Wow what a year this has been, this year of choosing happy. I remember standing in my mother’s kitchen 51 weeks and 5 days ago, caught in an internal anguish I could barely articulate, and didn’t really want to admit to, just wanting the pain to be over.
Just wanting to feel better about my life, and myself. And being tormented with feelings of guilt – I had no right to feel this unhappy, so why was I so unhappy? Sure key elements in my life weren’t going as I would have wanted them to, I was frustrated on a few key levels, and feeling under-utilised in others (which, for a highly active and accomplishment-oriented individual, is very difficult).
And sure, those things weren’t fun – but I had so much in my life apart from those things. I lived, and still live, in a beautiful part of the world. I was, and still am, married to a wonderful man who loves me deeply and likes me a lot. I had, and have, family and friends to spend time with, and a feline family fur member who delights and entertains me. I had, and still have, a beautiful home, with beautiful things in it, including a wonderful working wardrobe I have created and curated over many years.
I had so much! How on earth could I be so unhappy?
The journey begins
And that was my starting point for this journey into the landscape of happiness. My goal was not to learn more per se – I didn’t wish to acquire more knowledge about happiness. What I wanted was to experience more happiness in my own life. This was a deeply personal journey.
And my goal was to not only experience more happiness more of the time, but to have a sense of confidence that a feeling of happiness was always available to me, no matter what my life circumstances were.
I didn’t want to be so buffeted around by the highs and lows of life. To be so easily tormented by events, or thoughts in my head, that could turn an otherwise happy day into a miserable one.
That was the destination toward which I was travelling.
The first couple of months
The first couple of months, like any journey of this type, were not especially successful. Or happy. I was angling around the topic of happiness, but not really going into it. No.1 is a good example of this – inching to the left, then to the right, looking at it from this angle, then that. Not really committing to anything – just talking about it.
I was determined to write every Saturday about my experiences, and there were a few posts in that first month or so that didn’t really say too much – not my best writing, I would have to say!
I concluded many of my posts with a personal example of something that made me happy, and quite a few of those early posts relied a little too heavily on those examples in the saying something new stakes.
Let’s be kind and say it took me a little while to warm up to the journey!
Feelings follow thoughts
I was aware of this concept, that our feelings follow our thoughts, for some time. As a corporate facilitator, it was an idea I had shared with many groups over the years, and I probably thought I had some grasp of it.
I had no idea, no real idea, of what this concept meant in reality.
Because it was an idea only – it had not yet become a practical reality in my life. I talked about this in No.6, which was the first post in the collection of 52 where I really felt started to dig a little deeper into the topic of happiness and move beyond the surface of it.
Ten weeks in, and I was starting to really see and feel for myself, where the genesis of so much of my happiness lay: with me. I was at the heart of my own unhappiness. What a Eureka moment! The problem wasn’t with my life, but with my own thought processes.
The turnaround moment
I would say my journey into the landscape of happiness started to take a different trajectory about 3 months in. It took that long for me to warm up to the topic, and get my feet well and truly wet.
In No.12 I talk about how I finally realised that happiness doesn’t have to be so hard, and in No.13 about how happiness is free, and readily available to all of us. You can see by No.15 that I was feeling that this thing called happiness may just be available to me, too.
This didn’t mean I was always living under sunny skies – not at all (No.16 and No.17 allude to this). It just meant that it was starting to dawn on me how to live life from a genuinely happy place most of the time. I felt like I was re-learning to walk after a bad accident, except I was re-learning to live life properly.
The parable I share in No.18 is a beautiful example of how life can be enjoyed in its full richness, warts and all, and there can be an underlying current of inner peace and calm, and yes even happiness, running through one’s life.
I think I might be getting the hang of it
In No.21 I was ruminating on how happiness is not a pursuit but a perspective, and I was also getting the idea that all the many tools and techniques, strategies and structures that I had been using in the past, were not strictly necessary. The self-help movement doesn’t always deliver on its promise, as I discussed in No.22, and again later in No.37.
I really started to live my life as though I understood, deeply, that there is an elegance and simplicity to the design of the human psyche, and that we aren’t in this alone – something I touched on in No.23.
And by the time I was half-way through this year-lon journey, I was starting to see some of the fruits of my labour from this journeying more into the landscape of happiness, I was starting to see how happiness and inner calm really work, and what I have to do to flow more in the river of happiness. No.26 presents a snapshot of where I was halfway through.
And I was noticing how much easier the down times were becoming, as I touch on in No.28. The down times weren’t being eradicated altogether, but I was learning to approach them differently, in a way that left me less bruised and battered when they passed, and in a way that recognised what those down times represent.
Reflections from midway
In No.29 I reflect on the miserable yet fascinating life of Marilyn Monroe, who truly was the unhappiest girl at the party, despite appearances to the contrary. And in No.30 I share honestly about how my happiness levels were fluctuating, and falling. In No.32 I share the “best of” from the many numbered lists I found in an online search on how to be happy – all, interestingly, things you do, actions you take – not states of being. I dedicate No.33 to the medicine that is laughter.
In No.34 I reflect on two very different kinds, flavours if you like, of unhappiness and what the central difference is between them. I also discuss the essential nature of hope in living a happy life.
I can be happier
I was determined during my year of exploring the landscape of happiness, not to read too much about it. Too much data acquisition can sometimes take you further away from your goal, if your goal is to change. And my goal was to change – not to know more, but to be different. Specifically, to be happier more of the time.
The one book that I read that made a huge impact on me, because I did more than simply read it, was Happier. I discuss the early concepts of this book in No. 35. I referenced Happier again in No. 39 when I discuss how happiness is the ultimate currency. That concept hit me like a hammer, and it was worth waiting until nearly 9 months into the journey to come to grips with what it really means. Possibly the most important post of the year’s 52 posts, and the most important idea when integrated into ones life in a practical day-to-day way, it bears repeating: happiness is the ultimate currency.
Robin Williams’ suicide had a real impact on me, and still does. No. 38 is my tribute to his extraordinary life and tragic death.
In No.40 I talk about the importance of loving what you have if its happiness you truly seek, inspired by a novel I was reading at that time. I come back to this idea when I discuss the many ways its possible to become impoverished, in No.42.
You can’ be happy until you write your own map
An important concept in any person’s life if they want happiness to be part of it, is to stop listening so much to what others have to say, and to tune in more to your inner guidance system. It’s only taken me til my mid 40s to work this out (!), but it’s a central part of being truly happy, and one I discuss in No.41. Related to this is the madness of the comparison game, discussed in No.43.
Perhaps because my own life has taken a turn toward simplicity, I found inspiration in the words of Kasey Chambers, my musical idol, when she writes about The Quiet Life; I share those words and my reflections in No.44. I come back to the concept of perspective in No.46, after reflecting on how losing our innocence and unhappiness are connected in No.45.
Part of writing your own map is deciding what to leave in, and what to take out. The ability to, and power of, saying no is part of this map making, which I discuss in No.47.
Taking a break
The final weeks of my year-long experiment into the landscape of happiness were held while I was on vacation in the United States. What a wonderful way to finish up this journey! In No.48 I discuss the power of vacations, in No.49 I return to the practice of letting your thoughts go and the place that practice has in living more in the landscape of happiness, in No.50 I share a loving and helpful way to think about the people in our lives – those who make us feel good, and those that don’t.
And in No.51 I share an important learning experience I had in the final days of our vacation: a poignant and powerful reminder that the goal is not to be happy all the time, but to recognise the elegant simplicity of the design of the human psyche, which is always leaning toward wellness and happiness. And to flow with it in good times and bad.
Am I happier?
In short, yes. Much. I am a world away from where I was when I started this year-long experiment. I am much more confident that inner peace and calm, and happiness too, are available to me at almost any time. That I don’t have to do so much to be happy. That it is our natural birthright, as human beings, to experience inner peace and calm, and yes happiness, much of the time.
That the way our emotional and psychological systems were designed is to tip toward happiness, and wellness – it’s built-in. And if you don’t mess with it too much, feelings of happiness will naturally flow when you let your thoughts go.
I am so glad I started this experiment, this journey into the landscape of happiness. I shudder to think where I might be if I hadn’t had the courage to take that first step, and to keep going when I wanted to stop (which was more than once throughout the year!).
I can’t tell anyone else how to be happy. But I hope that by sharing my own experiences, of being so unhappy and making the decision to journey into the landscape of happiness with more than a few doubts, that it is possible to shift your perspective, to shift your experience of life, and to feel happier more of the time.