Saturday, April 30, 2011

The State of Blissfulness: Are You Happy?

I read this book, The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World., for my Book Group and it got me thinking about my state of happiness.

The Background
Basically, the book is about the author, Eric Weiner, who had been reporting for NPR in those worn-torn areas and wanted a break from all that tragedy and to find the happiest places in the world. He traveled to the countries that ranked high on the happiness meter (Gross National Happiness), because there are people who do rate that in the world, and he wanted to discover what made them happy. He wanted answers, because basically, he was a little grumpy and he just wanted to know how to be happy.

Hot Topic These Days
This seems to be a hot topic these days because come January Real Simple’s feature article was, “Be Happier this Year: Nine Surprising Strategies to Get You There,” and NPR had a series on being positive, essentially, how to be happy. I guess there is a recent book and website about a gal who decided she wanted to be happy so she took a year to set her life up to be just that. On our city marketing LinkedIn group someone threw the discussion out there, “Name one thing that makes you happy. During the busy work day, people still had time to respond to what makes them happy (I’ll share the responses at the end).
So, it sounds like we all want a piece of happiness in our lives and we want to know why are some people happy and some are not.

No Grumps Here
Now, I would basically say I’m no grump – I’m rather quick to smile and received “The Most Smiley” award in college, and I just love people and take extra effort to make a friend (and keep them, no here today gone tomorrow stuff!). I do have an inner peace and joy in my life just from knowing and loving Him, Our Creator, and knowing that I have a purpose in my life gives me great direction, but it is circumstances that can determine if we are sad or happy. Some of the people Eric Weiner interviewed, happiness is a choice.
(Now some people might argue that Joy and Happiness are the same thing and the words could be used interchangeable, but I will argue differently. I see joy as a reflection of something deeper while happiness can come and go. We will save this argument for another day.)

A Sense of Well Being
The NPR series points out that happiness can be attained if we have a positive attitude, engaged at work, fulfilling relationships, meaning and purpose in our lives, a since of accomplishment, and well being which includes good physical health.
So, all that is in one place is a rare deal. Do we have to have all that to be happy? They mentioned that “life is sometimes unfair and we can sometimes be unrealistic.” They also said that “anger is not bad when it is a cause of life’s unfairness.” They said that it is not a “Pursuit of Happiness,” but “Happiness is a Pursuit.” Semantics? Maybe. But it sounded good.

Are You Happy?
So back in November of 2010 our book group got together and talked about this book by Weiner. I loved this book so much that I ear-marked pages and underlined so many great quotes and ideas. I loved that he visited Iceland and I never realized that the country is full of culturally aware people who basically accept people as they are. It definitely warrants a visit to a county I never ever would have ever thought to be a tourist of.
Anyway, we sat in big comfy couches and went around our group and responded to the question of if we thought we were happy or not. My answer was: no. Yes, surprising isn’t it, from basically a joyful person who wasn’t so happy in November.
It got me thinking why I wasn’t happy and as I pondered that question I started evaluating my life and how it effects my well being.

Here is what makes me unhappy:
  • unfriendly people like the ones who live in our neighborhood of just-out-of-college young people who have no vested interest in the neighborhood because basically they are moving out just as soon as they get a “real” job. We can take a walk and those passersby’s won’t reply “Hi,” even if we say “Hello” first! That really eeerks me. 
  • being overwhelmed with house responsibilities – you know, the dirty bathroom; the stacked dishes in the sink that spills over to both sides of the counter; the endless, bottomless laundry basket that keeps producing dirty clothes; the lawn that needs to be mowed again; the bushes that needs to be trimmed; the dog that needs daily cleaned up after; the constant paper flow; the messes that I clean up but then reproduce again, and on and on. And, yes, it is ME who has to do it all. My boys help a bit, but we can’t keep up. We just don’t invite people over any more, because I can’t keep up with our house!
  • clutter. I hate stacks of paper. I hate random stuff on the counter. I like thing put away and I can’t function with clutter.
  • a house that is not finished. Oh man, I can’t tell you how discouraging it is when I can’t see the improvements in the house happening quick enough. It has been three years since we have moved into this bonafide, fixer-upper home and we just don’t have the time to fix up. I’ve see houses built in three months. I saw a church re-gutted, repainted, and redecorated for a complete new look in no time at all, but yet we still have that hole in the bathroom wall. It can get discouraging.
So what do we do? Should we let things like the above get us down?
Well, I saw that happiness could be a choice or a conscience decision not to be happy so I started thinking about what makes me happy?

What Makes Me Happy?
  • My family. They make me laugh. We have so much fun together and sometimes the boys and I will just dance or just be silly and we have lots of fun. We have a lot of laughter in this house. (So how can I ever be unhappy? Right?)
  • Organization. Organization essentially helps in my mental state of mind.
  • The color yellow.
  • Gerber Daisies.
  • A night out writing. Writing gets my thoughts out on “paper” so they don’t stay cluttering up my mind.
  • A rainy day.
  • A clean organized desk. (Or should I just say, a DESK please!)
  • A chunk of chocolate with a chai latte with soy milk while reading a good book.
  • Sitting on a hill reading the Bible and spending time in prayer.
In the book, Geography of Bliss, Eric meets a housekeeper in India that always came to work happy. She wore lip stick and a bracelet and hummed while she worked. She lived in the slums with her family. The money she made fed a large family. She could come to work down and out about her “luck” in life, but no, she decided that she was happy and there was no reason to waste time and be less than that. This character in the book has stuck with me more than any other. Can you be happy when circumstances around you are less than desirable?

So what makes you happy? Does organization or lack of it affect you as much as it does me? Please share about your state of happiness and if you think it is a choice.

LinkedIn Discussion: Name one thing that makes you happy. * performing for an audience * early morning with a great cup of coffee * the peace of an early morning - but with Tazo Awake Tea instead of coffee * knowing that I've helped someone * swimming in the ocean * my daughters laughter * when people communicate clearly, openly, and easily * college basketball tournaments * visiting a National park * Applause * being on the water under sail headed to somewhere new * knowing where my cell phone is when I need it * A nice, unexpected surprise * being on the water under sail * a good book * a good economy * the sun * when people show the ability to step outside their own agendas * hearing that an unemployed friend has a new job * taking my dogs to Dog Beach for the day.


  1. Wow Sharon, now that is "Being Real" and thank you for you honest and interesting blog. I agree, being happy is elusive but joy is from the Father of Lights and we have that hope! I would agree about the unhappiness factor in this stage of life-- too much constant housework, physical pain for me :), lack of time to all of the "ME CENTERED" activities that I love. But, I'm blessed with a wonderful family and great friends-- and that makes me happy today! Also Sharon, you must know that your JOY is evident and you are truly an example to me!

  2. Sharon, that was an amazing article! Thanks for sharing. Now I want to read the book :-) I think about this topic every hear and there. I often wonder if I would be happier with a career, since I'm a stay-at-home mom. I wonder if I choose not to work because it scares me, or because I really prefer being at home. Hmmm...always lots to think about, isn't there?!?!? In the end I would say I'm happy. I'm 'happiest' when it's sunny outdoors, not too hot, and I've spent the day working in my garden (like yesterday). I came in yesterday feeling so wonderful. The pine needles were (mostly) cleaned out from under our giant trees, one entire 40' border was cleared of grass, I felt energized and tired and absolutely wonderful! This entire week will be like that for me. Euphoria. I also love a nice, snowy, cozy day in front of the fire. And I agree about choosing to feel happy. I used to easily get into "Debby Downer" mode and be such a bitch - truly - to my husband mostly. I have worked hard at changing that and trying to look on the bright side. I think I'm happier not working because I don't feel so stressed or torn all the time, as you mentioned. I have time to keep the house in fairly decent order (except during summer when I'm in the yard or fall when I'm canning), time to do what I want/need to do and I love taking care of my family. I think it's what I do best in life :-) I would have a very hard time living in a home that is in the process of remodeling so I truly feel your pain on that score! I like everything done yesterday, but I'm getting better. My master bathroom has been in a state of repair for 2 mos. now and surprisingly its not bothering me. Age is helping to be more patient and content. In closing I just have to offer one word of advice - invite those friends over even if your house isn't perfect. They aren't coming to see your house, they're coming to see you! I tell myself this quite often :-)