Getting from Here to Happier

I like to think that most days, I am a happy, or at least content, person.  Most things in my life run along smoothly.  I’ve got a loving husband and three happy, healthy daughters; I am on good terms with my extended family, I’m generally in good health, I have enough money, I occasionally get to indulge in my hobbies. But there’s always room for more happy, right? That is the premise of a book I just finished reading called The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin.

Gretchen Rubin seems herself to have a wonderful life.  She lives in New York City, she’s a full-time writer with two young daughters, and she is a bestselling author.  As I read her book, I had to wonder what someone like Rubin, whose life was pretty close to perfect (she readily admits this), could teach me about increasing my happiness.

But teach me a few things Rubin did.  I don’t think I would ever go about making the pursuit of happiness as complicated as she did, with resolution charts and a set of commandments, but she’s got me making a few small changes that do seem to be making me more mindful, if not happier.  And mindfulness is indeed supposed to lead to greater inner peace.  Here are just a few ways I am trying to put some more happy into my life:

1.  “Spending out” and indulging in a “modest splurge.”  Rubin comes to the conclusion that money really can buy happiness.  I am sometimes (okay, often) resistant to spending money, even on small things that will make me happy.  No more (sorry Glop).  I just bought not one, but two pairs of shoes.  I could have just “made do” with my practical brown LL Bean comfort mocs in size ugly, as I have for the past two years, but no way would that make me as happy as having two adorable ballerina flats to choose from this spring.  Not a life-changing or world-changing purchase, but sometimes it really is just the little things that contribute to daily happiness.

2.  “Paying attention.” I am trying to make a real effort to pay attention to my little people when they talk.  It’s really hard sometimes, because they’ll prattle on endlessly about fairies, princesses, school lunch, playground rules, imaginary friends, bad dreams, you name it.  But on the flip side, you never know when they are going to say something super cute.  For example, on the car ride to school the other day, A. was amazed by how many brothers and sisters my late grandmother had.  It being St. Patrick’s Day, and my grandmother having been Irish, she said, “Wow, that’s a lot of Irish in our family!  We’re really Irish.”  It was lost on her that we’re really not, because my grandmother is our only tie to Ireland, but it was funny. Paying attention is both entertaining and, as a bonus, much appreciated by my children, who always sigh with exasperation when they have to tell me something they already told me earlier.

3. Trying new things.  I’ve always noticed I get a bit of a charge from trying a new fitness class, taking up a new hobby, or even trying out a new recipe.  Now that I’ve read The Happiness Project, I’m going to make an effort to try new things even more often.  Ditto meeting new people and going to new places.  I foresee knitting lessons, a chocolate making class, and a turn at making homemade soap in my future.

4.  “Be a treasure house of happy memories.”  This one involves the source of a lot of mommy guilt for me:  take lots of photos, organize said photos, create family traditions, keep your kids artwork, throw family parties, send pictures to the grandparents, record the school play etc.  Preserve and make memories!  But it truly does make you happier in the long run.  I am happy every time I open a photo album, read a journal entry from a long time ago, or come across a keepsake from my childhood.  I kind of abandoned my record-keeping for a while, and haven’t made a photo album since I got pregnant with J.  Poor thing does not even have a baby album.  Rubin has me making more of an effort to be a keeper of my children’s memories and my own.  I try to write in my journal every night, even just a list of the happy moments that occurred during the day. I am finally going to get professional photos taken of the girls this summer, and bring my albums up-to-date.  I will thank myself some day, and so will the girls.

The Happiness Project has me taking actions, and making plans, to lift my mood every day.  Sometimes what I do really works.  Sometimes it doesn’t.  But it is the momentum I’m creating that has my overall happiness quotient going up.

Another blogger I follow recently put together a very comprehensive collection of quotes on happiness (you can find it here).  One that resonates with me:  “Action may not always bring happiness, but there is no happiness without action. ” ― William James.

And one I always need to remember:  “The power of finding beauty in the humblest things makes home happy and life lovely.” ― Louisa May Alcott

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