I love lists. Everyday I refer to my to-do list in hopes of transforming it into a list of accomplishments. The Internet is full of articles and blog posts with lists of tips about everything — making the most of your 20s, finding the perfect job, improving your love life and finding happiness. Usually I read these lists and find a few good pointers, but then I tell myself that they are shallow. Happiness can’t be cultivated through a checklist. And who cares about happiness anyway? Happiness is a fleeting, worldly thing that Katy Perry writes about, right? Joy is the goal, and the pursuit of happiness is frivolity…
I don’t think so anymore. In the last week, I have felt extremely happy. And rather than trivializing that happiness, I’ve tried to couple it with thankfulness. The results have been really life-giving and fun. When I’m happy, I’m more pleasant to be around. My day is longer and more complete. My focus is sharper.
I still think joy is important. This week did have several moments when the emotion of happiness subsided, and in those moments, I leaned into the consistent joy rooted in my heart. But when happiness started to bubble up again, I didn’t resist. I let it boil over and I laughed or smiled or opened my eyes wide. It’s like waterskiing. You depend on the rope that tethers you to the speedboat (joy), but you are still free to enjoy the feeling of soaring over the wake or laughing in surprise when a wave catches you unexpectedly (happiness).
Full disclosure: I can’t waterski. But I liked the illustration so I’m leaving it.
On Wednesday I sat with some wonderful friends and we talked about the things that hold us back from embracing the blessing of happiness more regularly. In the last nine days I’ve had a lot of those obstacles stripped away, so I’m going to take note of them and keep an eye out for them moving forward.
So here’s my own list. Some of these ideas came from friends and blog posts, but a lot of them just happened on their own. Here are eight ways to increase the likelihood of experiencing happiness:
- Remove guilt from where it doesn’t belong. Whether it’s a friendship or a task, don’t feel guilty about what you’re doing or not doing. Instead, take an action to change it.
- Make an effort to be outside. Even if its for five minutes while eating your English muffin in the morning. Go outside and look around. Sun! Changing leaves! Are you kidding me with these clouds?!
- Be present where you are. For me this means creating a little more space between myself and my cell phone, and also letting my to-do list live on paper rather than in my brain. When I’m constantly dividing my attention between where I am and where I could be, there’s very little room to acknowledge happiness.
- Give a little more. Whether it be time, energy, money, attention. Don’t be stingy.
- Make the most of your surroundings. Tidy up. Make a craft that you’re excited to use. Organize your closet. If you’re going to occupy a space, why not make it a pleasant place to be?
- Sing in the car.
- Value stories of life. When you’re with people, listen to their stories more fully. When you’re alone, read someone’s story closely or reflect on the narrative of your day. I spent some time this week watching videos of my friends as they shared their life stories (http://vimeo.com/bridgeoxford), and it was really refreshing. Thinking of the world in terms of stories brings perspective and also creates common ground. If we all have a story, that’s a great starting place for conversation.
- Do the hard scary stuff on your to-do list. Or even the things that you know aren’t hard, but you’ve been subconsciously dreading for no good reason. Respond to that email! Pack up that box! Return that phone call!
Happiness isn’t about ignoring difficulty or expecting perfection. It’s not about chasing one pleasure to the next. It’s about recognizing the good parts of your day and responding with gratitude. It’s about being real enough to express cheerfulness and mature enough to keep stress in perspective.
“Taste and see that the Lord is good;
blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.” -Psalm 34:8