turmoil of characters I portray, and it leads me to make them real. This, of course, compounded with my very own inner disquietude.  But there is a quote by Thomas A. Edison saying something of the like that the worst thinking has been done in turmoil. I don’t necessarily leave all my character’s turmoil on stage and inevitably suffer from some residual effect of it. Does that make me unhappy?

 I bask in quotes that lift me up and put a smile on my face.  I see the validity of the law of attraction and that you become what you think.  I believe there have been studies that prove it so. In repetition comes conviction. So I think happy. I try. But I want it to be okay if, at times, I’m not.

 I listen to Pharrell Williams’ “Happy”; I dance to it; I then extend the feeling to whatever else I have to do. The song never fails to make me...well, you know: happy. But it’s only a four-minute song and the feeling dissipates some time after I hear it.  And my mind’s eye stares at fingers pointing, shaming me for reverting to my somber and angst ridden self.  So I, once again, turn to music to guide me back. Unfortunately, I cannot face all life situations with my headphones on.

I begin to pace. I put my bright yellow flip flops on that happen to have a smiley face imprinted on them along with the words “I am happy.”  That adds to my confusion.  I’m actually stepping on the happy face and lettering. That can’t be good.

Maybe I’m going about this wrongly.  What I should be asking, before I fight it, is “What is happiness?”  It dawns me that the answer may be as intangible and elusive as defining love.

A lot of what I read, in a bit of unscientific web surfing, starts to make sense.  Happiness doesn’t have to be measured by tracking it in a moment-by-moment way.  It is an overall feeling.  I am already feeling the weight coming off me having to be it all the time.  It seems that if people report being happy then they are.  Quite simple.

I smile often and there seems to be an indication that smiling may cause happiness.  Dr. Robert Zajonc, a social psychologist, believed that repeated exposure to a stimulus brings about an attitude change in relation to the stimulus.  I decipher that as: if I smile a lot it will make me happy.  Or could it be that in fact, I already am happy?

Then come the quotes.  First to appear is Margaret Lee Runbeck’s quote of: “Happiness is not a station you arrive at, but a manner of traveling.” I’m a traveler. I can relate.  Another pops up of an unknown author:  “Being happy doesn’t mean that everything is perfect. It means that you’ve decided to look beyond the imperfections.”

A bit more surfing and a YouTube video pops up that poses the “What makes you happy?” question and states that psychologists have scientifically proven that one of the greatest contributing factors in your life is how much gratitude you show.  I am always grateful and I express it constantly.

At this point my antagonistic side that battles that which generalizes and blankets everything with any one terminology is having a bit of a rough go. What I have been reacting to is what I saw as an imposition of being in one type of state at all times.

So how do I feel?  I am delighted to report that after much more mulling and analysis (the one thing I said I would not do as my birthday approaches) I am just that which I questioned at the start: happy.

Are you?

Lidia Pires is an actress, blogger and explorer who resides somewhere in Los Angeles.

Fighting for Latina Rights

In the last 20 years, conventional wisdom on Latinos and reproductive rights has been that most of us held conservative views, informed perhaps by religious fundamentalism or so-called traditional views on family or gender.

But in the last few years, we’ve started to see conventional wisdom for what it is: myth and misunderstanding. Polls now show that 74%  of Latino registered voters agree that a woman has a right to make her own personal decisions about abortion without politicians interfering. The most recent polling on this, done by the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, found strong majorities of Latino registered voters supported access to legal abortion, and 8 in 10 “affirmed that they would offer support to a close friend or family member who had an abortion.”

What has also changed is that while many Latinos do believe this is an incredibly complex and personal decision, many---especially younger Latinas ---are willing to be vocal about the importance of ensuring widespread access to vital reproductive health services for all women.

The Republican-led House of Representatives recently voted for the 50th time to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which clearly states that women should no longer have to pay more for simply being a woman.  Stated another way, being a woman is no longer a punitive pre-existing condition the way it was prior to the passage of the ACA.  And even though President Obama would never sign a repeal of the ACA, we cannot take this protection for granted.

This summer, the Supreme Court of the United States will decide on two groundbreaking cases that will either enshrine these protections for women in the ACA, or strike them down and allow employers to deny contraceptive and other health care coverage for women simply by saying that providing it goes against their religious beliefs:  Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius.  Both Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties are for-profit corporations and not individual people whose religious freedoms are protected by the constitution of the United States.  As such, the current requirement to cover birth control for employees applies to the company and not the individual owners. In seeking to deny birth control coverage to their employees, these companies not only undermine women’s equality, but their individual freedom of conscience as well. We live in an extremely polarized and politicized country, and our current Supreme Court is no different.  The decision is expected to be very close, most likely 5-4, and will hinge on a swing vote.

So what can we do?  Make our voices heard!  All Latinas, our partners, and our families need to support accessible, affordable women’s reproductive care and help ensure it remains intact in the ACA.  If we fail, our community and especially our mothers, sisters, daughters, aunts and amigas, will suffer because Latinas continue to face barriers in consistently accessing contraceptive and reproductive care that is affordable and available, and as a consequence experience unintended pregnancy at twice the rate of their white peers.

Let’s consider that 57% of young Latinas ages 18-34 have struggled with the cost of prescription birth control, making it extremely difficult for Latinas to have access to the birth control they need on a consistent basis. For a Latina who is working an underpaid job, the cost of birth control can be a serious burden in this economy. Before the benefit went into effect in August 2012, some Latinas would have had to spend over $600 dollars a year on contraception, forcing many to choose between putting food on the table and meeting their health care needs. This is especially true for Latinas who have less financial resources because of the gender wage gap.  Latina workers experience a wage loss of $16,416 a year, and this gap widens for immigrant Latinas.  In 2010, immigrant Latinas made less than half of their non-Latino, white male counterparts made, respectively $24,461 dollars versus $49,643 dollars.

And we have seen from recent polls, Latinas, including Latinas of faith, support access to contraception in private and public health insurance. From 2006 to 2010, nearly 98% of Latinas who haveever had sex have used some form of moderncontraception. 96% of sexually active Catholic Latinas have used contraception banned by the Vatican, showing that a majority of Catholic Latinas make their own decisions, even when they are at odds with church leaders. 89% of Latina voters ages 18-34 support contraceptive coverage without copays for all women. In fact, 66% of Christian Latinos believe that they can disagree with their church teachings on contraception and still be a good Christian.

 If the Court decides for these employers, they will be taking away a key provision of the ACA that is already benefitting women, including 4.9 million Latinas. Access to safe, effective, and affordable contraception, including emergency contraception, is good for the health of Latinas, good for the wellbeing of their families, and good for our communities.
There is no question Latino attitudes have changed in the last 20 years on this issue.  This is now front and center for us.  And this is worth fighting for.

Maria Cardona is a seasoned public policy advocate and political strategist with more than two decades of experience in the government, politics, public relations and community affairs arenas.