Thursday, February 9, 2012

Choosing Happiness

Okay, here I am again with another assignment from Kim Klassen for her Beyond Layers class: “Choosing Happiness.” The central idea is to focus on the positive and consciously choose happiness. I get it; it makes sense, but I have to be honest, this is another difficult one for  me. It does not feel that simple.

Also, I was reminded, just a bit, of the time the company I work for, which was dealing with bad news, major set backs, pending patent losses and beginning the process of layoffs of many employees, started passing around a mantra--“Be Optimistic". My boss, who has a sunny personality to start with and does not get why anyone else might not quite think like her was loving this new corporate mantra. She posted optimism posters in our work area, chartered an optimism initiative for our department (no joke), and constantly told us, her subordinates, to 'be optimistic', even in random hallway conversations. I was wondering when she was going to print up smiley face buttons to pass out and have us wear on our shirts to work everyday.

One time in a meeting, I, along with some of my more cynical colleagues (we are a little club of our own) were pointing out what in our opinion were some obvious flaws in some of her suggestions for how proceed on a certain project (granted some of it may very well have come off as belly-aching, but I still think we had a point) and instead of even trying to address our concerns, she said, “come on, guys, be optimistic,” with a big smile on her face. Okay, I get it, just give me my button now; I'll wear it and shut up!

The problem was neither the corporation nor my boss was giving us any reason for this optimism . . . we were just supposed to be it. My reaction was this: "I am not going to be optimistic and you can't make me!" Yes, not very mature of me, but, you know, I was mostly right.

As I wrote in one of my six-word stories: "I'm not optimistic, but that's okay." I consider myself a realist, most of the time. I'm not necessarily always a pessimist; sometimes I am, but usually it is not that extreme. I just don’t see the world in black and white. For me, almost everything is gray and nuanced. I think most things and most situations are simultaneously good and bad. Life is just that way. Sure there is a matter of perspective and attitude. I suppose I could force myself to see only the good and ignore the bad or the potential for bad. I could find a way to really buy into all those ‘positive-thinking' and 'self-validating' placards and posters and photos with happy messages that many of my Facebook friends have taken to putting up daily on their walls, but in the back I my mind, it is always there: 'exactly who are you trying to convince?'

I am not trying to be a pain or a wet blanket here. The thing is even though optimism and happiness do have some correlation, I don't think it is a given that a person who is not optimistic is unhappy. Am I happy? Yes, in general, I am. Sometimes, I am very happy; sometimes everything is fine, but I'm just okay and sometimes I'm unhappy. It all feels like it evens out and leads to a certain contentedness and satisfaction overall. I have come to the conclusion that overall happiness, for me, comes with accepting that all of this is okay. Things are not going to be perfect; things are not always going to be exciting; things are not always going to be easy and there will be tons of things that make me unhappy and sometimes I am going to be bored out of my skull--not for a lack of work that I could do but because it is just not happening. But, then, there are tons of things that make me happy (yes, I will get to my list; it is very long) and many times things are going to be absolutely great. And sometimes things will be happening.

Also, before anyone reading this from Kim's class thinks that I am totally missing the point, well, maybe, but I do understand what she was saying and I do understand about choosing to be happy . . . about it being largely about attitude. I know I can adjust my attitude and sometimes, I should, but I can also say that some of my realism has served me well. When I do not expect too much and do not think  it is just a given that things will go well, I am often either pleasantly surprised or (more often) am my determined and work harder to make it be what I want. Now, this is not always the case. I do sometimes fail outright. That is okay, too. As my son's teacher tells to her class, 'failure leads to success' and sometimes the blow is not as hard to take when it was expected. Sometimes it is easier to get up and laugh it off . . . after all, I knew this would happen, right?

What strikes me most about Kim's words, though, is the notion of owning the situation; the notion of taking charge, the notion of deciding to be happy in the moment, so here's the thing, even if you aren't happy (I don't know how many people are happy doing dishes, for example, but also, it is not that bad and it has to be done so it is all just a wash . . . so to speak . . .right (get it?) ). Anyway, it is the action of taking charge and owning it--no matter what it is--that really matters--you may not want to do that, but hey, you have to, so, do it right.  I think that can lead to happiness; it can for me.

I heard an interview Michelle Martin did with RuPaul on her NPR radio show Tell Me More. I know nearly nothing about this man (though I understand he is a drag queen. I just don't know specifically what he does. I am one of those people who could be rightly accused of living in a hole due to my lack of knowledge about certain current pop culture trends and icons), but some of the things he said in this interview really resonated with me. At the end of the interview, Michelle asked him what words of advice he had for people. He said something along the lines of (not an exact quote) 'live in the now because it is now when you have the power. The second you slip into thinking about the past or the future, you lose that power.' To me, that is something. I'm not sure I am there yet, but, yes, that is where I want to be.

I do not know why I wrote all this. I don't even know if it all makes any sense. What am I trying to say? I think maybe that happiness is not just a given. It does not just happen to the lucky people. You can choose happiness, yes, but you also have to work  for it; you have to take charge. So all of that and I get to my happiness list. I can be totally on board because that, to me, is taking charge and the action of making that list solidifies for me, that no matter what, it is all worth while. (And I won't bother with an unhappiness list . . . maybe I'll save that for another day . . . or, maybe, for never!)

These are the things that make me happy:
  • Music from my favorite artists, especially if I can see the musician live.
  • Pandora radio.
  • Running outside with music blasting in my ears on my ipod.
  • Measuring cups and spoons.
  • The giggles of my son and daughter.
  • My son's pride in himself after getting a gold medal in Kata at his first karate tournament.
  • Printing out and framing a photo that I, myself, took and thinking it looks pretty good.
  • Collaborating on a project at work and having an outcome that matters to people, small or big.
  • My son's joy at getting a new football in the mail and inviting his sister out to play with him.
  • My son's objective view of the world, which, to him, is black and white and that is okay.
  • The smell of garlic and onions cooking.
  • Bowls of soup.
  • Snow.
  • Frost.
  • Dew.
  • Flowers.
  • Butterflies.
  • Dragonflies.
  • Frogs.
  • Chocolate.
  • Coffee.
  • Red wine.
  • Herbal tea.
  • Open windows in the spring and summer.
  • My kitty cats.
  • Vacations at Raquette Lake, New York.
  • Spring breaks at Grayton Beach, Florida.
  • Vacations at Lake Pend O'Reille, Idaho where we all together are still finishing building the new cabin and fixing up the old ones.
  • Get togethers of any kind with extended family.
  • The videos that my husband makes of our family events.
  • The winter holiday season (all of the holidays during that time and the way that everyone comes together in joy for the season).
  • Giving to charity.
  • Watching my kids sled down a hill.
  • Watching my kids wade into an Indiana creek fully dressed because it is so hot.
  • Watching my daughter jump into every mud puddle she can find on a hike through the woods.
  • Spontaneous kisses from my daughter.
  • Having a beer in a local brew pub.
  • Sitting under a blanket with the whole family, watching a movie.
  • Making someone laugh.
  • Someone making me laugh.
  • A job well done (or sometimes just  . . . done).
  • Taking and editing photographs.
  • Heartfelt messages from contacts on Flickr, Facebook or blogs.
  • Connecting with complete strangers on Flickr, but feeling like we can be friends.
  • My health.
  • My real life friends.
  • My husband.
  • My life. 


  1. Wow. I'm trying to find my words.. I know I am impacted by my life and circumstances, as we all are. I plan to post on that days assignment even though it wasn't stated. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Gale, thanks for even reading it :) I know it is not really what was intended by the assignment (actually I doubt Kim even wants us to consider them assignments, but I work better that way!), but there you have it. Still not sure it makes sense, but it's just a blog . . . haha.