So I just finished reading Gretchen Rubin’s book, The Happiness Project, in which she recounts her year-long endeavor to add more happiness to her life.
It’s a quick and easy read, one I recommend to anyone who has a few hours (or a weekend) to spare.
The book is structured, quite neatly, over the twelve months of the year, around each of which Rubin creates a set of happiness goals.
Each month’s goals revolves around a theme of some sort (marriage in February, for example or leisure in May), but really the theme is less important. What is important is that the author sets about the pursuit of happiness in a very deliberate and strategic way.
I know, this takes a lot of the romance out of it–who doesn’t want to be swept away in a wave of pure joy–but it taught me an important lesson: I have to reach for whatever it is I want.
Yes, it is true that whatever we want is always within our reach, that we are simply disconnected from what is already there within and around us, but it is also true that getting what we want takes deliberate action if not full-out effort.
So it is with this mindset that I write this post–what can I do specifically and whole-heartedly to create a happy life?
Here are 5 actions I can take/stances I can adopt to add more joy to my life, and (better yet!) reduce unnecessary strife from my days:
Assume the Most Benevolent Explanation First
I have this terrible habit of going straight to the most cynical, catastrophic explanation first.
Kids not home from school yet?
They must surely be lying dead in some ditch somewhere!
Boss forgets her usual cheery breeze-by my office?
She hates me.
Old man rides his bike slowly down my street, waving cheerily at the kids?
He’s a pervert, for sure.
As you might imagine, this sort of world-view is not conducive to a smiley, happy-face kind of life. This is why my first happiness goal is to assume the best.
Okay, so chances are that some of the time I will be wrong, but the remaining times (which is usually well over 90%) I will have steered clear of disaster-thinking, which will allow me to feel more happy.
Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys
I’m an empath, which means that I’m not only a good reader of human behavior and instinctively know how people are feeling in any given situation, but that I often (inadvertently) absorb their actual feelings, take them on as my own, which means that I am often bummed out without quite knowing why I’m feeling that way.
This can be quite exhausting, and a major killjoy.
It’s one thing to understand another person’s plight and even lend an emotional hand; it’s quite another to fully take on their feelings as if they were your own. So from here on out, whenever I encounter some suffering (someone else’s suffering) I will allow myself to offer words of comfort, a hug, even practical help, but I will not make the suffering my own.
Not my circus, not my monkeys.
Either Once Only or Once Every Day
This, apparently, is something Andy Warhol used to say. Only do that which makes you happy (or makes sense) every day or that which makes you happy as a one-off. Everything in between is a waste of time.
And a buzz kill.
I like this idea. Without realizing it, I have lived my life according to this principle:
One marathon, one short story, one marriage.
Or on the “everyday” end of the spectrum:
Walk every day, write every day, learn something new every day.
Everything else is not conducive to happiness. It’s just a drag. Habit, duty, regimen–not the stuff of joy.
Laugh out Loud
You heard me, laugh out loud.
I don’t do this very much. Or at all. At best the corners of my mouth twitch. But laughing out loud? Not so much.
Well, that’s going to have to change. In recent years, laugh yoga (Hasyayoga) has gotten some attention, especially among the wellness crowd. The idea being that laughing (even induced or “voluntary” laughing) may produce an “endorphin-mediated opiate effect,” that creates a sense of well-being in the person and promotes social bonding in a group.
Maybe this is a whole lot of hooey, but how could it hurt? Now I’m not saying I’m not going to join a laughing class, but why not just give open-mouthed, chesty guffawing a shot?
When someone says something (even remotely) funny, I’m going to refrain from my customary mouth twitch and just laugh out loud.
If nothing else, I will reap the physiological (endorphin/opiate) benefits, and make the jokester feel good. Maybe even encourage him/her to make another joke . . . of equally lame quality . . . okay, I have a feeling this one might take some work, but I’m game to try.
Let it Go
This post was originally titled, “Seven Actions that Invite More Joy into Your Life.” Then I realized that actions 5 through 7–Don’t Dwell on the Negative, Distract Yourself from a Bad Mood, Kick Anger to the Curb (yes, I see the irony)–could all be encompassed under the umbrella, “Let it go.”
So here it is–Let it go.
Now adept as I am at looking for the worst explanation in any given situation, I am even better, the undisputed champion in fact, at holding onto stuff! I can repeat, verbatim, any and every slight directed at me from the beginning of time.
My brother once smashed me during a game of ping pong rounders way back when I was 11, and he continues to pay the price for it today! I just can’t let it go.
This is a disaster. Not only for the source of my slight, but also for my waistline. Every time I feel attacked or upset, I reach for a donut . . . There! That’ll teach them!
So not exactly a good nurturer of happiness and joy. Instead, I should let the object (anger, upset, fear) drift across the field of my consciousness and watch as it passes by.
Not mine. Just passing through. Goodbye.
So there you have it. A simple roadmap, my roadmap, for allowing more happiness into my life.
Remove the barriers, wipe the grime off the lenses, and you will see.
It was there all the time.