What Makes Us Happy?

When I was little, I wondered where happiness lived. I thought it might be at my friend’s house, hidden in her pile of dolls. Or maybe in one of their many large rooms filled with curios, cabinets, and a grand piano. It might possibly have been in the bottom of the toy chest I’d always wanted to explore.

I was certain happiness didn’t live with me. My family’s house was modest compared to many I knew, and I was certain the more others had, the happier they were. I made it my goal to be like them, which meant, when I grew up, I needed a lot of ‘stuff.’

One day, I rented a tiny apartment, filled it with a sofa rescued from a friend, an old stand from a dumpster, and a little metal table I pressed against the kitchen wall. At the thrift store, I bought a set of dishes, a few pieces of silverware, a pot, a pan, and a couple utensils.

I met my future husband while living in that apartment. We acquired our first real collection of ‘stuff’- bowls and serving sets we’d never use, gifts from everyone we knew.

The gifts became an anchor in our lives that we dragged from apartment to apartment. Our family grew, our toys and kitchen supplies got bigger. Our apartment was cluttered, our storage closet stuffed. We did the only thing we could – we bought a house.

Our new home was barren, so we bought, and we bought, and filled each corner and crevice with furniture, tables, decorations. We loved our home, but it wasn’t long before it was a source of tension, a string of work to be done.

We were always a happy family, but sometimes, I wonder if we always knew real joy. We were so busy working on a home, taking time for material possessions, we didn’t always really live. Not until the day we moved 1900 miles away.

Much of what we owned was sold before we moved. And in our new place, we bought only what we needed. We were happy and excited. We had time to explore, time as a family. Our lives were not centered around our things.

Time wore on, and we again became like the squirrel – always hunting, always gathering, never satisfied with what we had.

We grew a collection of movies, a library of books. We bought shoes and dishes, too many glasses, too many things to decorate our home.

After my accident, I’d had enough. I could no longer take care of what we owned, and no longer wanted to. I was tired, and overwhelmed.

My husband and I purged, and what we have remaining is all we want, all we need. We are truly, truly happy. And filled with joy beyond belief.

Have a Little Faith:

I recently read, “Have a Little Faith,” by Mitch Albom. In the book, Mitch asks his rabbi, “What makes a man happy?” Here is the rabbi’s response:

“The things society tells us we must have to be happy – a new this or that, a bigger house, a better job. I know the falsity of it. I have counseled many people who have all these things, and I can tell you they are not happy because of them.”

Think about that, just for a moment . . .

The rabbi continues, “The number of marriages that have disintegrated when they had all the stuff in the world. The families who fought and argued all the time, when they had money and health. Having more does not keep you from wanting more. And if you always want more – to be richer, more beautiful, more well-known – you are missing the bigger picture, and I can tell you from experience, happiness will never come.”

Wise words to live by.

Does all your stuff really make you happy? Maybe it’s time to let go, of one thing, or two, or three.

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Five Simple Ways to Discover Joy

I am not always happy. And sometimes, I am not filled with joy.

Wait a minute, aren’t those the same thing? Not exactly. Let me explain.

Happiness is based on external factors, like getting a raise at work, or buying that new shirt you’ve been eyeing at the department store. It is temporary, dependent on the world around us. Happiness rises like the sun, and sets like a moon on a stormy night.

But joy, that is deeper. Joy is a thread that runs through the soul. It is the feeling (or emotion) that says no matter what course life takes, all will be okay. Joy is contentment and assurance, a security beyond people, things, and ourselves. Joy is there, even when we are sad.

We can always find happiness, in a movie, a book, a restaurant with a friend. But joy, that requires a lot of searching.

When I was first married, I searched for joy, in my husband’s moods, our children’s obedience, and even when we bought our first home, I thought joy would arrive with our new furniture.

But it never did. Yes, I was happy, but joy didn’t arrive until much later.

I don’t remember the exact moment I discovered joy. I think it slowly leaked into my life, like many good things do. I know I worked on it often, until one day, I think I grasped so hard, I decided to never let go.

But how, you ask, do we keep joy? More importantly, how do we get it in the first place?

Acceptance:
Joy arrives with acceptance. Accepting feelings for what they are. Anger. Frustration. Sadness. Know that life is always filled with emotion, and you will not always be happy. Stop relying on other’s moods to give you joy.

Gratitude:
It’s an old cliché, but it’s true. Gratitude is the best attitude. Be thankful for what you’ve given. Every day. Give thanks for crazy moments and unfinished work. Give thanks for crying children and scattered toys. Give thanks for family, friends, and life itself.

Help Someone:
Helping someone is an emotional high. It is joy. It can be simple, like holding a door open for a struggling mom, letting a car slip in line in front of you, or buying a coffee. Or it can be as grand as mowing your neighbor’s lawn. Helping others brings us joy.

Help Yourself:
This one is hard. It was for me. Giving time to ourselves seems selfish and inconsiderate, even a bit narcissistic. But it’s not. Allowing ourselves to spend time on only us shows that we care and love who we are, who we created to be. Give yourself a manicure, a quiet soak in the tub, an hour to read what you want to read. Take time to take care of you.

Smile:
Smile a lot. Smile often. Smiling releases happy endorphins, which slows breathing, reduces stress, and relieves pain. Smiling makes others happy, which, in some weird way, brings us joy.

There you are. Five simple ways to find joy, and keep it forever.

I hope you find your inner joy.

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