Wednesday, January 11, 2012

What is Happiness?

My sister-in-law gave me a book called The Happiness Project for Christmas and although I've only read a couple chapters so far, it's really got me thinking.

Am I happy?

I haven't had a chance to think a whole lot about whether or not I was happy in the past dozen years or so. I remember contemplating happiness back when I was single and had plenty of quiet moments. But since having kids, I've been so busy doing everything that comes along with dealing with the needs of small children while trying to juggle a couple websites and involvement in my kids' school and in the community that I never got around to thinking about happiness much. There were times when life was really hard and I did some thinking about how to pull myself out of a slump. But mostly, when I've had time to think in the past dozen years, I've thought about goals and to-do lists and plans for helping the kids and myself and everyone around me become all that they can and should be. And I do think happiness is quite interconnected with progress and growth and helping others - all of which I've experienced in great abundance especially since launching into my motherhood career.

But now that all the kids are in school and I have a few more quiet moments to myself each day as I chip away at my endless to-do lists, I'm feeling the need to figure some things out. Am I happy? Am I as happy as I ought to be? Should happiness be a pursuit or a goal? Or is it silly and selfish to devote much time to thinking about my own happiness?

I experience lovely fleeting moments of happiness every day. Joy jumps up in my heart when I see fresh snow or a brilliant blue sky, hear a sweet comment from one of my kids, feel little arms around my waist, see my child be kind or accomplish something he or she is proud of, watch my kids run up to me with huge smiles when I pick them up from school, snuggle with my little ones as we read together. I feel a satisfaction kind of happiness whenever I accomplish something or complete a task. So I'm experiencing happy moments a lot and I'm so grateful for each of them.

But do I feel happy in general? Not so much.

I feel worried and stressed and overwhelmed much more often than I feel happy. And I think this is partially because I think about what I need to DO much more than I think about who I need to BE or what I NEED. I think about accomplishments far more than optimism and gratitude. I think about good works far more than faith, hope and charity. And while I do believe happiness relies quite a bit on progression and helping others, I don't think I've thought enough about the other things happiness relies upon.

So this week I'm going to focus on figuring out what makes me happy - other than getting things done (I've got that one down pretty well). Then I'm going to figure out how to bring more of this happiness-inducing stuff into my life more regularly. I've realized that in order to be the mom and wife and person I need to be, I've got to figure out how to be a happier person. And it's not just going to happen by itself.

Here's my first step - making a quick list of what I love to do off the top of my head:
1. Cook tasty food that's quite simple but has great spices and flavors and that my whole family loves (I made thai food on Sunday and it was a pleasure to cook and a pleasure to eat)
2. Read beautifully-written novels with great characters and a story that sucks you in and makes you think (really enjoying Minding Frankie by Mave Binchy right now).
3. Exercise (actually I really don't like exercising much but I love the feeling I get AFTER exercising)
4. Read with my kids (we all snuggled on my bed Sunday night and read out own books together and it was so cozy and made me so happy).
5. Travel. Visiting a new place - be it a new part of town or a new country - always gives me a rush. I love meeting new people, seeing new sites, figuring out new favorites, and seeing my kids get excited about it all.
6. Go on a hike or walk. Moving my body while enjoying fresh air and nature always offers elevates my mood and gives me sparks of joy and renews me. I need to be outside every day - at least for a few minutes. But I don't make time for that every day.
7. Hear great music. I need to have music playing more regularly. I need to crank up the music and dance more. I miss singing. I miss playing the violin. I need to make as well as enjoy listening to music more.
8. Have a good conversation. I'm not getting nearly enough of this. I'm alone too much. I email all day with people but I'm not with other adults enough.
9. Finish something. I'm getting quite a bit of this one - at the expense of the others.
10. Laugh. I don't laugh nearly enough. I'm way too serious. Anyone got any really funny YouTube videos or TV shows are articles you'd recommend?

So there's my quick list to get me started. I'll work on what to DO about these needs soon.

And I'd love any tips or ideas anyone else out there has!


For the Love of Naps - Sarah said...

I have this book on my nightstand and have read chunks of it. But my pile of books is always overwhelming so it still needs to be finsihed. BUt I have heard her website is really great too. Might be a place to check out.

Happy wednesday to you Saren!

Carin said...

I'm reading the happiness project right now as well, and it has had much the same effect on me (I finished the chapter on March last night). I've been thinking an awful lot about happiness and what makes me happy. Glad you're tackling it your own way. Good luck!

Johanna Markworth said...

I am reading this right now as well! Great things to think about!

Ingrid said...

For laughing: watch stand-up comic Brian Regan. You can find him on Netflix and some snippets on youtube as well. Our whole family loves him. Good clean humor (once in a rare while, a PG swear word, but that's it).

Cheryl said...

jim gaffigan is hilarious and a very clean comedian!

Becky said...

I love watching the Cosby Show for some good laughs. :)

Macy said...

Just finished reading The Happiness Project last week. It is truly changing the way I approach my day, and I'm so grateful. Glad you are reading it! Hope you are well!

emily ballard said...

I haven't read the book. . . or spent the time deeply evaluating my personal level of happiness because I think that CAN be somewhat counterproductive. (I'll text you a picture something I just hung in my kitchen.)

You wrote an entire paragraph of things that bring you happiness that you enjoy quite regularly, so I think you ARE actually a lot happier than you know.

And then there's the quote, "Happiness isn't doing what you like, it's liking what you do."

But to address Number 8, let's go to lunch tomorrow. I really feel bad about canceling, and I can make it work. And if we could figure out how to include a certain sister-in-law of mine, you could kill two birds with one stone. (Number 10)

Becky said...

Have you watched Kid History on youtube? #4 and #6 are my favorites!

Eyrealm said...

Happiness is about as important as it comes!

Anonymous said...

Hi Saren! What a great post--I can completely relate to you. I'm very task/goal oriented and often much too serious.

My husband is much more a live-in-the-moment type of person and I find I live in the past (trying not to repeat mistakes) and live in the future (constantly plotting and planning our next vacation, project, etc.). I know intellectually that this robs me of present joy, but man it's difficult to make the switch.

I'm going to take your cue and list things that I find true joy in and then incorporate those things in my life--see, I told you I was a planner;)!

Anyway, thanks for sharing this. You truly inspire me and I love checking in, seeing your cute kids and reading your thoughts on life.

All the best! Natalie


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