“Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossoms.” — Marcel Proust
Looking back at old photos, the discussion turned to the woman who had done so much for everyone there.
She had been the one to show up with a hot meal, to volunteer to sit with a sick friend, or to babysit the neighbor’s children in an emergency. Yes, she brought so much happiness to so many, and while those gathered round did not pretend that her presence had controlled their happiness, they knew that she had been one of the charming gardeners Proust wrote of — making their souls blossoms. And they were grateful.
Being grateful for the people who bring happiness into our lives is much different from depending on people in our lives to make us happy. I’ve lived for several years thinking a lot about happiness. In fact, when I was growing up, I had a little book that said, “Happiness is ...” and in the pages that followed were simple examples that a young girl should take to heart.
Happiness is having a friend, happiness is feeling the wind in your hair and happiness is petting a kitten. That’s all I can remember, but it taught me that happiness wasn’t really tangible but could come from something I could touch — a person, an animal, or a scoop of ice cream. Happiness was so simple, and I was a pretty happy girl.
A lot has changed since I was a little girl, but happiness is still accessible. Many of us come into adulthood and demand that happiness is dependent on external circumstances, on material items, and on other people’s treatment of us. We will find happiness is always just out of our grasp if that is our thinking. Research shows that some of us really have our work cut out for us, but that’s not going to buy you a pass to be a grouch.
Research supports a few important facts (give or take a few percentage points): 1) 50 percent of our happiness is biologically determined (explains a lot for several people I know) and 2) 10 percent our of happiness is determined by our circumstances. That leaves us with the most important part 3) 40 percent of your happiness and mine is determined by our choices.
Granted, it helps that I was born apparently predisposed to be happy, but I battle depression and anxiety, so I think that levels our playing field. Knowing that 40 percent of your happy meter rising to the top depends on your choices should give us all pause.
If I want to make better grades in school, I can. I have to make smart choices when it comes to studying.
If I want to be a better writer, I can. I have to make wise choices when it comes to the amount of time I spend writing.
If I want to save money, I can. I have to make better choices regarding the money I’m spending.
And that means that if I want to be a happier person, I have the opportunity to make that happen through my own choices instead of holding out for more money, a bigger house, or a better career.
Lauren Bacall said, “Waking up in the morning,” Eric Clapton answered, “Being in the moment,” and Henry Winkler responded, “The entire family being healthy, being on the set of Barry, and a rainbow trout on my line.” They all responded to Proust’s question of What is your idea of perfect happiness? It’s one of the many questions you’ll find in Proust’s Questionnaire, a great opportunity to help you think about many issues. (I’ll explore a few more in the weeks to come). So, I’ll pose the question to you — What is your idea of perfect happiness?
The opportunity for happiness exists in the lives of people who live in poverty just as it does in the lives of those on 5th Avenue. The opportunity for unhappiness does, too. Regardless of our circumstances, and we’ve all had lousy times when it was much easier to be unhappy, we can set a course to find our own happiness.
Work on happiness habits. It’s true that when we get into a routine, we are better at whatever we are doing. Put a picture of a person you love, a beautiful scene that makes you smile, or an animal that makes you laugh where you’ll see it in the morning. That one simple act begins your day with a feeling of “happy.”
Stop setting yourself up for unhappiness (and making everyone around you miserable) by demanding that happiness depends on a better job or retirement, children or the kids moving out, or that big deal that you think will make you famous. Choose to be happy where you are with what you have, instead of holding happiness hostage waiting for something better.
Address your struggles instead of letting them get you down. Life is hard, and for some of you, it is much more difficult than for others. There have been times in my life when I just couldn’t see a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel, but I had only two choices — stop living or find a way to survive the situation.
It isn’t easy, but if you (and I) try to think logically in our unemotional moments, we can look for solutions so we don’t feel so overwhelmed. Happiness is waiting to be delivered through the debris of our chaos.