Mar 292007
 

This post was prompted by a recent post by my friend De of “sober briquet“. She started it by a quote saying: “Ask yourself whether you are happy and you cease to be so. ” I disagree. And I’m not the only one so I’d like to point everybody to Gretchen’s blog, the happiness project, and especially to her post about the John Stuart Mill-quote, her “Tips for how NOT to be happy” and while I’m linking all over the place you might find this post about “The Three Secrets to Happiness” on zen habits interesting too.

I started out quite unhappy by the way. When my husband and I first met we found that even real love with marriage couldn’t make us entirely happy. I talked about it at that time. I thought it was inbuilt. There was something inside of me, a part of my soul that was never quite happy. I also used to be jealous, shrill, judgmental, nervous, impatient and sarcastic.

At that time I even was a little proud of it. It set me apart. It made me special. Never to be content. I thought this was what made me creative and what made me strive. I was afraid of losing it. Afraid of being happy because I thought I’d turn into someone who just sits there grinning, achieving nothing. Well, I was wrong. I can’t say when it happened exactly but nowadays I find that I’m even happy when I’m feeling utterly depressed. I can’t explain why or how but I can point to some of the changes I have made during that time which have helped.

So, what does it mean, being happy? Does it mean that I’m going through my day in a state of coital bliss wearing rose-colored glasses? Certainly not. To me it means being aware of a part of me that always feels in tune with the universe. The part that feels safe and loved no matter what. The part of me that still marvels at life. A part that can’t be hurt. To give you an example I tell you of a moment when I suddenly realized that I was happy.:

My son was a baby then, a couple of months old. I was standing outside the wine store with him sleeping in the stroller. I was waiting for my husband who bought wine. It was raining, there were a lot of cars, it was loud, I was having cramps, was tired and hungry. And suddenly upon standing there I felt happy. Despite all those circumstances. And not because my son was sleeping but because in standing there I felt alive. And I knew all was well.

See, I can’t really explain it. But I take happiness whenever it happens and try to notice it. And the more I think about it the more tips I find. I could just link to Christine Kane‘s blog and say, “Look there. Heed her advice. You’ll be happier for it.”. And I can tell you a couple of things that helped me:

Speak to yourself as if you were your best friend
After I started thinking about compulsive eating and reading Geneen Roth’s books I realized how much time I spent criticizing myself. Especially my appearance. I used to think about how fat I was all day long. Then I thought, “I have a good life, I have a healthy son, a good job, a marvelous husband, is it really important how I look? And if it is, why don’t I do something about it?” and every time I found myself thinking something like, “Your belly is really fat.” I didn’t even bother to scold me for that but turned my thoughts to my music. “I wonder how that song could be improved.”

I try to be polite to myself. You wouldn’t tell a friend, “You’re lazy. You never get anything done. And I know you said you’re gonna lose weight, but be honest, it will never work.” Which brings me to the second little thing:

Be polite and nice
Really. It does make a difference. The old “treat others as you would like to be treated yourself”-rule.

Exercise
I used to be a couch potato. Never made an unnecessary movement. My cardio-vascular system got so week that I wasn’t able to climb a flight of stairs without huffing and puffing. When I realized that I started forcing me into exercise. I hated every minute of it but I liked to be strong and fit. It took me three or four attempts by the way. I’m stubborn. Each time I was so proud for exercising three times a week for a couple of months and then it would all fall apart. I started my final round eight years ago and now I can say that movement really is a part of my life. Easy stuff like walking errands instead of taking the car, 15 minutes of a workout DVD. The animal part of me feels much better when I’m in my body. When I feel capable. When I know that my feet can carry me everywhere even if it might take awhile.

Sometimes less is more
When I gave up my aspirations to become both a scientist and a musician a heavy load was lifted from my shoulders. As much as I try (and despite my old tagline of “I want it all”) I can’t do everything at once. And I don’t have to. I am allowed to do what I love even if there is no social status attached to it.

This goes together with an important one:

This is all the life I got
Of course I could wait for it to get better. But in the midst of life with a baby I realized that there would always be something wrong with it. That there never would be time to do the things I love if I didn’t make room for it. Everybody said, “Oh, it’s just so hard when the children are tiny. Just wait till he is in preschool.” Okay, so I wait three years. And then? Something else will come along for sure. Trust me on this. I know people who have spent their whole life waiting for circumstances to be right for creativity or fun or whatever. I know of at least two people telling themselves they’d pursue their hobbies in retirement. I sincerely doubt they will. So I started using tiny little spaces for the things I love. Ten minutes of singing practice. Ten minutes of meditation. Taking a twenty minute walk because I “don’t have time for real exercise”.

It doesn’t have to be perfect
Oddly enough lately the Buddhist saying that “life is suffering” has been soothing to me. If life is sometimes chaotic and people get hurt and things are never quite perfect that is okay. Because that’s how life is. Otherwise it is like trying to step into a stream without getting wet. You spend all your time complaining about your wet feet without realizing that being wet is the state of water.

I used to be trapped in a thinking that if only I could do everything right life would be perfect. But life isn’t perfect. It doesn’t have to be. It’s life and that’s enough. It’s not a race, you’re not supposed to come out best of your class or something. It is there to be lived. And if you dismiss what you experience because it’s not like you want it then you miss your life while it’s happening.

And this one leads to:

Be grateful
I remember the first time ever when somebody told me he kept his perspective by being grateful that he has enough to eat, a roof over his head and clothes to warm him. I was in the midst of some drama or other as always but I never forgot. There are a lot of people out there without that. We really are privileged. I am. Or as Jon Kabat-Zinn put it, “As long as you are alive there is more right with you than wrong.” So, off you go and start your gratitude journal. This is an order.

Since this is far too long already I’ll just cram the rest in here:

– Stop watching the news and worrying about things you can’t change.
– Start meditating.
De-clutter, and
– do something creative.

And of course, live in the moment.

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  12 Responses to “How to become a happy person”

  1. I enjoyed your thoughtful post very much!
    I am wondering, and surely you are the right person to ask–as I understand it, Gluck (sorry, I don’t know how to smoosh in an umlaut) means both good fortune AND happiness. If you are glucklich, you are both lucky and happy.
    So how do you mentally distinguish between these concepts if you think, read, and write in German, which uses a single word for both? And I was wondering if a person who grows up speaking German equates them–perhaps you almost have to feel guilty, or at least confused, if you are fortunate (glucklich) but somehow not happy (glucklich)?
    Thanks, Anne

  2. I enjoyed your thoughtful post very much!
    I am wondering, and surely you are the right person to ask–as I understand it, Gluck (sorry, I don’t know how to smoosh in an umlaut) means both good fortune AND happiness. If you are glucklich, you are both lucky and happy.
    So how do you mentally distinguish between these concepts if you think, read, and write in German, which uses a single word for both? And I was wondering if a person who grows up speaking German equates them–perhaps you almost have to feel guilty, or at least confused, if you are fortunate (glucklich) but somehow not happy (glucklich)?
    Thanks, Anne

  3. Thank you for the wonderful post. How true you words are! I read somewhere that the root of the word happy is “doing good”. Not “feeling good”. Doesn’t that make so much more sense?

  4. Thank you for the wonderful post. How true you words are! I read somewhere that the root of the word happy is “doing good”. Not “feeling good”. Doesn’t that make so much more sense?

  5. I have to say that although I see your perspective, I definitely agree with De that if you have to ask yourself if you’re happy, you probably are not. I think if you get to the place where you are questioning the level of enjoyment that you are deriving from life, then you are probably inherently saying that something is missing. Additionally, if you find yourself being ecstatically happy then you probably know the difference and are destined for some sort of let down. But, here again, De and I probably get along because of our dour natures…

  6. I have to say that although I see your perspective, I definitely agree with De that if you have to ask yourself if you’re happy, you probably are not. I think if you get to the place where you are questioning the level of enjoyment that you are deriving from life, then you are probably inherently saying that something is missing. Additionally, if you find yourself being ecstatically happy then you probably know the difference and are destined for some sort of let down. But, here again, De and I probably get along because of our dour natures…

  7. amen. amen, amen.

    every single word.

  8. amen. amen, amen.

    every single word.

  9. Anne, I’d have to write a whole post to explain this one, but I’ll try in short: though we only have one word for luck, fortune and happiness we nonetheless distinguish between “Glück haben”, that’s to be fortunate, and “glücklich sein”, to be happy. If we are “glücklich” we’re happy.

    That kind of thing happens all the time when you’re shifting languages.

    Lia, yes that makes sense.

    Liv, as you know I don’t agree. And I seem to rather like dour people like De and you…

    Thanks, Jen.

  10. Anne, I’d have to write a whole post to explain this one, but I’ll try in short: though we only have one word for luck, fortune and happiness we nonetheless distinguish between “Glück haben”, that’s to be fortunate, and “glücklich sein”, to be happy. If we are “glücklich” we’re happy.

    That kind of thing happens all the time when you’re shifting languages.

    Lia, yes that makes sense.

    Liv, as you know I don’t agree. And I seem to rather like dour people like De and you…

    Thanks, Jen.

  11. So, while I’ve been mulling this over, last night my husband said to me, “your blog is just one long bitch,”and it’s really, really not intentional. I feel a bit frustrated.

    I checked out Gretchen’s blog and the posts you highlighted. I kind of agreed with the detractors of the “How not to be happy post,” but otherwise I liked her blog and added it to my feeds. (Christine Kane is another one you recommended whose blog I like a lot.) Regarding the quote, what I was thinking was closest to her suggestion that “perhaps Mill meant that happiness comes as a consequence of pursuing other goals, like love and work, and shouldn’t be a goal in itself.”

    I originally began thinking about “happiness” because of the post in which Esereth was talking about people thinking that achieving “quick fix” goals (such as losing weight or getting the right job) will make them happy. I don’t think so, and actually relate with your description of a day that you realized you are happy.

    This is why I’m so frustrated that my husband is disgusted with me. He thinks I am unhappy, and I’m not.

    Well, this comment took me all day because I had no time free to sit down, so I’m leaving lots unresolved. But … less is more.

  12. So, while I’ve been mulling this over, last night my husband said to me, “your blog is just one long bitch,”and it’s really, really not intentional. I feel a bit frustrated.

    I checked out Gretchen’s blog and the posts you highlighted. I kind of agreed with the detractors of the “How not to be happy post,” but otherwise I liked her blog and added it to my feeds. (Christine Kane is another one you recommended whose blog I like a lot.) Regarding the quote, what I was thinking was closest to her suggestion that “perhaps Mill meant that happiness comes as a consequence of pursuing other goals, like love and work, and shouldn’t be a goal in itself.”

    I originally began thinking about “happiness” because of the post in which Esereth was talking about people thinking that achieving “quick fix” goals (such as losing weight or getting the right job) will make them happy. I don’t think so, and actually relate with your description of a day that you realized you are happy.

    This is why I’m so frustrated that my husband is disgusted with me. He thinks I am unhappy, and I’m not.

    Well, this comment took me all day because I had no time free to sit down, so I’m leaving lots unresolved. But … less is more.

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