What I Learned from #100HappyDays
My friends convinced me to share their #100happydays or #100daysofhappiness with them, but somewhere along the way, they’ve let it drop. Too much a chore, I suppose. Or not enough happiness. Or too much crap from other people for being happy.
When I embarked on this one-photo-a-day of “happiness,” it wasn’t to force myself to be happy 100% of the 100 days. Far from it. It was an exercise in positivity and in learning more about myself. I started a few weeks behind most of my friends and quickly found that businesses everywhere were jumping on board as a way to sell their products or services. Sorry, but happiness isn’t in a bottle or a shop. At least not for me. But then, I already knew that.
My intentions in this exercise were to look for at least one thing every day that delighted me, that made my heart soar. I already had a few ideas of what would do that, but I was curious about where most of my small moments of happiness come from. I was also dealing with some heavy, serious issues I wasn’t sharing with anyone much, and I needed the daily reminder to find something joyful.
Some of the things I learned were just validation of what I already knew. And there were surprises, too. Not always good surprises, either.
1. You can’t be blissfully happy 100% of the time.
Not everything in life is going to be pure joy. Even with a great attitude and a strong faith, downers will happen. External forces will plot against you. Old patterns and ghosts from the past will re-appear when you least expect. The #100happydays project for me wasn’t about forcing myself to be deliriously happy every single moment or even most moments. I’m a fairly serene person whose drama tends to come from those around me. As an empath, I allow–to my detriment–myself to become immersed in other people’s problems and emotions. When I’m alone, I’m on an even keel. In spite of painful moments, I’m usually in a pretty good place, but I still didn’t expect 100% bliss. This isn’t, after all, the same exercise as not complaining for 21 days in a row.
But you know what? It’s okay to not be deliriously happy 100% of the time. You can still be generally happy, even with tough things to deal with in the periphery of your life. You can take your mind off the bad stuff and find things to delight in, even for a few moments–just long enough to take and post a photo of what brought a little smile to your heart.
2. It really is the little things that bring happiness.
I’m not even sure what could be considered a “big thing” when it comes to happiness. I suppose that might be a wedding or a new baby or some big milestone. Those don’t happen that often in life, so we need to find delight in the “little things.”
For me, it was almost silly stuff or a little synchronicity. It was going for a walk after dark with my daughter, home from college, and finding the tiniest of turtles on the path moments after I’d unwittingly stepped over him instead of on him. It’s a weird cloud formation or a dumb joke that makes me laugh. It’s a phone call from a long-lost friend. It’s quoting Mal on “Firefly” when the kids are wrapped in quilts and pillows on the floor on a trip back home.
It’s a new recipe or a really good pot of Southern sweet tea with real sugar. It’s discovering a new iPhone app for productivity or my name written in cement when I was in middle school. Just little stuff that connects the dots in my life. All those little things add up.
3. Sometimes you must dig deep to find anything at all that will delight you or give you a positive thought.
The first 30 days had their ups and downs, but it was generally quite easy to find my “happy” for the day. The heavy hardships in my life were in the background much of that time, and though I was aware of them, I didn’t have them in my face 24 hours a day. Even with a couple of very large expenditures, I found my daily “happy.” Call it “looking on the bright side,” if you will, but the fact that I’d saved enough cash to not take out a loan for the HVAC system I knew had to be replaced within the year was a big step toward keeping my serenity and less stress.
By the time the second 30 days arrived, all hell had broken loose in my life. These were things I’d been aware of, but I had no way to change them myself. They were “other people’s problems” that had a big effect on my own life and a big heaviness in my heart. Some days, I had to reach–stretch–stretch harder–to find even the smallest of delights. They were hard, hard days that I had to bear alone or, if I shared them, I had to be the pillar of strength for someone else.
There were times when I realized it was dark in July and I was just leaving work, going home to what I was worried would be bad news I’d been waiting for all day, and when I thought about #100happydays, my reaction was “Fuck it. There’s nothing happy about today. Nothing delightful. Today, everything sucks.”
Those were the days that it was more important than ever to find just one little thing that could make me smile. Even if it was the deafening sound of rain frogs in the marsh as I sat in my car and cried while talking to a stranger on my cell phone. I couldn’t bring back what might be gone, but all of nature was there with me to keep me company.
4. Where certain types of things delight us, we must seek more of that kind of delight.
What I was searching for most with this #100happydays experiment was exactly what types of things brought happy thoughts. As I suspected, Nature played a big part in the process. More than anything else, it was the little things in Nature–flowers, animals, sunrises, sunsets, trees, grass under my feet–that brought me joy. Behind that were the work I do and the team I work with, my family (long distance during much of this experiment), my writing, my self-development, friends, fresh food. Funny, but I just realized I turned down all but 2 dates during this time period because I was so busy…but that was perfectly all right and didn’t detract from the happy moments at all.
The idea here is for me to expand the role of Nature (and other areas of happiness) in my life. How can I be out in Nature more? Adventures in the woods on weekends? More hikes? Maybe more hikes with my Fitbit and with picnics of fresh foods with good friends and experiences I can write about later?
5. Others don’t want always want you to be happy–or at least they don’t want to hear about it if you are.
You would think that looking for happiness intentionally made me happier. It made it more noticeable to me, but not necessarily happier. I was enjoying my life before the experiment and during, but I hit some serious and unexpected glitches during the course of my first 2/3rds of #100happydays.
The biggest surprise of all in this experiment was that in sharing what made me happy, I found myself the brunt of a lot of anger and retaliation. Some of it was mean-spirited, including acquaintances and co-workers copying Friend-only items on social media and passing them along for the ridicule and enjoyment of others. I’d say it was nice that I gave someone else a “happy” but there was nothing happy about it except the glee with which my moment of delight was torn apart. I have to say that I was surprised: this isn’t high school and these are supposed to be professionals. The snide remarks and jokes were mostly about little delights that had nothing but nothing to do with any of them. Honestly, it sorta ruined some shining moments for me to see good things ripped apart by the rumor mill when I was struggling to stay positive in the face of some serious issues that didn’t involve them.
One of these people told me later that my #100happydays was nothing more than bragging. This was because one or two of the first 68 items were about appreciation for something I’d done and had not expected to be acknowledged or a new level of activity in my physical regimen. The fact that an unexpected kudo represented a positive response to months of learning a new skill or long hours of extra effort was perceived as mere bragging.
If I’d posted #100CRAPPYdays, I would have received plenty of support…or at least not the backlash I did. Misery does love company, especially on social media. Actually, it would have been easy during most of this time to have photographed the things that made me feel worried, upset, sad, angry, or helpless. But I chose to focus on the good things–sometime the rare good thing to get me through the day.
We’re allowed to bitch and moan about all the bad things–and you can always find those if you look–but if you simply state what makes you happy on a daily basis–and you can always find those if you look–then some folks just can’t let a moment of joy shine. It becomes “bragging” or somehow a challenge to God to bring you down. Suffering is acceptable, but being happy isn’t.
I wonder why that is.
Holy hell. What is wrong with people that you can’t tolerate someone having just a little bit of happiness every now and then? We’re all going through something heavy that we don’t let others see, so why not let some light shine in when it can?