There’s the Happiness Project, Your Happiness Plan, The Wholehearted Life, The Purpose-Driven Life, Authentic Happiness, and a host of others. They all tell you how to be happy.
Then why aren’t we?
Happiness seems a little overwhelming to me. Like it’s a constant state of whistling and skipping, and there’s lots of yellow everywhere. There’s no room for my bad moods, for a rainy day playing hooky from all the productivity, for the kinds of mistakes I make and then brood about. Not like it’s a hobby or anything, but still. I don’t want to be FORCED into some kind of mandatory cheerfulness.
I find it easier to think about joy than happiness, because joy is always with me. It underlies everything else, and it shows up at strange moments in the form of gratitude, pleasure, rest, peace, or harmony. But still, joy eludes me often; it’s not a chronic state, and sometimes it shows up infrequently, leaving me to wonder harder where it got to and what I did to drive it away.
This, I suppose, is precisely the point. Joy only shows up when you let it, and the kinds of worrying/planning/spiraling/self-loathing/anxiety-mongering behaviors I specialize in don’t give it a whole lot of room.
So I figure I should develop a Joy Plan of my own. It will involve, first and foremost, a concerted and ongoing effort to notice when I start spiraling, sorting, “doing,” and to take a deep breath. I want to remember, at those times, that I’m here, now, and that I get to do the other things another time. That’s going to be my catch phrase: I “get to” do it later. It will apply quite seriously to the aspects of my life I like, such as planning public humanities programming or finishing a novel or an article; it will apply ironically to the habitual aspects of my life I’m working to release, like self-flagellation or inventing elaborate responses to absurd and painful situations that have never happened and probably never will. Later, I’ll say. Right now you can play with your kids in the sun; tonight you can come back to that unpleasant FAKE argument you were having with someone IN YOUR HEAD and really finish it off with a sweet one-liner. That’ll show ’em. Er, me. Whatever.
The Joy Plan will also involve chocolate, which goes without saying.
It will involve more walks with people I like; more singing; more saying “yes.” It will include baking and dancing and reading good books and making things out of cloth and yarn. I’ve really slowed down on my crafting lately, and it can’t be good. (I will confess, I made Ezra a pair of pajama pants from dinosaur fleece that he chose, but they’ve gone unreported because, well, they’re a little wide in the leg. Suffice it to say that Len thinks they look like the goat leggings from Dragnet. And he’s not wrong.)
It will involve writing more of the things I WANT to write (polemics against current policy; fake dialogues with people that really need to get out of my head and onto paper; poems, poems, poems). I will worry less about what I imagine people want to hear and more about what I want to say. They tell me that’s how it works best.
What else is involved in joy? I’d like to get back into running, if my shins will cooperate — it just feels free and easy and energizing. I can do anything when I run.
Most of all, it’s an attitude thing. I want a list of good questions to ask myself every day: what am I most looking forward to? What am I most grateful for? What is the most beautiful thing I’ve seen today? What surprised me the most? What can we make today? What can I help someone with today? How can I challenge myself today? How can I share myself today?
What other important questions are there? What other great resources for cultivating joy?
From what I read (in Brene Brown’s terrific, research-based book “Daring Greatly”) joy is an emotion associated with a practice of gratitude, so your questions are great on that front!
Also keep in mind that there are 3 approaches to “happiness” and all too often we are scrambling for the one we most associate with “being happy” – i.e., feeling pleasure. This is not a lasting or highly attainable form of happiness because we get stuck on a hedonic treadmill, always adjusting to the pleasure we have and wanting more.
The other two approaches – flow (deep engagement) and meaning – create lasting “happiness.” But they may not fully “feel” like our societally-constructed version of “happiness” while we’re having them; meaning especially feels distinct from pleasure.
I’m working on readjusting my expectations and accepting a life with fewer pleasures (yes, even chocolate…!) and more flow and meaning.
Love this, Rebecca. It’s always fun to try on other lenses on these issues, and nice to see that the field continues to evolve, too! I am a little concerned about the minimization of chocolate you refer to, but who am I to judge? As long as you’re happy. 🙂 Thanks, as ever, for reading and contributing!