Well hello my friends and my apologies for the brief radio silence! I decided rather spontaneously to take some time for myself this week, clear my head, and reflect on all that I am thankful for. So, with only a vague destination in mind, I went for a drive and now find myself on the beach…
Actually, I write this from my hotel room – the weather isn’t fully cooperating with my intentions! But I have a perfect view of the ocean from my balcony and there’s something so incredibly soothing about the crashing waves and the infiniteness of the ocean that I can hardly complain.
I’ll be here for a few days, giving myself the break that I think we all need from time to time. And while I will be writing, it will be sporadic at best, so I hope you will forgive the lack of routine this week! With that said, and to give me a little bit of time offline, my sweet husband decided to step in and write a piece on happiness from his perspective (written last night). Before I hand you over, however, I must warn you – it is a long read! But worth it. So without further ado, my husband….
To be honest, when my wife asked me to write a guest post for her, I was hoping it was for a DIY Thursday. A handyman post seemed somewhat more fitting for a Carpenter. The topic of happiness might seem wasted on someone my wife describes as an emotional “robot”. But alas, I think my wife loves making me uncomfortable and I simply can’t say no to that smile. Challenge accepted!
I find myself with three things going tonight. The first is the distraction of election night in America. The second is the challenge of a writing assignment. Finally, I have a cold North American Lager in arms reach, but I’ll get to that later. So it’s basically me, a laptop, Wolf Blitzer and a beer. All in all, a sound recipe for the subject at hand. Sadly though, it is missing one vital element, my wife, who’s fittingly in Virginia Beach with her feet in the cold sand, relaxing her mind and exploring happiness on her own.
So, happiness … where do I begin? Luckily for me, I wasn’t given much instruction. I was, however, mandated a word count. So in the spirit of making my wife happy I’ll distill my many random thoughts down to five simple points: 1) take advantage of the now; 2) remember your foundation; 3) find juxtaposition opportunity; 4) balance just the right amount of selfish; and finally 5) know where your heading and look up occasionally. Thankfully for me there are no right or wrong answers in happiness. So let’s begin.
Take advantage of the now. Admittedly, telling someone to enjoy the moment is rather cliché, but in my defense happiness doesn’t require an advanced degree. It’s not easy to sustain, but it’s simple to achieve. Of course, as often is in life, things tend to get in the way. We all have responsibility and probably more work, chores and to-do items than any of us really wants. We can’t escape it. Life, at times, seems to require it. Our society, culture and way of life is built on hard work, deadlines and productivity. We all need to provide for our families and ultimately our way of life. At times, I know it distracts me from what’s important and prevents me from focusing attention where I should. Sadly, we can’t avoid life. We can’t avoid responsibility. The key is deriving happiness from what we have in front of us. Try not to delay happiness for some distant time. Start small. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Seek out opportunities to laugh. Find moments in your day to cherish. As you walk from the car to the office in the morning, remember it might be the only time you see the sun all day so make sure you notice and appreciate it for a moment. Think about how you can enjoy the challenges in front of you. Don’t find yourself muttering to yourself, “I can’t wait until this (day/month/year) is over” because you’re missing opportunities to find happiness in the things you can’t avoid. Make a benign moment of your day less ordinary. Every day the best part of my day is driving up and seeing my wife’s car parked out front as I approach and knowing she’s on the other side of the front door. This was particularly stark because today that car wasn’t there. Tragic, I know. Ultimately, it all boils down to approach. It’s amazing how much a slight change in point of view can make such a significant impact. To this day I haven’t fully gotten used to the idea of a paid holiday. What a concept! But the beauty of this illusion I’ve built is that no matter how my wife and I choose to spend it, “we’re getting paid to do it!”. Never fails to deliver a smile.
Remember your foundation. Sometimes we, as a society, have a tendency to devalue something once we have it. Or perhaps to take it for granted. Obviously, we aren’t all there, but for those fortunate enough to have the means to provide, a roof over their heads, sufficient food on the table and family/friends nearby have a rock solid foundation for happiness. These aren’t the only elements of happiness, of course, but from time to time it’s always good to reflect back on these elements. Remind yourself of what’s important. Don’t lose sight of them amid the noise of life. It’s somewhat tragic that the biggest deterrents to happiness are sometimes the things that matter the least. Often it’s not until catastrophe strikes that we realize it. I sometimes need to remind myself that no matter what I’m doing, as long as I’m doing it with my wife, it’s instantly better. That goes for painting the side of the house, cleaning the kitchen or traveling across the world. I can mix the variables but I only need the one constant. With that said, life is short. Life is hard. As much as my wife sometimes wants it to be, life cannot be 100% happiness. Some things are unavoidable and some things are frankly not enjoyable no matter how much you spin it in your mind. And in these times, just remember to keep it in perspective and know that these moments have a purpose as well. This leads directly to my next point.
Find juxtaposition opportunity. At times there are few things greater than doing nothing at all. But usually it is best after a long period of hard work, stress or exertion. If we spent all our days doing nothing, we would be bored and probably unhappy. A juxtaposition, in this context, are those moments of contrast in our lives. These carefully placed juxtapositions are perfect triggers for happiness. I know after a long, painful month at work there is nothing greater than traveling to somewhere with better weather, nicer scenery and sitting out with a beer, a crossword puzzle and momentarily not a care. In fact, this applies to most times where I just take a moment, breathe deeply and appreciate the world around me. It’s amazing how little it takes for me to just look up and marvel. A cold beer sometimes helps too. Our lives are filled with comparisons. It’s likely an evolutionary adaptation to quickly form (mostly) accurate conclusions based on prior experience. It makes sense because that’s how we’re wired. However, we also have a tendency to form habits, some good and some bad. But we often find a comfort zone and nestle into a routine. These routines quickly become boring, predictable and on a long enough timeline suck the life out of us. Some take a different route home today. Drive down a neighborhood block you haven’t before. Make your own now moments and enjoy them. Happiness is not complicated. It can, however, take on many forms and to be frank has varying degrees. It’s important to remember to appreciate it as it comes, regardless of the manner. Extreme elation loses its meaning if it happens every five minutes. I can tell you one of the happiest moments of my life was the day I got married. I’m sure there will be other similar events down the road, such as a child birth but all days can’t be like that. For most of life you just need to take the good with the bad. Appreciate the good and never lose sight of the fact that the bad is good because it makes the good better.
Balance just the right amount of selfish. I suspect I might get some flak for this one. Remember though, in an emergency, when the oxygen masks deploy … secure your own mask before assisting others. This is not meant to be selfish, but rather, if you are only giving and never taking time for yourself you run the risk of losing sight of your own happiness. Luckily for us humans, happiness tends to be contagious. Chances are if you can find a way to improve your own state-of-mind it will pay dividends to those around you. The bottom line is don’t lose focus of your own sanity.
Look up and find direction. We’ve already established we’re busy. We are continually distracted by our instantaneous, digital world. Instant Tweets are in and email is too slow because typing more than 128 characters and thinking about something for more than 12 and a half seconds is inconvenient. We don’t have time to wait for the microwave, much less worry about our next moment. Too often we get caught up in the things directly in front of our nose. That immediate thing somehow becomes elevated in our minds. It needs immediate attention; often at the detriment of something else, more important. In a sense one might wonder if this goes against the thought in the first bullet. Still strive to enjoy each step along the way, but still know where you’re headed. Make sure you’re on a rewarding and fulfilling path. Don’t wander aimlessly from text message to text message, deadline to deadline or bill to bill. The moments of happiness are great, but ultimately lasting happiness is tied to long-term fulfillment. Be that in a marriage, a job or a lifetime journey. Know where you’re headed. Have a purpose, a destination. Don’t be consumed by it, still enjoy those moments. Depending on your goals, sometimes it’s important to break them up into milestones. Challenging goals can be the most rewarding, but even if you fall short, make sure there are achievements along the way. Remember to enjoy the journey and enjoy each step along the way. We’re all headed to the same destination, so make sure the trip is filled with happiness.
So, the polls are closing and my quota has long been eclipsed. As you’ve probably guessed already, I may not be the best at following instructions. But hey, surprisingly, I’m having fun with the journey. The best part of happiness is that it’s individual. My wife has read hundreds of self-help books on happiness or related topics. She’s probably cringing a little right now as she reads my unreferenced stream of consciousness and possibly shaking her head slightly at my drivel. But the source doesn’t matter and that’s sort of the beauty of it. We’re all similar creatures on some level, and the basics are fundamental. I don’t have to tell you about happiness because when it happens you can feel it. And chances are you already have. Simply rinse and repeat. But don’t stop exploring the world around you, reaching outside your comfort zone and seeking new juxtapositions. Where risks are high, rewards are high. Simply stated, happiness is derived from your perception of the world, so choose your temporary state of mind wisely. It’s a fleeting moment we try to recapture as often as possible. The less than 2,000 words of this blog aren’t going to change your life. But if you’re at all like me, and I think you are, then sometimes you need to be reminded of a few simply things. We all know the drill and we’ve probably spouted similar words of wisdom to others. Every once in a while, stop and remember to take your own advice. So, to you and to my lovely wife: look forward, follow your dreams, remember what’s important, enjoy the moment and occasionally pass out a reminder to the rest of us. Some of us need it. I know I do.