Welcome to the weekly Happiness Project meeting! Today I’d like to share some thoughts – and get your input – about definitions of happiness and why we avoid doing things that might make us happy. Both defining the word and knowing what keeps us stuck in our misery-pattern is key if the happiness is the goal.
My Webster’s dictionary defines the term “happy” in four ways:
- favored by circumstances; lucky; fortunate
- having, showing or causing a feeling of great pleasure, contentment, joy, etc; joyous, glad, pleased
- exactly appropriate to the occasion; suitable and clever; apt; felicitous
- intoxicated, or irresponsibly quick to act; see: slap-happy trigger-happy
I’m not sure any of those definitions fit what I consider to be happiness. I find it intriguing that one definition is acting as is exactly suitable for a circumstance. I mean, think about it: If I won the Pulitzer, I might act one way, while you might act another and who is to decide what is “exactly appropriate”?Looking at those definitions, the only thing I know for sure is that pleasure is not the same as happiness. I get a lot of pleasure eating chocolate, but later feel horrible because I know it isn’t good for my body. So, does that chocolate really make me happy? I’m not so sure. The closest the dictionary definition comes to what I feel as happiness is contentment, I think. It’s a feeling that all is right in your world, in spite of whatever sucky outside circumstances there may be. It isn’t tied to possessions as much as it is tied to a feeling of being useful, of knowing that you make a positive difference in your small (or large) circle. So, question to the crowd: How do you define happiness?
The harder part is why we sometimes avoid doing things we know will make us happy. For instance, let’s say you hate the way you feel when you yell at your 6-year-old to get ready for school, and you KNOW that if you just got up 15 minutes earlier, you wouldn’t be rushed and thus, would be less likely to have a screaming fit at breakfast. For a few days you get up earlier and see it makes things better, but then old habits slip in and you find yourself staying in bed and pretty soon you’re back to the rushed, angry mornings. What is it that is keeping you from doing what you KNOW will make the morning routine better and thus, increase your contentment/happiness?
For me, it all seems to be about time – the things that appear to bring me more peace and joy take time, and I feel
like I’m so far behind in life already, I just don’t have the time to give. A perfect example was Monday. Ever since I was laid off from my job as a reporter, I’ve vacillated between choices for my future. I’ve gone back and forth between options as varied as living away from my husband for the next five years so I could take reporting positions out of state, to opening an organizing business, to designing Web sites. One day I would think, yes, this is the way; the next, no, that is the way.
For nearly a decade, I’ve sought advice from a thoughtful, peaceful academic who is both a scientist and a theologian about which fork to take in the road. One of the suggestions he’s made to me (over and over and over again) is to spend time just “being” with my choices. Don’t analyze, don’t stress, just be quiet. Tune out the world, tune out your own head and meditate on the options and after some time, there will be clarity. One of the signs that you’re headed in the right direction, he’s said, is that if you think about choice 1 and you feel anxious and you think about choice 2 and you feel peace. In that case, choice 2 is probably the one that will, in the long run, bring you more happiness. Since “impatience” is my middle name, and since I’m more akin to a human do-ing than a human be-ing, this advice has long sat by the wayside because I could never be still longer than about five minutes. (Having the attention span of a gnat is the cross I bear in this life.)
But Monday, after a long weekend of discussions with my husband, push came to shove. We had to make a decision about which way for me to turn because the angst that comes from not knowing was too much to bear. So, having tried everything else my way for the past 2.5 months, I gave my friends’ advice a chance. I woke up not knowing what I would do, but having three options before me. I blogged, I worked on my novel, I did everything I could to avoid doing what I KNEW would bring me happiness (making a darn decision), because I had no idea how long it would take.
Finally, at about 2:30 p.m., I gave into silence. I walked, I read a little, I sat out in the sun. I turned off the phone, I stayed away from the computer. At first it was noisy in my head, lots of panic about the choices. But I just ignored it and sat there and at about 3:15, the silence felt deeper, and my head started clearing. It was like a room full of laundry slowly folding itself into piles. And when it was all folded, it was clear what option would be best for my life and our family situation at this particular time. I glanced at the other piles, gave them some thought, waited to see if they would give me the peace it felt I was drawing from the other choice. And at about 5 p.m., I knew what I should do as clearly as if someone had written it down for me. And, here’s the kicker: I felt really good about it, in spite of days of telling myself there was no way I could ever chose that option, that the one and only thing I could ever be or do is journalism.
The whole thing took 2.5 hours and resulted in more peace than I’ve felt in a very long time – like more than 10 years. I would like to say that I’ll do it again, but I know myself. I probably won’t, until pushed b the next mini-crisis, even though I know the silence made me happier. So, the question to you readers and Happiness Project participants is this: Is there something you know that would make you happy and yet you won’t do it? If so, why? What do you think keeps us from doing the things that will make our lives more peaceful, more joyful, more full of bliss?