But I think the key to being happier for anyone, no matter what her unique life circumstances is actually thinking about it: what makes YOU happy? What does happy even look like for you? Are you sure about that?
I’ve been doing A LOT of thinking about this recently. In fact, I ‘m even taking a couple of weeks of leave from my job – which is kind of a scary thing to do – to focus on this, among a few key issues that needed some of my focused mental and emotional attention.
After losing a child, particularly in a way for which I and many others blame myself in part or in whole, I have really questioned my whole reality. When a child dies, everything in your life that you thought you were doing right or at least sort of right now looks questionable, and the things that once seemed dependable, sure and solid become soft and scary and kind of sketchy looking.
This is not a happiness inducing state in which to exist, and when you combine grief and just flat out MISSING your child, longing for his company with this state of existential uncertainty, the idea of happiness as you once knew it seems totally elusive.
Or at least, that’s where I find myself these days.
So I have recently decided to stop battling the uncertanty and just lean into it instead, giving my entire life a Socratic once-over, a critical review. If I am going to be so uncertain of everything anyway, it seems like a good time to just ask myself all the hard questions I can possibly think of, and then be rigorously honest in facing the answers.
So one of the first questions I have been asking myself is what happiness looks like to me. I am not talking about the fleeting, euphoric happiness that pretty much anyone can achieve with specific one-off activities or chemical enhancements, but instead the kind of day to day, week to week, lifelong sense of general well-being and satisfaction that says “life well lived” to me.
And the “to me” part is important, because your life well lived may look very different than mine. But for me, it means a healthy family, a strong marriage, interesting work that supports us financially without too much money stress, a welcoming and cozy home, and the ability to make a positive, real difference in the world in a way that reflects my core values. That’s what happy looks like to me.
My definition of happy doesn’t mean never feeling sad or blue for a day or a few days. It doesn’t mean everything always goes perfectly. But it means that most of the time, in most ways, I feel at peace with my own behavior, choices, actions and thoughts. It means I am fundamentally satisfied.
After having Henry die, getting back to that place will be a choice for me. It’s no longer something I can just assume will happen. I have to make a “stay or go” decision with regard to living the rest of my life – surrender to the very real potential for grief induced madness and depression that often overtakes parents who lose a child, or consciously live every day in a way that staves the madness off to the greatest degree.
I choose the latter.
As part of my current life review exercise, I just re-read Gretchen Rubin’s bestseller, “The Happiness Project,” and I have been trying some of her exercises and tools for identifying and practicing happiness enhancing actions.
One of the first things she recommends is drafting your own “Happiness Manifesto,” in which you start by coming up with your own “Happiness Commandments,” of which she explains:
Consider phrases that have stuck with you.
When I look at my Twelve Commandments, I realize that five of them are actually quotations from other people. My father repeatedly reminds me to “Enjoy the process.” A respected boss told me to “Be polite and be fair.” A good friend told me that she’d decided that “There is only love” in her heart for a difficult person. “No calculation” is a paraphrase of my spiritual master St. Therese (“When one loves, one does not calculate”), and “Act the way I want to feel” is a paraphrase of William James.
Aim high and fight the urge to be too comprehensive.
I’ve found that my commandments help me most when I review them at least daily, to keep them fresh in my mind, and to do this, it helps to keep the list short and snappy. I suspect that Twelve Commandments is too much. Maybe I only need two, “Be Gretchen” and “There is only love.”
Think about what’s true for you.
Each person’s list will differ. One person’s commandment is to “Say yes,” another person’s commandment is to “Say no.” You need to think about yourself, your values, your strengths and weaknesses, your interests.
So even though I tend to shy away from exercises like this, I decided to give it a go, and create my own actual, written-down list of Personal Happiness Commandments. I have now been pondering and rewriting my list for over a week, and I think I have them where I want them – for the moment anyway, and I thought I would share.
Remember that these are highly specific TO ME. They aren’t meant to be applied directly to anyone else, or be taken as some kind of life advice.
So here goes. Be gentle with me, folks.
KATIE’S PERSONAL HAPPINESS MANIFESTO: 15 Fundamental Truths To Live By
(Just click the arrow to the right of each photo to view the next one in the series)
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Now tell me; what are YOUR personal happiness truths? What does happiness look like to you? Do you have t now? Have you ever had it? What are the behaviors or thought patterns that work against your personal happiness? I’d love it if you shared your thoughts on all of this in the comments below.
READ MORE FROM KATIE OVER AT MAMAPUNDIT (HER PERSONAL BLOG)