Whistle While You Work

Whistle While You Work

Can you tell me what happiness is? Have you ever spontaneously broken out in song while you worked? Do you find yourself whistling on the way to work?

If you’re of an age with me, you probably remember Snow White singing her way through the forrest and the 7 dwarfs who joined her in her merriment.

Just whistle while you work
Put on that grin and start right in
To whistle loud and long.

Happiness, spontaneous song might have been my idea of what work could be like back then, early on. But that expectation got kicked out with my first real job: Changing out the dirt in a flower bed in a greenhouse. Shovel that dirt out of the bed at waist height, throw it into a cart above my head, and repeat.

The only break was when the cart was pushed down the track and emptied into the pickup. Four or five loads like that and then riding on the mound of dirt in the truck out into the back field so we could shovel it out again. Repeat.

Grimiest, dirtiest job I ever had. Not to mention hot. It was summertime. It was a greenhouse.

Definitely not whistling moments.

If happiness is the goal in our work, we’ll have a clean miss if all we’re going for is whistling. I think retirement works the same way.

We have to seek something else. What should we go for? What could we go for?

There are some alternatives that we could seek that are a little more long-lived, not so fleeting.


My wife and I were on a trip to Yorkshire and visited York Minster. There were several volunteer docents around so we struck up a conversation with one while he gave us an excellent tour of the cathedral.

When the tour was over, Gordon, our guide asked if we had plans to tour the town. And we said we’d like to but really didn’t know where to begin. He said, “You have to see the snickelways in the old part of the town.” The expressions on our faces clearly displayed ignorance. He kindly offered to give us a tour.

We heartily agreed and had the most marvelous time.

It seems that in the old part of town buildings were constructed very close together. They might even be connected on the 2nd or 3rd story but left a narrow way or alley between. Thus, snickelway.

Bless Gordon. We went into and out of the snickelways to discover hidden gardens shared by patrons or residents and out-of-the way stores that are usually undiscovered by tourists. We found flower shops, street vendors, fountains, churches, outdoor cafes, and more.

Gordon spent over an hour with us on that tour. Since it was about lunch time, we offered Gordon a tip or at least to take him to lunch. He declined both offers and said he had lunch waiting at home.

When asked why he provided such delightful tours and running commentary, Gordon said, “I grew up here. I’m proud of its history and hidden treasurers and want to show it off.”

But the real kicker for me was his next sentence, “I believe in hospitality. In the war (WW II) I was stationed in Canada. The people there were so hospitable that I vowed to offer hospitality and give back what I’d been given.”

Decades before the movie, Gordon was “paying it forward.”

I also call that gratitude. Not just a pleasant thank you or note, but a heartfelt, dedicated effort to show his pride and reenact the gift originally given.

Make a Difference

Marie Forleo, who proclaims herself an entrepreneur, writer, philanthropist, and unshakable optimist, says, “Most people buy solutions to problems.”

Women don’t buy skin cream because it is a certain brand; they buy it to solve what they think is a skin condition.

You might not buy the next car because you have extra money just sitting around burning a hole in your pocket. You buy the next car because the old one died, will cost too much to repair, or you really need to make that “professional” statement only a latest model year will make.

I don’t pick blog topics because I find the idea appealing, though that is often what gets me started on a particular topic. I write a blog because it will either 1) encourage you think a little, 2) tempt you try something that might lead you to feel better about yourself or a situation, or 3) stimulate you to take action.

In other words I’m trying to make a difference. It’s what gets me out of bed in the morning. How about you?

There are literally countless ways to make a difference.

In their book Buy the Change You Want to See: Use Your Purchasing Power to Make the Work a Better Place, Mosbacher Morris and Wendy Paris advise consumers to put their money where their mouth is. You may have limited buying power but your consumer practices add up.

For example, I buy toilet paper from a company called Who Gives a Crap. Fun name, yes? Among other things, they sell toilet paper made from bamboo or recycled paper. Both products help the environment by reducing the number of trees cut down.

Purchases like mine make a difference. Proctor and Gamble may not miss my sale, but the Who Gives people value it. Besides the increased pressure from purchases such as mine have sent the big manufacturers scurrying for more environmentally friendly alternatives. An internet search for toilet paper will find many manufacturers who now proudly offer eco-friendly options.

Who knows, you actually might enjoy making a difference. As my friend Bill Farris says, “It’s fun, Ed.” Bill is often found with hammer in hand building habitat houses. If there is one thing that can make a difference, it is the program habitat home owners go through to get into a home of their own and having that stability in their environment over the long haul. Bill is helping make home ownership possible. (Click Here for Bill’s story.)

Bring Enjoyment to Your Life

I have many examples.

My friend Margaret Smith, for examples, reminisces fondly about her grandmother and the times they spent together when she was growing up. Gramma would often take her out into woods to enjoy sitting on the banks of the Cumberland River here in Tennessee. They shared meals, talked plants and wildlife and just enjoyed being together.

Margaret grew up to have such a passion for the outdoors and a love of all growing things that she became a Master Naturalist and is a volunteer docent at a private sanctuary called Owls Hill.

She enjoys sharing what she knows and remembering those cherished moments. (Click Here for Margaret’s story.)

Finally, my buddy Chuck Jaeger was a volunteer at the symphony here in Nashville. He very definitely liked music and enjoyed hearing a wide variety. (Click Here for Chuck’s story.)

What about you?

You may not have gotten a particular job or sought a particular activity in retirement because you thought these might make you happy. But. I bet you would find yourself happier at the end of the day if your day were filled with enjoyable activities that brought you satisfaction and made a difference for others.

You just might want to whistle!

Ed Zinkiewicz

…the retired guy

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