I love when I see people who live the keys to happiness. The other day, as I was driving, I saw what seemed like a perfectly "normal" silver haired man happily kicking up leaves as he walked down the sidewalk. His look was of pure joy and delight. I could see that he just couldn't resist the crisp, golden leaves, and I was amused that he was so openly public with his childlike display.
It struck me, too, that his delight was in such stark contrast to my brooding on "serious" topics as I drove to the office. I couldn't help but wonder that maybe he attained some wisdom in his later years about his own happiness. In my mind, I began to create a story about him-- that maybe once in his life he was too serious or bitter. Maybe he neglected his family and worked too hard. Then maybe he had a brush with death and he just "got it." Or...perhaps he was had always been a man who recognized a small, delicious moment and seized it.
While we can't achieve a permanent state of joy, one of keys of happiness it to find ways to be more fully alive. And to me being fully alive not only means feeling and expressing joy, but also feeling and expressing my pain. What we can learn from kids is that they don't put a lid on their feelings. When they're happy, they're happy. When they're sad, they're sad. As adults, we learn how to contain our experiences, letting out only socially appropriate expressions that reflect what's going on. And, while I know we can’t go around skipping in quiet libraries or weeping in our offices, I do wonder about the cost of not really expressing our feelings. Do we just become numb? Do we stop recognizing the opportunities to BOTH express joy AND honor pain the pain we carry? If we don’t acknowledge the pain, isn’t this what leads to heart attacks and road rage and depression? If we don’t express joy or take delight in the simple, well then really, what’s the point of all those crisp gold leaves waiting to be played in? What is the point of life anyway?
So, I wonder today if I'm having enough moments of pure joy. I wonder what pain I'm not letting myself feel because I'm just too busy or distracted. Does life become more dull because I'm just ticking off my task list? It's something to ponder for sure.
1. Focus on engaging in a lot of experiences that make you FEEL something deeply. These would be things like a comedy show that gets you belly laughing, sky diving or roller coasters to get an adrenaline rush, watching a scary movie, reading a sad story that makes you cry.
2. Find an activity/hobby you do regularly that puts you in the state of Flow, a concept developed by the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. He found that the more states of "flow" people experienced, the happier they reported themselves feeling. Flow is when you are engaged in an activity and you're completely absorbed in that activity, not noticing the passage of time or outside distractions. It may be when you're painting, rock climbing, singing or writing.
3. Create little reminders to help you focus on the keys to happiness (quotes, movies, rituals). Check out this animated short film, Alike, about how we unintentionally kill off childlike wonder in order to create what we think is a responsible adult. It's beautiful and poignant.