My Keys to Happiness

Last week at the gym, I tried listening to a podcast instead of music while I was running.  I didn’t like it.  I need the beat of the music.  But, the podcast I listened to was really interesting.  It was a TedTalk on the study of happiness.  This guy had done research and found that people were happier when they were focused on the task at hand, even if it wasn’t a task they were particularly fond of.  When minds wander, we become less happy, according to the study.

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Considering I was running/hyperventilating/dying on a treadmill at the time, I couldn’t imagine having to focus on the running/hyperventilating/dying that I was doing.  I WANTED my mind to wander at that moment because who wants to concentrate while they are slowly dying?

But over the past week, I have done my own little experiment on focusing on what I’m doing in the pursuit of happiness (or happier-ness) and you know what?  IT WORKS.  Concentrating on talking to my kids while I am sitting in traffic, instead of checking my phone or mentally going through all the stuff I have to do when we finally get home has made Orlando summer tourist traffic much more bearable.  Thinking about my schoolwork for the online class I am taking this summer, instead of trying to multitask and get other things done at the same time, has made the class go by much quicker.  Paying attention to my breathing, my legs, my form as I run has made my time at the gym much more productive and intentional than when I try to distract myself.

This whole discovery of being intentional with what I am doing has led me to think about happiness in my life.  Where I find it, how I create it, when I lose it, why I crave it.  And I have realized there are certain keys to my own happiness that I have finally zeroed in on over the past year or two.

  1. Spontaneity – This surprises me because I am actually a very organized, list-oriented person.  I love a good calendar and long-term plan.  But I have learned to find the balance of sometimes making that list and then throwing the whole damn thing out the window.  I need spur of the moment fun in my life.  When I can drop everything on a whim and go have ice cream for dinner at Disney Springs (like I did last night with the kids), it reminds me how insignificant little worries really are because I can put them on hold when I want.  Oddly enough, spontaneity makes me feel like I have more control over my life.

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2. Routine – This seems to completely contradict the spontaneity thing, but I have found that having a balance between sudden adventures or changes and the stability of a regular routine in our home life brings me incredible peace and happiness.  Knowing that there is a time set aside for everything that matters takes away the stress of worrying if I’ll get it all done.  I’ve also learned in the past few years to trust my schedule.  I used to try to get everything done the minute I thought about it.  This left me chasing projects and tasks all over my house, and usually leaving them half down in the process before something else I needed to do came running through my mind.  Now, when those random projects and task pop into my mind (birthday presents I need to buy, phone calls I need to make, emails I need to send, etc.), I write them down in my planner, instead of trying to take care of them on the spot.  Much like the spontaneity, this helps me feel like I have some control over things and makes me feel PROactive, instead of REactive.

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3.  Saying Yes – A few summers ago, I did this thing called “The Summer of Yes,” where I tried to not to say no all summer long.  Because why say no when you can say yes?  It was really incredible what that summer did for me as both a mom and a person.  I learned that saying no is how a controlling person maintains control.  But saying yes allows other people to take a little control for themselves.  My kids want to eat outside?  Why not?  Chris wants to plant a satsuma tree in the middle of our backyard?  Okay!  My students want to have class outside instead of in the classroom?  Alrighty then!  I can’t say yes all the time or mass chaos would ensue.  But I have really learned that happiness lives in those seconds just before I say no, when I stop to actually think about what has just been asked of me, and I realize that I CAN say yes and the world won’t end.  The freedom of yes has brought a lot of unexpected happiness into my life.

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4. Hobbies – I need things in my life that bring ME joy.  Not bring my family joy, not bring my kids joy, not being joy to my workplace, or joy to my friends.  I need things that fill ME up.  Over the past two years, I have tried out all kinds of hobbies.  I have crocheted, cross-stitched, played with adult coloring books, and tons of other things.  I’m always up for trying something new, but the ones that bring me consistent, continual joy are reading, writing, and running. Those things just make me happy, and knowing that helps me on those days that are anything less than happy because I know how to cheer MYSELF up.  I don’t rely on other people to do that for me.  I know what brings me personal joy, and that’s a powerful thing to have discovered about myself.

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5. God – Whenever I am having an “off” period of time, where nothing seems to fill me with joy or happiness, I usually realize that I’m also having an “off” period of time with God.  I’m not listening or praying enough, and that directly impacts the happiness and joy in my life, more than anything else.  Putting my worries, doubts, fears, and anxieties in Someone else’s hands makes room for more peace, contentment, happiness, and joy in my life.

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6. Chris – Similarly to my relationship with God, if all is not well with Chris and I, then my happiness levels plummet.  I need time with Chris to talk, connect, grow, laugh, and love.  We have busy lives with happy, active children, and thriving careers.  These things bring joy and happiness in their own ways, but they can also bring lots of stress.  On those days, it is Chris that I can turn to to help carry the load.  Whether it’s talking about our work days while we cook dinner together, or the giant bowl of ice cream he brings me without me even asking, or wrapping our legs altogether like kudzu vines while we sleep, our marriage brings happiness to all areas of my life.

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7. Embracing who I am – I take too many pictures.  I’m THAT mom, chasing her kids around the playground, screaming, “SAY CHEESE!” and “SMILE LIKE YOU MEAN IT!”  It’s who I am.  And I love social media.  I do.  It’s fun.  I over post and overshare, but it’s who I am.  I also really love science-fiction and fantasy books.  Nothing better than a “Game of Thrones” or “Lord of the Rings” type book to me.  Nerdy?  Yes, but it’s who I am.  I don’t buy organic food, I play on my phone while my kids are at the splash pad, I take a nap every afternoon during the summer, and I use paper plates when I don’t feel like doing the dishes.  Judge away.  Letting go of the things I am supposed to be doing in order to be a “good mom” or “good wife” or a “good person,” has brought me such happiness.  But it’s not just letting go of those things that brings the most satisfaction.  It’s truly embracing and loving these things about myself that brings joy to my life.

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The pursuit of happiness is a life-long journey.  In every stage of my life, happiness has looked different.  But the real key to happiness is knowing what makes you happy at this moment in time.  What makes me happy today, didn’t make me happy five years ago and probably won’t make me happy five years from now.  And that’s okay.  We grow and change, and our happiness does, too.  But being aware of what brings you happiness is the important part.

I’m a happy girl.  I lead a happy life.  I have a happy family.

Life is good today.

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