Happy Yet? You Won’t Be…Unless You Know This

I have two questions for you:

  1. How many times per day do you find yourself wishing or hoping for something you don’t already have: more money; a skinny/healthy/different body; someone to share your bed; more time; less work?
  2. And how many times per day do you feel grateful for what you already have?

I’m guessing your answer to question one is a lot higher than question two.

And if it’s vice versa, then you can sit back and read this post with a self-satisfied smile on your face, Mr./Mrs. Enlightened Pants.

I’ll admit it. I spend most days chasing after the elusive “More” Bunnies. Just like real bunnies, they’re fast and multiply quickly. I can never keep up.

But I decided to do something different. Earlier this year, I found a website that offered a thirty-day challenge to focus on the things that make us happy. The kicker? We had to look at what already existed in our life.

No “More” Bunnies allowed!

So, what does it take to make you happy?

First, because I’m an English major, writer and nitpicker, we need to break this question down. You can’t be expected to give a thoughtful answer if you don’t understand the meaning of the question.

Photo Credit: Camdiluv ♥ via Compfight cc

All kinds of happy! Photo Credit: Camdiluv ♥ via Compfight cc

WHAT DOES IT TAKE to make you happy?

Doesn’t that sound like a lot of hard work? Or something you may have heard your mother say to you growing up: “What does it take for you to pick up your socks off the floor?”

Yikes.

Right away you’re on the defensive. At a minimum you feel you have to explain why it takes a major intervention to move you from your current state of misery, anger, irritation, apathy [insert any other unpleasant state of being] to happy.

Then you feel compelled to justify why it only takes a gnat fart to push you out of the happy zone and right back into the muck.

I bet you’re fighting off people getting in line to bolster your bliss…

What does it take to MAKE you happy?

“Making” sounds creative, doesn’t it? As if you’re on the verge of the birth of something magical. There’s anticipation in that word.

Promise.

Optimism.

Expansiveness.

You know…those emotions you felt when you believed anything was possible.

Before “life” choked your dreams and snuffed them out.

You know why that happened?

Because you let “making” turn from an active verb to a passive verb.

You allowed yourself to move from the role of the creator to the role of the spectator.

From a “doing” person to one waiting for something “to be done” for or to you.

Writers know that most of the time, passive verbs are no-nos. Passive verbs just sit there. They don’t do anything. It’s like watching rain evaporate from the sidewalk. Or stretch marks bloom across your belly when you’re pregnant or have packed on some extra poundage.

Not fun.

BORing.

You know what else passivity, either in writing or life, breeds?

Entitlement—and a grand sense of anger, disappointment and disgust if you don’t get what you feel you’re owed.

Life is not a sugar daddy or an organ grinder’s dancing monkey. It’s not here to entertain you or give you anything. Life is not obligated to you in any way.

So you know what that means?

No one, not one single person in this whole world, can make you happy.

It’s all on you.

But hey, don’t look so glum. That’s a good thing!

The moment you realize this truism, the moment you really get it, will be the most liberating moment of your life. It will be the demarcation line of before and after.

And once you’ve crossed over, you will not want to go back.

What does it take to make you HAPPY?

This should be an easy one. But if you’re struggling, ponder this from The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. 

If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands…or see if any of these apply:

  • Smiling
  • Laughing
  • Whistling
  • Skipping
  • Rapid speaking
  • Bouncing on the toes

Got it? Good!

Now we know what we’re working with. Here’s what I came up with on my search for the happy:

30 days happiness

If you can read my handwriting, congratulations!

If not, let me tell you that almost everything that made my list had two things in common:

  1. They didn’t cost anything or made use of resources I already had, just like upcycling, but with humans.
  2. They were experiences.

Salon.com published a great article earlier this year about how experiences make us happier than things and how “stuffocation” (a mashup of “stuff” and “suffocation,” coined by James Wallman) is killing us.

In the article, Wallman refers to a paper published in 2003 by psychologists Thomas Gilovich and Leaf Van Boven, called “To Do or To Have, That Is the Question.” While their study focused on “experiential purchases,” those made with the intent of gaining a life experience, there’s nothing that says free experiences, like hugging a friend or family member, or playing with a puppy, don’t deliver happiness. In fact and especially when it comes to hugs, they can kick a “purchased” experience’s ass. Hugs are the probiotic of the emotional world.

Not everyone can afford to take a big vacation (or even a mini one) or gourmet cooking classes, but everyone knows at least one person they can wrap their arms around. Or there’s always strangers…they like hugs too, eventually.

What did I learn from my month of happy morsel tracking?

I confirmed what I talked about in last month’s blog post—you have to be present in your life or you’ll miss the best stuff.

And there’s nothing that will make you happy about that.

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So, what about you? What “makes” you happy? Are you a “stuff” or “experience” kind of person? Tell me about one of each that made you happy.

12 thoughts on “Happy Yet? You Won’t Be…Unless You Know This

  1. Lovely post, Kelly! “Stuffocation” is exactly what my office looks like right now. I think I need to do something about that.

    Your list is amazing (and, yes, I could read most of it)!

    1. Thanks for reading Diana! When we moved from our 2300 square foot home to our apartment that’s half that size (without a basement and full garage), we had to get rid of stuff—living stuffocated was no longer an option. Luckily we’re not pack rats. 🙂

      So glad you could read (the majority of) my list—my handwriting looks like a five year old’s who’s been mainlining sugar for a few hours.

  2. Just being out in the sunshine makes me happy. So far, I’ve had smiles every day this week and the weatherman forecasts they will continue through the weekend.
    As you mentioned, I’ve learned it is truly the small things that bring a smile to our faces and joy to our hearts. Choosing to focus on what we have is the first step toward taking control of our own happiness.

  3. I’ve been working with “I choose to be happy.” And, you’re right, when I choose to be happy, all I have to do is look around and notice what can make me happy in this moment — how green the plants are in the view from my desk (just a few weeks ago, this was a very brown & gray view), the taste of the tea that my husband brewed and brought up to me, a Saturday with nothing on the calendar.

    Thanks! I popped over from the Midlife Women group on Facebook.

    1. Love, love, love Saturdays with nothing on the calendar! That was my day yesterday—and then the internet went down 🙁 So, please forgive me for not following up sooner. Thanks much for reading and commenting Joy!

      P.S. I think we might know each other. Did you take one of Rita Robinson’s writing classes last year? And are you a librarian? If so, I think we emailed a couple of times because my daughter was pondering being a librarian herself when she grew up. I’m going to post something on your wall on FB…let me know (and apologies if I’m totally off-base). 🙂

  4. Hi Kelly! I just found your blog listed over on the Midlife Boulevard FB page and had to read this post because I your first question sucked me in, “Happy Yet?” Fortunately I am one of those self-satisfied people you mention because I routinely do what you recommend. I constantly remind myself of all the amazing good in my life on a regular basis. I hadn’t see your particular process before but it is certainly a great one. So nice to find your blog….now I’m going to check out some of your previous work because reading about happy ideas keep me there. ~Kathy

    1. Thanks for popping over and reading/commenting! You’re so much more on the ball than I am with the happiness-acknowledgement. I thought I was pretty good, but realized I’m not as good as I can be after that 30-day challenge.

      Heading on over to your blog now to read and comment—I’m already having a difficult time choosing which post to start with just based on the headlines on your home page!

      Thanks again!

      1. Hi Kelly! One of the most amazing things about blogs is that it shows how many ways there are to say much of the same thing. We are all so unique that we not only communicate it differently, but we hear it differently as well. So I love reading your stuff and realizing– I never thought about it that way! Plus, I don’t know about you, but I need and want to hear it again and again and again. Thanks for putting it out there for me and others like me. It is always appreciated! ~Kathy
        Kathy @ SMART Living 365.com recently posted…Nine Simple & SMART Ways To Say NoMy Profile

        1. That’s so true, Kathy—everyone has their own take and yes, sometimes it requires hearing it more than once or in just the right way before it sinks in. Maybe I’ll get it on the first try one of these days!

  5. Hi, Kelly. I’m glad I popped over to see your blog.
    I agree that experiences make people far happier than stuff.
    On the topic of Stuffocation, I’m trying something called the Minimalist Challenge to declutter my apartment in anticipation of a move. The way it works is on day one you get rid of one thing. On day two you get rid of two things, and so on for 30 days.
    Connie B. Dowell recently posted…The Ghost of It: Is Your Essay Haunted by This Grammar Mistake?My Profile

    1. Hi Connie! Thanks for reading/commenting. I love that idea of the minimalist challenge—we had to do something similar last year when we downsized from our house to an apartment. Luckily, we’re not pack rats and love purging our home/lives of stuff, so it was a cleansing experience for us. But it would great to do that periodically throughout the year. We certainly don’t need everything we have now.

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