I’ve recently read two articles, one at Lifehacker, Three Steps to Happiness and one in Bicycling magazine, Happily Evie After.
The Three Steps described by Lifehacker and attributed to Joe Gebbia are as follows:
Step 1: Identify one thing you do that makes you unhappy. Write it down.
Step 2: Look at what you wrote down. Replace it with something that makes you happy.
Step 3: Repeat one week from now.
That is super simplistic and actually inspired some comments from people complaining about not having enough money, hating a job but needing it for money and a variety of other snarky posts some just jokey and some clearly offended by the idea that being happy is simple.
I find it curious that many people get angry when encountering an article or a radio or television show that suggest that finding happiness is not as hard as one might think. Angry. Defensive. People attach their happiness to goals like buying a house, having kids, making X number of dollars. I think I can safely say reaching these goals do not necessarily make you happy. If your pipes burst an hour after your closing, are you still happy? All of the defensive answers are obstacles.
I really think that happiness is a place and once you’re there you do the things necessary to return again and again. You can’t possibly be happy every moment of your life. Sad things happen, stressful things happen and sometimes life brings patches of boredom that result in unhappiness. I think we find happiness in experience not things.
My ex, Kate, would frequently, on a nice day, head outside to “weed a little” or “pick up sticks from the yard” and she’d disappear for hours. Of course, I wouldn’t notice because I’d would be making art or reading or do something that I enjoyed. When I got hungry or otherwise distracted from my activity, I’d go to the backyard and check on her and sure enough she’d be out there sitting in the sun, weeding or pulling up more grass to make the garden bigger. She was completely unaware of how much time had passed. Mihaly Csikszentmihalvi called it flow in his book, Flow: the Psychology of Optimal Experience. She was happy.
We used to joke that I had the patience of a Saint because we couldn’t ever leave the house without her noticing something in the yard that needed adjusting, or the birdbath needing water or a variety of other little “this will just take a minute” chores. These things made her happy and I quickly learned not to rush her and to just let her be. I actually found joy in her joy. I loved watching her race around the side of the house to get a bucket of water for the birdbath or pick up sticks on the way to the car. Since we split, I have found myself drawn to people who are putterers and that has taught me something about myself. It might be odd; but, I have discovered that I enjoy watching a person I care about, putter around, attending to things. I think I must be charmed with the way her brain works.
When you find something that brings you flow it will not be a thing or a person; it will be you doing; you experiencing. You are active in this, even if you are not moving a muscle and listening to piece of music that brings you to that place. You are active: listening, feeling, experiencing. This is what brings us happiness. I know some grandparents who find this place watching their grandkids play. Maybe it’s woodworking or knitting or walking, rowing, surfing or maybe it’s just doing the dishes. I have found flow in a sink full of dishes. Maybe it’s playing an instrument, organizing your closet, painting a fence, meditating, making love, watching people walk past, or mowing the lawn.
In the Bicycling magazine article, this idea is supported in the story of Evie Stevens, a once slick Wall Streeter whose encounter with a bicycle changed her life in ways that no one could have imagined or scripted, even Hollywood. On a vacation visiting her sister, an avid cyclist, she found joy on a bicycle riding up steep hills and despite never having ridden a bicycle even half seriously, she kept up. When she returned home, she bought a bike knowing nothing about bikes, and started riding when she could. She entered a race, then two and training in her living room while watching television and she started to post times that seemed unbelievable, especially when you consider that she was riding an entry level bicycle and had only been riding a few months. A normal person would be content with that life: making money on Wall Street and being a weekend warrior at races. That’s a nice life right? That’s having a career and enjoying a hobby, finding balance between personal and professional. Except, Evie really, really, really liked, no loved, riding that bike. So, she quit her job on Wall Street and is now a pro racer.
I know. I know. We can’t all be pro racers or authors or professional gardeners or knitters or whatever brings you flow. But, we can make those things a priority in life. When was the last time you did something that brought you to that place: in the zone, unaware of time passing, completely and happily immersed in DOING something?
One of the things that brought me a tremendous amount of joy was riding my scooter. I used to joke, though it was true, that all I had to do was sit on my scooter and I felt happier. I loved my scooter; but, I could have been on any crappy scooter and been happy riding. Pure joy. I can’t do that now and I take seriously the responsibility for finding other avenues to the place my scooter took me. I haven’t quite found it yet; but, I have enjoyed the experimenting!
In two minutes, I’m going to do something that brings me some happiness: I’m going to walk down to the beach and do a circuit I like to do. This time I think on the way back, I’ll stop, get a coffee and watch the surfers. Who knows when I’ll get home.
Go DO something that makes you happy and if your not sure what that is, start experimenting today.
I am putting my website together and was building my Links page of all the people I love and follow. So, I looked at both your sites and saw Kate in her beautiful garden and read your happy article. It made me happy! and I decided to tell you and to ask if I can link your site on mine!
Hello! Of course you can link…and let me know when your site is up..i’d love to see it. And as a person who has created a life of doing and pursuing the activity that brings you happiness, I am honored that you liked this post. I have always admired your determination not to be distracted by the things that distract artists from their art. You are a great role model. I’m thinking of you now, fiddling with some wire, carving, sanding, painting, unaware that the clock is ticking in the background.