Monday, April 5, 2010

Deciding to be happy

Here is something I think about:  Sometimes I feel guilty talking about how happy I feel when a lot of the reasons I'm happy are just my own good luck.  I have my health, two healthy kids, a loving husband, and I was raised in a safe place with an adoring family.   I'd like to think I could maintain a level of happiness even with hardship in my life, but I haven't really been put to the test yet.   I do, however,  believe that happiness goes beyond circumstance; it is an attitude that we choose to adopt and maintain. 

I love Elizabeth Gilbert.  I'm a little embarrassed to tell you how much I love her.  Everything I read by her about love or life or religion, I think:  "Yeah, I totally think that too."  I feel the same way about Anna Quindlan, by the way, who writes about politics for Newsweek.  If I'm not sure what I think about something, I just have to check to see what Elizabeth Gilbert or Anna Quindlan says about it, and then I'm like:  "Okay, now I understand how I feel."

Here is a passage that I highlighted in Eat, Pray, Love.

"Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings. And once you have achieved a state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it. You must make a mighty effort to keep swimming upward into that happiness forever, to stay afloat on top of it."  - Elizabeth Gilbert

Yeah, I totally think that too.

Because all of my basic needs are met (home, health, love, food) the things that have the potential to make me unhappy are really just daily annoyances.  And I have to use some pro-active strategies to make sure that I keep on top of my happiness.  I have to remind myself to be softer and more patient, for example.    Leave the house in the morning and say to Sam:  "Have a good day.  I love you" and not say in a bitchy voice: "don't forget to blah blah blah."  Being nicer makes me happy, and everyone around me.  Go figure.

One strategy that I recently read about in two places, one was I can't remember where, and the other is in the most recent edition of Runner's World, is re-framing all of my possible annoyances, tiring responsibilities, and endless activities with the phrase:  "I get to..."

I get to make dinner for my kids. I can afford to, and I'm able to.

I get to go for a run.  My body is healthy and strong enough. I get to train for a marathon.
I even try:  I get to run up that hill, which doesn't work as well.

I get to be married to Sam.  I get to share my life with him.   I get to spend the day with my kids.  I get to pick up my kids from school.  I get to choose the food my kids eat for lunch.  I get to tuck them into bed.

My house needs work and painting, but we get to work on it this summer.  And oh yeah, I get to have a house.

I have also found that each year I get older, the happier I am (and I've always been pretty happy, except in middle school, but who was?).  My happiness now, though, comes from a deeper place, and doesn't depend on my situation as much as it did during my 20s.   I have had some hilarious conversations with my high school students trying to convince them of this phenomenon (that I could possibly be happy about being 36!).  To them, the mere thought of being in their 30s is totally depressing, and when I tell them I wouldn't go back to my 20s even if I could, they don't get it at all. 

I tell them that getting older lets me know myself better.  I know how I like to spend my time, and I know what kind of people I want to be around.  I know what I care about, and I'm less afraid to say no to things I don't want to spend my time doing.  My wise friend Tori often tells me:  "You have a finite amount of energy to give out to the world, and you decide where it goes."  Right.  Sometimes I need reminding of that one.  Sometimes I forget not to worry about what other people think of me. 

I am deliberate about not complaining (I don't complain very often, right?).  And I actively stay away from people who complain a lot. 

And then there are little things:  Fresh flowers make me happy, so I buy them even though it's money we could spend elsewhere.  Even though it's hard to get out the door sometimes, I have learned that the happiness effect of a good run lasts all day.  Sharing my love of the Red Sox with Sam and drinking beer together and talking about the players makes me so happy.  Jonathan Papelbon.  He makes me happy.  Beating the Yankees on opening night:  happy.  If I made a list of all the things that make me happy, it would be too long.  And that makes me happy.

What small or big things do you do for yourself that make you happy?


Sarah said...

Me being happy:
Running for a long, long time on a trail.
Being outside with my family o' boys.
Doing dishes and looking out my window. The view is unbeatable.
Welcoming the change of seasons in little ways: the nature table, stories, and festivals.
Watching Waldorf education work so beautifully.
Having dear, dear friends who know me and love me anyway.
Coffee in the morning.
Getting up when it's still dark and quiet in the world and in my house.
Practicing asana and breathing in that perfect moment.
Watching my kids share and include each other.
Being inspired by other people whom i love and admire!

ann said...

All I can say is that at age 70 I am as happy as you are Emilie. I have discovered that no matter how old you are there are things that make you happy and one's job is to capture those things and dwell on them and forget those other things that are trivial!

We choose our emotional states!

SNW said...

DOGS make me happy!

Tiercy said...

great reflective post Em. Are you going to see the movie? Elizabeth Gilbert oughta be happy...Julia Roberts is who plays her in her life movie.

Joanne said...

Thanks Emilie for sharing your thoughts. You are reflective, honest and courageous, and completely right about getting older - I would add having no regrets! I haven't read Eat, Pray, Love yet . . . on my list.

I am constantly making the choice to be happy, pro-active and "being nicer" (a child helps in all of that!) Something you may like are the writings of Don Miguel Ruiz - (beginning with) "The Four Agreements". Part of this involves the making the choice between happiness and fear on each and every situation in one's life.

I really like the reframing of "I get to. . . !
I get to scoop dog poop in sunny, 85 degree (truly - odd) weather with my son and chase him in the green grass!

Natalie said...

I love this. I definitely just tagged it in a blog post of my own.

I'm glad that I ...
Get to enjoy my job.
Get to walk my dog.
Get to take care of my Nana.
Get to teach a book I LOVE this year.
Get to read your blog.

And I could keep going, but I've been sitting here for almost an hour, so my eyes are burning. But, I am glad that I get to write!

Donna said...

Emilie I loved this post. It really speaks volumes to me at this time. People are wondering why I'm not crumbling, why I'm not curled up in a ball howling, how I can keep going with a smile on my face.

I get to

See Jonah smile
cuddle his soft baby body
watch him learn
see his brothers love him
teach him I am there
see the world through his eyes
teach others about autism
see wonder in things that pass others by

So much more.

Thank you my friend.

ambinlovewlove said...

encouraging my children to laugh makes me happy...children's laughter period makes me happy...finishing a run makes me happy...a freshly baked loaf of bread straight from the machine...hiking with the kids...teaching/learning new things...reading/writing/running/dancing/singing...summer vacation...the beach...connecting with friends whom I love and remembering together...this blog...I could go on but I have to save something for my letter to Cherise LOL

Michelle said...

Being hapy is truly a decision isn't it? Kind of like chosing to love those who at first glance seem to be unlovable.

I love the "I get to" phrase! It has been so attitude altering for me. Lately I feel so good when I run that I can't help exclaiming in the middle of a run "I GET to do this!!" After a winter of babying my knee and short tentative runs anything longer than 3 miles makes me giddy with thankfulness and excitement that I have a body that is working and achieving new goals every day!

I get to:
~watch my kids smile
~love my husband
~enjoy sloppy dog kisses
~teach my son to read
~Listen as my kids read to me
~be the wife of a basketball coach who led his team through an undefeated season to win the state title
~be alive
~READ your blog!!
~watch Survivor
This list could go on forever!