What really makes us happy?
I’m closing in on a year of doing my #joyproject. A daily discipline of making myself remember what gave me a bit of joy in the last 24 hours is making me think a lot about what is really important to me, as opposed to what I think – or society thinks – should make me happy.
One thing I’m pretty sure of is that it’s not the big events, the exotic vacations, or the financial windfalls that make for happiness. It’s little things, sometimes odd things.
For example, out of all those daily posts (about 350 of them by now) about joyful moments, there’s one I never forget about. Here it is:
A yellow balloon
Escapes, rebounds off high wires,
Soars east in blue sky.
Watching that balloon float away was a perfect moment. For that short bit of time, everything was right in the world.
I saw it when I was out on a walk in my neighborhood. Nothing unusual about the time or place – I walk up that street almost every day. But the funny thing is that except for seeing that balloon, I was miserable that day. I saw it on April 13, which means it happened while I was agonizing over my taxes.
I suspect that means that neither misery nor happiness are continuous states. You get bits of joy even when you’re suffering. You have depressing experiences even when your life is mostly going well.
I bring this up now because we’re in the throes of the holiday season, a time when there is a lot of social pressure to have a good time. We’re supposed to give – and get – the perfect gifts. When that doesn’t happen – and it often doesn’t – we feel disappointed. How can she not like that gift I spent so much time finding? How can he think I’d like something like that?
Also, we tend to gather with our families and the families of our loved ones. Even if you have excellent relationships with most of your relatives, those gatherings can be difficult at times. And most of us have some kinfolks that we wish belonged to some other tribe.
Then there’s New Year’s Eve, which I suspect is second only to Valentine’s Day in the angst it causes those who aren’t in a perfect relationship. Not having fancy plans for New Year’s Eve is akin to not having a date for the prom in high school. I suspect very few people have memories of sheer joy that actually happened at a New Year’s party, but we are encouraged to think that’s the place for it.
As I sat here writing, my sweetheart walked by and kissed me. That’s a nice tidbit of joy. And it reminds me that this relationship – which has brought me a lot of happiness – came about because he sent me a fan email about something I’d written. And I responded.
I just looked back at our initial exchange, which was all about co-ops and road trips and feminist science fiction. I recall that getting that first email brought me joy, not just because someone read and liked what I wrote, but because it was obvious that he shared some interests and values with me. Since a few minutes ago (before he kissed me) he said, “Have I ever told you how lucky I am?” (which he often tells me), I suspect that my reply brought him joy as well.
There was nothing romantic in that first interchange. In truth, I pretty much had to be hit over the head (metaphorically, of course) after we met in person a year later before I realized that this was a romance. But I know that I looked forward to the emails we exchanged that first year and that many of them brought me joy.
So if the pressure to have the perfect holiday is getting you down, remember to look for the little things that bring moments of perfect joy. It should help you have not just happy holidays, but a happy life even on those days when the whole world seems to be falling apart around you.
And if you want to start your own #joyproject, go right ahead.