What makes you happy? What things just give you joy every time you do them or see them or encounter them? Conversely, what things make you miserable? What keeps you up at night and adds gray hairs to your head?
I gave these questions a lot of thought over the weekend while I was on vacation. It all stemmed out of a conversation I had on Friday night with one of the guys on our cricket team. He mentioned some of the things that make him happy and a sort of exercise to figure them out. (At least I think he mentioned something about writing them down. He’d had a lot to drink and I was sleep-deprived, so there’s no telling what he actually said. =P) He mentioned that he just wants to do the things that make him happy right now.
I thought about that. How simple does it sound to just do the things that make you happy? Really simple. Delightfully simple. Deceptively simple. So as I lay in my cozy hotel bed thinking about it, stressing over a slew of other things that had been bothering me during the vacation and before, I began to make my lists.
Here they are. First, things that make me happy:
– Writing – be it stories, blog entries, or emails to friends (long, LONG emails to friends)
– Cricket – watching it, scoring, and the people I’ve met through cricket
– Having long, deep, intellectual conversations with people, usually one-on-one – this also counts as “hanging out with friends”
– Knitting, both the creation aspect of it and the bright, beautiful colors and soft yarns
– Learning new things, from books but especially from listening to people talk about the things they’re experts on
– Happy families – i.e. families that are close and communicate with each other and do things together, i.e. not mine =P
– Knowing that I’m being useful to someone or some cause and being appreciated for what I do
– Really good, long nights of sleep
There are a lot of other things too, but those are the big ones and big categories that stick out to me. I noticed some interesting similarities and trends in these things, but more about that later….
Now, things that make me miserable:
– Money – i.e. worrying about not having enough of it
– Not sleeping enough
– Worrying what people think of me, particularly men, particularly a few specific men
– Conflict, fighting, and people being deliberately mean and/or bitchy
– Being ignored, deliberately or out of neglect
– Complaining – i.e. listening to people complain about everybody & everything else rather than trying to be positive and productive themselves
– Stressing out about being single (actually being single doesn’t bother me as much as the way I stress about it)
– When people I love don’t love me in return
Well. As I was writing out these lists on sticky notes in my hotel room I began to notice a trend. The things that make me happy are all very tangible, doable things. I can choose to do any one of those things at any given time. I can write something or knit something or call or email a friend any time I want. The things that make me miserable, on the other hand, are things that I have little or no control over. They are mostly things that involve the choices other people make and other people’s actions and how I react to them.
I consider this to be a very positive realization. Sure, I could get hung up on the fact that I don’t have the power to remove any of the things that make me miserable. If, for example, living in Philadelphia made me miserable I could easily move somewhere else. But worrying what certain people think of me is utterly out of my control. I can’t steer or focus their thoughts any more than I can make the temperature and humidity level go down on a summer day. But even though I can’t stop the things that make me miserable there’s a sort of freedom in knowing that these things are not happening because of anything I did or didn’t do. They happen. Like something else that happens. I could waste a lot of energy stressing about them happening.
On the other hand, the things that make me happy are things that cancel out the things that make me miserable in a lot of cases. The common threads of worry and stress can be balanced by me getting out there and doing the things I love. A lot of the loneliness and worrying about what other people think of me can be stopped by going out and doing cricket things or calling up a friend to hang out, if only to commiserate about the stupid things in life. And some of the things I love the most, that make me the most happy, like Writing, are actually solitary activities. So for every gloomy moment there is something tangible that makes me happy that can counterbalance it.
Of course the number one thing that for me determines whether I’m happy or miserable is actually SLEEP. I feel wonderful when I’ve slept well and miserable when I haven’t, and everything else seems sunnier or gloomier depending on how I’ve slept. That’s a key thing to know. Yesterday, for example, I was feeling mopey because of something relatively minor (what a certain man may or may not think of me, actually, because he didn’t return a friendly email) for the sole reason that I was still exhausted from my busy vacation. That might sound obvious or silly, but it’s key to know that problems seem bigger to me, and I suspect everyone else too, when I haven’t slept well. On those days I need to cut myself a lot of slack, eat a lot of chocolate, and go to bed as early as possible. Everything looks better in the morning. Maybe that’s why I’m a morning person.
So. The long and the short of it is that I recommend that everyone try this experiment. Get out a pad of paper or some sticky notes and start writing down the things that make you happy and the things that make you miserable. Be honest with yourself. Think outside of your own box. Be wiling to put things down on one column or the other that you might be ashamed to admit are true. Some of the things that make me happy or that make me miserable that I didn’t list here are horribly selfish or completely irrational. But it’s important to see what they are, to acknowledge them. So make your lists and get ready to be surprised.