This past weekend I was chatting with a friend about happiness. It was one of those conversations that began with a few light words, and then quickly meandered into one of those engrossing, probing commentaries about Life. It was a quick phone call stuffed in the middle of a busy morning that suddenly became thoughtful. And it got me thinking.
Which is a good thing. Because I need these deeper chats in the same way that I need my steaming cup of java in the morning. They replenish me. And they remind me about what I’m learning on this journey of mine.
Here’s something: I’m learning that happiness happens in moments.
I’m happiest when I’m contemplating a juicy, titillating concept, an idea that doesn’t t have pointy, pristine edges with a clear beginning and an end.
I’m happy when I’m talking about ideas that can challenge my view and make me feel like that little kindergarten girl I once was, the one that spread gooey, wild colors of finger paint all over the butcher paper, and never knew there was a word called “art.”
When are you happy?
I’m happy when I’m holed up with my family in front of our fireplace. When I’m sitting at my favorite place on the brick hearth feeling the cozy heat on my back, and the blankets are spread out on our old lumpy, sectional, and there is a lot of laughing in the room, because something funny (and often political) is on the television. And I will gaze around the room at Jim and the boys, and Stella our puppy who can now jump on the couch too, and in my admittedly corny way, I will inhale this scene in one deep breath.
And then I’ll announce to no one in particular, “I’m SO happy right now….”
And no one will actually answer me, because all the males in my family know that this is what I do. I pause and announce my happy moments. And afterwards, I feel happy because no matter how quirky I might be, I feel very loved.
I’m happy when I writing. And when I’m organizing words and ideas in my head. I’m happiest when I’m struggling to come up with a meaningful way to express something. Because I would love to think that something here on my blog might be helpful to you. And that I can share some kernel of wisdom from a different time in my life; a time when I was working with people who had broken spirits, and were struggling with sadness and shame. Because it feels important to give you something to ponder.
I’m happy when I’m discovering small beautiful objects. Things that can be created by you and me.
I’m happy around paper, especially tattered, faded papers that are filled with curly handwriting that is mostly indistinguishable. I’m happy holding pages of old letters because they suggest mystery and love from another time.
Old books make me happy.
Cuddling on the couch with a great story makes me happiest.
Yes, I’m definitely learning a few things as I get older.
I used to think happiness was this big golden crown that got instantly bestowed upon me after some meaningful event. That I would finally be happy when I found Mr. Right, or when I got my graduate degree. I thought that once I plowed through my oral exams that happiness would come raining down on me. And that I would be happy when I finally became a mother.
But now I know that happiness happens in small moments. And that it’s not wrapped up in some external event, and waiting somewhere in the future for me to deserve it.
According to the Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, the chance to feel happiness and peace is right there inside all of us, at any given moment. Only, it requires that we slow down and be able to get in touch with these vibrant, alive sensations, usually through the practice of meditation.
Nhat Hanh refers to this as the concept of Mindfulness, the act of being completely alive in the present moment. Have you read his book, The Miracle of Mindfulness?
It’s a short, powerful book that soothes me.
If you read this book you will learn how to wash dishes and experience the miracle of life while standing at your kitchen sink. Of course, washing dishes is a metaphor for how we go through our lives. And the crucial question for us, at any minute is, are we fully present or are we going through our daily experiences on auto-pilot?
Because in life, there are two ways to wash the dishes; washing dishes to clean them or washing dishes to wash the dishes. Do you see the difference?
If you’re washing the dishes to clean them, then you’ll be hurrying through the dishes and thinking about the cup of tea that awaits you, and then you are distracted. And when you are distracted, it is impossible to be completely YOU. When your mind is not present, you can no longer follow your breath and be fully conscious of your thoughts and actions. You will be sucked into the future, which means, that you’ll no longer be alive in the moment. You will be going through the motions without being fully there.
And the saddest thing? You’ll miss out on those precious moments that matter.
If you’re interested in learning more about Mindfulness, and the man that Martin Luther King Jr. referred to as, “an apostle of peace and nonviolence,” you can click on Oprah’s interview with Thich Nhat Hanh.
And if you’re curious, you can take this Mindfulness Quiz at the Happiness Project.
In the meantime, I realize I need lots of growth in this area. Interestingly, it seems I “zone out” at predictable times. For instance, how come I can never remember where I parked my car when I come out of the grocery store….Isn’t that the hardest thing?
Bye for now dear friends!