I have two questions for you:
- 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?
- 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.
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?”
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.
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.
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:
- 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:
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:
- They didn’t cost anything or made use of resources I already had, just like upcycling, but with humans.
- 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?
And there’s nothing that will make you happy about that.