Did you know there are 23,000 books that have happiness in the title?
I’ve been interested in this word, happiness, and this concept for a long time. My interest was partially sparked by an article I read about a class at Yale called Psychology and the Good Life. It has been the most popular class in Yale’s 300-year history. It’s filled with high achieving students who are looking for scientifically validated practices to create a happier life.
What is this happiness that they are pursuing?
We all know that however happy we are, there are people out there who seem more or less happy than we are. And what likely contributes to happiness? Perhaps sharing life with a partner, good health for oneself and one’s family, enough income to live comfortably. A fulfilling job or rewarding volunteer work. The pursuit of leisure activities and hobbies. Belief in a faith or some sense of spirituality. Having friends (though the number of friends doesn’t matter, what is important is the quality of the connection). Affiliation with a group around a common interest.
A balanced life.
I see happiness as a collection of moments. You go through your day. If you are happy, you might notice it. If you are sad, you are more likely to notice it. At the end of the day, someone might ask you, “how was your day”? You don’t answer, “I am happy.” You are more likely speak about MOMENTS in your day – some that were gratifying, and some that were frustrating.
So how might we achieve happiness? Pay attention to the moments. Notice the moment when you share a laugh with a friend, when you taste something really good, when a baby smiles at you, when you get a compliment at work, when you watch a beautiful sunset.
Notice when you have a quiet connection with your spouse over dinner without having to talk about much. When you read a good book, or hear a great piece of music. Notice your happiness if you are singing or dancing or playing a sport you love. When the sky is a beautiful shade of blue. Laughing with your children. A baseball game on a beautiful day. Walking your child down the aisle at their wedding. Feeling the love of people who care about you. Doing something for others and the satisfaction you get from helping someone else.
All of these are moments held together by everyday life. Am I happy doing the laundry? I’m neither happy nor sad, I just do it. I don’t report on household chores at dinner, but I will talk about the moments in my day that I noticed.
What happens when life throws you a curve and you are sad? Perhaps due to illness or loss or a breakup. Are you now an unhappy person? You are still the same you, but for a while you might feel sad. But you will still have the good moments, and over time, be able to notice those moments more easily. Being in a sad phase doesn’t make you an unhappy person.
Many articles I read say that the Scandinavians are the happiest in the world, particularly the Finnish. There is a Finnish proverb that says….”Happiness is a place between too little and too much.” Something to think about.
I hope that the young people taking the Yale course are not looking for the magic answer of happiness. For sure, they will encounter difficult times in their lives when life throws a curve. Will they have failed? No, the success will be in how they face the challenge and work through it. And in noticing the small moments in their day through the process.
In the words of Charlie Brown and his pals:
Happiness is finding a pencil
Pizza with sausage
Telling the time
Happiness is learning to whistle
Tying your shoe for the very first time
Happiness is playing your drums in your own school band
And happiness is walking hand and hand.
Maybe someday I will add to the 23,000 books on happiness. But for now, maybe this post gives some perspective that it is the moments, strung together by the everyday, that help make for a happy life.