I stood outside of the small grocery store, waiting for a break in the torrential rain hitting Sacramento a week or so ago. While I was standing there, a gentleman pushed his way through the double doors, peered at the sheets of rain wafting across the parking lot and growled out loud.
“Damn it! First we have to suffer through years of a drought and now this #*@#**# mess! We can’t catch a break!!”
Just then, a young couple ran out into the middle of the parking lot, ignoring the waterfall hitting their heads, grabbed each other in a passionate embrace, held up their phone and took a happy selfie of their kiss… and then dashed off, splashing and laughing through the puddles.
The man beside me, looked disgusted, rolled his eyes and said “idiots”… before trudging through the water, that moments ago reminded me of ‘Singing in the Rain’ and now just looked sad and gray.
One man’s angry experience of being the victim of the mother nature is another person’s opportunity for romance and fun. So why the difference? This started my ruminations. Why are some people just happy and what makes them that way? What constitutes happiness if two people in the same situation can view the world so differently? What makes me happy?
The first step in my quest was to read Bridget Grenville-Cleve’s excellent primer: Positive Psychology – a Practical Guide. She offers a wide range of tested exercises and practices to build resilience, build better relationships and discover one’s strengths as well as a way to begin to discover my own unique formula for happiness. It is subtly different for everyone but I learned a few things about what creates happiness for me – and it isn’t success, money, recognition or even family-based events. It is the little things that really matter. I am most happy when:
- I can witness my husband or children laugh until they cry… and even better if I am the source of the humor.
- I am unexpectedly given the gift of time, such as when a meeting is postponed or travel is canceled.
- I laugh from my gut – the kind that is uncontrollable and overwhelming.
- Someone says something surprisingly kind to me.
- Sparky dances with joy – for whatever reason but especially just because he sees me coming.
- I witness a really kind act.
- I get something done that has been nagging at me.
- Someone tells me that I made a difference.
- I manage to work through something daunting and end up knocking it out of the park.
- I am forgiven.
These are simple things. Many of these things are either within my control or are more likely to occur because I acted respectfully, was diligent and thoughtful or just observant and aware.
What Happy People Know, the brilliant little book by Dan Baker and Cameron Stauth, identifies 5 happiness traps that we often mistake as being the path to happiness but in reality, often lead to a sense of failure and discouragement:
- Trying to buy happiness (stuff is not the answer)
- Trying to find happiness through pleasure (“deeply depressed awash in a sea of earthly pleasures”)
- Trying to be happy by resolving the past (we cannot change the past, but we can create our future)
- Trying to be happy by overcoming weaknesses (marketers win when we focus on our weaknesses, we win when we focus on our strengths).
- Trying to force happiness (It cannot be forced, but it can be practiced).
Baker and Stauth share a wealth of techniques and tools too. All of which I found intriguing and useful. I learned that for the most part, happiness is both a practice and a choice, a choice to find joy and be grateful. However, I don’t always remember how lucky I am to have this choice. So, to the grumpy man in the rain, I hope that next time you are caught by the whims of mother nature, you can find some solace and even joy in the beauty and bounty of our world… no matter how it chooses to be bestowed. And I hope that I too can learn to see the opportunities and potential good in the world around me – after all, the studies clearly indicate that life favors the optimists among us.
So, what makes YOU happy? What are you grateful for? What can you find to be optimistic about? On the eve of a new year, a new era, I believe it is high time to study ourselves, look inside and be prepared to move forward in the world armed with resilience, gratitude and good dose of humor. Happy 2017!