WEEK 17: Make Yourself Happy

“Happiness depends upon ourselves.” ~ Aristotle

When I started to think about the kinds of things I would do during “Make Yourself Happy” week, I couldn’t wait for it to get here. I mean, how often in life do you get an opportunity to spend a whole week just doing things you love to do…and not even have to feel guilty about it?

But as the week got closer, I realized that a lot of the things that I was thinking I might do to ‘make myself happy’, I pretty much already do…albeit a bit guiltily at times. So when I received an email from my new ‘like-minded friend’ (Week 15) about a workshop called ‘Inner Space’ that was being held at a nearby Feng Shui Center, I impulsively signed up. I’d been learning a little bit about feng shui and thought that really diving into it at a weekend workshop would definitely make me happy.

Or, on the other hand, maybe not.

Sadly, the whole weekend was a pretty big disappointment. Instead of making me happy, I was actually fairly unhappy from the minute I walked through the door. First of all, and this is totally my fault for not reading the whole email my friend sent, the workshop had nothing to do with feng shui, even though it was at a Feng Shui Center. It turned out to be about finding the ‘inner space’ in yourself, not in your home, which is all well and good, and probably something worth learning about, but it wasn’t what I was expecting at all.

Secondly, I didn’t really care for the teacher. She seemed ok at first, but as the weekend went along she started to show some alarming passive-aggressive tendencies by picking on a poor woman who’d been a few minutes late to the class. Not exactly inspiring.

So ok, live and learn. I guess it’s a good idea to do a little homework before signing up for a weekend workshop!

But I will say that the experience got me thinking that perhaps ‘making myself happy’ is less about doing and more about being. That maybe what’s important is finding a way to be happy even when the circumstances surrounding me are not so great.

So instead of grumbling about how the workshop wasn’t what I had expected, and the teacher was a bit psycho, maybe I should have tried to focus more on what was good about it. Because, actually, there were a few things that weren’t so terrible. For instance, I learned that pine trees have psychic energy. That’s kind of cool. And I met a couple of nice people I wouldn’t have otherwise met. Plus, I did something I had never done before by signing up to go on my own.

There were actually quite a few things that could have made me happy while I was there…I just chose not to see them.

The thing is that it’s sometimes really hard to make yourself happy when you’re in an unhappy place. A couple of weeks ago, for example, I was worried about a zillion things, and no matter how hard I tried to talk myself out of the negative zone I was in, my mind just kept circling and circling from one bad thought to the next. I couldn’t find my way out.

I’d read somewhere that sometimes it can help to write all your worries down when they start piling up. That somehow putting them down on paper can get them out of your head…kind of releasing them to the universe, I guess.

So I tried it. I sat down before I went to bed and wrote down every single thing that was troubling me. And a few things that I didn’t even know were troubling me! Then I tore the piece of paper into tiny little pieces and threw them away.

Did it work? Well, I think so. I was able to fall asleep at least. I can’t say that I was happier – that would have been a pretty big leap – but I definitely felt better. And I think that it was by taking that action, by asserting a little bit of control over the negative vortex I was swirling around in, that helped make the difference.

According to Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project:

“The feeling of control is an essential element of happiness…a better predictor of happiness than, say, income. Having a feeling of autonomy, of being able to choose what happens in your life or how you spend your time, is crucial.”

The problem, though, at least for me, is that it’s hard to always have control over what happens in my life, so I need to try to remember that I do have control over how I feel about what’s going on. Maybe I couldn’t control the fact that the workshop I went to wasn’t what I expected, or that the teacher was a passive-aggressive nutcase, but I certainly could have shifted my focus from the bad to the not-so-bad while I was there, and not ruined the whole weekend for myself.

And so I’m realizing that it’s never going to be the weekend workshop I sign up for, or the cute new sweater I buy (believe me, I’ve tried that!), or the better job, nicer car, bigger house, etc. etc. that will ‘make’ me happy. None of those outside things can bring me happiness if I haven’t found it on the inside first.

Helen Keller, one of the most inspiring people I can think of, put it this way:

Your success and happiness lies in you. Resolve to keep happy, and your joy and you shall form an invincible host against difficulties.”

I guess, in the end, if I’m looking to ‘make myself happy’, I just have to remember where to look.