Tuesday, March 29, 2011

How to Cultivate Happiness

I've been thinking a lot about happiness lately. I have been trying to figure out how to have more joy in my life for many months; it's why I changed direction in terms of work, but I think I've been measuring happiness on too grand a scale. Big gestures like changing a job that drags your mood down doesn't ensure happiness. There is no one single thing you can do to make sure you are happy.

Recent events made me realize that I have to approach this question of happiness from a different angle and that it has something to do with the culmination of many, many small actions. When I went to my monthly Downtown Knit Collective meeting I was not expecting the lecture titled "Confessions of an Obsessive Knitter" to give me much insight into, well, anything. Thankfully, I was wrong. Robin Hunter, a local knitwear designer, who is also a self-proclaimed psychology geek, gave the lecture. The "confessions" were the reasons that we all knit and, various though they are, they all have the same root - knitting makes us happy. The topic of knitting was the platform from which to launch an examination of happiness.

Hunter had a few references that she shared with us, one of them being the book called "The Happiness Project" by Gretchen Rubin (the link is to the blog with the same name). I picked up the book and began reading. I haven’t finished the book yet, but one theme has emerged; things you wouldn't expect to contribute to happiness, mundane things, like putting your dish in the dishwasher immediately can put a spring in your step. Rubin has a rule that anything that can be done in 60 seconds or less should not be put off. You should try it. She asks what are the niggling little things that are praying on my conscience, perhaps causing guilty feelings, and then, get this, addresses them.

So in a similar vein, I asked; “what is something that I don’t like that could be getting in the way of my happiness?” I don’t like waking up to a messy kitchen. Then I asked; “how can I address this problem?” The solution is to clean the kitchen at night - even if I think I'm too tired to do it. How brilliant is that? I mean it’s so simple anyone could do it! So now I wake up and the kitchen is a clean slate and I feel good. It also means that I’m more likely to make proper food for breakfast and start the day right, which also contributes to a good mood.

Even though I am not really what you call a green thumb, it’s spring and I think that it is a useful metaphor to think of happiness in terms of gardening. Just as one needs to tend a garden, do all the little chores like tilling, weeding, planting, pruning, to enjoy the reward of beautiful plants and flowers, so to does one have to tend to one’s happiness. Just as there are many outside factors that we have no control over in gardening, like weather, that can affect the garden, so to in life. But the best thing to realize, the empowering thing, is that there are myriad little things that you can do to make your spirit soar. How will you cultivate your happiness?

1 comment:

Sara said...

Love this post! I've been thinking about the very same thing lately. My mom gave me a great piece of advice: happiness comes from gratitude. Being grateful daily for the little things in your life that are good, ex. your clean kitchen, a lovely dinner cooked in your clean kitchen, your family/husband/friends etc. and so I try, at least once a day, to pause for a moment to acknowledge all that is right in my world, and to ask for the strength to deal with the tough stuff. The Beatles were wrong, happiness is NOT a warm gun, it's a clean kitchen :)