happiness · Life

Test-driving happiness

OK, truth-in-advertising time: I am not a naturally happy person. I wish I was (oh how I wish I was!), but I’m not. There are specific causes for this trend toward crisis/critical-mode thinking, but blaming one’s circumstances of early childhood is like spitting in the wind: you just get slobbered on, and nothing really changes. No, things change when you recognize a pattern and decide what you want to do – if anything – about it. That’s what happened to me at exactly 11:43 a.m. yesterday, when I decided that, in terms of this Happiness Project, I’ve got to start over.

As I’ve said before, I’m a Human Do-ing more than a Human Be-ing. This can be a good thing, of course: Few social and political movements have been started by people just “being” in the moment. No, they are started – and finished – by people DOING something. Rosa Parks, after all, didn’t just stand there – she took action and sat down.

But this human doing-ness can also cause problems, because we do-ers look at a new projects as One More Thing To Do, and can get further stressed, which does not increase one’s overall happiness quotient. When I first joined the international Happiness Project movement and agreed to launch a virtual group here at TC.com, I patterned everything after the founder of the movement (all hail the kind and brilliant Gretchen Rubin!), not knowing any other way to go. There was one major difference – most Happiness Project groups only meet once/month, whereas we’re meeting – such as we are in this virtual space – once/week. That in and of itself causes performance anxiety for Type-A, high-strung, performance-driven folks like me. Especially when you lay things out as ‘to do’ lists: Make resolutions, make commandments, make progress…..

I figured this out, as I said, yesterday, when I was looking at my commandments and realizing they are all wrong, especially the first: Be Renee. If I truly followed that commandment, I would just naturally be melancholy, introspective, cynical and anxious. If I’m those things, I can’t even get to my other five guiding commandments because melancholy, cynical folks DON’T accept imperfection (especially in ourselves); we AREN’T naturally kind; we DON’T let anger go; and we certainly don’t do real well in the ‘act-as-if’ arena.

“Be Renee” on its face, leads me to think things like, “Well, like Hemingway, I’m just naturally full of angst and woe, so just deal with it world!” Trust me, no one – least of all the really fun people – wants to be around a gray cloud. Heck, I don’t want to be around a gray cloud, which is why I got interested in the Happiness Project in the first place! (I still think exclamation marks make you happy almost instantaneously, btw.)

So, I’ve completely tossed my commandments list – especially the whole idea that I must have at least six guiding principles in my life – and I’ve begun anew with just two: 1. Find the good in the moment, and 2. Be kind.

Swimming up close with wildlfe definitely makes me happy/Credit: Robin Horton
Swimming up close with wildlfe definitely makes me happy/Credit: Robin Horton

I may be stretching it to even have two, but I’m going to give it a shot, nonetheless for this next week. I think if I can do #1, I will be able to naturally do #2. For people like me, who wake up petrified each day and go to bed with a hamster wheel of worry digging a trench in their brain, we have to take serious, concentrated ACTION to change our in-born pattern. Some people think it is a wasted effort, that it is impossible to change who you are, that everyone has a set-point for happiness and if you got a bad deal in the genetic roulette wheel of birth and parenting, too bad. You might be able to change little, but not much.

If I thought like that (which, in my deeply tired and sad moments I admit I sometimes do), I would have to go to my editor and say, “Stab me with your x-acto knife and beat me with a pica ruler because I just can’t take it anymore!” Since the mess that would make is highly unacceptable, I’m going to buy into this proposal instead, that small, baby steps in positive thinking – ones that won’t overwhelm my get-it-done persona – will make a difference. Every time my crazy hyperactive brain tries to pull me to the past or regret or push me to the future or worry, I’m going to gently toss those thoughts aside and look at flowers or pictures of people I love or the essay in front of me and breathe in the good. Like exercising, I will just practice, practice, practice, and eventually, I’ll build some natural happiness muscle. Finding the good in this exact space and being kind – will guide my life and then, I hope, the resolutions I pick to head me toward happiness and joy will come more easily.

What about you – did you discover anything this past week about what “works” for you as you test-drive happiness theories? Have you discovered you need to change or adapt what you originally planned? Let me know in the comments or through the ‘contact me’ link. (Postscript: Gretchen offers a tip each Wednesday at her site, and I think this “Secrets of Adulthood” is worth the read if you have some time.)

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5 thoughts on “Test-driving happiness

  1. Congratulations Renee, as I think you were successful today for being in the moment and being kind as well, since you gave me my prize book entitled “Dave Barry Is Not Making This Up” for winning your Happiness project contest.  I will look forward to reading this book shortly.  Also, I enjoyed our discussion on Eeyore and Tigger.

  2. Renee,
    I have to admit, in the busyness of life, I’ve become more of an observer than active participant, but I’m learning through observing you, and right now, I just have to say I am proud of you. You are so honest and it benefits us all to hear the truth — how hard this is for you. It’s likely hard for others as well. So, thanks for the rawness of your words, and for admitting that, perhaps, you bit off too much initially, in your good intent to really go after the happiness thing. I admire that you went for it, and I admire that you have reassessed and pulled back instead of trying for the impossible. I do think you are finding and being Renee in this — and in that way you are achieving what you set out to do. Because until we really know ourselves and our limitations, it’s pretty hard to set goals we can actually achieve. Baby steps is always a good place to start (can’t help but think of “What About Bob” whenever I saw that, though), and of course, many baby steps creates a couple really large once. So, just being a cheerleader today, mainly. I think that is what keeps me happy for the most part — giving kind words to others. Today, for example, has been kind of a rough day, but I already feel better in my attempts to affirm you. (Does that mean my attempt was selfish?) 🙂
    Peace to you! (I’ve been berated for my exclamation points and smileys, but I am not going to back down! Must have been grumpy people who mentioned that…)

  3. Excellent piece — thank you for being genuine and honest, and saying “out loud” what most of us are too afraid to think about ourselves! I dare say, that is, indeed, “being Renee” 🙂
    By the way, my daughter and I try to ask ourselves daily (sometimes via text), so, “what made you smile today” — and it’s amazing what that little question does to open my view of the day.

    1. maria: I absolutely LOVE the idea of asking “what made you smile today.” That’s a great tip. Now if I can just remember to pass it on to the crowd soon!

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