Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang is, by far, my favorite cartoon ever. I especially love the Christmas holiday special, and the “Happiness is…” calendars that I used to hang on my wall each year.
As much as I love Charles Schultz’s happiness meme, I’ve never thought much about happiness. Maybe it’s because I’m naturally a pretty happy person. I’m not given to melancholy or depression, I’m usually pretty content, and my glass is almost always half full. I do have a temper, but it tends to die down just as quickly as it starts up, and I’m no good at grudges because I always forget what I was mad about. A warm puppy (or a warm Cambria!) really is enough to make me happy most days.
With that in mind, I started Gretchen Rubin’s memoir-cum-self help book, The Happiness Project, yesterday, expecting a light, enjoyable read, and not expecting to be challenged. But, of course, I was.
While this cheerful little paperback is unlikely to become a classic, I both truly enjoyed it and was truly challenged. (Though I read the words happy and happiness so much that they ceased to seem like real words anymore, becoming more like the nonsense syllables of a baby just discovering his voice.) Focusing on happiness may seem vapid or selfish, but the true questions here are deeper than that. It’s about quality of life: am I doing the best with what I have? Am I maximizing life, finding the joy in where I am, or am I letting my temper, the circumstances I wouldn’t have picked for myself, etc, get in the way? Not only are these worthy questions, but they aren’t as selfish as they first appear. The truth is that I cannot change my loved ones, but I can do my best to improve myself since who I am directly affects their lives. It’s in my husbands best interest for me to be healthy and happy, just as it’s in my best interest for him to be the same. Plus, it seems silly to waste the life God gave me wallowing in mediocrity, wasting the gifts and opportunities for joy He’s handed me.
Some of Gretchen’s approach I will leave on the table. I’m not going to make a resolutions spread sheet for each month of the year, or research happiness from the angle of every discipline I can think of. In fact, this will probably be my only happiness book. Additionally, I’m not going to keep a food diary, study Buddhist meditation, or read multiple memoirs of catastrophe. Some of the things she needed to focus on don’t apply to me: I’m already a committed Christian, so I don’t feel the need to try to imitate a new spiritual leader. I already make plenty of time for books, and I don’t have children yet, so while that chapter was very insightful, I didn’t highlight quite as much.
But some of this really challenged me. I need to discipline my house keeping, cut my husband some slack for his faults, and stop being afraid of failure and aim for what I want instead of hoping it falls magically into my lap. And while I’m still not going to make any spread sheets, I did take a few cues from Gretchen. I wrote down Ten Commandments for 2012:
These commandments to myself crystalize my core values: I love Jesus, I prize authenticity, I desire to live a life characterized by kindness to others and unconditional love. I’m going to post my notecard by my mirror so I will always be reminded: this is how I want to live.
I also identified some goals:
1:Schedule dedicated writing time each day. I want to be a writer. It’s what I’ve always wanted, but, for a variety of reasons, I’ve never given myself the leverage to go after it. I may not get published this year, or the next, or for another decade, but I’ve got to start somewhere. So I’m starting here.
2: Visit the zoo; go to the theatre; see a symphony; try a new museum. Do something adventurous at least once a month.Part of Being Amanda Always is knowing what I do and do not enjoy. I’ve spent too much time in my life trying to like things because I feel that I should. But the truth is, I prefer art museums to going out dancing. I’d rather go to a Jazz club than a rock concert, and I love sushi, but Indian food just isn’t my thing. I want to have adventures, but I’m tired of doing it on everyone else’s terms and never my own.
3: Make some concessions. Always choosing love means making concessions. Tyler loves house music with a fiery passion, so sometimes I go out with him even when I’d rather read a book, and I’ve eaten a lot of Pad Thai so he can indulge in his favorite curry because I’m learning that love trumps preferences. And when my love is happy, I’m happy.
4: Blog every day. I love my blog. It makes me happy, stretches my creativity muscles, and helps me connect with others, so I need to stop neglecting it every time I get the sniffles.
5:Do fifteen minute tidy-ups of the closet, bathroom, and kitchen each day. I am not a natural house keeper. I’m often times so distracted I don’t notice a mess until it has grown legs and teeth and is trying to eat the cat for breakfast. But both Tyler and I are happier, more relaxed, and more productive when the house is clean. These are my three problem areas, so I’m going to focus on them.
6: Give both time and money. One of the biggest things God has taught me is that if I really want to be on His team, I can’t sit on the bench. I need to be giving my time, energy, talents, and money to help the hurting and spread love. Happiness won’t do me a bit of good if it’s at the expense of my own soul. Plus, helping others makes me happy! It feels good to pass it on.
There are also some little things I want to do, like get a library card, find a reading group, keep fresh flowers in the house, buy an audio book to listen to while I clean the house, keep one dollar bills in my purse to give to the plethora of homeless folks that populate my neighborhood, try to read a new magazine each week, make time each week for at least one of the artsy projects I have lined up, go for more walks, visit the dueling piano bar that looks so interesting, talk to both of my parents and my brother at least every other week, write more letters. And Marissa and I are going to try to double our reading goals, shooting for two books a week this year.
I used to be more spontaneous. My list of stuff I wanted to do never got very long because when stuff popped in my head I want ahead and did it. Maybe I’ll never be that same carefree girl again, but, like Gretchen, I’m going to try.
What are your goals for the coming year? Do you make resolutions? Or better yet, do you keep them? What little things (or big things) are you going to implement to improve your happiness in 2012?