a conscious endeavor in happiness

I have been generally dissatisfied with life in the last two months, and I have felt a significant lack of control. It’s been frustrating, and a friend who recognized the low attitude recommended me to The Postmasculine Guide to Happiness. It that “you can’t change your circumstances until you believe you control them” – and in that control, you may also an extra bit of happiness, regardless of the outcome.

This article is a fantastic article which explores how we create (and sometimes undermine) happiness in our own lives. It explains that a person’s baseline of happiness in life is not determined by external factors (possessions, winning the lottery, traumatic events), but instead by how much control that person has over his or her life. As such, an individual can take actions to raise that baseline, effectively taking responsibility for his or her own happiness.

Rewriting Happiness

One interesting point, I found, is that we are bad about remembering what makes us happy: we tend to generalize our feelings so that they become a memory of a memory.* I love this concept of rewriting our own history through the retelling of stories to both ourselves and to others; often, what we remember is quite different from what occurred.

To me, this means something much greater: in effect, we can begin rewriting our history as soon as it begins by choosing to focus on the positive, commonly known as the “silver lining.” I met a girl at Lindy Focus who recorded a memory every day in a note on her phone; it was just a line or two, but she had kept this little mini-journal for a year and seemed to really enjoy the endeavor. I have since picked up my pen every night to do the same. Moreover, I try to focus on the positive; I mean, if I’m only going to write down one sentence, then happy is the way to go.

Here’s the best part: without looking at my journal, I would say I’ve really only had three to five bad days this year – days where the negative was so overwhelming that it overwhelmed everything else. And if you asked me how my year’s been going, I would say it’s actually been one of the best in my life, even considering the dissatisfaction I’ve had with the last two months or so.

Happiness through Personal Successes

Another inadvertent action I have been taking all year is the monthly accomplishment of various goals. In fact, the month I have felt least in control (and generally less happy) is July, and I think you can see easily see the general lack of enthusiasm. I barely set goals in the first place, I’ve barely gone running, and I’ve barely updated my blog. I have not felt that any of my goals this month were new or inspiring, and I have been frustrated with my lack of personal growth.

The best thing I can do to combat this stagnant and discouraged feeling is to fight back. I have created a schedule for writing which I think I can follow. I am solidifying plans for the goals for August (and I’m already excited about goals for September, which include the use of a real kitchen!). Most importantly, I am not taking “I’m too busy” for an excuse – especially when it comes to running.

External Validation of Happiness

It is strange to talk about external validation of happiness on this blog – if I’m honest, at least part of my motivation for writing comes from the joy I find when I look at my statistics page. But since a young age, I have written for a personal release. I would write this blog even if the only people reading were my parents – which, for a very long time, was exactly the case.

Regardless, in following with the article, I see that this blog would likely be more rewarding if I elevate the importance of internal validation over external validation in the publishing of blog posts. As such, I have created a schedule which, if followed, I feel will be quite rewarding, and as such establish a pattern of internal validation.

In addition, I am trying to think of other places I seek external validation, and how I might change the focus. In particular, I am looking at dance, where a great deal of how I judge my success is in the validation and acknowledgement of others. I can change that – I just need to figure out how.

Happiness of Things

The final thing I want to talk about is the concept that personal possessions actually undermine our happiness. The article emphasizes that we overestimate both the value of what we do not have, as well as the pain of losing what we do. Two people have recently inspired me to look into the devaluation of material items, even before I read this article.

First, my brother is easily one of the happiest people I know, and he pretty much lives out of his truck with his girlfriend and dog. I think a large part of his hapiness is due to his lack of attachment to material possessions: sure, he loves his favorite pair of comfy, tacky pants, but if he loses them, he’s not terribly upset. After all, they were just comfy, tacky pants.

Second, I have been following the blog Fear.Less, about the challenging journey of a young woman “to live with less fear” and “more simplicity.” She is focusing on minimalism as a tool to live a simpler lifestyle, which in turn she hopes will lead to a greater quality of life. I find her efforts both terrifying and inspiring: happiness with what she has, rather than feeding the desire of wanting more.

As I get ready to move to my new abode, I plan on eliminating a great deal of what I do not need. Not only will it ease the process of moving, but maybe it will trim down the material desires which have the potential to cloud my happiness? We’ll see.

Conclusions

I think I have a lot to learn about happiness. I consider myself a generally happy person, and I think others would say the same – but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t be happier. In fact, I think a conscious decision about cultivating happiness is a healthy idea – one from which many people I know could benefit.

Right now, I’m planning on reading a book called The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin (donated by a friend!), in hopes to solidify some ideas which are still forming in my head. If I figure anything out, I’ll make sure to pass it on.

***

*I once went on a sleep over with a girl named Laura when I was very young – maybe seven or eight years old. She criticized how I dressed, and to this day, I am embarrassed and conscious of what she said; in fact, I blame the ending of our friendship entirely on her criticism, though I am sure there are many other contributing factors – we were young, after all, and easily scorned.

The journey to happiness? Begins with some awesome sunglasses, apparently.

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2 thoughts on “a conscious endeavor in happiness

  1. Great post and good insights! I agree that the greatest sucker of happiness is the victim-mentality…that everything bad happens to you and there is nothing you can do about it. people who buy into that are miserable and miserable to be around!

    Lemme share mine (briefly and on a iPhone, so forgive errors!) I find that my happiness level is directly proportional to the level of energy I spend focused on others rather than myself. For example (among many other reasons) I ind myself happier when I have a boyfriend, because I have someone to constantly direct my energy towards making them happy, enjoying, helping, supporting, and putting my own ‘what I overwstimate will make me happy’ after someone else’s. In dancing, I read a blog once that said something to the effect that the writer tried to make every dance the best dance for the one s/he was dancin with-the best, most enjoyable. I’ve started complimenting more, especially new moves for that person, really showing my enjoyment when something new, or musical, or new-for-them is led, and it is amazing to see how much people appreciate that–it’s freakin hard to lead, and I want you to know I am just as excited that your first socially led free spin didn’t send me out of your reach as you are, and it freakin rocked. Externally validating others internally validates yourself.

    • That’s a really good point, Jenn — the external validation of others as a way to focus outside of ourselves, rather than always focusing on our own successes (and often hoping that someone else will notice). The ideal, I think, would be to foster a culture of supporting and complimenting each other: I compliment you, you compliment me, and suddenly we’ve both experienced a little bit of both internal and external validation.

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