This past year it has felt like I’ve catapulted at warp speed on a trajectory of emotional and spiritual growth I never thought possible. Could ya notice? At the center of this one-woman revolution has been the age-old question: How can I be happy? Recently I watched a documentary, cleverly called Happy, about the psychology of happiness. According to experts (and very happy people from Okinawa, Japan to the bayou of Louisiana) happiness is like a muscle — it needs to be exercised to stay strong. And what are the things that make people happy? Friends, family, strong community ties, physical activity, enough money to meet your needs, and spending lots of time “in the zone“ (i.e. doing what they love). Contrary to popular belief, lots of money, fancy things, and a life free of hardship and challenges does not make us happy. In fact, some degree of struggle is paramount to happiness as our brain requires points of comparison and contrast in order to process information. Basically, you can’t appreciate the good times without the bad — resiliency fosters happiness.
The year’s end is always a time for reflection and reinvention. This year especially — there was the all-important winter solstice on December 21 (if we’re reading this then the world did not end as presumably predicted by the Mayan calendar), and the horrific tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. What is there to glean from that nightmare other than this world we inhabit can be a scary, unpredictable place, and life so very short. As cheesy and reductive as it is, we have to make the most of it while we can. The task of preparing our children to embark safely into this world on their own seems increasingly difficult, and I think that contributes a lot to the stress and unhappiness most parent’s feel on a daily basis. So how do we cultivate happiness in unhappy times?
Part of what has helped me this year in my journey has been the resources passed along by well meaning friends and professionals. I’ll share some of my favorites below, in the event that your New Year’s resolutions need some inspiration. Merry Christmas, and I’ll see you next year!
Breakfast at the Victory: The Mysticism of Ordinary Experience by James Carse
The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg