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Being Happy


I’m writing this while I’m on a trip. To make it even better, I’m on a trip with my partner and I get to see some of my favorite people in the world. As if that weren’t enough, I get to talk about writing while I’m here. During the first part of our adventure, I got to run in an awesome park, see beautiful buildings and monuments and learn some history that I didn’t know. These are all things that make me happy. Not surprisingly, I like to be happy. And yet, I often forget to consciously engage in things that bring on this feeling.

I am a nose-to-the-grindstone girl. My to-do list starts generating in my brain in the morning before my eyes are even open. By the time I’m drinking coffee, I might even be putting the list on paper with a schedule, if I didn’t already do it the night before when I was having trouble falling asleep. I’m smart enough at this age to know that I should include things I like in my day, and I usually do. But unless it’s a planned vacation, I rarely head proactively toward fun and happiness when I’m arranging my life.

I tend to lean in the direction of duty and responsibility before I'll put up my feet and have a fun conversation with a friend.

This is a sad notion, when I think about it, but I understand its origins. I come from a family where there was regular chaos, and my best tool for steeling myself against it was to be busy and organized. Lolling around unoccupied equaled getting sucked into someone’s drama and usually having to help them navigate it. Head down, full speed ahead was a much safer stance. But my life is really not like that any more. I’m surrounded by people who are self-contained, generous, and masterful at managing their own lives and even helping with mine. Still, old habits are hard to change.

It simply doesn’t occur to me until late in the day sometimes that I should just go do something fun that consciously makes me happy. It wouldn’t even take much to do it. But I also have trouble giving myself permission to be “self-indulgent,” as if it is a bad thing to be happy. I could easily take a walk early in the morning, which is one of my favorite things to do. But I often have myself on a morning schedule that doesn’t include the time it would take to leisurely stroll on the walking path next to my house. This sounds crazy even to me, by the way.

It’s occurred to me to write down simple things that bring me joy and keep the list nearby to remind me. But it’s not that I’m basically a miserable person who has trouble finding things that make me happy. It’s much more that I tend to lean in the direction of duty and responsibility before I'll put up my feet and have a fun conversation with a friend. And who really knows if it’s nature or nurture? Maybe it is a result of a disorganized childhood, but it could also just be who I am. In lots of ways, taking care of business can bring me great satisfaction.

Either way, when I’m in a situation like I have been on this trip, much more of my plate is filled with activities I truly enjoy than with tasks I need to complete. And when I’m living like this, it reminds me that a slight nudge toward more want-tos and away from so many ought-tos would be very good for me. The older I get, the more I realize that unconscious routine can become the driver of my life before I even know it.

That’s why shaking it all up like I did this week is so good for me. In the blink of an eye, the dull parts drop to the bottom and all of the really lovely moments rise to the top. It ends of being almost a literal wake-up call. It makes me want to create a much better and more regular balance between duty and enjoyment. I get it that life can’t be all vacations and no responsibilities, but it certainly doesn’t have to be the opposite.

I also understand that the job is mine. If I fill my day with chores and duties and don’t intersperse a few meaningful conversations and a leisurely walk or two, it’s on me. Today, I’m hopeful. I’m feeling buoyed by this lovely respite following the long drought, and encouraged that I will remember this, at least for awhile.

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