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I just finished reading Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness at Home, checked out from the library in the hopes that her happiness would rub off, and I would become a generally happier, more fulfilled person. As i was reading, it occurred to me that this was only the most recent in a long list of happiness themed books I’ve read, not limited to Rubin’s own previous work The Happiness Project. I’m on a quest to better my life, clearly.

I find myself envious of these writers for having the luxury of a job that consists of asking themselves what makes them happy and then recording it. I yearn for the freedom to not just write and get paid but to write what I want and get paid. It seems like a miracle to me that people are able to do that. Professional happiness seems like a linchpin to a happy life. Idleness leads nowhere, and a poor work situation looms over everything else like a furious thundercloud.

While, and possibly because, professional fulfillment still eludes me (though I am trying!), I have been trying to focus on other things in life that please me. I recently wrote about the importance of small rituals, but I think there are broader ways to focus on my happiness. In her books, Rubin comes back to a key component of finding happiness time and again: be herself. What makes me happy may not make someone else happy, and vice versa. So in the spirit of mindfulness and a bit of accountability, here are my top five (that I can think of now; I don’t have a year to write this blog) hows to happiness.

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  1. Stay Connected: I live faraway from my closest friends and family, and though I love my husband dearly and absolutely depend on him, our relationship cannot be everything. I must be conscientious about staying in touch with the people who know me, ground me, light me up. I make quick phone calls on my walk home from work. I make long phone calls on the weekends. I keep long text threads active. When I feel poorly, I tend to disengage, and that only serves to make me feel worse. I need my people in order to thrive. I’m also trying to expand my circle here, connecting with a new couple-friend, reaching out to people I haven’t spent time with recently. I don’t love crowds, but I love close relationships, and knowing people and being known makes me happy.
  2. Allow for Small Indulgences: At Christmas, I returned a few gifts and spent the money on frilly lacy items and new lipstick. To me, this was a thrilling indulgence that I never would have allowed myself on my own dime. I love little pretty feminine things, but I generally eschew them in favor of more practical purchases. To be able to partake in them without the guilt over finances was a Christmas gift I will treasure for a long time. I also love fresh-cut flowers. Tulips are just coming back into season, so I bought a bouquet of 20 and took pleasure in cutting and arranging them in a crystal vase just-so on my shelf. Thanks to my mom’s Christmas gift to husband, we were also able to discover places close by that sold white truffle oil and sipping chocolate, and we happily partook in both. Taking pleasure in small things frequently makes it easier to wait for the big thrills in life.
  3. Be Present at Home: Rather than coming home after a long day of work, throwing myself on the couch and losing myself in a Netflix marathon (although that is a deserved treat from time to time), I am happiest when I take in all that being at home means. I love to cook, so when I am home, I spend time in the kitchen, pleased with my magnetic knife rack each time I chop something, pleased with the little bookshelf above my sink as I look for a recipe or grab the olive oil. I take care while tending to my small collection of houseplants and angle myself while reading on the couch so that I can glance up and take them all in. As I fall asleep at night, I admire my little vignette of pretty and meaningful art and objects within my sight, and I luxuriate in the comfort of two down pillows and a soft blanket. Home is where we can most be ourselves, so I make my home a place of intentional enjoyment.
  4. Read More: It’s so easy to just watch TV, or frankly, on some nights, just stare at the wall. I’m happier when I read. To fall asleep reading after a long day is a great pleasure. To spend a morning lost in a book with a mug of something warm by my side is a joy. I love to scour the library for titles that jump out at me and then get lost in each different world. For my entire life, reading has been the thing that has most consistently given me pleasure, and it’s worth that little extra effort to get a book started.
  5. Sleep Enough: I have always been one of those people who need a lot of sleep. I remember one of my first boy-girl sleepovers for NYE 2000 and being just desperate to get to sleep as soon as midnight struck and the world wasn’t over. One of my best friends from growing up and I used to have sleepovers nearly every weekend in high school, and we would sleep until 10:30 and not get out of bed until noon. Last year we took a trip together that involved a lot of separate napping. This is probably why we’re so close. My husband teases me because he doesn’t understand proper napping, but a day with a nap is a thing of beauty. If I don’t sleep well or enough, it ruins my day, so I know that no matter how exciting life seems, sleep matters.