How to be Happy?

I was talking to a friend who mentioned that she identified with my post on contentment.  We got to talking about why exactly we have such a problem accepting happiness now and she stated it very well:

“It feels like giving up. Or rather, like admitting that maybe this is it.”

That is exactly it.  Being happy feels like giving up.

I talked to Mr. W about this and he explained things using a pretty good analogy.  The other week I bought a lavender plant.  I was pretty excited about this plant, as my Googling had told me that spiders hate the smell of lavender.  I brought it home and Googled the specific kind of lavender it was only to find out that it wasn’t actually lavender, but some “fake lavender”.  Not cool, plant-naming people.  Not cool.  So now I am not happy with this plant.  I had placed it in the spideriest corner outside my house and it is most assuredly dying from neglect, surrounded by spiders chortling at my failed attempt to oust them.

However, if it had been an actual lavender plant and had spread its lavender-scented goodness all over the place, making spiders run away in terror in the process, then I would have been very happy with this plant.  I would have taken care of it–watered it, trimmed it, and kept it alive.  When you are happy with something you want to keep it around.  You want to improve it.  You want it to be the best that it can be.

So not at all like any of the things I’m worried about if I let myself be happy about something.  In fact, just the opposite.

For Sunday lunch I met with a different friend and we had a great time talking about a wide variety of things, one of which was the idea of happiness.  At one point he asked me, “In a perfect world where you could have anything, what would really make you happy?”  At first, I had no answer for him.  I could not think of anything.  Thankfully, though, writing then came to mind.  There was some quote I heard once, and am too lazy to look up now, that went something like, “The thing you really love to do you would do for free.”  And for me that’s writing.

In high school I created a fictional, humorous newsletter for my friends.  I would write articles about made-up things that happened to them and distribute it.  I did this on a weekly basis (though later I think we went to monthly).  I got others involved, having them write guest posts, and even had two regular writers who worked on articles just about as much as I did.

Also in high school I declared my closet an independent country (it’s a long story) and my friends were honorary citizens.  We’d get together monthly and have meetings, with real minutes and everything.  Then I went away to college and we could not have actual meetings anymore so I wrote fictional meetings and emailed them out to everyone.  People loved getting these.  In my country’s heyday, we had around 20 members.  (It may not sound like a lot, but remember we are talking about a country the size of walk-in closet.  Quite frankly we had an over-population problem.)

I have written this blog, in its many iterations, since 2002.  I was not paid for any of these things.  I did it, and do it, because I love it.  Knowing that other people are reading, and hopefully enjoying, something I have written makes me feel good.

So to answer his question, which I did a shitty job of when he asked: I want to provide for myself with my writing, and to have that writing shared with and enjoyed by people.  Hell, even if I am never able to provide for myself–even if all the novels I write get posted to only this website–I would still feel good knowing people were reading it and enjoying it.

The second part of my answer was that I want to travel.  Ideally to live in other countries, but even if it was just to visit would be great.  When I went to Rome on my honeymoon, I spent a lot of time reflecting in the Coliseum.  To stand where some many people had stood, so long ago.  A place where many people fought and died.  I think history is fascinating and would love to experience more of it.

So that’s my tentative answer for now.  In the meantime, I’m still trying to figure out happiness now.  I was researching a lot of articles on happiness earlier for this post (time well spent, obviously, as I am using only one now that I am sitting down to actually write this post) and found this interesting article from the New Statesman on the Pursuit of Happiness.

The article says, “Psychologists have come up with a scientific term for happiness called ‘subjective-well being (SWB)’, which is defined as a person’s cognitive and affective evaluations of his or her life. According to a 2012 paper on SWB, these evaluations include emotional responses to stimuli as well as cognitive judgements on what is satisfying and fulfilling. So SWB is a combination of life satisfaction and feelings of fulfilment.

In identifying SWB across people in the real world, it was found that roughly 50 per cent of our happiness is determined by our genes, 40 per cent by our daily activities and the remaining 10 per cent by our circumstances – so what you choose to do with the 40 per cent is entirely up to you.”

Here is a list of some things that apparently make you happier, based off the stats in the article’s infographic. Feel free to try any or all of those and tell me if they helped:

  • Eat turkey, fish, milk, and bananas
  • Spend 20 minutes a day outside in nice weather
  • Get married
  • Become a clergyman, actor, architect, or firefighter
  • Become less of a consumer
  • Move to Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands, or Australia
  • Keep your thermostat at 57 degrees
  • Be healthy
  • Don’t have children
  • Exercise
  • Get enough sleep
  • Attend a church service every week
  • Spend 2 hours a week helping people in your community
  • Make more than $20,000 per year

Get out there and make the most of your 40%.

What do you think?