Ouch. Scary but true, right? So what makes you happy? Is anyone really happy? My husband just asked me that very question, and after thinking long and hard about it, all I could come up with was being a wife, mother, and generally living my life in peace. Kristen makes me happy. My dog Boomer makes me happy. My job and the kids in my class generally make me happy. On my Facebook page, I wrote, “I love being around friends, family and anyone who makes me laugh. I love deep conversations. I hate small talk. I hate people who are sneaky, braggy or phony. I love dogs, good music, massages, my annual college girls’ trip, coffee, good wine, Stone Crab, home décor, lighthouses, thunderstorms, snow, the beach, the mountains, the smell of Play-Do, brand new tennis balls, sinking a long putt, cashews, Marcona almonds, bookstores, Easter lilies, daisies, reading a really good book, and my Oklahoma Sooners!” I guess that pretty much sums up what makes me happy. Done. No mas.
Of course we all know it’s never that simple. “The pursuit of happiness” may be in the Declaration of Independence, but it’s not a guarantee and it’s not in the Bill of Rights. Being happy takes work, and with so much horror and grief taking place nationally the past week or so, it’s been tough to find or feel real joy. What is the difference between joy and happiness? Is there a difference?
Entertainer and talk show host Steve Harvey recently put it this way: he said “fun” is going to Vegas, the beach or a concert. “Joy,” however, is peace of mind and being happy with who you are. Seems he and Mr. Zigler agree on this fact.
Just last month findings from a UC Berkeley study on what and who makes us feel content were released and they were somewhat shocking. No, money and fame were not even near the top of the list. Of those asked about household income, social standing, personality and a sense of well-being, what was mentioned most as contributing to their happiness and sense of satisfaction is how much they’re respected by their friends, family, co-workers, and neighbors. The key, it appears, is being valuable to the people around you.
“Grief can take care of itself, but to get the full value of joy, you must have somebody to divide it with.” Mark Twain.
It’s been said that for every minute you’re angry, you lose one minute of happiness. I know there are many out there who have every right to be unhappy right now. These can be depressing times and we all deserve to be “down” at times. It’s important to acknowledge feelings of sadness but it’s equally important to lift ourselves up out of those periods of sadness before they become a way of life.
Often times, many of us mistake comfort for happiness. “I’ll be happy when I have that new luxury car.” “If I had a bigger house, I’d be happier.” Not always the case though, right? Sure, our new couch that arrived Saturday makes me happy, but it hasn’t really changed my life in any big or true way. Yes, it’s comfortable and pretty, but comfort is easy; joy is harder.
Mark Hansen of the “Post Masculine” website recently wrote about this very thing. He notes that Americans have become complacent and entitled, resulting in our inability to handle anything unpleasant in our lives. It’s also disconnecting us from the very things that drive true happiness: relationships, unique experiences, feeling self-appreciative, and achieving goals. Sounds like Mr. Hansen and UC Berkeley are preaching to the same unhappy choirs.
“The true secret of happiness lies in the taking a genuine interest in all the details of daily life.” William Morris.
Maybe we’re just trying too hard. Maybe we need to count our blessings and smell the roses instead of constantly looking at the glass half full. Instead of always striving for perfection, maybe we should just be satisfied with good. I’m not saying lower our standards or settle for less, but maybe think twice about what it is you want and need and the difference between the two. (Gretchen Rubin has written about this in her two books, “The Happiness Project” and “Happier at Home.” I highly recommend both of them.)
I think of the country club neighborhood I live in. Year after year I hear people complain about one thing or another about the club and its many amenities. Is it perfect? No. Is anyone or anywhere? No! I’ve always thought to myself, “If you’re complaining about your country club, your life is okay.”
That’s just another case in point that rich is a relative term. In fact, a 2010 Princeton University study found that life satisfaction rises with income but that everyday happiness – the very type of happiness most of us strive for – changes little once a person earns $75,000 a year. I follow Susie Davis’ “Good News Girl” blog and loved a post of hers last year detailing this very thing. Susie wrote that, although each of us may not be considered rich compared to some of the most wealthy in the country, compared to the majority of those worldwide, we in fact are. Her “Seven Quick Ways to Know if You’re Rich” included things like discovering you’re out of milk so you just drive to the store and buy some; when your car is empty, you fill it up; if you break your cell phone, you get a new one; you have electricity and hot water; and perhaps my favorite: you have so much food in your ‘fridge, pantry and freezer that it could last you months. Think about it…you are probably indeed “rich.”
“A truly rich man is one whose children run into his arms when his hands are empty.”
This reminds me of shoes and the fact that I can choose a pair for every outfit I have. I am certainly rich in shoes! In my preschool class I used to sing the “Happy New Shoes” song each time one of my students came to class in a new pair of shoes. The song is the same tune as “Happy Birthday” and I got the idea from my teaching mentor, Ms. Christine, who had taught in an inner-city school where a new pair of shoes was a huge deal. Sadly, in my suburbia class, I found I was singing the song almost daily and that it wasn’t having the impact it should. Needless to say Ms. Carla no longer sings the “New Shoes” song to her students.
Globally, happiness and rich can mean entirely different things than they mean in the U.S.A. In general, countries around the world measure how well society is doing by how much one earns, how many electronics are sold, and how many homes are built. That’s HOW WELL THEY”RE DOING, not how happy they are. Happiness means many things to many people. Enter, happiness initiatives, federally-funded studies that measure happiness.
According to Gallup, U.S. wealth per capita has soared in recent years, but Americans aren’t necessarily any happier than before. Columbia University’s “World Happiness Report” did find that higher incomes do indeed boost joy in poor countries, but in richer nations, more money made a small impact on one’s happiness. Political freedom, social support, job security, health and stable families meant more across the board.
“Happiness is a place between too much and too little.” Finnish proverb
So just where are the happiest people in on Earth…literally? Of the 156 countries studied, Denmark, Finland, Norway, the Netherlands and Canada ranked highest. Looks like we all need to move to Scandinavia! The U.S. ranked 11th highest, proving that although it is the richest country, it’s by no means the happiest. Yep, “someone else is happy with less than what you have” seems more than appropriate here.
Maybe that’s the secret. The more we think we’re happy, the happier we might be. I like it. After all, if we aren’t grateful for what we already have, what makes us think we will be happier with more or something different? Today, I will choose joy and live by what Dale Carnegie said, “Happiness doesn’t depend on who you are or what you have, it depends solely on what you think.”
Think happy thoughts friends and have a happy day!