Working at Happiness

happinessAfter turning down my recent job offer and deciding that I need to make my happiness, or rather, the discovery of what really makes me happy, my priority, I’ve found quite a few stumbling blocks on my way.  Naturally, at first I was quite energized. I bought myself a copy of “The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin, which I’m almost embarrassed to share. After all, do I really need a book to guide me through what makes me happy?  Apparently.  And I’m not alone. It was a New York Times bestseller after all.  And I read it completely through. And since the book is no longer new, the author has since taken down her online tool website, so I’ll have to find my way on my own.  Which really, I needed to do anyway.

I’ve been thinking about the things that make me  happy. Sometimes I’ve been thinking about the things that make me unhappy, or “blah”. The “blahs” are the corrosive agent on happiness for me.  I mean, when I’m really unhappy, which isn’t often, I’m usually mad or seriously boo-hoo unhappy. Or PMS unhappy. Those, kinds of unhappy are pretty easy to identify the root causes.  I am truly thankful that I’m not an unhappy person.  I’m not depressed. I have many great things happening in my life.

But I am a stay at home mother. And that’s just not a very exciting life, truth be told.  My best days are when I’m super busy.  My worst days are when I’m isolated, when I haven’t had any kind of face-to-face interaction with another adult;  on some days, not even a phone call with another.  Those are the days, when I meet another parent outside school at the end of the day and they ask, “what’s new?” and I have nothing to say. I feel blah and boring and dull.  So, I’ve started there.

Here are a few things I have come up with so far:

– See people every day. Actively work to make a connection with others.

– Do small gestures to let people know you are thinking of them (acts of kindness)

– Be more accessible to friends and be more open to attending outings with others

– Work twice a week as substitute teacher

– Create a group of my own to meet regularly


I’ve been feeling pretty good about this.  I asked a friend if she would like to work on the happiness project with me. She said yes. She’s catching up on the book now.  I have yet to set a date/time to meet, but that I identified someone to start meeting with and asked her is a start.  We will look for another to join us.  I don’t want to lose momentum.

I called, well…texted, a friend to go to breakfast last week. We went.  It was good to just step outside of my painfully shy self and be the one to initiate that, rather than just wait and wait for one of my friends to organize coffee/breakfast.  That friend also gave me a ride home as my car was in the shop.  She asked me to feed her fish while she was away and I of course said yes.  Well, I totally forgot. I feel terrible.  The fish lived, but honestly, I feel so bad about myself.  It was a human mistake, but as my 11-year old artfully pointed out, “you broke her trust, Mom”. Ouch!  This small gestures thing is hard!

My cell phone stopped working this week. It’s been on the fritz for awhile.  Yesterday, I had planned to be home in the morning so I could wait to hear from my sister who was getting her medical test results back from a series of MRIs, ultrasounds, and blood tests. She was terribly anxious and I wanted to be here for her.  My cell phone just quit. I had a land line, but after several hours, I had things to get done. So I left. I missed her call. Twice.  And then when she called, I was having lunch with my husband, so I couldn’t talk long.  So, on the one hand, I was having lunch with my husband, which met my goal of making contact, but I was so not the sister I wanted to be.  I did get a new phone.

And about the phone. Despite the fact that I spent 30 minutes on the phone with Verizon about 3 months ago because my backup assistant wasn’t working and I lost all my contacts, after I purchased the new phone, I learned that AGAIN my backup assistant was not working and I’ve lost all my contacts.  So, it is now harder to reach out and text someone or call them.

In fact, I want to see if anyone wants to go XC skiing this morning, and I don’t have the text numbers to make that call.

A month ago, a friend moved into my neighborhood and I’ve been meaning to make something and bring it over as a welcome gesture. Then I got the flu and I was out for two weeks.  So Wednesday I had decided was the day. All the things I thought I might make required eggs, of which, turns out I had no more.  So I found a recipe for scones that I had never tried so I made them. Along the way, I discovered I was missing the walnuts for the Maple Walnut Scones recipe, but I proceded anyway.  I tried one when they were finished and decided they were tasteless so I did not give them away.  My family, however, devoured them and wanted more.  Harumph. Maybe I could have given them away after all!  Had I done that, I’d be feeling happier that I had reached out to a friend.  Now, I’m feeling like I should bake again. And I’m not feeling very happy about it.  I’m unhappy with myself.

AHA! That is a huge source of my unhappiness. Disappointing myself makes me unhappy.

I will have to think on that one.  It feels heavy.

With that, I will bake some scones, and trudge through the snow to drop them off and that should make me happy!





Are you Happy?: The Catalyst for Change

be happy

Ever since I quit my professional career to facilitate my family’s move to Vermont, I have assumed I would go back to work shortly after settling in.  After a longer than expected settling in period, I figured I’d go back to work part-time, once my youngest was in pre-school. Once she entered kindergarten, I figured I’d get to work.  She’s in third grade now.  I dabble in substitute teaching and occasionally elementary-school-kid-sitting (which is what “mainstream teaching assistant” sub positions feel like to me).

I have friends who have gone back to work full time. I have friends who have gone back to work part-time. I have friends who have never gone back to work and have no plans to.  I have never seen myself in the latter category.  Something has been driving me to be the professional I once was.  But what?

The other day, my sister posted the above image on my FaceBook site with a question asking me and others essentially “is happiness a goal in your life? Something you strive for? Did your parents encourage you to ‘be happy’ ”  It got us both thinking about our childhood and I realized that despite the fact that I am in my, ahem “late forties” and my mother has been dead now 10 years, I still have her little voice inside me pushing me to “be something”.

You see, growing up, Mom was a great believer in her daughters. She would encourage us to work hard, to be leaders, to volunteer so we could  get a job later, to be independent and strong, to be courageous.  She told us repeatedly “you can be ANYthing you want to be.”  She never brought up happiness.  I remember sitting in my sister’s bedroom — she had a huge bedroom with a couch in it so often we’d be hanging out there — and mother drilling me on what I thought I’d want to go to college for.  I dunno.  And in college, the conversation continued and I’d have just enough of the pressure to finally say, “Look Mom, I just want to be happy”.  Maybe because I grew up in a house that lacked its share of happiness. My parents persisted in a marriage “for the kids” for 24 years; my middle sister brought much stress to our family.  Maybe because “happiness” was something I valued over all the others.  I’ve always had a bit of an independent streak.

Was happiness not discussed because it was not considered a goal in and of itself or was it expected to be a natural consequence of hard work, maturity, a good job and civic leadership?  I don’t know.

And so it happened that this thinking of “happiness” occurred on the same day I was negotiating for what seemed to be the perfect part-time job: 25-hours/week, 8:30-2pm, summers off.   The perfect formula.  During the negotiations, however, I realized that kind of schedule doesn’t pay much <sigh> and that being the “church administrator” didn’t strike a passionate enough cause for me to work for just $11,000/year.  All of the sudden, thinking about working for that job made me very UNhappy.  I withdrew my name from consideration.

I realized at that moment that it was time I finally figured out what I wanted to do with myself to make me happy.  Was I really happy?  Yes, I have a loving husband, a good marriage, delightful children, awesome friends, enough money to feed everyone and support a travel hockey player.  What more did I need?  I needed to feel happy; to smile more; to worry less; to cut myself a little slack.  I need to find a way to create more everyday happiness in my life.

Maybe that will lead to a new job.  Maybe it won’t.

But I feel really good about taking a “pause” from the mental pressure to “do something; be something; work; be independent, yadda yadda yadda” long enough for me to be mindful about creating happiness around me.

I don’t believe happiness is just a by-product.  I believe it can also be the objective.  And I believe that as I work to create this around me, I will better see my path in life.