Article: Finding daily happiness

I have to blog about this, or rather, share this article I read in the newspapers today (before it slips out of my mind and the article ends up with the old newspaper vendor dude). Anyways, while I was in the shower my mind was littered with loads of thoughts as usual (which leads to the topic today) and no, they are not salacious thoughts mind you.

Sidetrack: I never understood why some people say they can think of nothing or don’t think, because I obviously can’t or am lacking some sort of neuronal control in this department. I am always thinking, or rather, thoughts are always swimming in my mind. They can range from anything and they’re mostly totally random stuff like how hair dyes can cause anaphylaxis reactions in some people and how my room will look like in dark pink and should they have those newfangled wall murals like silhouette of birds perched on branches. My mind is always whirring in thoughts and I can’t switch off like the white noise on an empty TV channel. Honestly, I need to think of a way to switch off my overactive neural cells.

So about the topic today, it’s really the simple element in human life: happiness. When I chanced upon this article I was like “This is so me! I am always talking about happiness or rather, so into the subject of happiness”, and no don’t ask me why… I just like the word happy. In fact, even the word “happy” looks quite smiley and the word “smiley” also looks like it’s smiling at you (sorry, my imagination a bit mental here haha).

What is the definition of happy? Well, I just couldn’t resist Googling and it means a feeling or showing of pleasure or contentment in a person’s life. And happiness means a state of well-being characterized by emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy i.e. euphoric madness. I experience that, sometimes so happy can break into Gangnam style dance, maybe? Hahaha.

Well, happiness can be defined in many ways by different people. To one person, happiness can mean the well being of his bank account and to another person; it can mean spending time with his loved ones. Some people classify their state of wealth, status, titles and materialistic ideals as factors of their happiness. And to some people, happiness means love, health and relationships with friends and families. Some people just live happy with what they are blessed with in their lives and do not ask for more. Happiness is out there, you just gotta find the thing that makes you happy and contented.

My definition of happiness is something of which no amount of cash, status and earthly matters can represent. Yes of course, materialistic things do make me happy at times but those are temporary happiness, they are not what you call ultimate happiness. Happiness is the liberty to enjoy life on earth with the people I love, doing the things that catch my interests, show kindness to the not-so-fortunate and basically just be contented with what I have :)

And I am always in awe of how some people with so little material values in their life can be so contented. Look at all those monks in Tibet; they are so happy with what little stuff they have in their lives. OK well they look all serene, calm and in control so they must be quite happy. They have the basic human survival stuff, and while they may not be basking under the Mediterranean sun or zooming around in Porsches, they are still happy with their daily meditations and prayers. Or a simple farmer living with his family in a small cottage and his sole income is from the sale of corn and a couple of old cows; and they don’t have internet and the only few 21st century items are an old cable TV, radio and telephone. But his family is completely contented with whatever little they have and even organizes weekly village potluck dinners in their humble abode. I mean, these people do exist. Somewhere in this huge world.

OK I think I may have gotten carried away with this happiness topic, anyway I thought this particular article (written by Anna Tyzack) was quite a good read. It’s about finding daily happiness (a guide shared by author Gretchen Rubin), we all know how urbanites can be so busy with their lives and sometimes happiness is hard to come about. And sometimes, work or other personal stuff can affect a person’s happy-o-meter. It’s good practice too, to achieve a happy lifestyle.

By the way, you could check out if MPH or Borders carry Rubin’s two published books The Happiness Project and Happiness At Home, which I think are really good books despite the fact that I have not read it. I think I am going to get myself these two books :)

Finding daily happiness
Self-help author Gretchen Rubin wants to show us the path to a heavenly home life. But does her philosophy still work if you’re not a super-disciplined, hyper-energetic urbanite?

Standing in the kitchen of her New York City apartment, unloading the dishwasher, author Gretchen Rubin was suddenly overcome by a familiar yet completely unfounded sensation: She was homesick. And that was crazy – she was at home.

Her two daughters were playing in the next room; her lawyer husband, Jamie, was due back in time for supper. “I felt like I did when I first went to summer camp, which was ridiculous,” says Rubin, 40, whose first book, The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent A Year Trying To Sing In The Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, And Generally Have More Fun (Harper; ISBN: 978-0061583254), made the No. 1 spot on The New York Times’ bestseller list when it was published in 2009.

“It was preemptive nostalgia. My time with my children suddenly seemed so fleeting. I was afraid of not experiencing what was happening to me.”

This moment of dislocation inspired her second book, Happiness At Home: Kiss More, Jump More, Abandon A Project, Read Samuel Johnson, And My Other Experiments In The Practice Of Everyday Life (Crown Archetype; ISBN: 978-0307886781), a guide published earlier this month to making the most of “the little world of our own making” behind our front door.

In The Happiness Project, Rubin gave herself 12 months to improve her life. Happier At Home is an account of her second “happiness project”, this time focusing on the concept of “home”.

You might struggle, as I did, to cope with her very American approach, not least a vocabulary rich in such psychobabble as “mindful” and “experience” (as in, “I wanted to find ways to improve the physical experience of my apartment”). Yet, underneath are nuggets of good sense: “You spend most of your life at home. You may as well make it the happiest place you can,” she reasons.

Happier At Home is not another interior design book. Rubin doesn’t suggest buying a piece of furniture or perking up a bedroom, the usual route to feeling better about your space. “A happier home isn’t a place you can furnish, it’s an attitude to develop,” she says. Indeed, she hates “house and homey” magazines.

“I find it stressful reading things that tell you your living room should express your personality. Where do you start with that?”

So here is Rubin’s guide to domestic bliss.

Step 1, declutter: Rubin starts with the redecoration of the “self”, which does require a spot of housekeeping – in the form of decluttering.

“Outer order contributes to inner calm,” she says. “If you get rid of everything you don’t need, like or use, they you’re probably going to be happier.” Her theory that messy areas stay messy while clear areas stay clear is backed up by research suggesting that throwing away unwanted items could diminish housework by up to 40%.

So far so good, particularly if, like Rubin, you have a husband who is immaculately tidy. But what if you share your house with a Neanderthal? Many of us, according to Rubin, live in a permanent state of annoyance because our husbands or teenage children don’t see or register mess.

“There are people who leave their suitcase by the front door when they come back from holiday and never unpack,” she says incredulously. “If their mess is making you unhappy, you’ve got to deal with the situation mindfully.”

She recommends setting aside a room or area for them to leave their mess in, preferably somewhere you can close the door on it. “Ultimately, though, you have to be honest with yourself, about how much you can cope with,” she says. “Trying to change other people will usually just make you unhappier.”

Step 2, re-order: Next step is to reorder all those possessions you treasure and value in a way that allows you to engage with them.

Rubin dedicated a bookcase in her apartment to her children’s literature collection; she organized their miscellany of framed family photographs into seasonal “galleries”, to be brought out at the relevant time of the year; she even – no joke – lined up the labels on the spare packs of printer paper in her office. “If something is important to you, create a meaningful space for it, just like you’d create a place for it in your schedule or your relationship,” she says.

Rubin is a happily married mother-of-two with a spacious apartment, but insists her principles are as relevant for those on their own.

“Single people often don’t take their home seriously, they think of it as being transitional, but I think it’s important for everyone to fill their homes with reminders of the things they love,” she says. “If you take time to collect photographs, maps and mementos it will be a place of refuge where you can engage with others, but also retreat.”

Only a New Yorker would refer to these ordered corners as “areas of super engagement” or “shrines”, but Rubin stands by her logic. Just recently she met a woman who was so tormented by the digital photographs stacking up on her camera, she burst into tears.

“She felt this incredible sense of burden that there were so many to deal with and she didn’t know where to start,” Rubin says.

“We can all feel trapped by the possessions we love. You have to figure out an inspiring way to deal with them – and start small.”

Step 3, get some sleep: being happier requires energy and commitment. Naturally then, Rubin has no time for those who end up horizontal in front of the television each night, when they could be sticking photographs into an album.

“If you’re just too tired to do anything except watch television, then go to sleep,” she says, sternly. “Most adults are sleep deprived. Get to bed and then you’ll have more energy to arrange your bookshelves.”

Once we are more disciplined about going to bed – Rubin is now “addicted” to early nights – we will feel more in control of our experience of home. She found that light-heartedness and patience replaced her “mean face” and clenched jaw. Most of the time.

Step 4, know your nature: But – and this is where Rubin’s principles get tougher – you will be even more content if you apply the same level of discipline to what you eat and drink, and how much exercise you do.

“If you live up to your expectations, you will feel more content in your daily life at home,” she says.

To help us meet our personal goals, whatever they might be, she introduces the “abstainer/moderator” rule, which was featured in her first book. It categorizes us into two groups: Abstainers are those who must completely any guilt-inducing indulgence, while moderators are the lucky few who have the willpower to enjoy half a piece of brownie, or a couple of sips of wine.

“We’d all like to be moderators, but most of us fall into the abstainer category and we’re much happier when we realize this,” she says.

“To know your own nature is extremely empowering.”

I don’t even have to ask which group Rubin falls into. She never eats starters, or nibbles cake at children’s parties. “To some people, this restrictive approach might seem joyless but I’m happier when I observe the rules I’ve worked out myself,” she says. “For me, life is too short to let something like a brownie weigh on my mind. It makes me happier not to eat.”

This pious approach must enrage her “moderator” girlfriends, but it has had a positive effect on her home life, Rubin insists, as when she is happier, Jamie and the girls are happier, too. In fact, much of her happiness project in Happier At Home centred on her family. She resolved to kiss Jamie every morning and evening, she handed out more compliments or “gold stars”, and put aside a time each week to spend with her oldest child. “The only person you change is yourself and when you change, relationships change,” she says.

For many, Rubin’s attempts to enliven and enrich her experience of home and create a “snuggery of privacy and reflection” will seem wincingly contrived. A kissing schedule? Gold stars? But Rubin insists her resolutions aren’t meant for everyone; it’s up to individuals to formulate their own happiness project, based on what they want their experience of home to be.

“You can’t just read something and assume it’s going to work for you,” she says. “The more honest you can be about what makes you happy, the more you make your home reflect that. It’s got to be based on your own nature.”

So far, the homesickness that led to her writing the book hasn’t returned, but Rubin admits she still has to “manage” her fear of taking things for granted.

“I’m the least mindful person ever,” she says. “I’ll be reading a book about mindfulness and ignoring my children. I constantly have to remind myself how I want things to be.”

But her experience of home has changed for the better: Cosier, more welcoming.

“It’s now a true reflection of my personality,” she says.

– The Daily Telegraph UK

Bliss bullet points

  • Rise above trivial complaints and petty annoyances.
  • Prove your love – make a ritual to kiss in the morning and at night.
  • Avoid happiness leeches, the people who bring you down.
  • Don’t nag.
  • Give gold stars and compliments more readily. Particularly to men, who, according to research, respond well to appreciation.
  • Get enough sleep. If you’re too tired to be productive, go to bed.
  • Go on adventures, but remember that sometimes, home is adventure enough.
  • Now is how. Whatever it is, do it now. One of the persistent follies of human nature is to imagine true happiness is just out of reach.
  • You can only change yourself. You can’t make someone else happy and no one else can make you happy.
  • Be yourself. Be honest with yourself about what makes you happy; be honest with others if they are making you unhappy. – The Daily Telegraph UK
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