Someone asked me this question the other day and I found myself largely incapable of answering. As usual, I over-complicated the question. My brainium instantaneously accessed ‘The Art of Happiness’ by the Dalai Lama, which I read years ago, and raised philosophical questions about how we confuse happiness and pleasure (if you’ve not read it, think Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Angel’s moment of pure happiness…..it wasn’t actually ejaculating). But I think it’s an important question for now. For all of us. It’s been a tough time hasn’t it? Isolating, restricting and a little scary. Some of us will have lost loved ones and are going through the horrendous long grind of grief. I don’t think I’ve spoken to a single person lately who has not been struggling with their marriage, their family or their mental health.
So many people are unhappy right now. Even if it’s only tiny steps at a time, we all need to work at being that little bit happier. So, does it matter whether we are talking pleasure, enjoyment or true happiness? In normal times, I would say ‘yes’. Pleasure is short term, happiness and contentment should be lasting. If you’re constantly chasing pleasure, you’ll miss out on some of the bigger joys that come with hard work. Big love, parenthood and major life achievements all take work and may involve sacrificing pleasure in order to reach a bigger goal. Right now, however, when we’ve all been through a tougher time than any of us ever anticipated having to face, maybe it doesn’t matter how we achieve a sense of happiness and wellbeing, as long as we do, somehow.
The truth is that sometimes the bigger, more worthy, paths to happiness may be denied us. Maybe our responsibilities are too great and we have to put our bigger dreams aside in order to do what’s right. In those circumstances viewing small pleasures as a path to happiness is the only way to remain sane.
So what makes you happy? It’s okay if you don’t know, if you haven’t thought about it in years. Go get a pen and paper, do some brainstorming. Take a few days to dwell on it. I did. Do you want to know where I got to? It’s a surprisingly long list and I intend to use it to improve my days.
1) Spending quality time with my kids. The kind of time that doesn’t involve me nagging them to sit nicely at the table or tidy the playroom. You know? That kind of time.
2) Good company and conversation.
3) Laughter. I really don’t do this enough.
4) Being outside.
5) Good food. Trying new foods. Cooking when it’s not a chore.
6) Nice underwear (obviously 😉 )
7) Feeling pretty.
8) Hot baths. With a book or with a friend, either works.
9) Sunshine and summer rain.
10) Being by the water.
11) Reading and feeling intellectually challenged.
12) Writing and feeling like I get the opportunity to express myself.
13) The first sip of a cold beer on a hot day.
14) The pop of a champagne cork.
15) Having the chance to dress up.
16) Beautiful places and beautiful things: art, archeology, antiques, far flung places.
17) Travel. I miss going on adventures.
18) Running, yoga, moving my body and learning what’s it’s capable of.
19) Trying new things. If I’m not learning belly dance and how to play my guitar (at the least by Christmas) someone come and kick me and, while we’re at it, I sooooo need to reorganize to try aerial yoga because that looks epic.
20) The theatre. God, I miss the theatre. Someone, please take me to the theatre.
I could go on, because, actually, when you start thinking about the things that stimulate you and make you happy, it kind of starts to steamroller. I think, particularly now, that we have a responsibility to ourselves to be just a little bit happier. If we can, as much as we can, little by little, everyday.