(Again) On Happiness...

Ok, if you know me or have been following my blogging in even the vaguest of ways over the years, it probably seems I harp a bit on this subject.

That's because I do.

That's because I simply can't see any point to this life if it isn't to find joy, through any/all (prudent and preferably legal) means.  For some people, joy comes by way of career fulfillment, for some love, for some artistic expression, for some family time. For some it's the carnal pleasures of sex and food and wild abandon-type dancing.  And come to think of it, I can't see why it couldn't/shouldn't be all of the above.

Tonight the fam and I watched a show my Mom had recorded that was basically a report on neuroscience and social science studies of happiness (incidentally, the latter found that the happiest people in the world reside in Denmark, where taxes can cost up to 63% of income, but citizens walk around feeling "tucked in" (was how they translated the idiom) and secure, where women leave sleeping babies parked alone in strollers *outside* of the cafes where they dine and people rarely lock their bikes; where there is an actual societal value that advocates against one's feeling superior to another, and where bankers make the same money as artists, so people choose professions based on what they most enjoy or feel called to do.  Sounds like a pretty nice place to be).

Anyway, the show got me thinking about the subject of happiness (again).  Often at my job, customers politely ask me how I'm doing during a transaction.  You should hear the responses I get when I respond that "I'm happy."  Some seem almost troubled, or at the very least incredibly curious.  The number one response is "Why?  Did something happen?"  I understand where they're coming from.  "Happy" seems to be a state reserved for special circumstances.  But I kind of feel that nothing great needs to happen in order for a person to be happy.  The absence of any bad news is usually sufficient for me.

I think sometimes the expression of happiness is shied away from for cultural reasons, even in a country where happy face emoticons are the law of the land.  A lot of people perceive smiling people to be fools, smiling fools who must not know what's really going on in the world.  And some people truly do feel the pain of the world very deeply, such that the simple knowledge of somebody suffering somewhere could keep them from feeling contentment themselves.  I admire people like that in a certain way.  But I am not one of them.

I've written before about the concept of gratitude journaling: the practice of recording a few things every day for which you are thankful.  The idea is to focus on what is good in your life, even in NOTHING seems good in your life, in an effort to magnify those positive experiences and diminish those that lead to feelings of sadness.

Between the ages of 18-19 I experienced a sadness so deep that nothing could make me feel happy or even imagine a future happiness.  But even in the midst of that sadness, I *appreciated* music.  I appreciated that certain music I listened to could heighten even the experience of sadness, because it made me feel that somebody somewhere had known what I was going through.  My gratitude for music--that and an old typewriter I'd picked up at a thrift store on The Strand in Manhattan Beach, its keys making the most satisfying of clicking sounds--was really what carried me through those dark days.

But gratitude journals aren't only for the gloomy times.  One thing tonight's show highlighted was the concept (partially arrived at through the studying of twins) that one's propensity toward happiness is 50% determined by one's genes.  Only 10% is determined by life circumstances (wealth, partnership, children, satisfaction with one's physical appearance).  A full 40% is determined by choice, by attitude, by one's willingness to make the decision to be happy.  (I'm really not sure how clinical depression factors into this.  Perhaps it can fall into the first category, since it often has to do with chemical imbalance (though that's not genetic..I don't know...seems like a fuzzy zone there)).  So I remain a firm advocate for focusing on the positive on a daily basis.

I have friends who are annoyed by other people's constant expressions of happiness on Facebook.  Yeah, I get that.  I'm similarly annoyed by people's constant expressions of fml-type sentiments or disdain for any number of things.  But those who freely and frequently declare their feelings of hope and joy bring me little uplifted moments myself.  I don't see happiness as coming in limited supply.  It seems to me that the more of that type of thing that's spread around, the less of EVERYthing negative there is or is potential for.

This is what made me happy today:  taking care of three giant, glaring bits of business, all of which will nicely support my New Years Resolution to get my finances in order, then having the entire remainder of the day to spend with Monkey (who has been the sweetest of sweeties and who's talking all the time and making amazing eye contact.  Parents out there will feel me: there is just nothing like the experience of your own child looking you in the eyes.  It's this recognition and familiarity that is unmatched--like the feeling of total warmth).  When I put him to bed and told him "I love you" and he said, "I love you too, Mama"...I think it's safe to say that was the highlight of the day.

And this is what is bringing me happiness right now, in this very moment: feeling, well, snug in the Dodgers snuggie my Ma got me (one each as stocking gifts for Kris and I), listening to jazz on my headphones while the rest of the house is quiet, having a friend I can say the most ridiculous and embarrassing things to and not feel judged, realizing I'm thirsty and seeing there is a 20-ounce bottle of clean water sitting about 6 inches from my hand (when we're talking gratitude happiness, no thing seems too small to mention....after all, there are so many people in the world for whom this remains a most out-of-reach luxury).  If these were the only things in my life I had to be happy about, I would still be a fortunate woman.

Just love the joy in that image.

I hope the New Year is treating you well so far and finding you with much to be happy about...

Oh, and here's a little something for the Kids in the Hall fans :)

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