A few thoughts on happiness

by Kathy Larson

Feb. 16, 2022

I just finished reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. This wasn’t a book I sought out on my own. It was given to me by my sister-in-law, Connie. She said it was okay; I said I’d give it a try.

From the beginning I was a little skeptical about someone writing about trying to bring more happiness into their life, or, more specifically, about them trying to determine if they were happy in their life. I thought it would just be another one of those painful self-awareness books exhorting us all to be our best selves!, or live our best life!, topics for which I have very little patience.

In hindsight I think that could have been a clue.

It didn’t take long for me to figure out that I didn’t have a clue about whether I was happy or not. I thought I was happy, but was I? Really?

Certainly, life had not turned out the way I had imagined it would some forty-odd years ago when I was a 21-year-old bride staring into a future that seemed to stretch on forever.

We think we know ourselves when we’re that age, think we know EVERYTHING, and think there is nothing we can’t do. Then life happens and before you know it you’re struggling to keep up, struggling to change with every new day, every new challenge. You’re learning that you don’t really know who you are, don’t really know anyone, for that matter, and it scares you. Luckily, you also learn how to grow up, to face your fears, to meet your challenges, and, even if the results are not always what you thought or hoped they’d be, you learn to accept them and ready yourself for whatever comes next.

Then, forty years go by. One day you look at yourself and wonder who you are. Wonder who the man you married is. Wonder where the people you thought you were went. You start reading a book on happiness and your mind is flooded with questions. All of them leading to one single question: Am I happy?

If I rate myself according to Rubin’s Eight Splendid Truths I would say I am semi-happy. I try to make others happy by being happy myself; like most people, though, this is tough to do ALL. THE. TIME. I try to focus on things in my life that make me happy. This one is even tougher to accomplish, because I tend to end up feeling guilty and selfish if I spend too much time focusing on things that only make me happy. Then, I don’t feel happy anymore. Catch-22 anyone?

Her Fourth Splendid Truth states that ‘you’re not happy unless you think you’re happy”. Huh? I’ve tried going about my day telling myself ‘you are happy!” over and over again, but when there is evidence to the contrary floating all around me I end up feeling silly and beleaguered and resentful. Anything but happy.

I won’t go through all the Splendid Truths, just suffice it to say that they boil down to something we all know and have heard a million times – you alone are responsible for your own happiness and no one else’s. You can make people happy by being happy, but, no one can make you happy, and you can’t make someone be happy if they choose not to be.

Generally speaking I’d say I’m a reluctant optimist. I believe that things will work out — eventually — and I accept that they may not work out exactly as I’d like. I believe that most people are good at heart — even though they may do things that would seem to prove otherwise. Though the glass is half full for me, I’m extremely careful about where and how I set it down — in case it spills and I’m left with nothing. My proven strategy to getting through life is to expect the best and prepare for the worst.

Perhaps not the best recipe for happiness, but it’s gotten me this far.

After finishing The Happiness Project I immediately began contemplating starting my own happiness project. Because it’s apparent that I could stand to be a little more happy. The problem is that thinking about getting started has made me feel very unhappy. At this particular time in my life I’m dealing with a whole lot of stress and uncertainty and though it sounds counter-intuitive, taking time to focus on my personal happiness just seems impossible.

So, I’ll keep doing what I’ve always done — take each day as it comes — and approach it every morning with a positive attitude and the belief that today will be a good day. Maybe it won’t be a particularly happy day, but it can be a good day.

I liked Rubin’s book; it gave me a lot to think about. In the end, though, I think it’s as simple as this: Happiness is a choice — you can choose to be happy or you can choose to not be happy. Maybe choosing happiness is the harder choice, but it’s also the better choice. As the Grail Knight says to Indiana Jones: Choose wisely.

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