This past year I have been doing a lot of reading and learning about happiness. I had found myself in a perpetually overwhelmed state of low-grade stress the majority of the time and it was seriously interfering my enjoyment of my life. I watched, and highly recommend, The Happy Movie, a documentary that travels the world asking the question "what makes people happy?" To see a toothless rickshaw in New Delhi, India who lives in a shack with his family say that he has all he needs and that he is happy as he smiles his toothless smile, you can't help but smile too and ask yourself some hard questions.
I am clear about this: happiness is a state of mind, a state of being. It is not about having what you want but wanting what you have.
In order to cultivate a more joyful state of being, I have changed some things in my internal operating system. I have become very mindful of turning away from thoughts that make me stressed. I have profoundly lessened the complaining I do (twice I took on a 30 day challenge to not complain...it was harder than I want to admit). And I have cultivated a regular practice of gratitude.
In practical terms it looks like this: I am barely on time to pick up a child and the traffic is not moving- could be ridiculous line at Dunkin Donuts that has spilled out onto the Main Rd, the painfully slow transporting of windmill components through town at the very moment school is to be released for the day, or any number of other things that happen in life- and instead of my body being tense and spouting aggressive things in my head, I breathe and notice the people around me. I acknowledge that I cannot move until I can move and that I am simply going to be late. No one will die. I chill out. I think about all the things I appreciate: the sunshine, my two legs, the fact that I have my own car, the fact that I get to pick my kids up even if I'm late. I cease holding myself hostage to the stress because I now fully understand that it doesn't get me there sooner, it just makes me miserable.
I am very imperfect at it.
Sometimes, actually daily, when I drive down the road my brain will carelessly run thoughts through my head about something that is going to happen or something that did happen or something I did wrong and I find I have a low-grade feeling of anxiety. I say to myself, "Feed your brain," and I consciously choose other thoughts. I intentionally think about things that make me happy or affirm a positive outcome. It is astounding how powerful this simple practice is. The truth is I'm feeding my brain nearly every moment of the day. Why not feed it things that make me feel good?
Buddha said, "Rule your mind or it will rule you."
In practicing wanting what you have, I have found that some of the most truly joyful things I experience have nothing to do with having money or spending money or acquiring anything. In fact, I largely enjoy things more that don't cost money. I am so blessed to live in the beautiful state of Maine where there are endless ways to enjoy life. And autumn is when Maine turns on the dazzle, transforming our already beautiful landscape into a stunning display of color.
This weekend my sister, Kathryn, and I took our kids hiking up Mount Battie in Camden. As an avid hiker, I can tell you that hiking with kids, in my experience, is not always enjoyable. Without fail, one of the kids, at some point along the way, ends up in tears. This is NOT fun. But strategic planning (going with cousins), a pep talk at the trail head ("if the puppy can hike it, you can hike it too") and some good 'ol fashion bribery (cookies and Twizzlers at the top) can go a long way toward ensuring success.
|Kathryn and Braeden|
My heart is so happy in the woods.
|She isn't get 4 months old and she climbed it like a champ.|
|Piper made it!|
I am collecting photos of my kids on top of mountains. This is one of my happiest places and I celebrate every bit of that I can instill in them. Even if they cry. (No one did on this trip!) Even if I have to feed them cookies on every mountaintop in Maine.
|Ella, me and Maya|
|Kathryn, Michaela and Braeden|
Kathryn's partner, Brian, and our mom drove to the top and met us there. We got some pictures, got tossed around by the crazy autumn wind, mingled with the leaf peepers and then headed back down the trail with happy kids who were quite proud of their accomplishment.
Life is expensive. But joy doesn't have to be. Here's to finding happy around any corner, with every ray of sunshine, every blue sky, every hug, every "I love you" and every chance to remember how blessed we are simply to be alive.
(This post was inspired by the brand Personal Capital, a company that offers free financial planning software. Being organized and intentional with money as well as seeking out opportunities to enjoy life that aren't expensive, like hiking a mountain, are easy ways to reduce stress and promote joy. There are so many tools out there to help us simplify and streamline and doing so frees up our time and energy for the living part of our lives. Which I think is the whole point of being alive, right? )