To have a happy day, I usually need to want to have a happy day, but not desire one too much. There is a sweet-spot between feeling meh, and being overly enthusiastic. Some days, regardless of what I wish and do, the happy day doesn’t occur or it feels fake. Other days, I don’t have to wish at all, nor do anything in particular and the day is a happy one.
Today is one of those days that requires mindful thinking about happiness and doing actions to enable happiness. The balancing act is palpable. Due to the fact that I’m feeling analytical about my personal happiness, I’ll go ahead and document what is going through my head this early morning, in no particular order of importance.
Today is a Saturday–hurray! I woke up feeling healthy and alert–another positive. The sleep was not interrupted by a noisy thunderstorm–another plus. There are severe thunderstorms in the vicinity, which could be worrisome–at least for many of my fellow Nebraskans. These are things I have no conscious control over.
A few of the things I do to exercise a measure of control about this morning include: Wearing a freshly laundered pair of blue jeans; slipping into a soft, large tee-shirt; putting on my favorite sneakers; carefully preparing the coffee; and sitting down to write something for the blog.
As the laptop is booting up, lightning begins to flash to the north and thunder rattles the window panes. Because the laptop is old and its battery does not retain a charge, I briefly worry about a neighborhood power blackout due to the storm. To counter the worry, I’ll remember to frequently back up my work. With the laptop up and running and the backup plan ready, I’m writing something that perhaps a few folks will read or at least skim through. I judge it to be a good topic and one worth frequently pondering. Regardless of the potential audience and readership numbers, for me to write in the early morning is conducive to happiness. I write for its own sake.
What do I think about happiness this morning? What will I tell myself and others about happiness this morning? What will I do to create the necessary balance to enable happiness this morning?
Right now, this very moment, I feel contentment and happiness. This moment is all that really counts. We only really have just this present moment, I’m OK with that.
“The person born with a talent they are meant to use will find their greatest happiness in using it.”–Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Regardless of whether we believe there is such a thing as having a calling, most of us stumble upon an ability to do something creative or useful that we enjoy doing. The artist is self-defined as is the “techie”, the school teacher, the truck driver, the chef, the gardener, the philosopher, the parent, and so on and so forth. When we discover our niche and take the opportunity to practice it, we begin to positively lose ourselves in our work.
On second thought, the work doesn’t necessarily need to be connected to our “calling”. Simply performing a mundane household task mindfully can feel quite rewarding. The Zen monk, Thich Nhat Hanh says that while washing the dishes, one should only be washing the dishes. He recommends that while we are washing dishes, being consciously aware of the act of washing the dishes is important to completing the task in a satisfactory manner. When we wash dishes without feeling resentful about having to do so, or fantasizing about being a martyr about having to wash dishes, we will have spent our time well and constructively. Dishwashing meditation can be adapted to other tasks and chores, too.
Self-help gurus remind us to cultivate gratitude. When we sincerely feel thankful for who we have in our lives and the things that help us go through our days, we have a more peaceful state of mind. This peacefulness is a form of happiness. Although I’m not a paragon of gratefulness, I’ve made a habit of enumerating what I’m thankful for before I go to bed each night. This creates a calm, positive state of mind that is conducive to restfulness. A thankful attitude is a good foundation for happiness.
The thankful attitude is one way to enhance the happiness of one’s life. When we intentionally want to improve the quality of our lives, we cultivate the contents of our thoughts. Without being in denial of reality, it’s smart to guard the contents of one’s thoughts. Wise teachers throughout the ages have said that it is wise to entertain uplifting, virtuous thoughts and concepts. It is best to contemplate one’s virtues without sanctimony or self-righteousness. In other words, it is best to contemplate virtue in the same manner as prayer or meditation–in private, so as not to create a public spectacle.
Yet, it is good to enable happiness in others if we can. This happens through authentic compassion and caring. When carefully, mindfully shared, our own happiness increases along with theirs.
The Blue Jay of Happiness ponders this line from the 19th century Swiss critic, philosopher, and poet, Henri Frédéric Amiel. “Tell me what you feel in your room when the full moon is shining in upon you and your lamp is dying out, and I will tell you how old you are, and I shall know if you are happy.”