Dean sat at the table absentmindedly spinning his coffee cup. He stared out the large kitchen window, looking at the approaching snowstorm.

“Winter in Iowa is just depressing,” he mumbled to himself. What were his ancestors thinking? Why didn’t they settle 150 miles to the south? Land there was almost as good, and the winters were mild in comparison.

Dean had piles of snow in the yard pushed up 8 feet high — they looked like sentinels. The driveway had a 3-foot snowbank on both sides all the way to the road. He was running out of places to hide all the snow. Every day it crept closer to the house.

Dean could not remember when he started to dislike winter. It wasn’t so bad when he was a kid. He actually looked forward to being home on snow days, playing with his sled and climbing piles of snow. As he grew older, he recognized his dad and grandfather did not feel the same way.

The last few weeks, Dean found himself complaining about the weather all the time. His wife had grown tired listening to his constant bellyaching. Once he was in the mood, there were plenty of other things to complain about as well. If fact, Dean found he could be dissatisfied with a lot of things.

A constant barrage of news and politics easily agitated Dean. News organizations seemed to thrive on dramatically presenting even the smallest details of every subject. He got to the point where he could not watch the news without being upset. He would often talk back to the TV and then stomp out of the room.

Dean continued looking out the kitchen window and became depressed about the price of corn and beans. It seemed highly unfair that he and all of his neighbors were raising grain to feed the world, but were usually paying for this privilege.

Even though he was not personally in trouble, many of his younger neighbors and friends were struggling to stay afloat financially. It appeared that no one cared about them or their plight.

As he drank the last bit of the coffee, the weatherman indicated there were two more snowstorms on the way. One in two days and another one on the weekend. Both could have 6 to 9 inches of snow along with blowing winds.

For Dean, that was the last straw. He stormed down the hall to his office and closed the door to shut out the world and the snowstorms.

Dean’s office chair was comfortable and warm. He had a small heater on the floor blowing warm air against his feet. Leaning back in the chair, he relaxed and closed his eyes. Soon his mind wandered and he fell asleep.

In a dream, Dean found himself in a room filled with other farmers. They were all talking about how much they hated living in Iowa. They complained about the weather and the markets. Some farmers complained about their wives. They thought their wives were incapable and foolish and some seemed to regret making their marriage commitment. The mood got worse as they talked about politics and how the country was being run into the ground by people who do not care about anything except their careers.

In Dean’s dream, the conversations continued hour after hour. At some point, Dean started to look at the other farmers’ faces rather than listen to what they were saying. Some people were angry, and their faces were red and agitated. Some people were sad. They looked as if they had lost hope and were caught in a world of despair. Some had a look of regret. Their past decisions seemed to have brought this calamity upon them, and they wished they had made better choices. For those caught in the past, they could not look to the future.

In his dream, Dean sat off to the side and could see various groups and conversations. He watched until he had his fill. He realized the people speaking had nothing good to say about anyone or anything. Worse yet, they seemed to enjoy the misery and sorrow they talked about endlessly. Some were content to roll around on the floor reliving their regrets. Dean realized no one was doing anything constructive.

Dean also realized that the way these people were acting was just as he did around his wife and friends. He was a professional complainer. The snow and the cold were the constant topic with anyone who would listen to his rant. His frustration with politics led him to tell everyone about all the mistakes that were being made in Washington.

It had gotten so bad that his wife was one of the persons he criticized. He could visualize his wife’s hurt as he said those negative things about her. Dean did not want to be around these people any more.

Dean woke up sitting in his chair with a crick in his neck. The memory of his dream stood out strongly.

Out of habit, he reached for the remote control to turn on the TV to check the weather and get an update on the news. As his finger reached out to push the power button, he recognized that a large portion of his problem were caused by the things he put in his mind each day. He set down the remote control and began to think about something positive in his life.

Dean decided to make some new goals. His first resolve was not to take his wife for granted any longer. She had been living with a grumpy old man for a long time. He knew he had hurt their relationship, and he was hoping to fix it. He resolved to not complain or belittle her in any way. He was determined to speak positively and to give sincere compliments several times each day.

Dean’s next goal was to limit his news watching to once a day at noon. He did not want to start each morning on a sour note or end the day in a similar fashion. Checking on the markets less frequently would reduce his stress and obsession with his finances.

Dean considered his negativity about the weather, trying to change this aspect as well. Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it. Dean knew he could not change the weather any more than everyone else. His ancestors settled here because land was cheaper and available.

Dean walked out to the shop and found 75 feet of rope. He tied five sleds to the rope and hooked up the sleds to his truck. Soon he had five grandchildren sledding along behind him. He pulled them around the yard and through the ditches. He could hear them laugh, yelling, “Faster, Grandpa!” Dean’s wife prepared hot chocolate for everyone and they sat around the kitchen table telling funny family stories. His grandchildren had a great time, and Dean did, too.

The things we dwell upon are reflected in how we look at other people and the things we say. We have the opportunity and ability to determine our happiness. If we look for negative, depressing things, we will find them.

On the other hand, we can wisely look for things which bring happiness. We may realize those things have been right in front of our eyes the entire time.


Bob Dunaway and Associates offer estate and retirement planning. Gary Johnson can be reached at 563-927-4554 or by emailing him at plans@bobdunaway.com.