Happy Is Important – Here’s Why

Smiley LogsOne of my blogger girlfriends started a thread on social last week asking, “How important is it to be happy?” I immediately responded with a resounding “VERY!” Then I watched as others gave their answers. Some people said that contentment was more important than happiness, while others said that being happy was somewhere on their list, though not at the top.

March 20 was the “International Day of Happiness” so the topic seemed to be on everybody’s minds last week. It’s also been seeping into global consciousness for the last few years. From Gretchen Rubin’s book The Happiness Project (and the follow-up Happier at Home) to an article in Forbes a few weeks ago entitled Why the World Needs a Happiness Campaign to Live Better, it’s a hot media topic.

And of course, there’s Pherrel’s “Happy” video, which has been watched over 453 MILLION times. Yeah, I think we’re all seeking a little more happiness.

If you look at the definition of happiness, it covers an entire spectrum of positive emotions, including contentment, joy, cheerfulness and delight. I’d throw optimism in there, too, as when I’m feeling optimistic, I’m happy.

As someone who spent my early adulthood in a constant state of pessimistic angst – just ask my college roommates…no, it’s probably best not to – I got in on this trend decades ago. I wanted to be happy, dammit, but I didn’t know how. Years later – years filled with therapy, support groups and self-help books – and I can honestly say I spend 95% of my time being “happy.”

Why is it important to be happy? Because we’re only here for a short while and we might as well enjoy it. Because happy people are healthier and live longer. Because happy people are more fortunate. (Seriously, look it up – it’s true!) And because happy simply feels good. 

The general gunk and chaos of life can get in the way, though one of the advantages of being 50 is that I’m finally able to get back to a positive place quickly with my own unique set of happiness enhancers. I read material like Gretchen Rubin’s books and magazines like “The Intelligent Optimist.” I hang out with my family and my frogs, felines and canines. I surround myself with symbols of happiness like toys, hearts and peace signs. Fortunately, I’m usually able to turn things around pretty quickly. I KNOW – in my bones – that happy is important.

What about you? Is being happy important to you? What do you find makes you feel happy? 

 

Familiar Routines Breed Contentment and Healthy Habits

Morning CoffeeI heard the line, “Listen, Lady! You don’t know anything about anything” on a bad television movie this evening, as I was flipping through the channels, searching for something to play in the background as I worked on my laptop. I had to stop and watch. The Lifetime Movie Network film, A Stranger at the Door, starred Linda Purl, and told a formulaic story of an abduction by her character’s long lost adopted son. I found it lovely in its lukewarm scripting, mediocre acting and non-existant character development.

I am drawn to bad Lifetime movies. They’re kind of like Cheese Whiz. Light and airy, kind of tasty, though they make you sick if you consume too much. There’s something comforting about them, too. You can pretty much predict what’s going to happen and the good guys will most likely win in the end. (Or at least they will if it’s a good bad movie.)

My husband and I took a walk tonight, during which he told me about what he would be doing after we got home. Letting the dogs out, putting them to bed, making tea for us to drink as we watched a bit of television, and getting lunches ready for the next day. It’s the same routine he runs through every weekday and it’s as comforting to him as my bad Lifetime movies are to me.

They say “familiarity breeds contempt,” but I don’t believe it. Not for a second. Research shows that familiarity and a routine can be beneficial for you both emotionally and physically. We live in a world full of chaos and unpredictability, so a routine that allows you to predict what will happen reduces stress and can make it easier to cope with day-to-day life. Routines can also help you stick to a plan for building healthy habits.

The familiar routines my husband and I have created include:

  • Family dinners at least 5 days a week
  • A half hour walk with the dog every evening, 6 days a week
  • Going to bed at the same time during the week
  • A half hour of reading for both of us before lights out
  • Morning coffee together at 6am to start the day
  • An over easy egg on Ezekiel bread for breakfast every morning on week days
  • Watching the program, CBS Sunday Morning, every Sunday as we wake up (It’s so very, very smart!)
  • My husband always winning at the shower Olympics, i.e. he always, without fail, takes a shower before me

My husband’s more attached to his routines than I am, though I completely appreciate his predictability. In this case, familiarity has bred more attraction and big happiness. And I think my guy is actually starting to like my bad Lifetime Movies.

What about you? What routines have you found help you in developing healthy habits? 

photo credit: javaturtle via photopin cc

Giving Up First World Problems

SpheresIt’s so easy for us to complain about the little things that bother us in our day-to-day lives, though what I like best about hitting midlife is how much easier it is to distinguish between real problems and what’s become known as “first world problems.” (KnowYourMeme.com defines them as “frustrations and complaints that are only experienced by privileged individuals in wealthy countries. It is typically used as a tongue-in-cheek comedic device to make light of trivial inconveniences.”)

Lately, when I’m feeling annoyed by something work-related or less-than-happy with somebody at the office, I remind myself that I write social posts and website articles AND teach people how to be nice to people, FOR A LIVING.

Some people stand over hot stoves all day, or stand on their feet and wait tables, or care for the elderly in nursing homes, or perform the same redundant function, over and over again, on an assembly line. All day long, they do something that they don’t love. Something that they have to do to pay the bills. Something that leaves them physically exhausted and unsatisfied. They dream of having a job that they love, though they have bills to pay and family to care for, and they don’t have the option of going back to school or pursuing a new career.

Me? I’m incredibly blessed with my work. Even I work too many hours. Even if it seems to  hurt my brain. And how incredibly self-centered would I be to let any of it truly annoy me?

When I think about it for just a few seconds, I’m pretty stupified by how fortunate I am to get to do what I do. And extremely grateful that it pays for my family to have a comfortable home, clothes on our backs, and food on the table.

The “first world problems” lens is a good one to hold up when you feel angry or annoyed about just about anything. How important is it really?

What first world problems have you stopped complaining about? Tell me about it! 

photo credit: Wootang01 via photopin cc

The Blessing of the Frogs

LJV and the Frog PrinceYou sometimes hear people describe themselves as a “dog person” or a “cat person.” While I love dogs and cats and just about every other kind of animal, when it really comes down to it, I’m a frog person. I’ve always had a thing for frogs, though it’s only been in the last few years that I’ve figured out where it originated and how to use it to my advantage.

Some of my fondest memories involve wandering through the neighborhood when I was four and five years old, digging around through the mud and muck and dead leaves to find frogs and toads in our neighbors’ window wells. I’d put them in my white baby buggy with the lace sun shade, which was usually full of dirt and water, and take them home, always very proud of my catch for the day. My favorite stuffed animal was a frog prince with a yellow felt crown.

When my parents got divorced – I was just about to start first grade – we moved into an apartment with a concrete patio that overlooked some woods. Late at night, I’d sneak out of my bedroom to peek at the tiny tree frogs that would come up on the porch to catch the bugs that were drawn to the porch light.

When I look back on those years, I don’t have any recollection of how hard it must have been missing my father. I was daddy’s girl, though all I really remember are the frogs and toads.

It wasn’t until years later, when I was in my 40s, that I rediscovered my affinity for amphibians and bought myself a White’s Tree Frog. As we walked out of the pet store, I surprised myself by naming him “Buddy” immediately, instantly recalling that it was what I had called my frog and toad friends as a child. “Hey, little buddy,” I’d say to them, kissing their heads. (Yes, I’ve literally kissed a lot of frogs and toads in my lifetime.) It brought tears to my eyes as we got into the car and the memories came flooding back. I had a frog! Yay for me! I felt like a five year old with no cares in the world.

Over the last seven years, with Buddy in his tank in our dining room, I’ve immersed myself in fond memories of my childhood.

Pond FrogThroughout my living space, there are frogs. Antique cast iron frog door stops, vintage Chinese snuff bottles adorned with frogs, paintings of frogs, three-legged money frogs (to help with our financial chi, of course!), a stylized frog lamp…the list goes on. We’ve even dug a small pond in our backyard, where we’ve grown a few bullfrogs from tadpoles. They warm my heart and I’m drawn to them like some people are drawn to puppies. Just looking at them brings me joy.

Fortunately, my husband is a patient and compassionate man. He tolerates my frog fetish well. In fact, it’s allowed him to bring to light his affection for steam trains. Starting with coffee mugs and antique toy train sets, he’s bringing them back, enjoying the love he has had for them since he was a boy. Between the two of us, we’re surrounded by things we love that make us feel happy. And it is good.

What about you? Do you have any symbols of your childhood memories that make you feel happy?