Finding Happiness

I blogged about Happiness back in January but since I’ve noticed happiness and unhappiness are the subject of many blogs and posts, I thought it worthwhile to look at it again with another perspective. So many people have happiness as a goal. In the United States, the “pursuit of happiness” is listed right after life and liberty. But is that how you wish to invest your time and effort? Is it a worthy goal?

While there are many things that make me happy, the underlying sense of happiness I feel most of the time comes from having a life of purpose and meaning. It comes from making my choices based on my priorities, purpose, and passion and living that with others.

My priorities are my family, myself (self-care), and my profession. My purpose is to show librarians they are leaders and build more librarian leaders. My passion is promoting the value of school librarians and the work they do.

Guided by these three P’s, I know what new tasks I will undertake and which ones I will refuse. Yes, I still wind up with a lot on my plate. And sometimes it can be a bit overwhelming, but it’s all doing stuff I love. And it brings me happiness.

LaRae Quy agrees. She suggests we focus on living “a eudaemonic life…purposeful, full of meaning” and offers the following 4 Reasons Why a Good Life Is More Important than Happiness:

  1. Fewer Regrets – Your life may not have turned out the way you thought it would. You may be miles away from where you started. If you’re feeling unsure, Quy suggests you check your inner compass, and find “the individual purpose in your lives.” It may take time to discover, but it’s time well spent.

Think about what you are doing and how it fits with your life’s purpose, the change you want to contribute to with your time, talents, and efforts. Monetary compensation is rarely great if you are in education, but knowing you make a difference in others’ lives may connect with your purpose. And if you are not recognized for your contribution, then work on enlightening them.

  • Noble Sacrifices – If you are school librarian, you obviously sought more than financial rewards. Obstacles and difficulties are a part of life. As Quy points out, “If something is important to us, we will endure the pain to make it happen.” And through those challenging times we learn and grow.

You are making a noble sacrifice when you go that extra mile – or mile and a half—for someone else or for a program you believe in. It happens when you volunteer for your state school library association, or anytime you voluntarily step out of your comfort zone. And you will get more than you give.

  • Significant Relationships – Quy asks us to look at the important people in your life. Do their values match yours? The old expression, “tell me who your friends are, and I will tell you who you are” is a good reminder. It’s not the purpose of someone else to make you happy, but they shouldn’t be draining you of your happiness.

Some relationships are toxic. They are exhausting. You steel yourself for every conversation knowing they will be complaining or ranting about something. If they are not family or someone you work with, look for ways to end the relationship or add distance in it. By contrast, Quy cites a 75-year study showing that “good relationships keep us happier and healthier.”

  • Clear Sense of Direction – Quy asks, “If you had a year to live, what would you do?” I think too many people would think first of their bucket list. My question is, “What you want your eulogy to say?”  We may or may not believe in the afterlife, but there is an “after life” when you are remembered.

A life focused on pursuing happiness won’t be remembered for long. You are touching lives today that will be affected many years into the future. And they will be passing down the wisdom they learned from you.

Take joy in life. Celebrate happy times and achievements. Just don’t make happiness the only goal. As the late Gilda Radnor in her Roseanne Roseannadanna persona famously said, “If it’s not one thing, it’s another.” Things happen. Keep your priorities, purpose, and passion close to you. You’ll be happier for it.

Happiness is…

No one is happy all the time, but if you can’t recall recent moments of happiness, you are harming yourself as well as your ability to be a leader. The harm to yourself comes from the chemicals your brain produces when you are stressed or angry compared to those produced when you are happy. Your body needs the benefits of those endorphins to get you through your busy days.

The harm to your leadership ability results from how you present yourself to the world because, in addition to the negative feelings, your face shows it when you are sad, angry, or stressed. No one enjoys spending much time around people who are often unhappy or upset.

The good news is you don’t need large doses of happiness. Even fleeting pleasures can boost your mindset and last for quite a while. The challenge is to identify – and then capture – them in the moment. When something drags you down, if you continue finding these happiness-promoting instances, you will feel happy overall. And that happiness will be seen even through a KN95 mask.

In his in depth blog What Leads to Happiness? Greg Vanourek lists 20 ways you can bring more happiness into your life. Here are his first 10:

  1. Regular exercise and physical activity –. You don’t have to train for a marathon or spend hours exercising. Just include 10-15 minutes a day on your to do list. And especially for those of us currently in winter, do what you can to spend a few of those minutes out in the sun when it appears. Research suggests getting out into the fresh air has an immediate positive effect
  2. Acts of kindness, service, and generosity – The getting is in the giving. When you help others, there is a boost to your sense of self. Take time to notice the small and many opportunities where you can give to others but make sure not to do this at the expense of your own needs and boundaries. Don’t turn giving into a burden or a drain
  3. Purpose and meaning – Knowing that your actions are producing something of value and making a difference is a cause for happiness. Know and notice your “why” when you engage in any activity, including those connected to your job.
  4. Relationships with others – Humans are social beings. As the pandemic proved, it harms us when we can’t interact with others. Don’t let your tasks and responsibilities keep you from spending time with the people you care about and who care about you. You offer support for each other as needed, and it just feels good to be with them. Vanourek says ‘According to many researchers, strong social relationships are the most important contributor to enduring happiness for most people”
  5. Goals and aspirations – This is related to #3. If you know where you are going – and why you want to go there is joy in the journey. As you achieve the small steps, your sense of accomplishment makes you happy.
  6. Authentic expression of self – Be true to who you are. It saves a lot of energy-draining effort. Being a people-pleaser or focusing on what other people think diminishes you and your happiness.
  7. Anticipation – An upcoming anniversary, graduation, or other event in your life adds pleasure. Savor it. If necessary, look to put something on your schedule that you can look forward to.
  8. Gratitude – Recognizing what you have in your life and being thankful for can keep you from focusing on the negatives. Taking a moment to be grateful can give you a happiness boost in the midst of a gray day.
  9. Experience – While something is happening, take time to notice and enjoy it. Do what you can to stay in the moment. Appreciating enjoyable times whether it’s dining out, seeing a ball game, or being with a friend boosts your happiness.
  10. Learning and developing – Mastering a new task or learning something new makes you feel good about your accomplishments. Consider ways you can share your new knowledge for even more happiness.

Happiness is many things. It’s not the huge events that are responsible for making us happy on an everyday basis. It’s the small moments that can make all the difference once we tune into them. When you can take the time for joy and notice what is already good in your life, your happiness will shine and others will enjoy being in its presence.