Let’s Get Happy!

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It’s been a sad season in our household for the past couple of months, but I’m coming around. Part of the reason for my resurrection is my innate temperament, and another part is a book I’ve been reading, Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project. About temperament, Rubin’s book reminded me that genetics accounts for about 50 percent of one’s emotional set point.

Since I’ve been teaching psychology since, well, let’s just say a long, long time, I already knew most of the things in Ms. Rubin’s book, but I haven’t thought of the host of interesting and doable applications that she suggests in The Project. While many people think that lots of money, parenthood, or age are major factors in happiness, they really aren’t.

I’ve already put some of Rubin’s suggestions to use and can tell a difference, not just in my elevated mood but also in that of others that I’m around. That’s not surprising. After all, one of the concepts of psychology is emotional contagion, a phenomenon in which people “catch” emotions from other people. I’d rather infect my friends and family with good cheer instead of gloominess, hadn’t you?

While we were discussing my quest for more sustained happiness, my brother asked, “Why not joy?” I replied that I’m not sure that joy is as attainable and sustainable as happiness. Rubin quotes one of her blog readers who said, “But happiness is more accessible. We can be miserable and then find ourselves laughing, even if it’s just for a few seconds. It reaffirms the will to live and from there we can branch out.”

During a Celebration of Life following the funeral of a loved one last week, I saw and heard several people laughing—people who deeply loved the dearly departed. Although their hearts were broken, they could still find something funny or uplifting enough to laugh about. A quick example is of a cousin who whispered the name of her unborn child to her grandmother who was in a comatose state. No one else knows the name of this soon-to-be-born baby boy except for Nana, and as my cousin was relating the story, she smiled and laughingly told of how she had to make sure that her own mother wasn’t eavesdropping.

“Oh, your mom would never do that. If she told you that she wouldn’t listen, then she wouldn’t,” I said.

“I don’t know,” she said with a lilt in her voice. “Mom’s the one who always shakes the Christmas presents in our house.”

The conversation was mood elevating to me. The room was filled with people who lived and breathed because of Nana, and although she had “passed through the veil,” she took the secret of her new great grandson’s name with her. I love it. And so did the people who were listening, people who loved Nana’s daughter and granddaughter.

Happiness is my word for 2014. Like Rubin, I’m a happy person. BUT as she said, “I wasn’t as happy as I could be, and my life wasn’t going to change unless I made it change. In that single moment, with that realization, I decided to dedicate a year to trying to be happier.”

Me too. I’m going to continue reading and rereading The Happiness Project and apply many (most?) of the recommendations to my life. I’ll be writing about my successes and failures here and hoping that you’ll be inspired to jump on the happiness bandwagon. What have you got to lose except a sour attitude?

Explore and Focus

IMG_2010 This post is a repeat from last year about this time. Rather than go through a lot of rigmarole about coming up with a word-of-the-year, I decided to repost this one. 

About five years ago, my friend Connie and I began coming up with a “Word of the Year,” something that would direct our thinking and acting throughout the upcoming year. Weary of making resolutions that bit the dust after a few weeks, we thought that a word that could encapsulate several goals would work better. Turns out we were right. Not only did we make most of our decisions based on our individual words, but we also found ourselves permanently changing our behavior. Well, semi-permanently. There are still times when I have to remind myself to have COURAGE, to BELIEVE, and to say YES more often.

After much thought and deliberation, Connie came up with her word last week. It’ s EXPLORATION. Curious, I asked her whether she meant exploration of other places, interests, and ideas or whether she meant inner exploration. Was she planning to take more trips, hike on the Appalachian Trail, take up painting, or discover inner talents? “All of it. Everything,” she answered. And guess what? She’s already started. If the fates are with us, we’re going on a road trip to Washington, DC with a couple of friends later this month.

Enough about Connie. What about Jayne? My word for 2012 is FOCUS. That doesn’t sound as exciting as EXPLORATION, but it’s something I definitely need to work on. Besides, I’m pretty good about the exploring part. I could stand some improvement in that area, but I need a huge amount of improvement in the focusing department. My husband often says, “You just need to concentrate on one thing at a time,” or “If you’d just pay attention and do one thing at a time, you’d get more accomplished…and maybe you wouldn’t misplace so many things.”

Then too, there are several projects I’m working on, and I know that I need to focus on one at a time. Should I correct the galleys for a book I’m self-publishing? Should I write a few paragraphs for a eBook that I’m writing about what every technical/community college student needs to know? Should I clean out the refrigerator? Should I mail the packages to Olivia and Carrie? Or maybe it’s time to clean out some closets. Or no, that can wait. What’s really important is playing Words with Friends with my brother. Then again, classes begin next week, and we’re using a new text for an intro class so I better get busy on that. But not until I start reading this new book I ordered for my Kindle.

See what I mean? I need to focus focus focus focus.

I knew my decision was a good one when I went to church today. During Relief Society, Michelle shared her enthusiasm for a blog she’d read about using a word to guide one’s thinking instead of making resolutions. She encouraged us to use verbs and then shared examples of some words that we might like. Several class members, including yours truly, participated by sharing their words.

Here’s what I found especially interesting. While talking to us about THE WORD, Michelle used some variation of focus at least a half a dozen times. Then Kitty spoke up and said that she needed a word that would help her focus. Another person said that she was trying to focus on gratitude, and yet another said that she was focusing more on being fully present.

So FOCUS is my word for 2012. I’ve already cleaned out the refrigerator tonight. I have my to-do list ready for tomorrow, and I’m going to focus on doing one thing at a time…and on being mindful of the tremendous opportunities and blessings that I enjoy.

As 2012 comes to a close, I’m wondering how Connie succeeded with “exploration.” As for me, I’m thinking of using “focus” again, but I can’t decide whether it’s because I really need to have that lesson reinforced or because I’m too lazy to choose another word. And by the way, the above picture was taken in early 2012 in the bell tower of the Old Post Office Museum in Washington, a sure sign that Connie began “exploring” early in the year.

What’s your word?