Friday, December 18, 2009

The Secret to Happiness

I used to facilitate several therapy groups (addicts and alcoholics in early recovery) and on occassion I would catch the members' attention by claiming to know "THE" secret to happiness. Once everyone was quietly attentive, I'd share. It was simple, but not easy: "Do the next right thing". Groans would erupt. But wait, let me finish, I'd say. If one does the next right thing in every moment, it leads to amazing contentment. It's just not an easy way of life to sustain.

My theory was that doing "bad" things, no matter how small (i.e. leaving no sheets on the roll of toilet paper for the next poor sap who sits down) eats away at one's self esteem, one little chip at a time. Sometimes even subconsciously, without one realizing it. This creates the belief that one is "not a good person" and bad people don't deserve to be happy. Plus the world ends up being a negative place and generally sucks.

Conversely, if one changes the roll in anticipation of the next person, the "next right thing" to do in that case, the opposite happens... one starts believing one is a "good" person, and that feels.. well... GOOD. Do enough of these small right things in a row, like for weeks, and all of a sudden one realizes: 'Hey. I'm HAPPY DAMN IT."

I've actually done the next right thing for a few months at a time and it really works. Take it from me, a person who generally languishes in a borderline depression since 1985. Now, a day or two won't do it, it has to become a way of life. But it works.

From the article "How To Get Really Happy" by Julia Allison:

"We’re all too quick to “postpone the intense self-examination and decision-making necessary to create a life of enjoyment.” What do we do instead? Distract ourselves with the idea that more money (or losing weight, or getting married) will make us happy.

So what’s the fastest way to really—really—figure out what makes you a happy camper?

Start a list. (Groan) I know, I know. Another list, just what you need. But seriously. You make excruciatingly detailed lists for the grocery store, the IRS, and your wedding. The least you could do is write down a few things that led directly to joy on your part. None of this “the end justifies the means” stuff (you’re not allowed to write anything that “might one day” make you happy. It has to create contentment right then and there.)

And stop with the big things. “My apartment” is too … vague. “My boyfriend” is too general. What about your apartment makes you happy? The way the light streams through the windows at 7:30 a.m.? The fact that you can’t hear your neighbors—ever? Your tiny little balcony, on which you fell asleep last Saturday night, on a blanket, because no chairs fit out there? That’s the sort of thing you should write down.

If you get stuck, think of this very cheesy reminder—Maria in The Sound of Music, singing about “her favorite things.” It seems a bit juvenile, but I promise, as you write down the silly little pieces of life that truly make you happy, I bet you’ll realize you’re happier than you think. And as you do, you’ll begin to notice that happiness is a choiceand it’s a positive feedback loop. As you choose to see the little things that bring you joy, you’ll start to see more of them, which will in turn, make you happier.

I remember reading somewhere that “happiness requires cultivation.” Take the time to cultivate your happiness. After all, what could be more important than that?"

I guess the secret to happiness is doing the next right thing, and an attitude of gratitude for what you already have.

In the spirit of self examination, here are a few things that bring me joy:

- Seeing Charlie wake up (her rosy cheeks, her smile, her bright eyes, her chirpy voice)

- Lying in bed with my three dogs, one behind my back, one with her muzzle fitted onto my side, one by my feet.

- Cooking something I think is turning out great.

- Having a free afternoon with nothing to do but read or waste time on the Internet.

- Watching Charlie form new words (the perfect "circle" of her lips when she says "no-no-nose" and points her chubby forefinger to smoosh her nose.)

- Christmas morning!

What is one of your joyful moments? Why don't you share one thing here and see if you can spread it. I may get some ideas from you.


Chrissy said...

the way my dog, Sadie, greets me when I come home!! :-)

Kiki said...

This is sort of off topic, but then again maybe not. So as you know we put a little piece of candy in the kid's stockings each morning from Dec. 6th on because that is St. Nicholas day and we are part Dutch and that is how the Dutch do it. Anyway, this has always caused a little problem with the kids going to school asking the other kids what they got in their stocking that day and the other kids not knowing what the heck our kids were talking about. Well, this morning the thing I fear would happen, happened. We forgot to put something in their stockings and Olivia looked so sad. We tried to cover it by saying that Virgil was up really late baking cookies for my cookie exchange at work today so maybe Santa couldn't get to the stockings without him being seen. Then we quickly hid something in her sneaker so when she went to put it on we said, "Oh, Santa must have put it there so Daddy wouldn't see him." I think she bought it but her little face was so sad when there was nothing in her stocking and then so happy when she found it in her shoe. I love watching the face of a child who believes in Santa and I love that I can make that face happen by "playing" Santa. My happy moment for the day! :-)

Nobody said...

my heart never fails to melt when i cradle my daughter in my arms, and she gets so comfortable and sleepy that her eyes involuntary close, and she starts to fall asleep but is struggling to stay awake. it is so precious... it only works when they're toddlers small enough to hold, so it's only a temporary thing, and i'm trying to hold every moment dear to my heart.

i also love to watch my son put together his legos. it's so neat to see this kid whom i watched go from a squalling, helpless infant to a very independant young boy struggle to put together a complex lego creation. it's neat.

last one of this comment... i love to watch my daughter dance. it's amazingly sweet because she just loves music so much, she can't help but move to it.

i guess i just like watching my children and everything they do.

Adopting1Soon said...

Love these two comments so far! I hope lots and lots of folks share at least one thing that brings them joy.
Kiki, I can just picture O's face.... and Chrissy, my dogs are so rambuncious when I get home... I wish I liked it but it's total chaos.

Cathy said...

I LOVE the huge grin and giggles I get when I pick Kiya up from daycare. No matter how terrible my day may have been I look so forward to that. It warms my heart.

I love how my pugs like to snuggle in bed.

I love how one on my daughter's first words is daw (dog) and how she laughs and hugs the pugs any chance she gets.

JT and Natalie said...

You posted on my blog that you would like a Christmas ornament. Just send me an email with how many you would like. Also if you would like your childs name on it, let me know. My email is Also let me know your address bc we are mailing again in Monday! You can pay by check or the paypal button on our blog. I can't wait to sit down and read your journey.

Long Journey Big Dreams said...

Great topic! I would say one of my favorite things is being wrapped in a blanket watching the big snow flakes fall. Second would be lying on the carpet in the sun spot -- you know much like cats do :)