Saturday, May 5, 2012

Finding Joy [Part One]

I'm currently reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. Although I cannot say I like her writing persona, her book is full of good insights. The general theme is: how can I make my life a happier one? Part of this is, of course, understanding what makes one happy and what does not. While there is a chapter on money and finances, she writes very clearly that money has little to do with actual happiness. Most of her time focuses on what makes her happy, be it clean closets or creating more "magic" in the lives of her children, finding practical ways to make these things happen, and tracking her experiences and results along the way.

I do relate with Rubin's introduction (at least I think it was the introduction); she wrote that she was on the bus and saw a busy and frazzled-looking mother, and realized that, although she had all of the tools to be happy (good marriage, loves her children, financial security, successful writing career), she did not actually feel happy most of the time.

Rubin hasn't mentioned this yet in her book (I'm about two-thirds of the way through), but it seems to me that the biggest change she makes in all of this is being more present and intentional in her life, moment to moment. Having Felicity has made me much more aware of time (although I feel like I perhaps waste more of it now than I did before?); I know this small baby (not so small anymore!) will only be small once, that I will only be able to hold her, give her thousands of kisses and hugs a day, and sing to her like I do for a short time. She is so innocent and lovely, and I know that it is important to value every moment with her.

I feel this way myself much of the time. It is amazing when I step back and see both the good in my life, and then to think about things that I let upset me. So, while I'm not going to commit to a year-long happiness project of my own (although I think this is a worthwhile venture and would like to at some point), I do want to be more intentional with my time, and be more present in my life and my decisions.

An article written by Shelley Seale on Culture Map has prompts to creating your own happiness project (finding joy), and I want to explore some of these prompts, starting with the first on her list:

Want what we have – not what we don’t. Happiness has less to do with our circumstances, than how we perceive them and how satisfied we are with what we have. Our feelings of contentment are strongly influenced by our tendency to compare; which is why the whole “keeping up with the Jones” mentality is such a debilitating spiral. But conversely, you can use comparison to shift your perspective and contemplate how things could be worse. Try this exercise: Complete the sentence “I’m glad I’m not _____.”
  • I'm glad I'm not raising Felicity by myself; I'm so grateful that Ian is a true partner in every sense of the word.
  • I'm glad I'm not in a dead-end job that I don't find fulfilling; while being a stay-at-home mom may not be my dream job, I'm thankful I'm not behind a desk and can spend all day with Felicity and witness her growth and be a part of her happiness.
  • I'm glad I'm not in poor health; I'm grateful that I can walk without pain, that I'm not bed-ridden, and that I can enjoy the things I want to enjoy.
  • I'm glad I'm not broke; yes, money is tight, but we have enough to make ends meet, take care of ourselves and Felicity with some comfort, and still have a little leftover to save for the future. Sometimes I have to remind myself of the situations I used to see when I was a financial counselor to put our finances in perspective (we are not behind in rent, we have money for utilities, we have money to eat out occasionally, and to buy new clothes and toiletries when needed).
  • I'm glad I'm not a bad cook; how wonderful that I enjoy cooking, love to eat my veggies, and can enjoy this activity with Ian several times a week.
  • I'm glad I'm not taking care of an elderly or sick parent; I am fully aware that this may be in the cards for the future and will gladly do it if and when the times comes, but I am grateful that we don't have the additional financial stress or emotional burden of taking this on right now.
  • I'm glad I'm not pregnant; I'm really happy to just have one baby to worry about right now!
  • I'm glad I'm not in a drama-filled relationship; it is easy (most of the time) to be married to Ian, and I'm so grateful that we are both adults that can communicate well, resolve problems, and work together towards making our future as good as it can be. 
It feels strange to do a comparison sort of gratitude list, but it's true that humans love to compare themselves with others, and I certainly am aware that I'm prone to do this myself.