The Many Ways to Happiness

Grafton sky 2When I was a child one of my favorite occupations was to rearrange my mother’s pantry shelves. I delighted in doing this. It seems to me that I was born with a need to accomplish. In many ways, this has been a source of my happiness and a way of making myself feel good. I can remember when I was a young mother that time spent in the kitchen helped to heal any disappointment or dismay. Baking cookies for my children did wonders for my spirits and helped keep me cheerful. Even simple tasks like the ironing I did then were useful to me in lifting my spirits.

I learned long ago that whenever my spirits need lifting I have a choice. Beyond dwelling on whatever it is that may be bothering me, I can seek happiness or I can stop and look around me for something to be grateful for or to enjoy. When I do I have taken a significant step toward being kind to myself as well as making myself feel better. But there is more: I can keep reminding myself to take note of the many things to appreciate that surround me. My happiness is made up of small smiles harvested daily.

While the link between accomplishment and happiness is still strong within me, this other link is even stronger: the opportunities to notice what makes me happy. It functions for me whenever I notice whatever is beautiful around me; it is delivered in the joy I receive when I walk with Stephen in the mornings and listen to the birds twittering and chirping around us. When I get a phone call or an email from a friend I haven’t seen or heard from for a while, my heart fills and I smile. I feel happy when I read the morning newspaper and find interesting stories from it to share with my husband.

It is truly said that happiness does not work as a goal. If for instance I buy something I have wanted, it may make me happy for a little while yet that kind of happiness does not last. Not unlike taking a drink of alcohol or indulging in sweets, the good feelings gained this way dwindle soon. This diminishment is one of the stimuli for addictive behavior. Once the good feeling is gone it is normal to wish for more in order to regain or prolong it. This experience leads many people to practice self-destructive behaviors.

However, the happiness that comes from the appreciation of what is given is not addictive nor can it be sought. It comes from the practice of awareness, of noticing some small joy or gladness that comes to us as a kind of gift. It also helps to have an understanding of what makes us feel happy so that we can take extra care to notice it when it is given to us. I must open my eyes and ears to notice the beauty around me in order to appreciate it. I need to remember to look out the window to see the lovely sunset when it glows there. This kind of happiness lasts beyond the experience and nourishes me always.

Gazing Back, Looking Forward

Waters Farm View 3  Having lived in the town of Grafton for more than twenty five years, I can both remember how things were and see how they have changed. Often as I drive the streets of this town I am aware of places that were once bare of buildings and are now well populated. It is an interesting feeling: In my minds eye I see trees that once shaded sidewalks now vanished, succumbed to blight or old age; I note houses once one color that are now another. I have memories of roads where I used to walk that were near where I once lived. The past and the present mingle in my mind as I pass through the familiar places.

Janus, the Roman god for whom January was named was honored as the guardian of doorways. He is pictured with two faces, one looking forward, one back. It is interesting to note that they are joined. The past, the present and the future are not separate. Looking back on the year now past gives me perspective as well as a sense of continuity, as does looking forward. As I get older the past, the present and the future blend even more into one. I occasionally need to sort things out and the New year is a good time for this.

There is much that I have accomplished over the past year: columns written, manuscript readied for publication, countless meals prepared, recipes tried, new friends made. Some projects I planned did not turn out as I had anticipated; others turned out to be even better than I thought they would. There have also been significant losses for me this year: friends I treasured that have moved on either in this life or to the next. I still feel connected to them, yet they are receding into the past. I am also pleased to have made progress in changing certain negative habits and building others that are more positive.

It is my hope to keep learning and growing for all of the years I have to live in this lifetime. Because I believe this is important to my quality of life, I work at constantly recreating myself. Toward that end I like to try different things I haven’t done. It is also important to me to review and to renew those I have done in the past. If something doesn’t work for me, I’ll set it aside and move on, yet I may return to try it again. Among other planned projects I want to get back into drawing, illustrating one of my earlier tales. I also have a bunch of sorting to do, and a book of poems to put together.

Perhaps this is the year I will finally go through those notebooks I have been keeping from many years past and mine them for gems I have forgotten or left behind. Certainly I know I will write new stories and new columns, and surely publish at least one new book as well. As I look back and forward, for that which is helpful that remains from the past I say thank you, and for that which was stressful and is now over, I say the same. Having looked back with gratitude, I now look forward with optimism and the knowledge that a new year awaits.