I apologize for not writing recently. I’ve been struggling with happiness, no less. Well, I should put some clarity on that: I’ve been confronting other emotional baggage that has affected my happiness. Stress, sleeplessness, and unhappiness have initiated a bitter battle of cause and effect.
And that brings up an interesting point about happiness: mood. One’s outlook on life in general, combined with his or her current state of emotions, can be the recipe for either happiness or unhappiness. In Happier at Home, author Gretchen Rubin points out that
… some people are temperamentally more cheerful or gloomy than others, and that people’s ideas and behavior[s] also affect their happiness. About 30 to 50 percent of happiness is genetically determined, about 10 to 20 percent reflect life circumstances …, and the rest is very much influenced by the way we think and act. We possess considerable power to push ourselves to the top or bottom of our natural range through our conscious actions and thoughts.
We all experience it: life’s ebbs and flows. One day, things couldn’t possibly get any worse, when all of a sudden a series of fortunate events sets us riding high on life’s roller-coaster journey. On the previous day, happiness was a cruel joke, but today it has become a harbinger of sunny days ahead.
When life gets low, keeping our mood in check is extremely difficult. Staying positive, seeing the glass as half full, being optimistic, it all comes with drudgery and painstaking effort when life is dull, as well as when we’re stuck in a rut, down on ourselves or at a low point in life due to circumstances beyond our control. At those dreary moments, thinking and acting (as Rubin calls out) are very different than when we’re sky high; thus, our mood is different and, therefore, happiness is affected.
Mood is also more than the present. It’s overall, a collection of our past impacting our present (and possibly our outlook on the future). Moods naturally shift throughout the course of a day, even minute by minute: tired, hungry, satisfied, frustrated. If we stand back and take a snapshot of our life, we should be able to classify our overall mood, also charting the highs and lows that we feel minute by minute as if segmenting the stock market’s course on a given week and juxtaposing it against a typical 52-week cycle.
Highs and lows, with an overall upward or downward course.
My life in recent weeks has been a balance beam of stress and frustration, fueling my negativity and, ultimately, my unhappiness. As I told someone recently, “I’m in such a negative place right now.” And that’s a lot for me to say because I’m a sarcastic, cynical person by nature. Lately, I have felt overwhelmed by my own negativity, feeling much too negative for even my own taste. I’ll randomly stop myself in the act of spitting out a negative comment, and think, “Why do you have to say that? Say something reassuring and upbeat instead.” Or I’ll catch myself mid complaint, wondering why I can’t offer something nice and constructive.
Recently, I came across one of those motivational sayings on Facebook. You know, the ones copied from some famous text and set against scenic artwork. Normally, I read those pessimistically, in turn using them satirically in conversation. But this one resonated with me because of my current state of affairs: Be the reason someone smiles today.
Life happens. Because of that, it’s not realistic to expect that we’re always happy. Sometimes, life is shit, and there isn’t any way around it. But while we can’t always be happy, Rubin says that we can try to be happier, “as happy as we can be, under the circumstances.”
As hard as I try to be happier lately I seem to meet a wall of resistance. I’m stuck. So with the “Be the reason someone smiles today” expression in the back of my mind like a note tucked away in my back pocket, I’m charting on a course to make someone else’s day. At times, it’s through a casual comment or compliment, other times it’s through a friendly joke. I don’t always succeed. Hell, I don’t always remember.
But part of the happiness equation is the feeling you get when making someone else happy. You might be a volunteer and experience the happy fulfillment that comes from building a home or feeding the hungry. Yes, that makes happiness sound like selfish conquest, but it’s true: Happiness can be derived from the happiness of others. The old adage “It’s better to give than to receive” is based on that very idea. We get a sense of contentment and bliss when we see how our actions have positively impacted someone else.
If I can make someone else happy, I will be putting forth a conscious effort — “conscious actions and thoughts,” according to Rubin — to brighten his or her day through a smile or kind word. All hope is that that smile or kind word will rub off on me and carry on well past my encounter with the individual. What’s more is that, while I try to be happier, I will have made someone else happier.
Yes, my life overall is charting upward, but currently I’m facing the challenge of a declining mood and attitude. So I must reverse the negative, and, with that, turn around my attitude, elevating myself from this state of being. Right now, right here, I feel as if I’m clomping up a hill with a heavy weight on my back. I am very fortunate, that much I know; yet, I feel bogged down under the pressure for many reasons, and it’s squelching my optimism.
I know it won’t last forever; in the interim, I must make a conscious effort to try being happier, under the circumstances. Look out, I just might make you smile today.